This past November Memphis country rockers Lucero came over to the legendary South London venue The Windmill for a four night residency to celebrate the release of their new album ‘Women & Work‘. As anyone who is aware of the band knows they have quite the hardcore fanbase in the UK and maybe one of their more passionate devotees is Sweetheart Contract Frontman Dexy K. Having played a number of shows supporting the band over the years (and for two nights during these run of Windmill shows) Dexy not only has the Infamous Lucero ‘L’ Star logo etched into his forearm and a close friendship with the band but a succession of hazy, booze fueled memories of supporting Lucero and playing the Windmill well over 50 times in his own right. With this mutual appreciation we thought it would be a good idea to sit both Dexy and Lucero frontman Ben Nichols down in the Windmills Smoking Area (ok, it’s a shed outside) and switch the tape recorder on.
Dexy – So Women & Work is your first official UK release with Loose Music. How did you ending coming into contact with loose? Did they find you or did you find them?
Ben Nichols – That’s a good question actually
D (Laughs) I’ll try not to ask too many obvious ones.
B We had been looking for somebody to release our records in Europe and the U.K for a while, without much success (laughs). I think it had something to do with someone at our label in the US (ATO) knowing someone at Loose so it became an option finally.
D In the Dreaming in America Documentary the big theme seems to be you wrestling whether going with a major would be a good idea, whether it would suit you at the time. Was making (2009’s 1372 Overton Park) for universal an eye opener? Were your concerns well founded?
B To a certain extent. We only did one record for Universal and it was a story that you always hear about (a band) getting lost in the big machine. The A&R person that signed us left and then no one seemed to care about us. We weren’t selling the amount of records they wanted to sell so it made sense to move to ATO which is perfect for us.
D Did being on Universal affect the sound of the record, it’s quite a lush record.
B It was coincidence. We were working on demos for ‘1372..’ and John (C. Stubblefield, lucero’s bassist) had the idea to invite (legendary Memphis saxophonist) Jim Spake to try out a saxophone on a song or two but then we ended up liking it so much that was the direction we decided to go “I want the horns on everything possible” but Universal had no artistic input whatsoever.
D I wasn’t too sure how much push a label has in those things.
B They wanted us to use a producer (Ted Hutt) and that was our first experience with actual, very hands on producer. He was there when we did the demos, he came out to Memphis to stay for a week and we worked through all the songs and he put his two cents in. some stuff changed but changed for the best.
D Relationships seem to crop up a lot in your lyrics. With the new record you seem to have come to terms with stuff a little more, if things go wrong it seems like you take it your stride a little more like “Ah fuck it, these things happen”. That’s just my view after listening to the record. Is that accurate thing?
B Well, ‘Women and Work’ was one of the first songs I wrote for the new record and I took a step back and just decided to write simple rock and roll lyrics. There’s nothing too deep or heart wrenching in that song. Once I made that decision to go in that direction it was kind of a relief, I can step back and play these songs without everything having to be gut-wrenching. I think the whole record ended up being a more fun record. Whatever relationship lyrics ended up in there it was more from a lighthearted perspective, it wasn’t as soul bearing as some songs in past although I have a feeling there will be plenty of those songs in the future, I think I’m making the exact same mistakes I have always made! (laughs)
D Sometimes they are fun though (Laughs)
B yeah, we’ll see how this next record goes, I can easily see myself writing the gut-wrenching stuff again but for Women and Work I thought it was nice to make it more lighthearted have that rock and roll spirit. It was a fun record.
D Sticking with lyrics, the solo record (the last pale light in the West) which was based on Cormac McCarthy’s book Blood Meridian was thematically very different from Lucero. Do you find since doing that those influences seep through or do you try to keep things separate?
