Lukas Nelson and Promise of The Real are redefining what Americana can be. Lukas took some time to talk with us about growing up with a famous father, the influence Neil Young has had on his career, and Bradley Cooper’s authenticity as a musician…
CD- From an early age, you traveled on the road with your father and you started playing at the age of 11 while you were living in Maui. What was the first song you learned to play on guitar?
LN-I think was from the Red Headed Stranger album. It was Dad’s version of “Blue Eyes Cryin’ In The Rain.”
Normally, as kids, our parents’ friends become extended family. My dad and my parents were in the Air Force, so my dad’s friends were Air Force guys who just liked to play basketball. Your dad had a different profession. Your Dad’s friends were Kris Kristofferson and Waylon Jennings. Together, they helped write great music that defined a generation. What effect did that have on you, being around all of those legends at an age that was really formative in your life?
That’s a good question. I grew up with a lot of amazing people to look up to like Kristofferson. Kris Kristofferson was probably, besides my dad early on… he was the biggest influence in my life. And he still is. He’s one of the greatest songwriters. Probably the greatest that ever lived in the country world. Bob Dylan looks up to him, you know? He’s a great writer and he’s written some amazing songs. They were great guys. Very humble, and they treat people with love and respect. A lot of people grow up in famous environments and people with a lot of influence, and I just feel blessed to have grown up and in this particular group because of the humility that everybody embodies. The idea that it’s just about surviving and being kind to others. And that’s about it. Playing music.
Talking about inspirational figures, one of the defining moments in the story of you and Promise of The Real is the influence that legend Neil Young has had on this band. Talk about this connection and how he helped mold what you guys have become.
First and foremost, in terms of rock n’ roll in that world and that generation, he’s the only one that is still really going after it hardcore, heavily with the right tones, with the right feel, with the right integrity involved. He’s all about it being real and not bowing down to conformity in any way. Just doing what your heart tells you to do– which is what Dad and everybody else embodies. But Neil is like the rock n’ roll generation’s version of that. I feel like it’s only natural that in the rock n’ roll world, he’s my favorite because he’s got the greatest songs. I mean, look– you can make an argument that The Beatles, of course, are the biggest when it comes to the songs, and then The Rolling Stones are the biggest in rock. But Neil, to me, is a combination of both of those in one. He’s got “Heart of Gold” and “Only Love Can Break Your Heart”. And then he’s got “Cinnamon Girl”, and “Cowgirl In The Sand”, and “Rockin’ In The Free World”. Then he continues to stay relevant into the ’90s and 2000s– and now releasing political records and still saying something. Staying with exactly the same message that he used to have. So to me, these guys are the greatest, and that’s why I look up to them.
How long did you end up touring with Neil when he asked you all to be his backing band?
We still are. We’ve got a couple of dates lined up in the future. He is with Crazy Horse now, but I think he’s just using both of us whenever one of us is available. It’s a blessing for us too because we’re on the road right now, so we couldn’t have made it. If Neil wants to play, he should be able to play.
Like we talked about earlier, you have toured and played with your legendary father, Willie Nelson, for years. Out of the hundreds of songs that you two have played together, which one is your favorite to play with him?
That’s a great question. It’s interesting. I play rhythm on all of the songs. But ok… so there’s two. One of my favorite moments growing up was watching Dad play “Bloody Mary Morning”. If you look up live versions of Dad’s “Bloody Mary Morning”, there is a version on Austin City Limits from 1973 or 1977 maybe, but it’s one of the first Austin city limits ever. That version of Bloody Mary Morning is insane. I mean, it’s like listening to Eric Clapton’s blues band. The licks that he’s thrown out there are just rock n’ roll. It’s heavy. But it’s also super bluesy and just jamming. It’s amazing. So I love listening to that, and we used to do that every night. And then I like watching him do “Angel Flying Too Close To The Ground” because that’s my favorite. He always does a really pretty, melodic, sweet solo, and it’s always real nice. He’s a great guitar player.
That is the truth. Your father is absolutely beloved by everyone. I don’t care what race, color, or creed, the human race loves your father. Do you feel like it is your responsibility to preserve the legacy that he has built– and how do you balance caring the last name of Nelson while also letting the world know that you, Lukas, are your own man?
That’s a loaded question (laughing)! I don’t know. I just go out there and play. I try and treat people kindly, stand up for myself when I can and try and admit when I’m wrong… You know? Stand strong when I know I’m right and just live. I’m just trying to play music for a living.
On the latest album, one of the most interesting collaborations was the work that you did with Lady Gaga on “Find Yourself” and “Carolina”. How did that relationship get started?
It started with this movie that’s coming out October 5th called A Star is Born with her and Bradley Cooper starring, and the band will be in it as well. I wrote and co-wrote about eight songs in the film, and the band played a lot of them too. So we were in the studio because I helped produce it with Stephani (Lady Gaga), and then I helped consult Bradley on how to kind of carry an authenticity as a musician. He saw me there and said, “I want to take this guy and have him show me the ropes on how to look like I know what I’m doing.” Funny thing was, is that he already did know what he was doing. He’s a great musician.
And finally, you lived in Maui when you were little and other than playing music, you were into skateboarding and soccer. So who is your favorite skateboarder of all time and your favorite soccer player of all time?
Oh, that’s a good one. Ok. Favorite skateboarder of all time? Eric Koston has this style that I really dig. It’s the street stuff, but then there’s also Daewon Song. Oh no! Wait! Excuse me… All-time favorite? Rodney Mullen. I think he was the most innovative skateboarder ever. And Tony Hawk. I mean, Tony Hawk did the first 900 and now there’s like 14-year-old kids doing them (laughing)! He definitely pushed the limits and deserves recognition, and he was the most famous because he had the video game. And soccer player? Probably Diego Maradona or Pele. More Pele than Maradona, I believe because… I mean, let’s face it, Pele carried himself a little better than Maradona in their post soccer careers (Laughing)!