Lucero‘s upcoming concert at 9:30 Club will hopefully serve as a reminder of how hard longevity is for rock bands and why the accomplishment is worth celebrating. Returning to their “home away from home,” Lucero will feature new literary songs fashioned by solo singer and lyricist, Ben Nichols, who has written their heartbreaking hits since the band’s inception in 1998.
For 20 years, Lucero has toured under the radar, serenading listeners across the country. Even with 12 albums under their belt, Lucero sometimes sees blank expressions when their name is mentioned. Fortunately, this does not deter them from traveling year-round for an ever-growing following throughout the U.S., U.K. and Australia.
The band’s current lifespan was unexpected for the four-piece band.
“I didn’t think it would last, but I had this romanticized idea of starting a rock and roll band and piling in a van and traveling the country,” Nichols says. “I never planned on changing the world or becoming The Beatles. I just wanted to be one of those garage bands that get in a van and play punk rock shows.”
Despite playing for two decades, the band doesn’t lament mainstream notoriety, as Nichols humbly insists, “we are not a slick, professional-type band. We have shot ourselves in the foot numerous times, probably. Poor decision making here and there.”
“I think there are only certain music listeners that are going to appreciate what we do,” he continues. “It’s not for the general public, even though our crowds keep growing. It’s never going to be mainstream; we don’t want to be.”
Content with their status in the music industry, Lucero prides themselves on maintaining artistic integrity.
“We are a small business, a working band,” Nichols says. “We’re not rich and famous, but we get to do what we love doing, and we’re paying the bills [while] doing it. We ended up exactly where we wanted to be.”
Nichols’ life has traditionally provided much of the inspiration for the band’s often emotional music. However, the latest album Among the Ghosts features a generally fictional narrative drawn from books and old war letters.
“I wanted to become a better songwriter,” Nichols says. “It’s easy to write down a diary entry and have raw emotions spill out on the page, which works sometimes, but we’ve done a lot of that in the past.”
The reach of the new LP is broader, meant to connect with different listeners.
“There’s a song, ‘To My Dearest Wife,’ [and] it’s kind of about a soldier being far from home and writing back home to his wife,” Nichols explains. “There’s an impending battle, and he doesn’t know what’s going to happen. He says [in the letter] kiss our baby girls.”
“There are things I can relate to in this song that aren’t about me,” he continues. “Obviously, I’m not a soldier. I’m not in a war anywhere, but being gone from home is tough. I have a two year-old baby daughter back home, and it’s a different kind of heartbreak being on tour now.”
For a time, Lucero was touring 200-250 shows a year, but has recently scaled back to an average of about 140 per year.
Though the style and years have changed Lucero, their tone has largely remained unchanged.
“I like old rock and roll songs,” Nichols says. “There’s nothing wrong with songs about girls, songs about having a good time. I do a little bit of that, but I like dark, sad songs too.”
To engage their following, Nichols constantly strives for consistent resonance between the band and fans.
“Writing these songs have really gotten me through some tough times,” Nichols says. “To hear from those who have been through tough times and hearing that our music helps [is] big. Hearing about soldiers in Afghanistan… and it helps get them through, those are very nice stories to hear.”
Even though Lucero has accomplished more than they originally set out to, the band still has more goals for the future.
“I would love to have Stevie Nicks’ voice on some of the stuff we’ve written,” Nichols says. “Especially with the Among the Ghost record, her voice would actually fit right in there perfectly. That would be a dream come true.”
Lucero will perform at 9:30 Club on October 14. Doors open at 6:30 p.m. Tickets cost $25 and can be purchased at www.930.com.
9:30 Club: 815 V St NW, DC; 202-265-0930; www.930.com