Why this man was playing in a pub cellar is beyond us.
© Al Overdrive 2010
It seems Austin Lucas is an unknown commodity on these shores. The, Indiana-born, singer/songwriter has yet to be recognised by UK audiences and it’s a crying shame. We sat down in Leeds’ Royal Park pub (the venue for the night) to have a chat with Austin about his life: Why he moved from the US to Prague (and back again), his ‘double life’ in a crust punk band and missing Saturday morning cartoons as a kid. This is probably the most honest interview we’ve ever done, with the most humble of people. As an added bonus, there’s even brief cameos from El Morgan and a bloke called Sam.
Anthony Barlow: Hey Austin, how’s it going?
Austin Lucas: Good, how y’all doing, alright?
Ian Critchley: We’re good. It’s been a bit hard to get here, but we got here.
AL: Good, good.
IC: First of all, we found out you’d moved from the US to Prague and you’ve moved back again now. What was the decision behind that?
AL: Which part?
IC: Well, the move to Prague and then…I guess both
AL: *laughs* My brother, he moved to Prague about two years before I got there, he opened a bar and, at the time, I was playing in this band called K10 Prospect. I’d been doing it for about three years, nobody cared. I was getting really bored living in Indiana and, basically, my brother was like “man, I really could use somebody I can trust, because bartenders keep ripping me off, and if you could come here I’d really appreciate it”. So I said “okay” and I went. I was gonna go for, like, eight months and just help him set everything up and I got there and loved it. Eight months turned into five years and then, basically, I was playing a lot of music and touring all the way throughout that. My career started to pick up a little bit and I realised I needed to move back to the states for that kinda sake. You know what I mean? It’s like the place where roots music is traditionally made. So, yeah, I just kinda went ahead, picked up and went back to America and that’s all it is.
AB: Did you join Guided Cradle whilst you were over there or…
AL: I formed Guided Cradle with everyone else. They were a band called, there’s this crust band from Sweeden called Anti Cimex, and they were playing in a cover band called Anti Climax. They were an Anti Cimex tribute band. This was like a side-band, the guitar player/singer was in another band called Dread 101 and the bass player and drummer were in this other band called VIR. Ethan’s band, Dread 1010, kinda folded and I had been living in Prague for about a year and it was just kinda like “hey man, do you wanna play in another band with me” ad I was like “yeah, let’s do it”. That was actually the reason I ended up staying so long, because I started doing that. In Check it took off immediately and, slowly but surely, Europe started taking notice of it too, then America and Asia, South America so it kinda got to the point where, if you’re playing in a crust band, if you’re not paying to play you’ve fucking succeeded. It got to the point where people were flying us places and people were interested. We were playing shows and people were at them *laughs*. People knew who we were so, we just decided to keep on doing it. We’re still doing it.
IC: Is it hard to keep doing it now you’ve moved back?
AL: It’s a little bit more difficult, because we’re not rehearsing every weekend. We still do stuff, we get together. We were living in the same place for four years and rehearsing every week, at least, once a week. After a while the songs are second nature. The only thing that’s suffered as a result is writing new stuff, but we’re starting to write a new full length and it’s meant to be coming out by the end of the year, or we’re gonna record it by the end of the year. Next year maybe.
AB: Is that the reason you’re touring the UK when you are, because Guided Cradle have got a gig in London later this month?
AL: We were meant to play at Scumfest, yeah, but unfortunately, about two or three weeks ago, our drummer was diagnosed with a tumor in his testicles and, really luckily, it turns out it wasn’t malignant. He had the operation to remove it and he can’t play drums for two months, so we had to cancel that. Actually that show was a bi-product of this tour, because I was already going to Finland and when I realised I was going to Finland I thought I should come to the UK too. I’ve only toured here once before, so I figured I might as well try it again, because I’m touring the whole of Europe again in October and November. But I kinda wanted to work it in, so I worked it in and then we got the call about doing Scumfest and we realised it could work out, but unfortunately it’s not going to work out.
IC: Musically, Guided Cradle is a lot different from your solo stuff. Do you like having that ‘other side’?
