Lukas Nelson Talks About His Band, Promise Of The Real, Getting Wasted, Meditation, & More

Photo by Jim Eckenrode

For Lukas Nelson, son of music legend Willie Nelson, the past year has been a roller coaster of sorts. The sophomore release from his band Promise of the Real has landed them performances on Late Night TV shows, opening slots for some huge bands, and it has been a vessel for Nelson himself to send off some of the darker moments of his past. At only 23 years old, the young songwriter has already lived nearly his entire life on the road. He has performed and worked with legends such as Bob Dylan and Neil Young and although many may think that having a father with such clout is the reason he has made it to where he is, I feel it is safe to say that Lukas Nelson himself is responsible for the path he walks. He has built his own sound and in doing so, carved his own niche.

Listen Up Denver! was lucky enough to get Nelson on the phone for a short interview last week. He and his band will be headlining Friday night at this weekend’s YarmonyGrass Festival. Their sound may not be the conventional Bluegrass you would expect at such a festival, but it will without a doubt bring the house down and turn all who may not know of Promise of the Real into believers. Hey may be young of age, but after talking with Nelson, it was obvious that the insight and understanding he possesses are clearly that of an old soul.

Listen Up Denver!: Where are you right now and what are you up to?

Lukas Nelson: We are in California on a little tour. I just recorded about thirteen songs in the studio last night.

LUD!: Will this be a solo album?

LN: It might be. Promise of the Real is on there, but it’s a little different so we will just have to figure it out.

LUD!: When will that be out?

LN: As soon as we can get it together I guess

LUD!: How long have you been playing music, and what initially convinced you to pick it up?

LN: I have just loved music my whole life. I’ve been around it as long as I can remember so it’s been a major part of my life in some capacity, forever.

LUD!: How old are you now?

LN: I’m 23

LUD!: When was it that you knew you wanted to make music your career?

LN: Probably college timeframe. I went to school for a year and a half for classical music, which is kind of why I didn’t want to do it anymore.

LUD!: If you weren’t making music, what would you be doing?

LN: Probably writing or surfing. Maybe I would open a taco shop somewhere and surf all day

LUD!: Do you do a lot of writing outside of music?

LN: Yeah, I like to write a lot of short stories, but never end up finishing them. I just enjoy writing in general. Poems or whatever just comes into my head. I’ve started writing a few books but always just get about three chapters in, get bored, and stop.

LUD!: It’s common knowledge that you have grown up and worked with some of the greatest musicians of our time. Can you talk a little bit about both the pros and cons of having that sort of background?

LN: There aren’t really any cons to it. I think its all pros. You learn from all of these great, influential people. They are celebrities not just because they are celebrities. They are celebrities because they represent something in society. They are actual real life heroes and deserve all of the notoriety they get. Now-a-days a lot of people are celebrities just because they are famous. A lot of the people I grew up with are legendary people and their character supports that.

LUD!: Did you ever find it difficult to separate yourself from your father’s legacy and create your own niche and path in music?

LN: In this incarnation, I am the son of my father and I am proud of that. We play and record a lot together and I am proud to say that. I feel I make good music and as time goes by people will see that and like it because it’s good music. All of the other stuff exists in the media, anyway. When it comes down to me I am just trying to put out the best music possible, so I don’t really think about the other stuff.

LUD!: Aside from the classics, and all of your fathers contemporaries, where else do you find inspiration for your music, outside of music itself? Is there any specific literature or life experience that you draw on?

LN:  I like a lot of Joseph Campbell. Reading in general is important to me; Walt Whitman, Hunter Thompson and his Gonzo Journalism, a lot of those old guys. You can name anything. All major art forms influence me. Anyone that puts focus and passion into what they do I like.

LUD!: I get a certain sense of spirituality from your music. Are there any rituals you go through on a daily basis or just before you perform to keep your inner peace?

LN: I try to meditate as much as I can. Nothing else really. Honestly, for the most part I simply try to keep breathing.

LUD!:  Can you kind of explain how Promise of the Real came to be, and how you came up with the name?

LN: It’s a mantra. It’s a promise we have made to keep our integrity and stay real to who we are everyday.

LUD!: Wasted is your second release as a band. Can you elaborate a little on what was done differently with this album?

LN: This was more of a snapshot of where I was at in my life. Going a little crazy, partying. I just wanted to put it in a bubble sort of. Capture that moment then send it off, you know?

LUD!: A title like Wasted was sure to lead to some speculation on the meaning behind it. Why did you choose that as a title and what does it mean to you?

LN: That’s what I was: Wasted. I was wasting my talent, brain cells, I was wasting a lot of things. It has a lot of meaning to it. Pretty much it encompasses where I was at that time…for better or worse.

LUD!: Do you care to talk about what helped you get away from that lifestyle?

LN: I nearly died one night on pills and booze. I woke up in my own vomit. I decided that since I survived, someone must have been looking out for me and I should probably start taking it easy. I quit drinking for a year and though I drink a little wine now, I mostly take it easy. I’m now exercising, moderating myself, and trying to keep everything in my life balanced. Now, I like to focus on the relationships I have with people instead of getting wasted.

LUD!: On that topic, are there any other huge lessons you’ve learned while living a majority of life on the road?

LN: I’ve learned that we just need to go with the flow. Not let things get you down too much, don’t take things too seriously. Speak your truth then let the rest take care of itself.

LUD!: I’m sure you’ve been given boat loads of advice from very prominent people. What advice would you give someone just starting out on their own path of following their passion. Whether it be music of anything else?

LN: Follow your bliss. Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t do something. Do what you want to do, even if it doesn’t seem like the smart thing to do. If it makes you happy, pursue it.

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Who Is Levi Macy

I rode my skateboard from school in 7th grade to my buddy Vince's house where he put on the song "Perfect Government" by NOFX and I was hooked. The next day I bought the album Duh by Lagwagon. The next year I saw Against Me! at the Starlight Theater in Fort Collins, my mom dropped me off. I've since devoted every waking hour to anything done with passion. My speakerbox bumps everything from Lil' Wayne to Pablo Casals. I was never very good at making music, but I am damn good at listening to it. I've been filling up yellow notepads with random thoughts and misspelled words for as long as I can remember. I enjoy whiskey of all sorts, Newport cigarettes and the company of my family. I've got an addiction to run-on sentences that I'll probably never cure. A solid handshake with a stranger who has become a friend over a few beers means the world to me. You'll often find me wide eyed and wandering with an ear to ear grin. I live for funky break beats and spreading the love.