If Lucero guitarist Brian Venable disappears at some point during his band's Lucero Family Picnic, don't be surprised. Venable is expecting the birth of his first child any day now and, though he's planning on attending and playing at the event, held on Saturday, September 13th, at Riverside Park in Batesville, Arkansas, he's also preparing to leave at a moment's notice.
"I'll stop playing and leave if I get the call," says Venable, who notes that with keyboard player Rick Steff joining the band Saturday and Glossary's Todd Beene sitting in on pedal steel, the band could probably make-do without him for a night.
Fatherhood for one of the members isn't the only big change Lucero is facing. After 10 years together, the local rock quartet also is making the leap to the majors, recently signing a four-album deal with Universal/Republic.
"It's got to be one of the most low-key, non-rock-star major-label signings ever," Venable muses.
Lucero negotiated with labels — major and indie — at the South By Southwest Festival in Austin in March, later settling on Universal/Republic after being unhappy with the offers from indie labels. (No word yet on whether they'll get to tour with new labelmate Amy Winehouse, though the prospect of an Amy Winehouse/Ben Nichols duet is intriguing.)
This isn't Lucero's first interaction with a major label. The band's past two albums, Rebels, Rogues, and Sworn Brothers and Nobody's Darlings, were released under a distribution deal through Warner Bros., allowing the band to retain the rights to both albums on their own Liberty & Lament imprint. But this is the first full-fledged major-label deal for the band.
"The majors are running on a big indie model now, so it's not tons of money," Venable says. "A four-record deal really means one record with three options. If it doesn't sell well, they'll drop us. In that case, we'd probably just try to do things through our own label."
Why take the major-label plunge after a decade on the road and with six albums already under their belt?
"I think it just got to that point. Everybody [who reaches that level] tries it eventually," Venable says. "We're hoping for that major-label push — the press, the ads in all the magazines, hopefully get on some soundtracks. We've been doing this for 10 years. I've got a baby on the way. Everyone was like: What the hell, let's take a shot. It's not like we're going to break up."
In preparation for their first major-label album, the band recently went into Young Avenue Sound studios for a few days to record a batch of demos for the label. They experimented with horns for the first time and may work on a second batch of demos soon. The demos, says Venable, "sound better than our first three records."
Then, sometime in December or January, the band plans to record their next album at Sweet Tea Studios in Oxford, Mississippi, with producer Dennis Herring (Elvis Costello, Modest Mouse, the Hives).
But, in the meantime, the band has a picnic to throw, the second such event. Last year, at the same location, the picnic was a "roaring success," drawing some 2,500 people, Venable says.
"I called it 'first annual' last year, just joking," Venable says. But now he says the band hopes to build the picnic into a yearly event, like a mini-version of Willie Nelson's famous 4th of July picnics. The idea is to fill the lineup with musician friends and tourmates.
This year's lineup features Memphis songwriter Dan Montgomery, Fayetteville, Arkansas' The Good Fear (led by former Lucero guitarist Todd Gill), longtime cohort Cory Branan, recent touring partner Justin Townes Earle, and, as a "wild card," former Drive-By Trucker Jason Isbell.
Why Batesville, in northeast Arkansas? Venable cites low overhead, cheap access to property, and proximity to several strong Lucero markets, including their Memphis home base, Little Rock, Conway, and Fayetteville, concluding that it "just makes sense."
"We're like U2 in Batesville," Venable adds.
The Lucero Family Picnic
Riverside Park, Batesville, Arkansas
Saturday, September 13th
Music starts at 4 p.m.
Admission is $15 in advance,
$20 at the gate.