Memphis-based rock band Lucero regularly attract rowdy crowds of punk kids and cowboys who croak out frontman Ben Nichols’ songs by heart. In spite of all the tough-guy crowd surfing, the whiskey sloshing, and the tumble of muddy riffs from Nichols’ Epiphone Sheraton, the lyrics the audience mouths are tender with the heartache and hope of leaving one place and looking toward another.

After 10 years and nearly as many records, Lucero have toured relentlessly, withstanding so many near misses with plush record deals and rock stardom that their poor luck’s been knit into the very fabric of the band, even showing up in the title track of 2005’s Nobody’s Darlings, on which Nichols wearily sings, “Now shut up and play that guitar/ Just shut up and play that guitar/ We ain’t nobody’s darlings/ Never should have made it this far.”

Despite Lucero’s slow-moving success, each new album, including last year’s Rebels, Rogues & Sworn Brothers, a collection of belligerent, barreling rock songs, has continued to ratchet up the band’s album sales and crowd numbers.
“The band’s been growing slowly but steadily,” Nichols says. “The crowds are holding up, and actually getting bigger every time we play.” Back out on the road again this fall, Lucero maintain a rigorous schedule of 200 shows a year, sleeping in their van, showering and eating when they can, and—as their songs would have you believe—falling in love at every stop.

Not that Nichols notices. In what’s unwittingly become part of Lucero’s public persona, he’s more often than not bleary with booze from the rounds of shots passed up to him on stage. “Sometimes I’m not drunk enough to play a song and sometimes I’m too drunk to play a song,” he says. “Either way you get both ends of the entertainment spectrum. Some people like the well-played songs. Some people like the crazy drunken fiasco. Some people like both. What makes us punk rock is whether or not we can play our instruments doesn’t really stop us. We’re going to do it anyways.”

Though life on the road has been kind to Lucero, Nichols has begun to shift his gaze towards a much different prize—a place to call home. “The main goal is to try to make just enough money to buy a little piece of property and actually have a family,” he says. “What I’ve got to do is make sure each guy in the band can support a family, and that’s a little tougher. But I think it’s possible.”

For now, Nichols lives in Lucero’s un-air-conditioned practice space, located in what he calls “no man’s land Memphis,” boxed in by Vietnamese restaurants and empty warehouses. Dividing his time between Memphis; Little Rock, where he was born; Austin, where his little brothers live, and Florida, where “there might possibly be a girl, maybe,” Nichols longs for a more conventional existence. But, first, there are more songs to write.

On a short break before Lucero hit the road again, Nichols is holed up in a room behind his family’s Little Rock furniture store. It’s the place where he’s written the majority of Lucero’s songs over the years, but this time he came home to Arkansas a little jittery.

“It had been so long since I’d written a song that I thought maybe I’d lost it,” Nichols says. “It’s been tough lately, just because I’m never alone, except when I’m in the shower. But last night I wrote the first song I’ve written in quite awhile and, I don’t know, it came out alright. I apparently can still do it.”