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Vandoliers, Austin Lucas

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Hideout Inn

1354 W. Wabansia Ave.

Chicago, IL 60642

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9PM DOORS | 9:30 SHOW

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Vandoliers

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Vandoliers are the next wave of Texas music. The six-piece Dallas-Fort Worth group channels all that makes this vast state unique: tradition, modernity, audacity, grit, and—of course—size. Forever puts it all together for an enthralling ride down a fresh Lone Star highway.

Produced and recorded by Adam Hill (Low Cut Connie, The Bo-Keys, Deer Tick, Don Bryant, Zeshan B) at American Recording Studios in Memphis, TN, the band’s third album (and first with Bloodshot) Forever is a mix of youthful and defiant punk, rugged Red Dirt country, and vibrant Tejano. The full-length’s 10 songs blend emblematic rock ‘n’ roll with bold horns, violin, and a slather of twang reflecting where the band is from, where they’ve been and, eventually, where they’ll be headed. It’s regional and universal all the same.

“I wrote a series of songs about my life and gave it to the best musicians I know to flesh out,” says lead singer and guitarist Joshua Fleming. “I spent over a year writing by myself, with friends and mentors, and we spent just as long filling out arrangements and writing scores. We wrote horn and fiddle parts on a trio tour through the mountains of New Mexico, Wyoming and Montana.”

One of those mentors is fellow Dallas-Fort Worth musician Rhett Miller of Old 97’s. The influence and tutelage of Miller and his bandmates helped sharpen Vandoliers’ Texas-bred, roots-based punk rock.

“Before the band started diving into the new material, I sent Rhett a bunch of acoustic phone demos,” says Fleming. “Being the amazing person he is, he sent me back a 3,000-word email of advice that read like a master class in the art of songwriting. Beyond their influence musically, they’ve really taken us under their wing, letting us play shows with them and giving us all kinds of advice along the way.”

While tracking alongside the muddy path that country-punk bands like Old 97’s, Jason and the Scorchers, and the True Believers blazed in the ‘80s and ‘90s, Vandoliers define their own style; no one else is upending the genre quite like them. There are familiar ingredients—Fleming’s raspy vocals, rousing sing-along choruses, and an infectious energy (like on the rippin’ “Sixteen Years”)—that lay down the foundation on Forever. But it’s the ancillary instrumentation that separates them from others. When they seamlessly inject punk rock with ‘60 and ‘70s country grime (“Tumbleweed”), old-timey fiddlin’ (“Miles and Miles”), Tex-Mex horn and violin (“Fallen Again”), and heartfelt balladry (“Cigarettes in the Rain”), a rich new sound emerges. References to the Texas Tornados, Social Distortion, Deer Tick, and Calexico can be made, but none fully capture the soul of the self-proclaimed “Converse cowboys.”

For a band that spends more than half the year on the road, “forever” is their credo of hope and determination—“VFFV” (Vandoliers Forever, Forever Vandoliers) is tattooed on the six members’ arms as an emblem of their solidarity and commitment to the collective, through good times and, more significantly, the tough ones. The album’s lyrics center on themes of dedication (“Sixteen Years”), being known as middle finger-throwing rabble-rousers (“Troublemaker”), seizing adventure while traveling (“Nowhere Fast”), and addressing anxiety and depression (“Fallen Again”). When they return home from tour, broke and empty, they humbly look to their families for support (“Bottom Dollar Boy”) and unconditional love—despite their unconventional career paths—(“Tumbleweed”). Thus recharged, they can hit the road again, to spread the Vandoliers’ message with renewed fervor.

Formed in 2015, Vandoliers are Fleming, bassist Mark Moncrieff, drummer Guyton Sanders, fiddler Travis Curry, electric guitarist Dustin Fleming, and multi-instrumentalist Cory Graves. Their first two albums Ameri-Kinda (2016) and The Native (2017) were released on State Fair Records.

Austin Lucas

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Austin Lucas has come home.

It’s been over two decades since the songwriter packed his bags and left Bloomington, Indiana, the Midwestern town where he was born and spent his formative years. He returns to that place, both creatively and physically, with his seventh studio album, Immortal Americans. Written after a tumultuous period that found Lucas getting sober, supporting his partner through a battle with cancer, and breaking up with his longtime record label. Immortal Americans is a clear-eyed album for murkier times, rooted in stripped-down songs that find the artist reflecting upon the changes in both his hometown and himself.