AL: Well, It definitely speaks to both sides of my personality. The truth is, I’m a country singer because that’s what I’m supposed to do, that’s what I have the voice to do. Being a folk musician or an americana artist or whatever is really what my family is…that’s what my dad did and I come from a family of singers. It’s kinda like the thing I was born into. Playing in a crust band is like the thing that I love, becuase I’ve been involved in the hardcore punk scene since I was seventeen. I been involved in the punk scene since I was twelve. It’s just kinda the thing that I’ve always been into or have been for fourteen/fifteen years and I just never really got out of it. The majority of my friends are all in that circle. In a lot of ways, if I quit playing with Guided Cradle or quit playing that kind of music, it would be like cutting off a limb. It gives me the opportunity to go and see all of my friends. Playing a festival, like Scumfest or, like last year, we did Play Fast Or Don’t, there’s all these people that I know. Some of them come and see me when I play solo, but not all of them, not the majority. So it allows me to actually visit friends. That’s actually one of the biggest things about playing in Guided Cradle, I get to play with these friends of mine that I love playing music with. Then I go on trips and see my friends that I wouldn’t normally get to see. I get to see my friends doing this [playing solo], but it’s a different group of friends. I mean, they’re both really important and they do both allow me to have a different kind of outlet. It’s always fun to fucking rock *laughs*. My favorite thing in the world is to sing. People always ask me what my favorite thing to do is and I always say singing. Whilst I’m singing I’m never happier.
IC: So which do you prefer then? Singing or…
AL: Well, like I said, my favorite thing to do is to sing *laughs*. Playing solo allows me to sing, but there’s something to be said about being able to fucking rock. Just going out and having a full stack and loud distorted guitars. That aggression is something that I’ve always gotten off on and I always will.
AB: You talked about your background and having a musical family, what was it like having your dad and sister work with you on the last album?
AL: A lot like working with them on the other albums *laughs*.
IC: We didn’t realise they worked on all the albums
AL: Yeah, they were involved with Bristle Ridge. Putting The Hammer Down was recorded at my father’s house. Common Cold was mostly recorded in Prague, but my father and my sister both came to do sessions on the recording. I mean, since I started doing this, I’ve been working with them. I’ve been working with them since I was born. A recording with my family is like, we all get together and we play and we sing and we talk shit.
IC: *laughs* good times.
AL: But, that’s what my life with my family is like anyway so it’s not especially different from any other familial gathering, except we have microphones up and we’re specifically focused on certain pieces of music instead of just kind of playing.
AB: So you don’t find it hard to me more personal on a song with your family around then?
AL: Do I think it’s hard to do that? I take for granted that me and my family are really close, so, in a lot of ways, it’s easier to do that. Some of the songs I feel uncomfortable around my mother, but I don’t record around my mother. My parents separated when I was five, so it’s two different familial bodies. There’s my mother and my stepfather and my two stepsisters over there and then, like, my father, my stepmother, my stepsister Chloe and my stepbrother Zach. Two seperate family entities, so if me and my brother go and spend time with either one, both experiences are vastly different. If I go and hang out with my dad’s side of the family, we’re just hanging out, we’re friends. Some people complain about how their father or their mother is their best friend and it’s not like that. My dad is very much my dad. We just get along really well and we really click. It’s not like this appalling experience to go and hang out with your family. Some people really hate their families or they love them, but they can’t handle them. That’s not how it is, going to work my dad. It’s absolutely awesome. It’s something that I look forward to. Just like I look forward to going out on tour and hanging out with my friends. I’m particularly excited about that, because it’s something particularly special that we get to share. It’s something that’s really comfortable. It’s sweet, y’know?
AB: Yeah, definitely.
IC: You said your favorite thing was singing, you actually joined a choir when you were younger…
AL: Yeah, that was totally against my will.
IC: The question was, is that any kind of religious thing?
AL: No, it was the Indiana University Choir.
IC: Oh right, okay.
AL: The Indiana School Of Music is a very prestigious school of music. It’s ranked almost the same as Julliard. It’s not as high, but it’s very high up there, their program is incredible. It was absolutely free of religion. Some of the songs were religion-based, but that’s a different subject all together. But, like I said, that was absolutely forced upon me. My father, he learned how to sing in the church. His whole family are god-fearing Christians. They learned how to sing from hymns and singing gospel music. My dad realised that, if I was going to learn how to sing, I needed to sing in a choir and since he’s not especially religious he was like ‘what can I do, I’m not gonna force my son to go the church and listen to all that hellfire and brimstone. I’m gonna send him to this’. Which is awesome, it was great that we had that option where I lived. That being said, I missed saturday morning cartoons for all my childhood life. That sucked, it was awful.
IC: *laughs* Do you try and catch up on it now?
AL: I think I’m pretty much beyond it. Not to say that I don’t like watching cartoons. I’m a huge science fiction and fantasy nerd, so there’s definitely things, that I’m making up for now, that I missed during my childhood. For me it’s like, I’m so glad that my dad made me do that and I’m so glad I got that opportunity to sing in choirs and do opera and stuff like that. But, at th time, I was going to school on Monday and my friends were like “did you see what happened on He-Man?!” and I’m like “no, I did not see what happened on He-Man, becuase I was stuck in this fucking choir”. Yeah, it was a huge bummer, it sucked, but I’m very happy that I did it. I don’t know if I’d make my children do it. Actually, I would as a matter of fact. Just out of spite.
