Exclusive Interview: Lukas Nelson

By: @brentXmendoza

Toting a guitar case full of new tunes from his recently released sophomore effort Wasted, Lukas Nelson brings The Promise of the Real to The Roxy Theatre on Saturday, July 28. While staying true to the musical path laid down by his dear dad (Americana hero Willie Nelson), Lukas is truly coming into his own, with an ever lengthening list of glowing accolades, and exponentially growing fan base.

Smack-dab in the middle of an extensive North American tour, Nelson recently took a moment to iPhone it in to The Roxy, to share his stories of growing up with a famous father, preteen trials and tribulations with ‘NSYNC, and trying to stay grounded on the road, at the young age of 23.

Last year you played over 200 shows, at this point do you feel more at home on the road, than at your actual home?

You know, I’ve always been at home on the road. I grew up traveling on the road with my dad, so it’s just been always that way you know… I feel more comfortable moving than I do just sitting still for sure.

And the new album Wasted, you mostly wrote that on the road right?

Yeah, it was mostly written on the road, and it was kind of a snapshot of where I was in my life at that time.

One of the major themes of the record seems to be about not getting caught up in the party, and sort of staying on point. How do you manage to stay grounded at 23 years old? How do you stay focused when you are surrounded by a party all the time?

Well I pick the party, I choose the party. I choose to surround myself with people that don’t suck energy, you know… and I don’t drink as much anymore. I quit drinking for about a year, and now I just started drinking wine again, but everything’s in moderation now. And I started working out again, running, and joined yoga, and stretching; and just being with my family, and staying in contact with them all the time is really helpful.

Must be difficult though trying to maintain that lifestyle while on the road…

Well you know, you take it one day at a time. If you think about it in terms of forever, it doesn’t work; but if you think about it in terms of right now, then it’s easy, for me at least.

Your band, had a lot to do with sort of taking your songs that you initially recorded and really shaping them, and taking them to a whole new place musically. You want to tell us a little bit about that writing process?

I write all my songs on an acoustic guitar, usually late at night, and I just put it on my iPhone. Then when I show them to the band, it’s always great because usually when we get together, it becomes something completely different in terms of… it takes on another life. It’s still the same song, but it grows a little bit, and that’s why I like to play with a bunch of different musicians, and use the same songs, because they are always interpreted differently.

I’ve been listening to a lot of Radiohead these days, and The Flaming Lips, and Arcade Fire, and trying to not change my writing style, but to apply the different production techniques that they use on the writing that I have.

Have you been fortunate to meet any of those inspirations?

Yeah, I met the Arcade Fire guys, I didn’t meet Thom Yorke, but I’d like to meet him; he seems pretty cool. I’ve met a lot of my heroes, and I’ve gotten a lot of great advice from them—Neil Young, and Kris Kristofferson, and all those guys are really good mentors, and I feel pretty blessed to have their influence in my life.

And you’re also pretty close with Bob Dylan and Neil Young as well..?

I’ve played with Bob a couple of times. I got to sit in with him, and hang out with him when I was like 15, and ever since, I’ve gone back and forth, and sat in on sessions a couple of times. He’s a great guy, but Neil is more of an uncle, he’s more of a…. you know, if I need to, I can reach out and he’s there. And so, he’s helped us with the recording process a little bit, even his advice you know…. He lets us do it on our own of course, but he’s one of those guys that gives you a little nudge in the right direction, just like my band.

Growing up in Maui, I would imagine it would seem to some people, sort of unlikely that you would’ve followed in the same kind of musical footsteps as your father..?

Well you know, I’m just a product of my environment… I started playing in jam bands when I was in Maui; that’s where I learned to play guitar, in the jam band scene; playing Grateful Dead tunes, and playing improv stuff. That’s what I grew up learning. And of course, I had my upbringing—listening to the country stuff that dad sang. So, it all combines… and I’m still growing, I’m still learning. In fact, I don’t even know if I’ve truly found my own style yet, but I’m not rushing; I’m just putting out what sounds good.

Being exposed to such musically rich, and sort of legendary people and influences growing up, did you ever go through that usual early teen, bad pop phase?

Absolutely! When I was like 10 or 11, or whenever ‘NSYNC first came out, I was like every other kid in my school was—super into it! But I was also, at the same time, I was into Frank Sinatra, and Dean Martin, and John Lennon, and The Beatles, and The Rolling Stones, and Creedence Clearwater; so I was listening to that, at the same time that this new stuff came out… and it was new, it was the type of thing where I thought it was important to be a part of—to be socially accepted in school. I was kind of a dorky kid anyways, so anything I could do to get accepted, I would do it. It wasn’t until later, that I became more of an individual, not that I wasn’t at the time, but it wasn’t until later that I stopped caring, you know.

Was there a moment, or a time in your upbringing where it sort of dawned on you, or you realized that the people that you were surrounded with, were these sort of legendary icons, and that this wasn’t the norm?

Sure, there’s always that in the back of your mind, but it was the norm for me. You know, I can’t really… as much as I try to put myself in other people’s shoes, I have to just take my experience, and learn the lessons that are applicable to my life. And you know, everybody grows, everybody learns, everybody becomes a better person with time; and I think I’m a pretty self-aware person that tries to grow and learn, and read a lot. So all these things… having those famous people around, it wasn’t about them being famous, as much as it was about them being intensely aware characters, and really people you can learn from. For example: Kris Kristofferson, Neil Young… all these people aren’t famous because they’re just famous; they’re famous because they’re heroes, and because they’re characters that have overcome adversity, and challenges, and stood the test of time. And that’s what should be celebrated in society.

I’ve been reading a lot of Joseph Campbell these days, and he talks about mythology in our society, and how we celebrate celebrities just for being famous, and we don’t really celebrate the “hero” concept. It’s something that’s not at the forefront of our culture right now, and we’re in desperate need of that!

Talent and celebrity are no longer one and the same…

Yeah… and talent doesn’t even just have to be talent with an instrument, or talent with a song, talent can be the kind of talent that it takes to speak to hundreds of thousands of people and move them into changing the world…

Finally, sort of a broader philosophical question—what is “the promise of the real?”

It’s a mantra. It’s something that as a band, we can look at everyday to remind ourselves where we’ve come from, how far we’ve come in this amount of time, and how to stay true to ourselves in the journey that will follow. It helps us to stay grounded, to say “Ok we’re The Promise of the Real, and we’re not going to do anything that will compromise our integrity.”


Tickets for the July 28 show are available via Ticketweb.

Opening the night are He’s My Brother, She’s My Sister, The Wailiens, Dave & Devine, The Hunchies, Red Circle Underground, and Breanna Lynn.