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NEW DIRECTIONS

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Back when Lucero first stated playing their Memphis hometown in 1998, frontman Ben Nichols thought mixing country and punk would work as well as a mosh pit at a rodeo. Seven years later, however, Lucero – and their ever-growing audience – embraces the unlikely hybrid.

"A really weird mix of people come to our shows," says Nichols. "You have actual redneck cowboys wearing the hats for real, and then there's the city cowboys and punk rockers and frat boys and indie-rock crowds."

Call it alt-country, Southern indie rock or whatever you want, but Lucero (Nichols, guitarist Brian Venable, bassist John Stubblefield, and drummer Roy Berry) bridges various genres seamlessly, delving equally into Americana, country, roots and alt-rock with equal fortitude. While the band's Tennessee roots are the likely source of their twang, Nichols, originally from Arkansas, started out playing in metal and emo bands before meeting Venable, with whom he co-founded the band in Memphis – never mind the fact that neither had ever played guitar before. (Venable, Nichols says, originally wanted to fuse punk and country to piss off the punks, although the end result was the polar opposite.)

After polishing their chops and recording songs on an eight-track in Venable's father's attic, Lucero released its 2000 debut, and went on some 200 shows that year, opening for acts including the Drive-By Truckers and Alex Chilton. The band started landing mentions in rags including Rolling Stone and Billboard, and subsequent albums, including Tennessee and That Much Further West (which the band recorded in a warehouse where Elvis took karate lessons) helped put the band on the musical map, as did constant touring.

On the upcoming album, which the band will release upon completion of a new label deal, Nichols says Lucero will take a more rock & roll approach. "I thought That Much Further West was more indie-rock. I'd like to get back into straightforward rock & roll," Nichols says. "I think the new songs are more upbeat than what we've done before."

No matter what direction Lucero takes, Nichols, as the band's principal lyricist, sticks to a universal songwriting approach that often traverses the country path of heartbreak, loss and hard times. "A good song is a good song regardless of what genre it's presented in," Nichols says. "We're not limited to a certain scene or a certain set of rules, and it makes things even more interesting."

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