Call me Arrogant Superfan, but I'm just gonna lay it out up front: Three tours ago, Lucero slept in my living room. Booya.
After their gig at the then-H.W. Briggs pizzeria downtown, a nasty snowstorm blew in and my roommate at the time, who went to high school in Memphis with their tour manager, asked them if they wanted to crash at our apartment. We watched The Royal Tenenbaums together and have since lived happily ever after (as long as Lucero pumped out an album a year and toured on it).
The Indy has caught up annually with Lucero since that snowy night, and we consider the boys a house favorite. So we tracked them down on the phone they were somewhere near Reno, Nev. for a chat about their current tour, supporting the recent release of Rebels, Rogues & Sworn Brothers. It's a pioneering album for the band, in that it incorporates ivory from Cat Power keyboardist Rick Steff and captures the guys with producer David Lowery (Cracker, Camper Van Beethoven) in Richmond, Va., outside the cozy home confines of Tennessee.
The attractively gruff-voiced Nichols is thrilled to be back on the road, and pleased with strong turnouts in cities like Fargo, N.D., Vancouver and Sacramento, Calif.
"It's nice to go to a town especially one you've never been to before and have folks there that actually know who you are," he says.
Before long, the talk turns to the band's new piano- and B3-organ-enriched sound. Nichols likens it to that of the E Street Band, Bruce Springsteen's notorious getup, saying it enables Lucero to be "less folky and more American rock 'n roll." It's a sound Lucero has been gunning for on their past few albums.
"This is the first record where the songs really came out sounding the way I heard them in my head the night that I wrote them," he explains.
Nichols is careful to pay credit where credit is due, lavishly praising pianist Steff's contribution to Rebels, and adding that Steff may be able to join Lucero on a more full-time basis next year. Nichols has even publicly stated, "[Rick's] parts complete the songs in a way Lucero has never been able to do before." (Steff is making half of Lucero's tour dates, but will miss the Colorado stops.)
Steff made the quartet a quintet earlier this year at a crash-recording session in Richmond, where, Nichols says, "[we] didn't leave that building for more than six hours over the course of two weeks."
Nichols and drummer Roy Berry sat in on every step of the tracking, overdub, edit and mix, exerting more creative control than ever before. The boys slept in bunks upstairs.
"We'd get a bottle of whiskey and stay up all night drinking and playing guitars and writing songs, " he explains.
The handful of bedheads would spill downstairs the next morning to record the previous night's inspirations.
"If I imagined what the coolest summer camp in the world would be like," Nichols says, "that's what it'd be for me."
And now he can tell stories that start, "This one time, at band camp ..."
Matthew Schniper CAPSULE
Lucero with Rocky Votolato and William Elliot Whitmore
Aggie Theatre, 204 S. College Ave., Fort Collins
Friday, October 20, 8 p.m.
Gothic Theatre, 3263 S. Broadway, Englewood,
Saturday, Oct. 21, 8 p.m.