"It's really two different things," he said. "It's all a part of good songwriting and the process, and you do deliberately try not to lose that quality. How you do that is harder to pin down."
Lucero will perform at 9 tonight at Sky City, 1157 Broad St.
For Nichols, a great rock song comes wrapped in the history of every tune that came before.
"It's all a part of rock 'n' roll," he said. "And when you are playing it, that catharsis and liberation and rebellion that have always been a part of it are all wrapped into it."
Lucero draws from several sources. There are elements of Bruce Springsteen's blue-collar blues and the Replacements' bruised love songs. Tunes are attacked with punk attitude and classic country's affection for melody. On the band's most recent album, 1372 Overton Park , the music pays tribute to their hometown, Memphis, with the addition of a horn section that would sound at home on a Stax-era soul side. With so many moving parts it was important to ensure that the sound remain solid and restrained, Nichols said. Bringing in Memphis pros helped.
"It is a lesson we're still learning," he said. "But those guys really knew what was going on. They are absolute pros. Having them made coming up with songs that were not a muddled hodgepodge realistic."
The band went on tour in the fall with its full recording complement of musicians. This spring, economics have precluded keeping the horns.
Nichols admitted that when assembling the complex Overton album, he figured the details of touring would work out.
"I mainly focused on making the record we wanted," he said. "I figured we could worry about that other stuff later. What we found was these songs were strong, and worked whether we were a nine-piece band, a six-piece or a four-piece. It's very good show.
"Nobody gets ripped off."