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Lucero’s When You Found Me pulls (“Have You Lost Your Way?”) and punches (“Outrun the Moon”) with incendiary highway fury. We recently spoke with lead singer Ben Nichols about the ways similarly seeking literature informs his writing.
“I will lift lines directly out of literature sometimes and put them in my songs,” the Memphis-based singer-songwriter says. “In fact, I had many songs inspired by Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian. So many good lines made great lyrics.”
Alt-Country Specialty Chart: You turned those into an entire solo album.
Ben Nichols: Yeah, I ended up writing the entire Last Pale Light in the West album about that book. I went through and found my favorite lines and scenes and put them in the songs. The phrase “last pale light in the west” is after the main action in the book when the main character called the kid is walking out on the plains. He looks over and sees the sun going down. I thought “last pale light in the west” was beautiful.
Explain what other characters in Blood Meridian stood out.
There was one story that was about a character who was in there for two pages out of this six hundred page book. His whole life story is told in one paragraph, which was amazing. I added to it and that became “Chambers,” which is about a guy who fought in the Mexican war and ended up with a group of scalp hunters who were the main subject in Blood Meridian. He story takes place out side of theirs, but it inspired me. The way McCarthy writes in general is very inspiring.
Describe his greatest strength as a writer.
McCarthy is just on another level. Blood Meridian takes place in the 1840s and 1850s, and the language he uses seems like it could have existed for all eternity. It seems like a novel that has always existed. McCarthy uses some pretty big, archaic words. I think he sometimes uses words that aren’t even in the English language. They’re definitely not in the Oxford English dictionary, but you don’t really need to know the specific meanings the way he uses them.
Explain what drew you to the story in general.
Blood Meridian gives a western a historical seriousness, significance, and biblical weight. You wrap that up with a spaghetti western feel? Oh yeah. That’s hard for me to resist. McCarthy has become a bar to shoot for in my own writing even though I know I’ll never attain that level in the same way I want to write rock and roll songs like Bruce Springsteen, heartbreak songs like Willie Nelson, and dark songs like Townes Van Zandt.
Describe your ultimate goal as a songwriter.
I strive for a universal quality as a songwriter. I like songs that could have been written in any era no matter the music and lyrics that exists on their own without the music. Song lyrics are poems. You put a certain chord progression underneath them and give them a vocal melody that these three simple words become life changing. Melodies speak directly to our emotions.
– Brian T. Atkinson
Artist: The Shootouts
Hometown: Northeast Ohio
Release Date: April 30, 2021
Record Label: Soundly Music
On the album’s lyrical theme: “For everyone’s sake, this needed to be a fun record. We’re living through a time where people are suddenly out of work, have lost loved ones and have been experiencing unimaginable stress on a daily basis. We want them to take a break, crank it up and enjoy themselves.” – Ryan Humbert
Brian T. Atkinson
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