Tuesday, June 19, 2012
The sound of something different: LuLu & The Vipers
“When most people see us, they see a bunch of tattooed misfits. They have no idea what to expect, and they are always pleasantly surprised.”
On stage is a gorgeous, tattooed, dark-haired woman in rockabilly garb. It’s Lauren Smith, better known to fans as LuLu VanTuckett, the frontwoman for LuLu and the Vipers. As she fires the strings of her rhythm guitar, she is joined by the sounds of band members Al Nichols (guitar, slide guitar), Brandon Nichols (guitar), Billy Frankie (banjo) and Jeremy Baker (bass, percussion).
Smith’s voice is unique to say the least. It’s smooth, classic, a little bit Southern, and it’ll quickly silence a room of unsuspecting listeners. She admits that those who show up to the band’s shows aren’t always sure what to expect.
“I hear it a lot: ‘I never would have guessed you play this kind of music when looking at you,’” she said. “When most people see us, they see a bunch of tattooed misfits. They have no idea what to expect, and they are always pleasantly surprised.”
Nichols said their ages add to the shock value.
“I think some people may be surprised that a group of folks our age tattooed to the hilt are playing songs from as early as the 1930s.”
The style of LuLu and the Vipers is a mix of musical influences that has evolved over the years.
“I would describe us as ‘roots’ with a heavy influence of blues and honky-tonk,” said Smith. “My biggest inspirations for my music stem from 30s blues women such as Memphis Minnie and Lil Green, and the grandfathers of country such as Hank Williams, Sr. and Jimmie Rodgers. We try to capture that same feel of hard times.”
“It’s old blues and western swing, maybe a little bluegrass,” added Nichols. “It continues to evolve. These are the styles that appeal to all of us.”
The musical mashup has helped the band develop a wide fanbase playing bars and honky-tonks to receptive crowds that continue to grow.
“I think it appeals to just about everyone because it is fun,” said Nichols.
“I think anyone could dig it,” added Smith. “It’s a refreshing glimpse into the roots of what we listen to today. No matter what our audience listens to, they seem to be touched by it. We have quite a diverse turnout.”
For Smith, playing for large audiences is a fairly new concept. She admits that just a few years ago, despite a musical past, she struggled with playing for crowds. She’s been singing her entire life, and in her early 20s, she played in an all-girl punk band. In college, she began picking at her father’s 12-string as an accompaniment to her singing.
“It wasn’t until then that I really found my voice,” she explained. “My last year of college, I had a handful of songs I would play in front of a select few people. I was too nervous to play in front of anyone else. Allen and Jeremy, while hearing me play, decided they should back me up to give me the nerve to play more. So, we started out as a three-piece.”
Eventually, the other members completed the group, and they’ve pressed forward working on new music, originals and a few covers.
“Most of our covers are ‘undercovers’ or covers that aren’t recognized by the general public,” said Smith. “When I hear a song that really moves me, I have to share it in my own way. The guys back me up in their own way, and it comes together as our very own gritty and fervent interpretation.”
It’s been a journey for the close-knit band. Smith said they have grown over the years as musicians by learning to play new styles and instruments.
“We’ve progressed as musicians, for sure,” she said. “None of us had ever been in a band like this. Jeremy had played bass before, but not the upright... I barely knew how to play the guitar, Allen had just gotten his resonator. He was used to playing a distorted electric guitar. Billy played electric guitar... When we told Billy he should join and play banjo, he said, ‘But I don’t know how to play.’ We said, ‘That’s perfect, ‘cause neither do we.’”
The effort has proved successful. The band’s gritty, yet polished and smooth sound is earning them fanfare around Texas. The group tries to maintain a good balance between their 9 to 5s and their musical careers. Still, Smith told us, they hope to branch out and play more often in different cities.
“I hope to continue to grow as we have been,” said Smith. “I like our pace of slowly venturing out. I’d like to start playing in Marshall, Tyler, Shreveport and so on.”
“I’ve always had a deep passion for the type of music we do. The whole band has. I would never have imagined that we’d get such a positive response and be where we are today. Three years ago you couldn’t get me to play in front of fifteen people. Since then, we’ve opened up for David Allan Coe multiple times, we’re playing rallies, weddings and venues, and we’ve been filmed in a movie. It’s been a blast!”
More information about LuLu and the Vipers, including videos of their live performances, is available on their Facebook fanpage: luluandthevipers