Austin Lucas has come home.
It’s been over two decades since the songwriter packed his bags and left Bloomington, Indiana, the Midwestern town where he spent his childhood years falling in love with rock & roll, embracing his punk roots, and standing his ground whenever intolerant locals didn’t understand his way of life. He returns to that place—both creatively and physically—with his seventh studio album, Immortal Americans. Written after a tumultuous period that found Lucas getting sober, supporting his partner through a battle with cancer, and breaking up with his longtime record label, Immortal Americans is a clear-eyed album for murkier times, rooted in stripped-down heartland rock songs that find the artist reflecting upon the changes in both his hometown and himself.
Co-produced by Lucas and Will Johnson (Centro-matic) and recorded/engineered by Steve Albini and captured in a series of live, full-band performances, Immortal Americans was written after Lucas resettled in Bloomington. He’d been away for years, touring the world as an independent solo artist before signing a record deal with New West in 2013. In many ways, the albums he released during that period were reflections of the music he’d grown up with, from the mountain music of his father (bluegrass musician Bob Lucas) to the punk records that soundtracked his teenage years. Appropriately, Lucas earned a fan base as a folksinger with punk roots—or was it the other way around?—while touring the country with artists who represented both ends of that spectrum, sharing shows with Willie Nelson one minute and Chuck Ragan the next.
Somewhere along the way, his vices began to get the best of him. He started drinking too much. He gained weight. His marriage crumbled. Albums like 2013’s cowpunk-inspired Stay Reckless and 2016’s Between the Moon and the Midwest shone a light on those challenges, tackling everything from divorce to depression. When Lucas hit rock bottom though, he stopped writing about his temptations and instead, left them behind for good. He headed back to southern Indiana, resettling himself in a town that had changed considerably since he left.
There, in a region suffering from an opioid epidemic, an HIV crisis, and a homelessness problem, Lucas focused on rebuilding his career and his body. He got sober, shedding more than 100 pounds. He recounted the stories of his youth, where, as an outsider in a small town, he dodged beer cans hurled by passing drivers. As he once more walked the Bloomington streets, he learned to embrace his own fighting spirit again. The album’s title track, “Immortal Americans,” emerged from that period of self-discovery.