AL: Anybody who knows me knows I have a very big love for an inside joke, and I think that would be the biggest inside joke for me. Also a very black, evil thing to do. “I had to do it, so so do you. Little bastard, get in there!”
AB: There’s definitely a large country and western influence in your music. Do you think this has this lead to you having a wider appeal than most ‘folk punk’ artists?
AL: I think marginally. There’s definitely americana and folk fans that come to my shows that no idea what folk punk is, or anything like that. Honestly, the majority of my fans are still punks. That’s something I would like to change. It’s something I’m working on changing and trying to get into a broader audience. I have nothing against punks. I love punk obviously, but this is my career. This is the only skill I have. A lot of the guys I know, a lot of guys I tour with, guys like Chuck Ragan and Mike Hale, for example, they’re master carpenters. Mike Hale can make stairs!
AL: That’s a really hard skill for someone who’s a carpenter. He can make beautiful stairs. He’s got that to fall back on. Not to say that he wants to, because his passion lies in music, but he’s got that. Chuck’s the same, he’s a master carpenter. They’ve got skill sets. I have no fucking skill sets. My whole, entire life has, basically, brought me to here. The only thing I’ve really ever got any formal education in, aside from grammar school and high school, was in music and singing. I have to work this really, really, really hard. That’s why I tour more than any of those other guys do. I work ten months out of the year, a lot of the time with one week/two week breaks in between. The only time I ever really have a large amount of time off is from December to January. I tour up to Christmas, almost, and then I start again in February. So that’s like the only time I ever have a big block of time off. A lot of people, if they’re this or they’re that, that’s what they work at. A lot of people go for years to become doctors or lawyers. What I’ve done is basically dedicate my life for years and years and years to become a singer.
IC: That’s not a bad thing to do though, is it?
AL: No, it’s a great thing to do, but there’s no guarantees. It doesn’t matter how good a musician you are, how good of a singer, how good of a songwriter. Some of the best songwriters I can think of, died in complete and utter obscurity and nobody gives a shit. A lot of the time, they didn’t give a shit until those people died. Those people were scraping by their whole entire lives. I mean, my father, when I was growing up, he didn’t have any real success in music. He had a bunch of near misses. He was almost famous all through the late 60’s and through the 70’s. He kept getting these development deals and almost getting discovered, but nothing ever really happened. He didn’t have any real success until he was in his 40’s and well into his 40’s too. So he was bar-tending, he was doing construction and he was doing anything he could do, just to feed the family. That being said, I have to work really, really, really hard, even without a family, just to keep myself going and there’s no guarantees so I could do all this build up just to end up bar-tending again. In January and February, I was living in Gainsville, Florida and I was bar-backing, not even bar-tending. I was bar-backing and working the door, because I needed money and I needed some shifts, and that’s what I did. That’s what I’m saying, no matter how hard I work, I could end up completely on my ass. If you go and get a medical degree, you’re gonna have a job at the end of that. Whereas, with what I’m doing, there’s nothing. Fans can wain and go away completely and I could end up playing to the same 30 or 40 people that I play to almost everywhere I go. Sometimes I have a lot more people. There’s certain towns where I do really well, certain towns where I do really badly. It’s easy for people to lose interest and kinda start trickling away. I see it all the time, with other bands and musicians. You start getting someplace and start moving forward, the next thing you know, nobody cares.
IC: Yeah, I know what you mean. You did the split, Bristle Ridge, with Chuck Ragan, have you got anything else like that coming up?
AL: It was more of a collaboration with him. I did a split with Frank Turner, a split with The Takers. I’m doing a split with Yarko Markakainen – (sorry, that’s definitely not spelt right) – from Finland. He sings in Finnish. He’s a very successful folk singer in Finland and we’re doing a split seven inch together. Me and Mike Hale are always talking about doing a collaboration record. We’ll see. It’s really, really hard. I know a lot of people…Like Chuck is writing songs and writing songs all the time. My friend Jon Snodgrass writes, like, a song a day. It takes me months to write a song. I recorded Somebody Loves You in December of 2008 and I’ve written seven songs since then. Part of that is because of how much I tour, but part of it is that I’m a really big perfectionist, I don’t leave a song until I’m absolutely happy with it. Also, I’m not as creative as other people are, it takes me a lot. It’s sometimes like pounding a hammer against a board, without a nail or anything like that, and hoping it’ll stick to the wall *laughs*. I do everything I can, and try and make it happen. A lot of the time I have to wait until I’m actually inspired, and sometimes I’m not inspired. It takes me, sometimes, six months before something inspires me. Especially because I write a lot of sad songs. That’s where I really want to write songs, is in those sad moments, because my favorite songs are sad songs. I have a pretty good life and, mostly, I’m really happy. So, sometimes, I have to wait for a serious trauma to put something out there.
