Lucero, Underhill Family Orchestra
Saturday, May 28, with doors at 9 p.m.
The Merry Widow, 51 S. Conception St., www.themerrywidow.net
Tickets: $32.50 in advance/$36.50 day of show; available at The Merry Widow and its website
The Merry Widow is hosting a double shot of Americana with Mobile’s own Underhill Family Orchestra, followed by the band Lucero from Memphis, Tennessee. In this relatively intimate setting, Lucero will perform music from its latest release, “All a Man Should Do,” which is built on a multilevel foundation of reflection.
First, the band pays homage to fellow Memphis group Big Star with the album title and a track (“I’m in Love with a Girl”) taken from Big Star’s catalog. Big Star’s Jody Stephens also makes an appearance on the album. In a recent conversation, guitarist Brian Venable was gracious enough to elaborate on “All a Man Should Do.”
Stephen Centanni: There seems to be a lot of reflection on this new album. What made you want to step back and analyze things?
Brian Venable: I think it’s where Ben [Nichols] was, where he had left one lady that wasn’t very nice and ended up with another lady that he married. I think he just caught a rare opportunity. Songs are usually about some girl that you wanted or had. This one just seems to catch it at the right spot in between two of them.
It’s also about getting older. For a while, it’s fun to chase the ladies. At some point, you’re just like, “Man, I want to settle down,” or you find somebody where you’re like, “I think that I can be with you for a while” thing, as opposed to everything being very temporary and disposable.
Centanni: You took the title of the album from a Big Star song, and you include a Big Star cover on this album. What is it about Big Star that made you want to not only cover a song from them but also an album title?
Venable: We had never covered a song before, and it was our third record with Ted Hutt. We thought it would be fun to do a cover. We were looking at R&B songs and old Stax songs, because that’s the direction we had been going. Then we realized that this record was a little bit more jangly, for lack of a better word. It dawned on us that Big Star was just as much Memphis, and Jody [Stephens] was around all the time. Then we narrowed it down.
There’s certain Big Star songs that everybody covers, you know. “I’m in Love with a Girl” fits in with what was going on where he met this one girl and met this new girl. You can hear it on the album. One side is very down, and the other is very triumphant. Well, it’s not triumphant; it’s not happy or sad, but there’s a certain element of “whew” as opposed to optimism. It falls into that. On the [Big Star] record, Alex Chilton does it acoustic and by himself. The chance of doing a full-band version of it was kind of cool.
Centanni: What do you think is all a man can do?
Venable: Well, it’s different for everybody. I don’t know. I have kids, and I recently separated from my wife. For me, it’s to try to keep my kids’ lives stable and keep myself healthy. Ben is about to have a baby, and his whole thing is to be with his wife and raise his kid. It’s a very personal thing. Some people may want to sell the house, move to Key West and get the hell out of town. Who knows? I think it’s just such a blanket statement, so that way you can fit every kind of dynamic into it.
Centanni: You mentioned Ted Hutt earlier. This is the third time you’ve used him. You look at his legacy, and you see bands like Dropkick Murphys and MxPx and Street Dogs. Then you see people like Lucero and Old Crow Medicine Show. It seems like he has a very versatile ear.
Venable: I think there was a huge thing when we first hired him. We looked at and talked to a couple of different producers. He had just done that Gaslight Anthem record that got so big, and he was very popular. For us, we work well with him, but we also broke each other in. He knows what to expect from us and what he can push and can’t push. It’s the same for us.
We might use him for the next record, but we don’t know. There’s a reason why Van Halen used the same producer for years. You get into a nice pattern. We can explain to him what we want, and he’s like, “OK, I understand.” It’s a relationship that worked out, and we don’t like breaking in new producers.
Centanni: You’ve got these road songs on there like “I Woke Up in New Orleans” and “My Girl & Me in ‘93.” I think the need for bands to find money more in touring than in selling albums has given birth to a bunch of road songs over the past couple of years. You guys have been road warriors for many years. What’s it like on the road with Lucero these days?
Venable: It’s my favorite word: uneventful. Last April was the 18th anniversary. We’ve done all the growing up and all the fighting and all the making up. We still love each other, but there’s a certain element of, “This is what we do for a living.” It’s still exciting, and it’s one of the best jobs that you could ever have.
We’ve been to the Grand Canyon, and we’ve done anything that you might do. We’ve all damn near drank ourselves to death, and we’ve gotten through that, except for special occasions. We read a lot and watch TV and find our favorite food places and visit our friends. I have my favorite book stores in every city. The guitar tech likes to go to all the record stores. John [Stubblefield] likes to ride his bike and look for pho. It’s not a Guns N’ Roses 1987 kind of thing. It’s what we do.
Centanni: Studio songs can take on a new life in a live setting. How would you describe the live translations of these songs?
Venable: They’ve translated well. That’s also a thing with us. I don’t go see a band to hear them play the album-perfect song. I can sit at home and listen to that. I want to see how they do it live. I want to see what they can pull off when it’s a bad day and somebody got drunk and somebody got sick and if they’re in a good mood or acting crazy and playing everything twice as fast. That’s the exciting part. We’re Lucero. That’s what we do.
The studio is a painting, and you can do anything you want with it. Whereas live each night, three nights in a row, it could sound one way. On the fourth night, it could blow up and turn into something different. That’s the beauty of a live performance.