Austin, Texas is one of the many ever-changing musical melting pot cities of America; case in point, Uncle Lucius. The band, composed of Kevin Galloway on lead vocals and rhythm guitar, Michael Carpenter on lead guitar and vocals, Hal Vorpahl on bass, Josh Greco on drums/percussion and newest member Jon Grossman on keys, is an assembly of songwriters – yes, all of them – who dribble R&B, soul and other fringe elements into a base of Southern rock. Prior to the July 9 release of the band’s single, “A Pocket Full of Misery,” Hal Vorpahl spoke with American Songwriter about Uncle Lucius’ upcoming third studio album, And You Are Me (August 28) and the band’s two great obsessions: live performance, and the art and changing process of songwriting.
Where did the name “Uncle Lucius” come from?
It came from an eccentric old man named Lucius from down in the Louisiana swamps – a friend of a friend. We just put our twist on it.
Uncle Lucius has toured extensively all over. Are people more receptive to the music in some areas than others?
I don’t know if there are any specific areas. We do really well in the Midwest, on the east coast and here in Texas. It just depends on getting in front of the right crowd wherever it may be – people who aren’t just interested in a good rock show, but interesting lyrics and songwriting.
The band is in the middle of a tour right now – how is it going so far?
We went up through Chicago, Wisconsin, over to New York and worked our way back through. We’re home right now, and we just shot a video last night in Austin with our hometown people.
For which song?
“A Pocket Full of Misery” from our new record, And You Are Me.
Can you tell me a bit about the video?
It went great. One of our buddies, who is a huge music fan and serious collector, has his garage full of records and memorabilia. It’s a place we hang out when we’re in town, and we invited about 50 of our closest friends over and cooked and set up in the garage and played.
There are a lot of influences in your music, from soul to Southern rock. Do you attribute that to where you’re from?
I think it has a lot to do with it, the melting pot that’s in Texas, for sure. As far as songwriting, there are a lot of people we write with and hang out with and pick with around town. A band called Deadman has some really brilliant songwriters and so does The Memphis Strange.
It also has a lot to do with the fact that everybody in the band writes, and obviously have their personal influences. I think that really comes across. I bring in an idea, and it may sound like a Kristofferson song, but by the time we get through with it, it sounds like a Meters song.
You have two previous records, Pick Your Head Up and Something They Ain’t. How was the process of making those different from And You Are Me?
Something They Ain’t was something we funded ourselves and kind of did in chunks when we could, when we could afford it. It was mostly songs we’d been sitting on for a while. Pick Your Head Up was done in an amazing studio – East Austin Recording – with Stephen Doster and engineer James Stevens, and it was the first time we’d been able to sit down with a producer and do pre-production, look at songs and really start writing together, and I think you can hear it. This one, we did with R. S. Field [Justin Townes Earle, Webb Wilder] and did much of it in the Spank Factory in Nashville and some down here in Public Hi-Fi. The songwriting is the most evident growth – writing together as opposed to just bringing songs in.
Do you think lyrical subject matter has changed?
I think both have matured. We usually write about whatever’s going on in our lives, but try to keep it broad enough so people can read into it however they might want to.
Every band member is a lyricist, so how do your styles differ?
Jon, our newest guy, is extremely prolific. He’s one of those guys who’s writing 10 songs a day. He always has ideas. The drummer, Josh, he grew up in drum line and listening to jazz, and his contribution is a lot of arrangement-type things. Mike comes from more of a rock ‘n’ roll background and writes stuff on guitar more, starting with a riff. Kevin does the most singer/songwriter stuff. I was into poetry and literature before I got into music, so I come up with lyrical ideas before I get to the music. Then there’s three or four songs on this album when we all sat in a room together and wrote them from scratch. Everyone was writing on their own before, so now we’re learning how to write together.
You put a great emphasis on putting on a memorable live performance. Why?
I think it’s a really important thing. There’s a split between listening to somebody’s record and seeing them live. Listening to a record can be a really personal experience and you relate to it how you do, but live is a communal experience and so in-the-moment. It takes a live performance to shake people down and get them in that moment.
You’ve really hit the festivals hard, especially this year. Is there one particularly memorable?
They’ve all been really great for different reasons. Mountain Jam was really beautiful with a lot of great acts. We just did one in Tennessee – the Riverbend in Chattanooga, which had really great people. As long as we have a bunch of people having a good time, it’s great.
Do you think the band would be very different if you weren’t all lyric contributors?
Sure [laughs]. That’s what makes it stick out. When you force all those influences together, you get what you get.
Musically, do you have very different tastes?
Yeah, there’s a big common ground of artists we like or, at least, respect. Then there are fringe influences of each individual that are brought in. There’s good music and bad music, and we all like good music…I just read the article you guys did on Rodney Crowell and Mary Karr, and it was fantastic. He’s definitely a big influence of ours, and we got to see him not too long ago and meet him, which was great.