Lucero's Ben Nichols Plays 'Blood Meridian' Nichols just released his solo debut, The Last Pale Light in the West. Its songs were inspired by Cormac McCarthy's Blood Meridian, a novel about a teenage boy's adventures around the Texas-Mexico border in the mid-1800s.

Lucero's Ben Nichols Plays 'Blood Meridian'

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Back now with Day to Day. The works of writer Cormac McCarthy have inspired plenty of films like "All the Pretty Horses" and the Coen brothers' "No Country for Old Men." McCarthy's novel "Blood Meridian" has also inspired a new album called "The Last Pale Light in the West."

(Soundbite of song "The Kid")

Mr. BEN NICHOLS: (Singing) Your mother died night you were born. Her name you never knew. Look away, look away, Nothing to lose...

COHEN: That's Ben Nichols. He is the frontman of a band called Lucero. "The Last Pale Light in the West" is his first solo album. This track is called "The Kid."

(Soundbite of song "The Kid")

Mr. NICHOLS: (Singing) Look away, look away, Born into death...

COHEN: Ben Nichols recently spoke with me for member station WKNO in Memphis, where he was joined by Rick Steff, who plays accordion on the album. Ben told me "Blood Meridian" was unlike any other novel he's ever read.

Mr. NICHOLS (Singer/Songwriter; Guitar and Vocals, Lucero): It's like reading the Bible. And you've got this "the kid," who is never named, and his nemesis, I guess, in the book is a guy they call the judge, Judge Holden, and you've got these two opposing forces. It's basically a western. But these two characters in this particular setting, it really caught my imagination.

COHEN: Most of the songs that you write for your band Lucero aren't necessarily based on already written books. What was that experience like? Was it different when you're writing from something that's already there and established?

Mr. NICHOLS: Well, I guess, for Lucero, most of the songs are first person and based on personal history of mine. And I've always found that basing the songs on things I have firsthand knowledge of, and when I've tried to just make stuff up out of thin air you can tell. It doesn't have the sincerity. But working from this novel, it was nice to have this reference material to go back to, and I think I was able to kind of find the same kind of sincerity in these songs that I'm able to do with songs about myself.

COHEN: And of course, there's that great inspiration for the title, the title of the album, "Last Pale Light in the West," and that comes from the book, right?

Mr. NICHOLS: Yeah. It does, and what I like about it, it's just - it's an obscure second half of a sentence towards the end of the book. It's not the first line of a chapter, any major pivotal moment in the book. And I thought it would make a really good title, not only because it sounds nice, but it encompasses great themes, such as death, whether it's the light or life itself, you know, fading out and being extinguished or whether it's a light that's out in the distance that you can follow into the next life.

COHEN: Could you play us a little bit of that title track?

Mr. NICHOLS: Sure thing.

(Soundbite of song "The Last Pale Light in the West")

Mr. NICHOLS: (Singing) Dark clouds gather round me To the West my soul is bound But I will go on ahead free There's a light yet to be found, The last pale light in the West, The last pale light in the West.

COHEN: That was lovely, Ben. Thanks so much for that.

Mr. NICHOLS: Thank you.

COHEN: I read, I don't know if this is true or not, that you do most of your songwriting in the backroom of a furniture store owned by your dad and your uncle.

Mr. NICHOLS: Yeah, I've got a little room in the back with a PA and a drum set and a little, you know, four-track recorder. It's a place that I can make noise all night long and be as loud as I want to and not have to worry about anybody else hearing me. So, it's a nice place to have.

(Soundbite of laughter)

COHEN: Does that help, to not have other people listening while you're in the process of creating?

Mr. NICHOLS: Oh, very much. Even in places where I'd had roommates in the past, just knowing that there's someone on the other side of the wall can really stifle the process. It's good to be able to know you can just belt it out and really go for it and not have to worry about people making fun of you the next morning.

COHEN: Let's take a listen to another song off your new album. This one is called "Davy Brown."

(Soundbite of song "Davy Brown")

Mr. NICHOLS: (Singing) Davy Brown, Davy Brown, Where are you going to be when the hammer comes down? Can you outshoot the Devil? Outrun his hounds? Well, ain't going to do it but to stay above ground. Davy Brown, Davy Brown...

COHEN: In addition to music, you've dipped into another medium, reality TV, so to speak, online TV...

(Soundbite of laughter)

COHEN: You were filmed for an MTV show called "$5 Cover," and it's kind of like "Real World: Memphis," but all the cast members are working musicians.

Mr. NICHOLS: Yeah.

COHEN: What was that experience like?

Mr. NICHOLS: That was a whole new ballpark. Craig Brewer is a director, filmmaker, from here, from Memphis. And he did...

COHEN: He did "Hustle & Flow."

Mr. NICHOLS: "Hustle & Flow," mm-hmm, and "Black Snake Moan." He's always been very supportive of Memphis and very proud of Memphis and the local music scene here, and he'd always had this idea about doing some kind of project that involved kind of underground Memphis musicians. He came up with this idea for "$5 Cover." I believe it's going to be a Web-based program for It was really my first shot at acting. I don't think I screwed anything up too bad.

(Soundbite of laughter)

COHEN: And you're playing yourself, we should note, right?

Mr. NICHOLS: Oh, yeah. I was well-prepared for the part.

(Soundbite of laughter)

COHEN: I should hope.

Mr. NICHOLS: Yeah, it weren't hard to play myself.

COHEN: Ben, in today's economy, times are tough for just about everybody. What's it like being a working, touring musician right now?

Mr. NICHOLS: Lucero has never been a really big band, but we've always been able to support ourselves, you know, after the first couple of years of playing music together, and we've been doing this for 10 years. After the first few years, we were just on the road so much that - where you can't have jobs back home, and we've gotten used to living on a small income, anyways.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. NICHOLS: Other than gas prices, we haven't felt it. We've just continued to play shows and live on a meager allowance that we've been living on already. Luckily, I don't have to worry about getting laid off.

COHEN: That's a good sign.

Mr. NICHOLS: Yeah, I work for myself. I'm my own boss. And so, nobody can stop me from picking up a guitar and going down and playing a show somewhere. I feel pretty comfortable with that fact.

(Soundbite of music)

COHEN: Ben Nichol's new album, "The Last Pale Light in the West," is available now online. It's out in stores next week. Ben and his accordion player Rick Steff joined us from WKNO in Memphis, Tennessee. Thanks, guys.

Mr. RICK STEFF (Accordion, Lucero): Thank you.

Mr. NICHOLS: Thank you very much.

COHEN: Ben Nichols played live performances of two tracks from his album at the studios of WKNO. You can hear them at

(Soundbite of music)

COHEN: Day to Day is a production of NPR News, with contributions from I'm Alex Cohen.


I'm Madeleine Brand.

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