Co-produced by Lucas and Will Johnson (Centro-matic) and recorded/engineered by Steve Albini and captured in a series of live, full-band performances, Immortal Americans was written after Lucas resettled in Bloomington. He’d been away for years, touring the world as an independent solo artist before signing a record deal with New West in 2013. In many ways, the albums he released during that period were reflections of the music he’d grown up with, from the mountain music of his father (bluegrass musician Bob Lucas) to the punk records that soundtracked his teenage years. Appropriately, Lucas earned a fanbase as a folksinger with punk roots – or was it the other way around? – while touring the country with artists who represented both ends of that spectrum, sharing tours with Willie Nelson one minute and Chuck Ragan the next.

Somewhere along the way, his vices began to get the best of him. He started drinking too much. He gained weight. His marriage crumbled. Albums like 2013’s cowpunk-inspired Stay Reckless and 2016’s Between the Moon and the Midwest shone a light on those challenges, tackling everything from divorce to depression. When Lucas hit rock bottom though, he stopped writing about his temptations and instead, left them behind for good. He headed back to southern Indiana, resettling himself in a town that had changed considerably since he left.

There, in a region suffering from an opioid epidemic, an HIV crisis, and a homelessness problem, Lucas focused on rebuilding his career and his body. He got sober, shedding more than 100 pounds. He recounted the stories of his youth, where, as an outsider in a small town, he dodged beer cans and bottles hurled by passing drivers. As he once more walked the Bloomington streets, he learned to embrace his own fighting spirit again. The album’s title track, “Immortal Americans,” emerged from that period of self-discovery.

“My friends and I had to fight for who we were,” he remembers of those early days in the Midwest, “and it was an alienating, anxious, and oftentimes scary way to live. This song is about that fight. It goes out to the most marginalized and at-risk human beings who live in our country, all the people who live on the outside of mainstream society and have to fight every day for their identities and for their existence – because those are the true immortal Americans.”

Meanwhile, Lucas’ new partner was fighting a different sort of battle. Lucas had discovered a lump on her body during their first evening together and the mass turned out to be cancerous. He became not only her romantic partner, but her caretaker too, nursing her back to health after a life-altering surgery and a string of energy-sapping chemotherapy sessions. Lucas continued writing music throughout the process, strumming an acoustic guitar quietly while his girlfriend slept in the next room. Although much of Immortal Americans is influenced by that experience, album standouts like “The Shadow and Marie” tackle the experience directly, shining a light on his partner’s vitality and unending beauty.

“The song opens up with dark lyrics,” he admits, “but the overall point is, ‘We’re still alive. We still have so much to be grateful for. As long as we’re still here, there’s beauty and joy.’ I wrote it to remind my lover that even though she’d been through a crazy ordeal in which her body was permanently changed, she was still beautiful to me. The song may start out on a low note, but as it builds, it goes to a place that’s brighter. It pushes toward something better. In many ways, that’s the theme of the whole record.”

When it came time to record his new songs at Steve Albini’s studio in Chicago, Lucas didn’t reach too far beyond the songs’ unplugged origins. He’d already cut loose from his record label, which meant he was free to chase down his muse without any sort of outside influence. He consolidated his sound accordingly, stripping away the electric guitars and dense sonic landscapes that had permeated his recent albums. In their place, he focused on acoustic instruments and a restrained rhythm section, gluing everything together with lyrically-sharp songs that measured the distance between his rocky past and even-keeled present. The band – whose members included his Dad, who’d traveled north to play banjo with his son – crowded into the same room at Electrical Audio and played together, resulting in an all-analog album that’s both raw and real.

“I wanted it to sound like human beings playing instruments,” says Lucas, “I knew the best thing for this batch of songs was for them to sound as organic as possible. I sang live, playing guitar at the same time, and we worked very quickly. It was an in-the-moment kind of album.”

Immortal Americans is Austin Lucas’ homecoming album, created during a whirlwind period of tumult and regrowth. With its gothic heartland sound and autobiographical lyrics, it’s also Lucas at his most honest, rooted in a string of largely unamplified anthems that don’t rely on electricity to pack a punch.

“I was watching the changes in Bloomington and reflecting upon the changes in my own life,” he sums up. “Not all of this is happy stuff, but there’s hope. There’s light in the darkness. I really do believe in second and third chances, because I know how many chances I’ve received. You have to keep fighting, because that’s what makes life worth living.”

Or, in other words, that’s what makes you immortal.

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Hideout Inn

1354 W. Wabansia Ave.

Chicago, IL 60642

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