Lucero's Ben Nichols: "If We Want to Pay the Bills, We Have to Get Out on the Road"

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Imagine that you're in a band going out on your first major tour. At most of the stops outside of your hometown, away from your friends, there are ten to twelve people watching your set. But at one show, 200 kids are packed into the venue, actually waiting to see you play.

This is what happened to Lucero when they first came to Denver to play Double Entendre records in 2001. Paul Kane, the owner of the small, independent shop (which closed in 2005), had been ordering as many copies of Lucero's debut album, The Attic Tapes, that he could get his hands on. After playing the collection of twangy, woeful alt-country tracks in the store, music fans in Denver caught on to Lucero and those copies began selling.

See also: Denver Rock Atlas: Double Entendre

Based on that show and others, Lucero's frontman, Ben Nichols, is expecting a good time during the band's three-night New Year's Eve run from December 29 to December 31 at the Gothic Theater.

"Denver was good from the start," Nichols says. "Our management happens to be there, so they've got a good relationship with clubs and folks around town. We haven't done a New Year's Eve in Denver, so when all the pieces came together, it seemed like it'd be a fun idea."

For Nichols, who tours with Lucero nearly 200 nights each year, he'd rather be than on stage during NYE, especially because he knows he's doing his fans a service.

"NYE is always one of those holidays that gets really hyped up and if you're not doing something super cool, then you're lame," Nichols muses, explaining that, "If you're going to a rock and roll show, you know you're going to have a pretty good time. There are drinks available, there are folks around so you can be social enough and there's entertainment. The evening's kind of all built in."

Also built into Lucero's NYE shows are a few old songs, which recall Lucero's early days, when they played in the backrooms of record stores. With these cuts, Nichols will pull out his acoustic guitar, drummer Roy Berry will strip his kit down to a snare drum and bassist John C. Stubblefield may even play a stand-up bass.

On Lucero's currently untitled, upcoming album, Nichols hopes to keep up this acoustic feel by, if anything, playing more acoustic guitar, even during the turned-up, rock songs.

"I've never done a record where I just play acoustic guitar, so that might be something interesting, just to give it a slightly different feel," Nichols says. "That's one thing I like about Lucero. We're not trapped in any one style or any one place. We can pretty much make any kind of record we want to make. We're lucky to have that kind of flexibility."

During a rare holiday break, Nichols and the band have been hashing out some new tunes before preparing to hit the road again. Nichols hopes to record the album in April, but being constantly on the road can change things. Still, Lucero can't stop touring just yet.

"That's definitely how we make our living," Nichols says. "We don't make a whole lot of money off of record deals or anything like that. If we want to pay the bills, we have to get out on the road."

Although it's been rough, Lucero has finally struck a balance between writing, recording and touring and Nichols has benefited. In Lucero's middle years, he was a big drinker, but now he's cut back a lot.

"Lately, I've been enjoying playing the music so much, and I've been so excited about the direction the music is going in, that I've been more focused on trying to play well as opposed to getting drunk every night," Nichols says.

Like the 2001 Double Entendre show or next week's NYE run, it's Lucero's music that keeps propelling Nichols and his bandmates forward.

"I haven't figured out how to take a break yet," Nichols says. "The band is pretty much all that we do. But, we're doing okay right now and having a good time."

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