Uncle Lucius gets called up
It's noon on a Sunday in August, and already the sun scorches deep South Austin.
Splayed around the kitchen table inside sipping coffee and ice water are the five members of Uncle Lucius, preparing themselves for the release of the band's third disc. And You Are Me arrives on robust global indie Entertainment One as a weighty follow-up to 2009's Pick Your Head Up, the quintet treading a soulful sound hinged on Southern rock.
"Think Memphis," nods frontman Kevin Galloway.
And You Are Me demonstrates the rapid growth – musically and compositionally – that comes with being road hogs. Crisscrossing the continent these last three years has put Uncle Lucius on the cusp of becoming a great Austin band.
Singer/acoustic guitarist Galloway, lead axe Mike Carpenter, and bassist Hal Vorpahl began as the Kevin Galloway Band in 2006 with someone else behind the drum kit. "Lucius" came from a Louisiana friend's grandfather prior to debut Something They Ain't. Josh Greco joined up when the band was preparing its sophomore album.
Pick Your Head Up received an enthusiastic reception locally, and earned them a Leon Russell tour. They claim 120 shows in the past year, with a couple of tunes on the TV shows Friday Night Lights and Castle for good measure.
"On Castle, every time there was a bar scene, one of our songs was playing in the background," chuckles newest bandmember Jon Grossman, who signed on with the group in the middle of the never ending Pick Your Head Up tour.
"We hung out with him after a show we did with a band he was playing with in Lexington," Galloway relates. "At the end of the night I gave him a business card and I wrote on the back of it, 'Move to Austin?'"
"I was in every band in Kentucky needing a keyboardist," contends Grossman.
"Right when he moved here, he did 42 days with us," Carpenter recalls.
"On the 39th day, we were robbed in San Francisco," Grossman snorts.
About individual origins, Vorpahl summed it up simply for the Chronicle three years ago in a South by Southwest showcase preview: "We all come from different backgrounds, but we all grew up here in Texas, so Southern music is in our veins."
In the wake of Pick Your Head Up, Uncle Lucius became a festival band as well. An appearance at MusicFest in Steamboat Springs, Co., last January got the ball rolling on the record deal behind And You Are Me. There in the Rocky Mountains an A&R man from the Nashville branch of eOne Music – which absorbed roots giant Koch Records in 2005 – approached Vorphal.
"He came up to me and said he really liked our stuff," says the bassist. "We had a brief conversation and he seemed like a real straight shooter. Record execs don't really come off that way."
"I remember being skeptical at first," Grossman says. "Then he drove four hours each way to see us play a tiny bar in Mississippi. I was like, 'Why would someone do that?'
"Another time we were in his basement one night blasting Black Sabbath and his 10-year-old son came down complaining about the noise."
The group laughs.
"He's like a kid."
At the start of this year, the group signed on the dotted line, recording the new album not long after with their A&R man Van Fletcher and veteran producer R.S. Field (Billy Joe Shaver, Buddy Guy, Todd Snider). Field made And You Are Me soar soundwise, but Uncle Lucius as a collective brought better material to bear.
"With this record and the arrangements, we put everything through a filter. Everyone had more of a hand in every facet," says Galloway.
Like most musicians, they bristle at any tag being applied to their music, especially the Southern rock label that's been deployed to describe what they do. Then again, the group's look of leather, flannel, long hair, and beards, along with a sound that could have been plucked from 1973, encourages the classification.
"We're trying to get away from it," admits Galloway. "Because when people think of it, they're thinking about some of that stuff they're calling Southern rock, which is really just pop.
"I'm trying to be nice about it."
Adds Carpenter thoughtfully: "I trust audiences. If they're fans of good music, no matter if they're fans of Afro-Cuban or swing or country, when we put it out there and do it well I think they're going to dig it no matter what genre it falls into – especially if you can make people dance."
While the band remains on the road and local gigs have been sporadic, Uncle Lucius' recent release party at Antone's for And You Are Me sold out, and saw the audience singing the words to songs besides the couple that get occasional radio play. That's quite the success story for a group that started out with midnight gigs midweek at the Saxon Pub, Continental Club, and a couple second-rate South Austin venues long forgotten. That they now boast an international label behind them, one spanning Shooter Jennings to High on Fire, motivates the Austinites in the old-fashioned way that the music industry once worked.
"They're getting us in front of people that we wouldn't be able to do ourselves," enthuses Galloway. "We've got a radio push, which is new for us. That means doing radio interviews before we hit a city."
They've released a video for "Pocket Full of Misery," a local, low-budget production shot in their South Austin neighborhood. Instead of it just being uploaded to YouTube, it's been picked up by Country Music Television website CMT.com.
"We're not country enough for CMT," smiles Galloway, "but hopefully enough people will grab on to it there. That's fine with us. No matter what or where it is, as long as we get a chance that's all that we're looking for. The label has opened so many doors for us and we're excited about the possibilities."
"The future of the band is to go from town to town and make people extremely happy every single night," Carpenter offers.
All done, and headed toward the door and into the Texas heat, I hear someone mutter behind me.
"Okay, where's the whiskey?"