B Since the Last Pale Light in the West was based on Blood Meridian it was kind of a concept album. I didn’t have to worry about getting things mixed up, it was a solid divide between the two projects. It was kind of an experiment. I had never written songs based on another person’s work and I think it worked out alright though. There are so many good lines in that book, so many good phrases and images that I just wholeheartedly just stole them (laughs)
D That was the thing, before I had even heard you had done that record I had just read the book a few months before and just about recovered and when I saw the announcement and was like “fuuuck” (laughs)
B (laughs) I just blatantly stole my favourite lines from the book and they worked really well in the songs so hopefully I won’t get in trouble for that, we’ll see (laughs)
D I think McCarthy will be okay with that (laughs). On a similar note with the writing, with your back catalogue which is pretty vast, do you go back now? Are you one of those artists that when they go back to the really old stuff you maybe go “I can’t identify with that, that’s not who I am anymore” or do you appreciate when fans call out for really early stuff do you ever think “man, I don’t want to sing that, I don’t feel the same way”. You don’t go all Morrissey about it?! (laughs).
B Luckily I still enjoy singing those lyrics. It’s kind of funny, it doesn’t matter where I am personally, if I’m in or out of a relationship going back to those songs is always like going home. They still speak to me personally. They still help me when I wrote them to get through those long nights and they are still helping me today so no, it’s not a problem to sing the old stuff.
D Do you ever have that thing where like, you keep your old stuff on your iPod and it comes up on shuffle and instead of skipping like I do with our stuff I think “I don’t remember writing this, we should play this more often”?
B Well, I think our back catalogue is pretty big now and we have been playing live constantly and certain songs have gone by the wayside and we forgot some songs. I think we need to go back and relearn some of these old tunes because when I went back I did realize there was stuff we were missing. We haven’t been playing the same set necessarily but we have been drawing from the same batch of songs and I think it’s time to add a few more songs back into our set.
D When you did Nobody’s Darlings with (Producer) Jim Dickinson, Who is a massive influence of mine, what was it like actually recording with him?
B He was a very Hands Off Producer, he was trying to capture the spirit of whatever we were doing at that time. He didn’t try to put his mark on the sound or on the songs. He just wanted to capture the most honest, vibrant picture of what we were doing at the time.
D It’s a really loud recording, almost like The Stooges where it just kicks right in from the start.
B Yeah that ended up being a rock n roll record as well. It was just a four piece, not a lot of overdubs just what we were trying to capture live at the time. Jim was a spiritual counselor, the wise old man who had a lot of cool stories, a lot of good input that just made that record just a really cool record to make.
D He is one of those guys where I have never heard anyone have a bad word against him. I think at worst it would be that his recording techniques maybe weren’t what they were going for. There is that big star documentary that’s just been made…
B I haven’t seen it yet.
D It’s fucking amazing. It talks about when Jim Dickinson and Alex Chilton worked together and it should have been carnage because they were both so loose about stuff. It should have been a terrible record but it’s just amazing…
B It was definitely an honor to work with him.
D Before he died were there any plans to work with him again?
B Actually, there are plans right now to go back to the barn (Dickinson’s recording studio) in Mississippi and work with Cody Dickinson (North Mississippi All-stars Musician and Jim’s son) but at the time we had our hands full incorporating a horn section and going for a Memphis soul sound but what we learned from Jim definitely still pertains today.
D Last question is about The Windmill. After Saturday it’s going to be six times that you and Rick have played here in one year, I think I have beaten you on that number I think I have done about 20now ! I have filled in for on a lot of slots for Tim (Perry, The Windmills Promoter and also the venues heart) and got to play with Larry and his Flask, Lydia Loveless and Cory (Branan). What is it about this place over other venues in London that makes you choose this over other venues in London?
B I think it has a lot with Tim being such a cool guy and the way the place in run. It’s a very relaxed, homely place to play. When we play it feels very familiar and very welcoming.
D Tim is definitely one of the good guys. I don’t know what it’s like in the states but there are a lot of promoters in London that make you feel like it’s an honour to play in their venue so they don’t feel the need to promote you or pay you whereas Tim is…
B He is a fan of music you can tell by the way he runs the windmill. It makes it a pleasure to come back so it will be a good four nights.
D It’s a great place for an after party as well.
B Yeah (laughs) we have done that before
D Do you remember much about the last one?
B It’s a little blurry (laughs)
Luceros latest album Women & Work is out now on loose Music (http://loosemusic.com/category/lucero )
Sweetheart Contract can be found at https://www.facebook.com/SweetheartContract and http://www.sweetheart-contract.com/
Photo by Anni Timms