Lukas Nelson talks country, grunge and surfing with papa Willie
In December, Lukas and his band, Promise of the Real, independently released their self-titled debut, a record that encompasses country, reggae and Maggie’s Farm-era Dylan. “There’s no type of music that I don’t like,” he said on the phone from San Clemente, Calif. “I won’t ever avert my ears.”
Lukas Nelson and Promise of the Real will open for Wille at 8 p.m. Wednesday at Ruth Eckerd Hall in Clearwater. Click here for details.
We caught Lukas during a break from touring, and talked singing and surfing(!) with father Willie.
I’ve always wanted to try surfing, but I’m too old. I’m 30.
S---, 30? Are you kiddin’? I was just out there and there were 80-year-old people runnin’ me over! There’s 80-year-old longboarders just kickin’ my ass out there.
Have you ever gotten your dad on a surfboard?
He’s been up a few times. He used to paddle out on a wave kayak, but it’s been a while.
What advice has he offered you about the music business?
Surround yourself with your family. And he just led by example.
Did you and your dad ever discuss your musical independence from his notoriety?
No, there was never that talk. I don’t really think that heavily into the whole idea that he’s independent and I’m independent. We know that; that’s a given. But we love to play music together. We just want to have fun and enjoy our time on the earth together because it’s limited, just like everything.
Do musicians like Ziggy Marley, Jakob Dylan, and Justin Townes Earle — each great in his own right — face certain additional pressures due to the success of their fathers?
Not really. I think that some people take it worse than others. I’ve always been taught what defines you is not what happens to you, but how you react to it. I was born into this life and I’m making the best out of it I possibly can. That’s all I can ever hope for.
You don’t have a label.
No. It’s the best way to go, in my opinion. Now it’s a symbiotic relationship, whereas before it was more of a domineering thing by the record labels. They could take advantage of artists. A record label can help an artist, but it’s more of an equal-opportunity business for both the band and the record label. We just run it like it’s a family business.
What’s your feeling on country music’s pop direction today?
There’s always gonna be fluff, everywhere you go. And it’s always been this way, but you have to kind of look a little harder to see where the good s--- is, you know?
Where do you look?
I’m gonna get a little esoteric here, but I think it finds you. I think that if you are looking for good music and if you’re open to it and you’re accepting that it does exist, I think it’ll present itself to you. And not be afraid to like something just ’cause it’s on the radio. Sometimes you slip into this thing where anything that comes on the radio you have an instant aversion to, ’cause you’re expecting it to be bad, but you never know. Sometimes it’s good. I think Pearl Jam’s latest record (Backspacer) was really, really great. Me and my dad did a cover of Just Breathe together. Me and my dad just did a record together with a producer from Nashville named Buddy Cannon. And we did 21 duets together. So that should come out in the next year or so.
Care to name some other duets?
I did another version of The Sound of Your Memory. I wrote a song called Every Time He Drinks He Thinks of Her. And then we did a bunch of Hank Williams songs, a few Hank Cochran songs, Hank Snow, some of my dad’s...
And Pearl Jam.
I think Eddie Vedder wrote the best song of the year. I really love that band.
How often did you and your dad rehearse together?
We didn’t rehearse at all. It’s just all about vibe, you know? And the musicians there were all Nashville session guys, and they knew exactly what to do. It’s all about live, it’s all about capturing a moment wherever you’re at. Doesn’t have to be perfect. People don’t relate to perfection as much as they relate to humanity. … I just got this e-mail from this teacher in an inner-city school, she teaches fifth graders. She showed our song Don’t Lose Your Mind to her fifth grade class and asked for them to send back responses. And man, this thing made me cry. One of the kids that was really into it had been suspended earlier for bringing a gun to school, and it was talking about how he changed his life listening to this song. And these are fifth-grade kids, man. I was blown away this morning. It really took my whole life in another direction to realize that music can influence people that much.
Sounds like you touched a generation you never expected you’d touch.
I did not expect kids that age to be open to music that I’m making. It really gives me hope for the future.
What’s been your biggest challenge as a musician?
There was one period where I was in school, and that was when it was really difficult for me. And I hated going to class. Most of the time I didn’t go. I dropped out of college (Loyola Marymount University) about a year-and-a-half into it, and I started living in my car. And I’d stay at people’s houses and crash on couches, just kind of float around for a year or so. I’d perform on the street, and that was actually my awakening period. But before that when I was in school, it was probably the most miserable time, ’cause I felt like I needed to be out playing music on my own.
What song did you first learn?
Nirvana. Come As You Are. That little lick.
What’s next for Promise of the Real?
I’ve got a home now, and that’s my bus. I live on that bus. We’re gonna do 300 shows this year. I feel comfortable and I feel successful already. I don’t need anything else. I can pay my rent, and I can live. And I have a great family, and I love everybody and we all get along. I just feel super-stoked. I love music, just like I love ridin’ down a huge wave. It’s just like being connected with something bigger than you are.
-- Patrick Flanary, tbt*. Photo: Margaret Norton, NBC.