When Brian Venable first asked his buddy to be the singer of a country band he was planning on forming, it probably felt pretty ironic. After all, the late-nineties underground music scene in Memphis, Tennessee was primarily punk-driven and Venable was no stranger to it.
But as welcome as this foreign sound would become in their community of tattoos and punk rock house shows, neither would have ever believed that this music would lead them to the conference room of a major record label, ten years in the future, with a contract on the table for their band, Lucero.
If you aren’t familiar with Brian or his band’s music but are as intrigued as I was ten years ago when I first heard about a country band full of punk rockers from Memphis that was coming to town, do yourself a favor and make tomorrow night your first experience. Their soft country sound has definitely evolved throughout the last decade, but the progression has been nothing short of natural.
I caught up with Lucero’s lead guitarist Brian Venable earlier this week and he was nice enough to tell me a little more about himself. Oh yeah, and a little bit about frontman Ben Nichols’ bare ass, too.
Fayetteville Flyer: What’ve you been listening to lately?
Brian Venable: Alot of metal…like Bison, Trap Them, Saviours and Skeleton Witch! And I’ve been collecting Johnny Winter bootlegs from the early 70s.
FF: You used to work at a record store in Memphis and were a pretty avid record collector. Are you still collecting?
BV: Oh yeah. Mostly I collect stuff I wanna hear now more than the collector stuff. I’ve been on a big Groundhogs kick lately!
FF: Speaking of Memphis, how’s the music scene right now?
BV: There’s always something going on. Goner Records is a huge presence now and Makeshift has a ton of bands and stuff going on. I really never go out anymore now that I got the family so I’m a little out of the loop.
FF: Your father is a Beale Street musician, right? Did that have an impact on you picking up the guitar?
BV: It’s probably why I waited so long to start to try and learn. He’s already bought my son a full-sized acoustic and he’s only 4 months old! I think my father turned me on to the idea of music in general and my playing was just a repercussion.
FF: Tell us a little bit about your son, if you don’t mind.
BV: Well he just came back from his 4-month checkup and he’s huge. He’s 16lbs! His middle name is Danger and he has big hands. Sam, my “notwife” says he’s not allowed to be a dirty bum musician but we’ll see! And I’ve already mentioned his crazy grandfather getting him his entirely-too-gigantic-for-him guitar.
FF: As good as Ben’s songwriting is and as talented as John Stubblefield and Roy Berry are rhythmically, many would argue that it’s your incredibly catchy and tasteful guitar lines that glue everything together for Lucero. Would you agree?
BV: I would love to meet those people! I like to think I’m the element of surprise in the band musically and that’s not always a good thing but I sure have a hell of a time.
FF: You guys are officially a major-label band now. As a guy originally from the Memphis punk scene, was it hard to make the decision to sign to Universal Republic?
BV: It was definitely weird thinking about signing the papers but we may have had the most low-key punk rock major-label signing ever. We all just showed up randomly during the day and signed the papers and then went about the rest of our day. It is what it is. Ask me in a year how it felt and I may have some stronger emotions!
FF: We noticed you guys in the trailer of Craig Brewer’s $5 Cover show for MTV. We also know Ben is the star of an episode. How the heck did he score that? I mean, it was you that started Lucero wasn’t it?
BV: Well, I’m fat and have retired my players license so Ben was the natural choice. Spoiler alert: you do see Ben’s naked bare ass in some scenes so be prepared.
FF: Someone recently described some of you guys’ new songs as being “so good I think they’ve been saving them for their major label debut.” What do you think?
BV: Really the big surprise is the use of horns. We’re hoping to create this Memphis soul sound maybe crossed with some Thin Lizzy and The Wild, the Innocent and the E St. Shuffle. Who knows what people will think when it comes out but I haven’t been this excited about our songs since Tennessee came out.
FF: Finally, what would the Brian Venable solo album sound like?
BV: Definitely instrumental. Maybe a cross between later period Black Flag and the boogie of ZZ Top with some Minutemen style funk and soothing bebop lines on top. Heaven!
Lucero Live @ CBGB: