By Rachel Cholst, Contributing Writer
It’s trite to say that an artist has paid their dues, but if it applied to anyone, it’s Austin Lucas. The Indiana-based troubadour has done the DIY punk circuit and toured with Willie Nelson — and done everything in between. After a deal with New West Records soured, Lucas left his Nashville aspirations behind to create an intriguing brand of rock that swirls with country, punk, folk, and metal influences. On “Alive in the Hot Zone!,” Lucas is more outspoken than ever, liberated from others’ expectations — and by a more profound understanding of himself.
“I often feel the best part about my career is the way I’ve carved out a space where I’m constantly allowed the freedom to reinvent myself musically, which is something a lot of folks don’t have the opportunity to do,” Lucas, who is pansexual, told Country Queer. “Deliberately doing something new with each record has provided me with an annual metric by which to gauge where I am currently as a human being, an opportunity to look back at where I’ve been and to move forward.”
Lucas has been hunkered down in Germany with his partner, a visit to her home there prolonged indefinitely by the pandemic. For 2020, Lucas had plans to work a collaborative album, plans which are now postponed. Separated from his family by a pandemic, an ocean away from the political revolution this past summer, Lucas did what he could: hit the studio to record the songs that flew off his pen. While Lucas has never made a secret of his anti-fascist politics, this diary of the first few months of COVID lockdown speak truth to power with unvarnished spleen — but plenty of Lucas’s trademark poetic lyrics and haunting singing.
Of interest to Country Queer readers is the album’s keystone, “Drive.” The song comes as a result of “a half-successful co-writing session in Nashville.” While the song is easy to sing to, Lucas found himself taking a hatchet to the verses. “Once I trimmed the fat and started reimagining what the song could be about, I saw it as an anthem for LGBTQ folks, who lacked acceptance inside their traditional family unit and had to escape to form a chosen family of their friends and peers. Although I was lucky enough not to have dealt with such things in my own biological family, I think this song holds a lot of my own experiences in regards to feeling misunderstood and bullied inside of many of the social spaces that I grew up around.”
The song is emblematic of Lucas’s own journey, rejecting a career that could have been easy, or at least easier, in order to be true to himself. Lucas recently told the Adobe & Teardrops podcast that he was not public about his queer identity until recently, but has realized he doesn’t care to play by the rules of anyone who would make someone feel lesser.
While “Alive in the Hot Zone!” has a heavy tone, the songs themselves are doggedly focused on liberation: of others and of oneself.
“The album feels like a giant step towards who I truly am as a person and artist, holding the energy and ideals that I most want to put into the world and the ethics for which I’d most like to be known and remembered.”
“Alive in the Hot Zone!” is available now on Bandcamp.