NTSIB friend Michelle Evans (Dear Ben Nichols, The Vinyl District: Washington, D.C.) concludes her conversation with Austin Lucas. If you’re in Seattle, you can catch both Austin and Drag the River this Friday at SoundFest
So what are your thoughts on country music?
I listen to a lot of country radio. I appreciate the songwriting, even though most people hate the songwriting, but I listen to it, and I’m like, “This is so catchy. This person is such a clever, intelligent songwriter.” What a lot of people don’t understand about pop music, in order for something to stay with someone after hearing it one time, it has to be extremely catchy. The average music listener isn’t really a music fan. They want image. They want to lust after somebody who’s a star. So the thing is, if you don’t reel them in with a really, really catchy hook, they’re not interested. Trust me, writing really, really dumb and catchy stuff is a lot harder than you think. There’s a certain amount of genius that goes into doing that. A lot of people are hateful towards pop music and very spiteful, and the way I feel about it is, it’s there, but you don’t have to pay attention to it or give money to it, and maybe spend less time being upset about that stuff and more time discovering bands that are worth giving money to and are great. On the other hand, as a songwriter, I just respect the fact that people can do that. And, I mean, who are we kidding? Everyone likes a certain amount of that stuff.
Yeah, there seems to be some pretentiousness out there with certain groups of people regarding pop music or music on mainstream radio.
Yeah, it’s like this pretentiousness exists in people to be nit-picky. When I was young, and I think when everyone’s young, and we’re first exposed to music, everything they hear, they like, pretty much. I used to see the shittiest bands just because they were local and they played kind of the style that I liked. Any band that came on tour, I would go see. Anything I could get into at the all-ages clubs, I’d see. Or a house show, I was there. I would just sit in the record store and be that annoying guy asking what’s good. The point that I’m getting at is that as we get older, we get so pretentious. Our tastes get refined, and we learn to be pretentious, because everyone else is pretentious. I’m guilty of it too. We all are at some point, but the truth is, I feel like I have to have an opinion about all the music out there, even if I don’t really care either way about it. I hate the fact that I’m like that – that I’m the way that I hate how people are.
You just came off Willie Nelson’s Country Throwdown. What were some of the highlights?
Everything was a highlight at the Throwdown, but I think that the biggest highlight was probably the first night that I went on stage and sang with Willie Nelson. I just remember how it felt. It’s weird. I did it seven times. I was definitely counting, because that’s what you do when something that spectacular is happening to you. But the first time that I did it, it was in Arkansas, and Travis from Last chance Records – my record label boss – was there as well as my wife, so it was so cool to run out on stage and be like, “I’m doing this, and these people that I care about are here!” And I looked over, and Willie Nelson’s there, and I swear to god, and everyone told me I was crazy, but I swear he looked over at me with a look that said, “What the fuck is this fucking freak dude doing on the fucking stage right now?” [laughs] I mean, because for the first week of that tour – and this is no joke – everybody thought that I was on the crew, because it’s Warped Tour personnel, so all the stage managers and lighting people and tour managers are all punks and all tattooed, so everyone just assumed that I was part of that menagerie of the circus. It took a long time before everyone realized I was a performer.
Did that make you feel extra special?
Well, it made me feel very special in a lot of ways, but it also made me feel like an outsider, which I was. The people I performed with were great, but there were press people specifically who had no desire to talk to me and who were talking down to me. They’d cut interviews short or say really rude things to me like, “So you’re not part of the country music scene.” And I was like, “Actually, I’m part of the alternative country scene which most people would probably argue is more like country music than the country music you’re talking about,” and he countered with, “Well, you’re not in Nashville. You’re not going to be on the radio,” and I’d just be like, “Yup. That’s true.” I dunno, it was funny for me, because I don’t take things that seriously, so I would just make jokes about it usually. There were some really nice press people too, though, who saw me as a good story. You know, the guy who’s not from Nashville and who doesn’t live in Nashville and not part of the corporate country music establishment, and yet I still have a career, and I’ve toured Europe, so a lot of the people from the press were excited to talk to me. It was just kind of a mixed bag, and I really just thought it was all funny. What was really funny is that I always get that I’m “too country” in the punk world, so it was funny going into the country world and be told I’m not “country enough.” [laughs]
You started out in the crust-punk scene with your band Guided Cradle, which is as metal as punk can get, and now you play folk/country music. I’m interested to know who some of the bands are whom you admire or of whom you are a fan.
Well, one of the bands is Lucero. And I know a lot of people love Lucero, and I know a lot of people hate Lucero, but the truth is – and I don’t think there’s anybody who would disagree with this on either side – but Lucero really were a game-changer. They fought to become as popular as they are, and that’s probably why they’re going to be popular until they decide to call it quits or until they die. Every single fucking fan that they ever had, they had to fight for. They won them by constant fucking touring. You know, they were playing country music in a scene [the punk scene] that was totally not interested in it, and in a lot of ways, made people interested in it. I think that a lot of the interest that happened in country music and roots music in the 2000s happened as a result of Lucero hitting the scene and working their ass off. I mean, there are a lot of other factors, but I think they are a very heavily influential band and a very important band, and if someone who’s not a dick writes a book about the scene one day, if they don’t give Lucero all those props, then they’re leaving them out because they personally have a pretentious idea of what is and what isn’t important. Them and Drag the River, actually, are both important.
Cory Branan is another one. He is probably the best songwriter of my peers. And I don’t think that – I know that that’s true. The guy is a fucking genius. He’s a great performer. I hold him in such a high regard. He’s definitely one of the genre’s unsung heroes.
Last but not least, tell me about your current tour.
The first two weeks are just headline shows with my back-up band, The Bold Party. Then we’re main support on tour with Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band who is from Brown County in Indiana, right next to Monroe County, which is where Bloomington is, which is where I’m from. They have a lot of days off, so the days off are going to be filled with more headline shows. Basically, it’s half a support tour and half a headline tour. It’s gonna be awesome, because I’m going to be out with people from my home turf.