Thanks for taking the time to do this interview. You are currently touring with Josh Small and Tim Berry, and you recently released "Somebody Loves You" on Suburban Home. How has the tour been so far?
I love touring with Josh Small and Tim Barry. It's been a good tour. I've had some problems just because people have been incredibly loud -- talking and laughing during my set. I play very depressing music so that can be very tedious which makes it difficult for me to emote what I'm trying to get across. Other than that, it's been really good. For the most part, the people have been really good. There have been a few stinkers.
You have a hardcore background, correct?
Yes, I have played in hardcore bands. But I also come from a very musical upbringing. An upbringing that is very rooted in old time music.
Essentially, you are a full time touring musician. At what point did you decide to cross over from touring with hardcore bands to touring as a solo musician?
I've been playing and singing for hardcore bands for about 12 years. I've been in the punk scene for 18 years. I guess about 10 years ago was when I decided to pick up the acoustic full-time and start writing songs on it.
About 10 years ago, when I was 20, I started getting frustrated with the bands I was playing in. And also, frustrated with singing in these bands. I played in crust-hardcore and political punk bands where the vocals were guttural and screamy. I felt like I was starting to destroy my voice. I eventually quit singing and only played guitar.
I then started singing songs with my sister. We started singing traditional songs that we used to sing together. It was frustrating at first but now I feel that I have about 90% of my voice back.
Did you have the idea to launch your solo career on the backburner the whole time you were playing in the punk/hardcore scene?
I had it on the backburner -- I mean, I still continue to play in a crust-hardcore band called Guided Cradle. I always like to play different styles of music. I played in a band called K-10 Prospect, which played more technical pop punk, much like what Propagandhi is doing right now.
My musical tastes have always been very broad. There were only a few years where I was only into punk. As I got into crust-hardcore, I really got into metal as well. As they say, crust-punk is metal played by punks who can't play metal. As I got into metal, I started playing more classical scales. I also realized that my favorite style of aggressive music -- sludge and stoner rock -- was all based off of blues.
Throughout the entire time, I would always listen to country. Before that, I didn't really like it because I hated Garth Brooks. Every redneck that wanted to beat me up for listening to punk loved Garth Brooks. Now, I appreciate his songwriting and I think he's an amazing singer. I've been compared to him before. I don't hear it but I know what an amazing songwriter he is and a beautiful singer.
You talk about a transition… punks playing folk and country and whatnot. The truth is, I am a punk and I play that stuff but I don't mix punk with it at all. My music is really much more roots-oriented and country-oriented than most of the other performers out there. I know that it's very popular to play those genres in the punk scene right now. But truthfully, I could really give a fuck less than what the punk scene is into. I was raised to play this music and I've known for years that I wanted to do this. I just couldn't do it right away because I shredded my voice so bad with hardcore bands.
Would you say that screaming in those bands added a certain element to your voice today?
It may have added some character to my voice in some respects. I think it mostly hindered it in a lot of ways. I know "the choir boy Austin" and what he was capable of reaching as far as notes. I used to never sing off key, ever.
Explain your upbringing in terms of singing.
My mom always says that I came out of the womb singing. Obviously, she's talking about me crying my eyes out. But I was enrolled in the Indiana University Children's Choir. For some who don't know, IU's music program is maybe not quite as prestigious as Juilliard, but it's one of the highest ranked music programs in the country -- if not the world. My parents never made me take piano or anything but they did make me go into choir. Honestly, I hated it because I missed Saturday morning cartoons. I loved performing though and I did that for six years. I performed in operas and sometimes we would go on tour. I couldn't tour with them internationally because my parents were too poor and my choir conductor hated that.
Fast-forward to now, 20+ years later. You are touring with guys like Tim Berry and you are signed to Suburban Home Records. How did that come about?
I have to say that any amount of success that I've had so far is thanks to Chuck Ragan. Chuck Ragan basically discovered me 3 ½ years ago. I was living in Prague in Czech Republic and I was working with a label called Hometown Caravan. They had contacted a few guys like William Elliot Whitmore and Rocky Votolato about doing a split with me to help me try to sell some records.
Chuck Ragan actually responded and they sent him one of my LPs. Chuck got back to them and was like, "Fuck yeah, I'd love to do a split with him!" Then we played some shows together and got along really well. I had mentioned to him that we should keep playing shows together in the future. He was like, "Yeah, I've been thinking about it a lot and I would love to go out to your dad's with you and record an album."
Your father is a musician, right?
My father, Bob Lucas, is a musician and he always had music friends staying at our house. When I was younger, he moved from Indiana to Ohio to take a job as the musical director of a theatre company in Ohio.
How did you meet up with Virgil and Suburban Home?
I met up with Virgil because he had heard the split 7" I did with Chuck and he bought "Putting the Hammer Down", my second LP that came out on Magic Bullet. Basically, he heard that and then we did Bristle Ridge and he really liked it. At the time, he was signing Mike Hale and Mike had started talking about me. I had been telling Mike that I loved my record label, Magic Bullet, but I was kind of unsatisfied because they didn't really have anyone on the label to tour with. Mike told Virgil that I was looking for a new label and gave him my number.
I didn't think Virgil wanted to talk to me because he and I had already talked about doing an "Under the Influence" series but he never got back to me. It turns out, he was very interested and we talked to Magic Bullet who gave us their consent, which was really great of them and they were happy for me. I think everybody knows that Virgil is one of the most amazing guys in the punk scene. He runs a great label and they're very transparent.
How would you explain this punk and hardcore crossover movement into rootsy, Americana and country?
I don't know how it works out. I'm from Bloomington, which is where Plan-It X Records is from. Their label has a lot of punks playing acoustic and I don't want to insult them because I have been friends with Hannah and Chris for years and they're great. But there is a lot of stuff on there that I cannot relate to. I felt like some of those people didn't really care and they were doing it half ass. Some of those shows I just had to run out of screaming because they weren't doing it right.
Then I moved to Europe and started to find my sound and voice over there. I didn't know the punks were unplugging left and right until I did the split with Chuck. I knew he did Rumbleseat so his newer stuff wasn't really a far cry. But people like Tim Berry and Rocky Votolato were doing it and I didn't even know they were doing this. I didn't even hear of Lucero until I was living over there for 2 years. My friend gave me a tape and I loved it. I had no idea there was a country punk thing going on. It wasn't until I moved back to the States when I realized how popular it was.
Where do you see yourself going with your solo career?
I really want to be in the Americana scene. I told Virgil right when we started working together that I really don't' want to see myself on his label in 5 or so years. He asked where I want to go and I told him that I see myself on Rounder Records or Anti, at the lowest. And Virgil said, "Let's get you there." When I say that I don't give a shit about what punks are into, it has nothing to do with me not appreciating them. It has everything to do with the fact that I'll be doing this regardless of what trend punk rock is seeing right now… This is my career and my life.