Lucero’s Live From Atlanta Captures a Crazy Night

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Ben Nichols doesn’t remember much about the weekend in November 2013 when the Memphis bar-rock band Lucero played three nights at Terminal West in Atlanta. That memory loss may have to do with the whirlwind recording process for their brand new double album, Live From Atlanta.

Or his faulty memory may be due to, ahem, other factors. This is a band, after all, that has been chronicling the barfly life for 15 years, with Nichols penning soul-tinged country-rock songs about whiskey, women and work.

One thing he does remember is that those three nights were typical for Lucero shows, which tend to be wild, boozy, sweaty, raucous affairs. “They were definitely full-on, no-holds-barred Lucero shows,” Nichols recalls, “and I think that’s what you get on the record.”

CMT Edge: Why did you decide to record in Atlanta? Do you traditionally have good audiences there?

Nichols: We planned to play three nights in a row. It was going to be a wild train ride through Atlanta for the weekend, and we wanted to make it easy for folks all over the country to get there if they wanted to come in for the recording. That’s one of the reasons we wanted to do it in Atlanta. And that city has always been kind of a wild crowd for us.

There was this aura of chaos and noise — audience members yelling and hooting and hollering and singing along. The funny thing is, Lucero could be playing in New York or Chicago or any place in the U.S. and there would be a common thread of crazy running through every show.

Knowing you were going to be recording, did you feel any added pressure onstage?

A little. I don’t know if I necessarily handled it the best I could have. If we were a more well-thought-out band, we would have had rehearsals specifically for Live From Atlanta. We might have included some rarities that don’t get played very often. But we had already been on tour for two months when we hit Atlanta. This was the end of the tour, and we just got up there and did our thing. We were flying by the seat of our pants, as always.

The record certainly doesn’t sound overthought.

Yeah, we didn’t want to think too hard on it. We’ve listened to the tapes, weeded through the songs and picked out which takes were better than other takes. It was like a postgame video where we got to analyze what we did wrong and what we did right. Since then, everybody’s attitude onstage has changed. We started listening to each other a lot more, and we started paying more attention to tempos, which has allowed us to refine what we do.

So even if nobody buys this record, it was an extremely good learning experience for us. I think it made us better as a band. Now I think we could record an even better live record, but this one definitely captures us in that moment.

Did you originally plan to make a double live album? That’s such a quintessential rock trope.

Our management company and everybody else involved were expecting something a lot more normal and sane — a nice, little 16-song package. But we decided that if we’re going to do this, we’re going to do it right. We’re going to do a full two hours of music because most of our sets are about two hours long. We’ve got a batch of songs that we usually played toward the beginning of a show and a batch of songs that we usually played toward the end, and we get a lot of requests in between. So you never know what you’re going to play.

The track list comes primarily from Lucero’s recent albums, so it represents a period in the band’s career where you’ve really embraced Memphis music history, like Stax and Chips Moman’s American Sound Studio.

That mainly comes from having Rick Steff in the band. He plays piano and organ. And there’s Jim Spake and Scott Thompson, who are the horn players. All three of them are a bit older than the original four members of Lucero — not a lot older, but just enough to where they’ve played on so many records and have a vast knowledge of the city’s music history.

We’re constantly learning from those guys and hearing stories about Memphis, and that gets me really excited to come home and write songs that tap into that history. Of course, I’ve always loved Memphis music, but my appreciation for it has grown over the past few years.

Your songs seem to be written as conversations with other people, usually women. Are you writing with particular people in mind?

It depends on the song. “Juniper” was inspired by a character in one of my little brother’s movies called Mud, which had Matthew McConaughey in it. The female character’s name was Juniper and I thought it was an awesome name. The song didn’t get used in the movie, but it was still good enough to put on Women & Work.

But some of the songs are extremely personal. One of the new ones on the live record is “Texas & Tennessee.” That song is like it’s the middle of the night and you want to say things to someone, but that someone isn’t interested in hearing them. So in a last-ditch effort, you put those feelings in a song that she may or may not hear one day.

It’s definitely an emotional experience for me every night just singing these songs. I do remember where I was personally on those November nights in Atlanta. I remember exactly what was going on in my personal life — and it was very tumultuous. I wouldn’t be surprised if a little more urgency came through in my vocals on this record. And maybe that’s one of the reasons people buy live albums.

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