• Cherry Popper

The Many Musical Lessons of Angelina Lucero

written by: on April 5, 2012

Angelina Lucero is thinking about taking guitar lessons for the first time.

“Maybe classical,” she said.

Listening to her music, it’s hard to believe she hasn’t been taking lessons all along.

“I didn’t start writing my own music until I was 20,” she said. “And I was really shy about [my songs]. I kept them all to myself.”

Then, Lucero didn’t play any instruments: instead she would make up songs a capella.  After a while, she shared a few with her friends, who liked them, though she had to close her eyes from embarrassment to sing them. Some of her friends started to make instrumental tracks for her to sing over and she began to play loft shows, all without any training.

For someone who is just now considering guitar lessons for the first time, the now 27-year-old Lucero’s done a lot. At one point, she was the singer for two different bands, Horse in the Sea and Bluebirds and Bright Lights.

“I’m so sad [Horse in the Sea isn’t] around anymore. It was like 60s pop music with boy/girl harmony,” she said. Bluebirds and Bright Lights, Lucero said, was an ambient project.

“I realized how hard it is to be in a band,” she said. “It felt like I had two boyfriends.” She said that members of one band wouldn’t come see her perform in the other band, and vice versa.

After she stopped working with both of those bands, she decided to teach herself guitar so she could perform solo.

“I would spend hours on Google Images looking up guitar chords,” she said.

“I started playing solo shows shortly after I learned to play guitar,” she said. “I never sought out shows. I always got asked.”

At one point, she was asked to open for a band at Beat Kitchen.

“This particular show, there were at least 20, maybe 30 people there. I was not prepared,” she said. Lucero was used to playing at loft parties or house shows for her friends, usually a crowd of no more than ten.

“I was so nervous that I forgot the words to my song,” she said. Right in the middle of performing, Lucero said, “I think I’m done now,” into the microphone, and stopped playing.

“I get this overwhelming feeling that a song is coming out.” –Angelina Lucero

Despite her self-professed shyness, Lucero followed her heart when it came to music. She moved to Austin and lived there for a short while, less than six months. She’d been told that she could go on tour with a band if she moved to Austin, but the tour never happened.

“I moved back home [to Chicago] because I missed the seasons,” she said. “I think that I moved [to Austin] on a whim and I just wasn’t prepared. I had to kind of make the best of it.”

During her stay, she played with a collective (one of whom was indie-folk artist Danny Malone) that would hand her instruments and teach her parts for different songs. She ended up playing, among other things, drums, bass, and keys.

“It’s really amazing when you are surrounded by people who don’t question your ability,” she said. “They pushed me to play all those instruments.”

Lucero’s dreamy, melancholy songs certainly show her skill. In “Walk With Me,” the first thing you hear is her voice, a capella. It sounds simultaneously fragile and arresting.

“The comparisons I get vocally are so strange,” she said. She’s had people tell her that she sounds like Feist and St. Vincent. “People just throw out the first thing they think of,” she said.

Lucero credits a lot of her vocal ideas to Thom Yorke of Radiohead, who she’s been listening to since she was nine years old. She also considers Bjork, Blur, and the Cranberries to be influential in shaping her own music.

Her songs rise and fall slowly, layering vocal harmonies and guitar. Yorke’s influence can be heard in her slightly slurry vocals and distorted pronunciations. Her lyrics aren’t always easy to discern, which adds to the mystique of the songs. Imagine a dim and smoky room with lanterns hanging from the ceiling–that’s what Lucero’s songs are. They’re more of a feeling than a clear message, an ambience rather than directions.

Maybe Lucero’s songs mirror her own musical journey, one done by feeling, impulse, and mistakes.

Lucero just returned from touring with Pretty Good Dance Moves, who just released an album. She lived in NYC for a short while to work with them while they had a residency on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, and then toured the Midwest with the band. Now she’s returned to Chicago, living in the Bucktown/Humboldt Park area.

“The apartment I have is really huge,” she said, a nice change after living in cramped conditions in NYC.

Lucero is currently recording her solo album, the tentatively-titled In the Company of Men, in the comfort of her own home. Her roommate, an audio engineer, is assisting with production.

“A lot of it is a little bit darker,” she said. “The first song that we recorded for it is eerie-sounding. I’m trying not to use a lot of instrumentation.”

With the new record, she hopes that listeners will focus on the beauty of the human voice, something she thinks is undervalued in modern music.

The songs, which she plans to be done writing in a month or so, simply come to Lucero. She said that she doesn’t think she’s ever sat down with the intentions of writing a song. To her, it’s more of a compulsion.

“I get this overwhelming feeling that a song is coming out,” she said.

Angelina Lucero lets her feelings guide her life and her music; it seems appropriate, then, that listeners let her music guide their feelings.

Photo credit: Laura Gray and Stephanie Bassos