What a mess. I’ve done this interview some months ago but then I labelled the wrong minidisk and when I wanted to typewrite it the minidisk with the label “Austin Lucas” was empty. I was pretty much shocked. Then recently when I packed my stuff to move to Santiago de Chile (where I am right now) I found a mysterious unlabelled minidisk. I put it into my player and voila: Austin Lucas and me talking in front of the Rote Flora in Hamburg. What a relief. I really love this guy’s music and his overt and honest attitude. If you’ve never heard about him, please check out his music. Among all those punks gone country he is the one who is closest to the original old time music and bluegrass feeling. And is voice is simply magnificent. So read here, what the country crustie from Prague has got to say.
In your eyes, are hc/punk and country or folk basically the same thing? Or, if not, where do you see the differences?
I think that they can be the same thing. The original place where country and folk music were coming from was often workers and farmers. A lot of the songs originated from the poorest peasants of England, Ireland and Scotland. When they came over the sea and moved to the countryside of America the style of their music moulded into what we call now American traditional music which is where bluegrass, country and folk music come from. Many of them were actually protest songs against the ruling class and the land owners. When you skip forward into the time where people were mobilizing with unions and so on these songs became powerful tools against the corporations that were trying to hold workers back and stick to unsafe working conditions and all that stuff. So, yes they are closely related and they are very much similar in that they are styles of music that come from the people and are for the people. In my opinion they are really close to each other.
Sounds like you would agree with Tim Barry of Avail who said in an interview that punk and country fit together in a great way because they are both music of the outcasts of society? And how does that go together with Good Charlotte and Shania Twain?
You just made a really good point. Obviously Good Charlotte and Blink182 are not punk rock. Really. I mean, you might like them because they are good pop bands. That's an entirely different story. But they are not punk bands. They are pop bands. It's the same thing with Shania Twain and all these country music stars. It's not really country music. It's a totally watered down version of it. It's nothing like when it started and that's why people need to understand that what they hear on the radio and that sounds so cheesy is not country. It is country based pop like Blink182 is punk based pop and not the original thing. I think that if you are listening to punk records then you can also listen to country records.
So you don't think it is a coincidence that right now so many punk musicians like yourself or the singers of Bad Religion, Avail or Millencolin are putting out country records?
Well, I don't know if it is a coincidence. There has definitely been a shift in punk rock towards folk music. It was slow at first but now there is a really big explosion with folk punk and country punk. And it's not about Greg Greffin and the other guys. There is the Plan-It-X scene that is really huge in America and all these bands are coming from folk roots and mix them with punk. Everybody knows Against Me! and they started out as one guy playing acoustic guitar and one guy playing buckets. It has been going on for quite a while but now it is really exploding. Maybe it is a coincidence that all these people are starting to play this music right now but maybe it is the other way round like a lot of people suddenly were able to listen this kind of music and so many people who grew up with it like myself are now able to express themselves this way.
What you just said about Against Me! reminds me a lot of The Fugs, a New York band from the 1960s that started pretty much the same way. The Fugs were very much a part the counter cultural movement back then. Do you think today's country and folk punk scene is connected to the anti war movement and these things going on right now in the States in a similar way?
I think that every time that there is a situation like we have it right now with a war going on that will not stop any time soon and that has only the potential of getting bigger and worse, you will have people getting moblized and politicized in a much higher rate than in times of peace. And folk music with one guy or one woman with a guitar speaking directly to the people is ideal to present a message. It is very pure. It's very different from having to read the lyrics sheet to decipher all this screaming.
Another thing I wondered was whether you only play in front of punk crowds or if you also play in truck stops, saloons or other cliché country places?
You know, I never played a honky tonk or a truck stop or something like that. I played mostly punk places, a lot of house concerts and also concerts for older people like my parents' generation. I have played bars but no cliché country bars. I try to stay away from all these clichés where men are only talking about how drunk they're gonna get and all that boring shit. I do sing about alcohol in my songs but it is never „hoorah, let's fucking do it“. I am mostly talking about lives falling apart. To me country music is about stories, about people telling what their lives are really like. Those kind of things really bother me.
If I got your music right you prefer telling sad stories about fucked up lives. Right?
Yeah, I do. I tell a lot of stories about life or about the worst parts of my life. I don't say that's how my life is every single day. It's the bad things that can be. Things like these happen. Of course there is a lot of good things happening to me but the bad things can be so powerful that if I don't sing about them then I'm gonna fucking drown. I think that's something almost everybody in punk would tell you. Having the opportunity to get it all out is something that kept us alive. Every time I see shirts that say „punk rock saved my life“ I just think „Yeah. Mine, too“<./i>
Your biography says that you grew up in Bloomington/Indiana and now as long as you aren't on tour you reside in Prague/Czech Republic. As someone who knows both sides of the Atlantic what do you think are the main differences between Prague and Europe on the one side and Bloomington and the US on the other?
Here I am not afraid of the police every day and my phone isn't tapped. I'm not always afraid that today might be the last day that I could leave the country. I'm a bit paranoid sometimes but I think America's government is getting really fucked up and the restrictions on travelling are getting greater and greater. Sometimes it reminds me on Nazi Germany where it was the question if you got out in time or you were stuck. Either you are out or you are in and fucked the moment the gates get closed. I know people that could get no passport or that were trying to fly some place outside the country and they were told they can't because they are on a no fly list. These are the kind of things that I don't worry about when I am in Europe. Sometimes I am worried when I have to cross borders but I think if something happened I'd be able to work it out and stay here. What keeps me in Europe is the fact that I feel less oppressed than in America.
Do you know that movie „escape from l.a.“?
Do you think this is a good preview for what is gonna happen in the US?
It's funny that you mentioned that. Two days ago in the van I was thinking about that movie with that redneck president and I was like „What if John Carpenter told the future?“ Probably not. But it would be very, very weird if he actually did...
Have you already learned a lot of Czech?
I speak Czech. I can have conversations and I can go to stores and get everything that I want. But if I said I was fluent than I would be lying to you. I'm told that my accent is good but I guess that they are just being nice. [laughs]
Do you have any plans about going back to America?
I'm going back on tour and I'm gonna record with Chuck Ragan. We are gonna do a record with old time traditionals and a few song that we wrote together. But it's mostly gonna be covers. Really rare stuff mostly.
Last question. If you had to bring close country music to an average crust punk by playing one single record to him or her which one would you choose except for your own ones?
I don't know. That's a really difficult question. A lot of the people at my shows are actually crust punks. Last night at Copenhagen everyone who bought a record was a crust punk and we actually sold a lot of records. I think a lot of crusties are getting more open minded. Ethan, the guitar player from my band Guided Cradle listens to punk and metal only. Now he came back from travelling in Spain and he brought all this gypsy music and he is listening to it making breakfast in the morning every day. It is a really welcomed trend to me because I've been a crusty and playing in crust band for fucking thirteen years and it makes me really, really happy to see people I can relate to and that I grew up with getting into the music that I play. But in answer to your question, I think that everybody has listened to Johnny Cash and obviously he is one of the gateway performers for punks to get into country music. So I don't think I have to play a country record to them because everybody has already heard a Johnny Cash record.
Okay, thank you for the interview!
Thank you, too!