Lucero Prepare an Arkansas Picnic for Texas & Tennessee

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Lucero’s seamless Texas & Tennessee EP searches (“Union Pacific Line”) and seduces (“Breathless Love”) against a wildly diverse backdrop. The haunting title track alone pays back the sticker price. Bottom line: Four songs. Four winners.

“This EP’s kind of a sampling of all the styles Lucero works within,” songwriter Ben Nichols says. “Some songs lean one way and some are a mix of all styles. It’s a nice showcase for what Lucero has become.”

Finding a geographic halfway point between Texas and Tennessee, the Memphis-based band will host its almost-annual Lucero Family Picnic in Little Rock, Ark., on Saturday (Aug. 10).

CMT Edge: Describe how Texas & Tennessee took shape.

Nichols: We’ve been working the last record, Women & Work, for a while, and it was time to write something new. We were real busy and had just a little bit of time. John Stubblefield, our bass player, grew up with Cody and Luther Dickinson from the North Mississippi Allstars, and he had been talking with Cody about going back down to the Zebra Ranch in Mississippi, [legendary producer] Jim Dickinson’s barn, where he had a little studio.

How did you approach the recording?

We figured we’d go there in January, but we didn’t know what we were gonna do. We were thinking to keep it simple, we’d do acoustic, a little stripped down, and we thought we might do some acoustic versions of Lucero songs or cover songs, but then there was a girl involved in my life. All of a sudden, I was in a songwriting mood, and three songs came out right in time for the session. “Other Side of Lonesome” has been floating around for a while, but it seemed to fit.

Tell the story behind writing the title track.

I met the girl in Dallas last year, and in January, she moved to Los Angeles. That kind of put a wrench in my plan. It didn’t make things easier, that’s for sure. When it was time to write this EP, she was definitely on my mind. She was from Texas, and I was from Tennessee and she ended up moving to California. Unfortunately, that song is all true.

Are the three new songs a factual account of the relationship?

“Texas & Tennessee” is the most factual. “Union Pacific Line” is the same sentiment but not as specific. It’s not as literal a song, where as “Texas & Tennessee” is spot on. I tell the story of “Breathless Love” all the time live. We’d been talking one night, and she said if I wrote her a song that sounded like Otis Redding, she’d be mine forever. So I stayed up all night and wrote this “Breathless Love” song. Onstage, I’m like, “I guess it didn’t sound that much like Otis Redding because she’s definitely not mine forever.” It ended up being a pretty good song, though. We put horns on it.

You basically cover four different genres in four songs.

Yeah, that’s true. I thought that it’s cool that each song goes its own direction. I figure “Texas & Tennessee” is a traditional, old-school Lucero song. I don’t think it even has a bridge — really simple, straightforward, not fast, not slow. “The Other Side of Lonesome” is like a campfire song, the regular old alt-country song, which I haven’t written many of for a while. I actually wrote that for [2009’s] 1372 Overton Park, but it didn’t fit the record. I’m glad it finally found a home. “Breathless Love” fit in perfectly with what we’ve been doing with the last two records with the Memphis soul, and “Union Pacific Line” is just one of the prettier Lucero songs.

Sounds like you drop both E strings on your guitar down to D on that song.

No, actually, I don’t. It’s just in D. I just pick the chords, and there’s a weird B chord that I’m faking.

It sounds just right when you play along with them dropped.

That might make it a lot easier to play. (laughs) I should experiment with that. I’ve only used drop D with one song ever, “Davy Brown,” off [Nichols’ 2009 solo album] Last Pale Light in the West. We haven’t messed with capos too much and tuning because everything goes by so fast onstage. Lucero have our hands full keeping between the ditches when we’re playing. Throwing in alternate tunings and capos would just be too much for us, so we keep everything real simple. (laughs)

Have you started writing songs for Lucero’s next full-length project?

I’ve been writing here and there but not enough material to say which direction the record will go in. Right now, everything’s going into a big bag of songs, and we’ll see what comes out. We’re in the very beginning process. We’ve been touring a whole lot behind Women & Work and did Australia and England and a whole lot in the U.S. and Canada. We’re getting ready to go back to Europe with Frank Turner in September. We’ve been so busy, it’s been tough to write, but it’s getting to be that time to put stuff down on paper.

How many Family Picnics will the next one in Little Rock make?

Man, I don’t know. It’s supposedly the annual Lucero Family Picnic, but there’ve been a number of years we’ve skipped it. It started because there was a promoter in Batesville, Ark., who had this really pretty spot on the White River. It seemed like a good venue to do an outdoor, all-ages picnic summer gig. I don’t even know what year the first one was. I think we did three or four up in Batesville, but that was tricky because it was a dry county in Arkansas.

Pretty cool that Wanda Jackson’s opening this year.

Yeah. We thought that was super cool. I’ve seen her play at the Hi-Tone in Memphis a number of times, and having somebody that legendary involved is a compliment. This year, we decided to move it to downtown Little Rock in the River Market. My little brother, Jeff Nichols, is coming up to do a Q&A on Mud, a movie he wrote and directed with Matthew McConaughey and Reese Witherspoon and Sam Shepard, and we got Oliver Peck, a buddy who’s a tattoo artist on Ink Master, to emcee the thing, and I think we’re possibly even giving away tattoos. So we have a few things other than music going on to give it a slightly more carnival atmosphere.

You once did a similar event in Austin during South by Southwest.

Yeah, the Lucero Family Showcase is what we called it. In the past, we’ve just gotten our friends to play, whatever bands are on tour. We’ve had Cory Branan, Jason Isbell, Justin Townes Earle. We’ve tapped all those guys. That year in Austin, we got a bunch of Memphis bands and did our own showcase. I remember that day. I think the Dirty Dog might’ve been the venue. It was daytime but it still got rowdy. By the time we played, it was nighttime and it was a success, I think.

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