Austin Lucas on Rehearsing in a Nuclear Bomb Shelter and “Rockin’ with the Dinosaurs”

July 12, 2016

Tell us about your tour vehicle. Any notable breakdown stories?

I tour in a Ford E-350. She’s got 360,000 miles on her. I’ve had front-end work done, and the rear differential. She’s been with me for five years and 150,000 miles, and has never broken down on me. She’s a beast, and never leaves me stranded.

How do you eat cheaply and/or healthy while on tour?

Grocery stores are my preferred route for cheap and healthy. However, if we’re anywhere that is known for a type of food, you’ll find me eating that instead of healthy. Burritos and po’ boys especially get preferential treatment. I was recently on a West Coast tour and there was a five-day stretch where every meal involved a tortilla. I’m not ashamed.

How many strings do you break in a typical year? How much does it cost to replace them?

Depends on where you’re buying strings. I spend a fair amount on strings every year—I mean, hundreds of dollars. Typically I don’t break too many strings. The reason being that I change them every three gigs as a precautionary measure. If I didn’t, I reckon I’d break a string every 4 shows.  Multiply that by the 150-250 shows I play per year and it’s a sizable amount.

Where do you rehearse? Are there any particular peculiarities or crazy experiences that you’ve had there?

I use my basement. It’s a little damp but no real story there. I did used to rehearse in a nuclear bomb shelter in the Czech Republic. That was crazy because every time we went in, we had to go through these massive lead doors with air locks.

What was the title and a sample lyric from the first song that you wrote?

I was six and the song was called “Rockin’ with the Dinosaurs.”

“Some eat plants, and some eat meat. When they’re not eating each other. I hope I don’t look, like something good to eat. Maybe they’ll take my brother.”

Describe your first gig.

I’m honestly not sure what my first gig was. I’ve been performing since I was so young. 

What was your last day job? What was your favorite day job?

My last “day job” ended around 2006. I was a bartender for several years. I loved it in a lot of ways. I also worked 12-hour shifts and had an entire winter where I didn’t once see daylight. It can be wonderful to be a bartender in a city like Prague, but it’s also grueling work with long hours into the morning. There were many times when the work day ended at 8 or 9 in the morning. I took up smoking 3 packs a day, drank more than a body should. Had a wonderful time.

How has your music-related income changed over the past 5-10 years? What do you expect it to look like 5-10 years from now?

Well, 10 years ago I was a virtually broke punk, bartending long nights in the Czech Republic, dreaming of owning my own home off the income of a songwriter. Today, I’ve succeeded in buying a home and I have at least some money in the bank. Ten years from now? I just hope I haven’t lost it all. Obviously, it would be amazing if my house was paid off and I was still relevant to my existing fans. As well as new fans.

I live a modest life, which I’m very happy with. More fans and more income would be amazing, but I’m not chomping at the bit to sell out arenas. Honestly, I just feel lucky to be here and have a career in music. As long as that continues, I’ll be grateful.

What one thing do you know now that you had wished you knew when you started your career in music?

That hard work isn’t enough. A regimented work ethic and intelligent planning are incredibly important. Thinking bigger picture is something that should always be a priority in all aspects of a person’s career. Also that trust and loyalty should only be given when a person has proven themselves. Friends care about you. Business colleagues only give a damn if they stand to make money off of you. Only through many errors and heartaches did I learn the difference.

Raised in the backwoods country of Monroe County, Indiana, Austin Lucas was born into a folk and bluegrass lineage. His father, Bob Lucas, is an accomplished musician and performer in his own right, having earned songwriting credits on two of Allison Krauss’ albums. Learning to harmonize before learning to read, Lucas honed his vocal control as a member of the nationally-acclaimed Indiana University Children’s Choir. In a narrative as well-worn as it is true, Lucas rebelled against his upbringing, leaving his Americana roots for the catharsis of punk rock. After the better part of a decade spent criss-crossing the globe with a series of bands in broken-down vans, Lucas hit a musical glass-ceiling, eventually finding respite for his ringing ears in the delicacy of traditional songcraft.

Singing with the conviction of a preacher bereft of his faith, Lucas tackles recurrent themes of the soul, sin as personal purgatory, and the possibility of finding redemption in this life. Between the Moon & The Midwest, his latest album, was released in May 2016.

Connect with Lucas online and on the road.