I was first introduced to Chicago musician Scott Lucas‘ music when a friend brought over a CD in 1995 by rock band Local H. He had been obsessing over the single “Bound For The Floor” and wanted me to hear it. While scanning the liner notes, I noticed that the band thanked another Chicago band, Fig Dish–a favorite of mine at the time–so I was immediately intrigued and wanted to find out more about the band. Couple that with frontman Scott Lucas’ angry, yet mostly thoughtful, lyrics and I was an instant fan. Seeing the band several times over the past 15 years–along with the fact Lucas’ songwriting skills have improved over time when many a band from that era has long since vanished–only cemented my respect for what he does.
Last year, Scott Lucas released an album that is drastically different than anything he’s done with Local H–and even further away from his work with former Fig Dish-ers Blake Smith and Mike Willison in electro-pop band The Prairie Cartel. On George Lassos The Moon, the debut album from Scott Lucas and The Married Men, Lucas and team–Jason Batchko (organ), Pete Muschong (guitar), Randy Payne (drums), Rebecca Brooke Manthe (violin), Aaron Duggins (accordion), and Tom Szidon (bass, vocals, piano)–create somber, country-tinged songs that reek of longing and heartache. As he does with much of his work with Local H, Lucas mines his personal relationships for lyrical inspiration.
Scott Lucas and The Married Men heads to Austin this month to play some gigs during South By Southwest. I recently asked Lucas some questions about his latest band, his plans for the future, and his thoughts on South By Southwest.
Houston Calling: What was the impetus behind Scott Lucas & The Married Men? It’s such a departure from the music you make with Local H, yet seems to be such a natural fit.
Scott Lucas: I had this batch of songs that were written to my girlfriend. We were separated and I would send her a song a night via e-mail. This went on for a week. They were just e-mails. Like love letters. I had no intention of using them. But when I stepped back from it, I realized I had an album. Not a Local H album, but something else. I’d always resisted even the IDEA of a solo record. But it finally seemed like the right thing to do. And yeah, it did feel totally natural. The funny thing was: in order to do a solo record, I had to form a seven-piece band.
HC: In my 2010 year-end favorites list, I wrote that I think “Extra Special Bitter” is the best song you’ve written to date. After 20 years of making music, do YOU feel your songwriting skills have grown or gotten stronger? Obviously, there was a lot more introspection than angst in the songs on George Lassos The Moon…
SL: I mean, I think they have. If I didn’t, I would pack it in. And I am very proud of “Extra Special Bitter”. If it’s not the best, it’s certainly as good as anything I’ve done. Writing songs–especially lyrics–is harder for me now. I don’t want to repeat myself and that gets harder to do the longer you do it. But on the other hand, that’s when things get interesting. It’s easy to say your piece and burn out. But the people who fight through that and keep going tend to get at something deeper. Something richer. And that’s when you really find out who you are.
“Extra Special Bitter” (live JBTV clip):
HC: How did you choose “Absolute Beginners” as a cover song to record? I know in the past, covers have played an important part in your live shows. It seemed to be a theme for a while with Chicago bands doing interesting covers of their influences (Triplefastaction, Ness, Fig Dish, Caviar, Local H, as examples).
SL: It’s been my favorite Bowie song for a long time. It’s just so goddamn romantic. It’s big and epic and I’ve always wanted to cover it–but in order to cover it, I needed this band.
HC: What are you looking forward to most at this year’s SXSW?
SL: Hanging out with the band. Spending a couple of days in Austin with these guys will be a blast. Drinking. Checking out some music. Whatever. I just love being a part of this band. Even getting in the van and driving down there is going to be fun.
HC: Any bands in particular that you want to see during SXSW 2011?
SL: I honestly don’t even know who’s playing this year. I’ll probably just follow The Hood Internet around the entire time.
HC: What’s your most memorable SXSW experience?
SL: Oh, man. There’s been so many. My first year there was amazing. Playing that big park was cool. Seeing Two Gallants at an ice cream party. Getting so drunk that I got kicked out of Casino El Camino, and going back to the hotel to be attacked by a tree. Rocking out to “Hells Bells” at some 5am party out in the middle of God knows where.
HC: How has digital technology changed the way you create your music?
SL: I don’t know if it’s really changed anything for me. I think I approached things the same way before everybody had Pro Tools. It’s made things easier–for me as well as the industry at large–but I’m not completely sure that’s a good thing. It’s nice to put technology in the hands of the people but…maybe not ALL of the people. It’s embarrassing to listen to old Motown tracks and realize what they had to work with. We’ve gotten so lazy. It’s crazy. And oh, yeah–why can’t I listen to a rap single without some pointless auto-tuned pop hook? And why can’t I listen to a pop song without some pointless auto-tuned rap interlude?
HC: Other than SXSW, what does the band have planned, music-wise, for 2011? Will you be releasing another MM album or working on new material for Local H?
SL: I’m working on both. We’re just about ready to start the new Local H record. We’ve been recording demos in Chicago. And the Married Men have been playing new stuff at our shows. We’ll have a new record ready to go in no time.
HC: Are there any plans for future music by The Prairie Cartel?
SL: We’ve been talking about it. I went to a !!! show a couple of months ago and I was surprised at how many people asked me about new Cartel stuff. Felt kinda good.
HC: Finally, any music you’ve been listening to lately that you’d recommend?
SL: I have been obsessed with John Cale lately. I cannot stop listening to his first two solo records. I never thought I’d be such a big fan of his. I always thought he’d be too artsy and avant-garde for me. But quite the opposite is true–he’s something of a pop genius. Just beautiful stuff. As far as new bands go–that last Deerhunter record is fucking awesome. I just saw Wavves the other night and they were killer.
Thanks to Scott Lucas for taking the time out to answer these questions for Houston Calling.
Scott Lucas and The Married Men plays in Austin during SXSW at 7pm on Friday, 3.18.11, at The Trophy Room, and on Saturday, 3.19.11, location TBD.