IC: Are you wishing for one?
AL: No, I’m not wishing for one actually. Sometimes, when I’m trying to write, I’m like “oh, if my dog could just die, it’d be ok”. I’m thinking about getting a goldfish, because they’re fragile. If I get a new one every month…*laughs*. I don’t think anyone would buy an album that was dedicated to twelve different dead goldfish.
AB & IC: *laughs*
AL: So, no, I’m not looking forward to those things. I don’t want trauma in my life. I’m thinking about going into hypnosis, because there’s probably a bunch of stuff buried in my past that, maybe, I could write about. But that’s only gonna go so far too. I don’t know. Sam, punch me so I can write a song.
Sam: I could drive us off a cliff.
AL: Oh, I could write a song about that if I survived. Someone else would have to write it if I died.
El Morgan: I’ll get out and write the song.
AL: Ok, that’s a good idea. Are you sure that you couldn’t die though and I can write the song?
EM: No, I’d have to write it.
AB: Well you’re releasing The Collection this year, aren’t you?
AB: What’s the reason behind putting that together?
AL: To have new merch to go on tour with *laughs*. What? That’s an honest answer. I mean, I live off of selling merchandise. I don’t get paid that much for shows, I mostly just make money off of selling stuff. There’s only so far you can get with one release, before all of your fans have that release and, basically, I wanted to have something new to sell. The other reason, the sweeter, nicer reason is, a lot of those songs are really rare and hard to get hold of. Especially the At War With Freak Folk ten inch, there was only 500 of those and a lot of people haven’t even heard those tracks before so I figured it would be good to put that stuff together.
IC: Who designed the cover art for that album?
AL: Of At War With Freak Folk?
IC: No, The Collection.
AL: Oh, the face. That was my friend Jeremy Clark, Hush is his art name. He did the cover of Somebody Loves You. I also have a live record coming out, Live At The Little Rock Tavern in Little Rock, Arkansas and he did the cover for that. He’s gonna be doing my next full length too.
AB: Were you on The Revival Tour in Little Rock?
AL: No, I was on the tour, just not on those particular dates for either year.
AB: What’s it like doing a tour like that?
AL: Awesome…do you want me to elaborate? *laughs*.
IC: Any tales? Any good stories?
AL: A lot of good stories. Well, first off, it’s the best tour that I’ve ever been on. Emotionally and, I guess that covers spiritually I’ll leave that one out. Everything, like the amount of camaraderie on the bus is absolutely incredible. Plus, it’s on a bus, which is pretty cool. I mean, everyone’s collaborating, so you actually get a chance to get to know people. Like, sometimes you can go on tour and it can take weeks before you warm up to people. If you even warm up to people. I was on tour with, this guy, Langhorn Slim and, this other band, Dawes in November and it wasn’t until the last three days of the tour that we started being like “what’s up!” and really getting along. The Revival Tour, like, I met Tim Barry and Ben Nichols on the first day of The Revival Tour, for the first time, along with Todd Beene the pedal steel [guitar] player for Ben Nichols and Lucero and, the first day, I became friends with them. We just got together and were like ‘alright, let’s play some songs together. what’ve you got?’. Everyone starts joking and drinking together. So, litterally, from the first moment we’re all buddies and we’re all hanging out as equals. It’s a lot different than the: headliner, main support, second support kinda tour. In that way, it’s the best package tour that was ever invented. At least, in the world of punk.
IC: It’s supposed to be coming over to the UK soon, isn’t it?
AL: Well…there’s been a lot of talk about the UK and Europe. I mean, they just did Australia. I actually asked Chuck, because me and Drag The River and Corey Branner are coming over in October and November and the talk was that Revival Tour was gonna be happening around October or November time. I wrote Chuck and I was like ‘hey, is The Revival Tour happening in Europe’ and he wrote me back and was like ‘no, it’s not happening this year’ so maybe next year. I know that it’ll come, it’s just a matter of time.
IC: I hope so, yeah. Finally, it’s been said that you learnt to sing before you could talk, how does that make you feel as a vocalist?
AL: That’s what my mother says. It makes me feel like I cried a lot as a baby *laughs*. I don’t know, it makes me feel good. Mother’s always have the thing that they say about their child. ‘Oh, you were always doing this’, and that’s the thing that my mom says about me. So, it kinda makes me feel warm and the fact it got used in the press release, that’s pretty sweet. I think that it’s kinda true. My dad always tells me that I was singing songs almost before I could even speak, and I don’t know if that helped me develop my language skills as a child, but, if so, because my first love was The Beatles, it means that The Beatles are responsible for me learning how to speak English *laughs*.
AB: *laughs* Well, thank you very much Austin. That was great.
AL: No, thank you. I really appreciate it. Thank you so much.