With two years of grassroots touring ranging from intimate club gigs to opening slots with Willie Nelson, B.B. King and Dave Matthews Band, to sharing the stage with Neil Young and Steven Tyler at Farm Aid 2010, Lukas Nelson and Promise of the Real just released their highly-anticipated debut full-length CD this past December. As the spawn of Willie Nelson, Lukas has grown up around legendary musicians his entire life, even playing behind his father, but that hasn’t affected his attitude towards his music. The 21 year old, humbled by his father’s fame and not willing to exploit it, is quickly making a name for himself not only as a great songwriter, but as a dynamic performer and guitarist. I had a chance to catch up with Lukas at the Fillmore in San Francisco during a run of Willie Nelson dates…
Interview by Itay K
How’s the road been? How is it traveling with your own band?
It’s been wonderful. It’s been a couple of years now that I’ve been traveling with my own band. It’s really great. I feel like I’m able to let go more. When I’m playing with someone else I’m worried about trying to do what’s best for the band and the song - especially if there are so many other musicians and I’m not the focus of the music. I want to make it as tasty as possible, which is great. It’s like a whole other art. For me, I like to be able to be in front and not hold back at all; to put 100% into it. Playing the music I write comes easier because it comes from my soul. It’s a direct channel.
What’s the origin of the band name “Promise of The Real”?
Well, the way my family raised me, they always said be yourself, be real. I grew up watching Neil Young and the whole vibe that he and my dad represent is being real and not putting on any masks. Whether you are on or off stage you are the same person. When you put on a show the music speaks for itself. That’s what we’re all about.
Where do your songs come from?
I always believed that they’re already out there and I just pick them up like a frequency. I try not to be so vain as to think that I’m more creative than anyone else. Maybe I’m just more tuned in to that frequency because I have chosen to be. I write about my life and things that have happened or if I feel sympathetic toward a situation. For example, the song ‘The Awakening’ on our first EP was written about my uncle. He had triple bypass surgery and I was imagining what he would feel like when he woke up.
Is the new album a collaborative effort with the rest of the band?
It‘s a collaboration on the arrangement. I write the songs still but we are going to try to write more together. We don’t rehearse much. Usually if we want to do a new song I’ll write it on the acoustic guitar and bring it to the band. Then we’ll arrange it so that it works electrically.
Do you do a lot of writing on the road?
I do. We sit back here sometimes and jam. Before we had this bus we were in an RV, before that a van, and before that a truck with a camper. It’s been a nice transition. We’ve done almost 400 shows since then.
What’d you grow up listening to?
Stevie Ray Vaughn, Jimi Hendrix, Neil Young, Bob Dylan, The Beatles... and Ray Charles was a huge one for me.
So you listened to a lot of classics...
Yeah, I’ve always felt like if I’m going learn, I’m going to learn from the best. If I’m going to absorb, because that’s what I like to do, absorb things. So I’ll try all of these influences and meld them together to create my own style. I listened to a lot of the players that they listen to also, because I admired them and I admired what they were doing and where they were going. John Lennon for example, listened to a lot of Little Richard and Elvis. The Stones listened to a lot of those old blues guys, Little Walter and Willie Dixon. So if I wanted to get emerged in what someone was trying to do, I kind of absorbed some of their style because I liked it and I would listen to what they listened to and read about it to absorb everything.
You’ve been on stage with legends. In your short guitar life who were you most anxious to work with? I know you worked with B.B. King...
B.B. King was humble... Neil is really cool. Bob Dylan was probably the most nerve racking. He asked me to play guitar for him and asked me to join his band after he let his old band go. I had to decline because I’m so busy and I would honestly rather be able to do my own thing and see those guys when I can. No disrespect obviously. I felt the most charged when I was up with Bob because his band is so great.
Where do you see your music progressing?
I don’t know. I just take it one day at a time. I can’t really see where it’s going to go but I kind of like the mystery of it. I see that we’re getting better as musicians, as a band, and that I’m getting better as a writer. I’m excited to see where things are going to go as far as production and instrumentation. As we get better known, and maybe the finances come in more, we can experiment with more musicians and pay them well.
You should get Bob Dylan to play with you.
I would love to but I don’t want anyone to think that I want to live off of them or their name. I love playing with my dad but I want to establish myself as a musician so that people want to play with me instead of me having to go out and say “Hey you want to play on my record”? I’d rather them hear a song and say that’s good and want to work with me.
So you played on Jay Leno recently... How was that?
That was great. It was awesome. They’re great guys over there. The crew and everyone there was super nice and laid back.
What’s coming up next?
We are tentatively scheduled to play the Letterman show in February and it should air on the 18th. Jay Leno wants us back in April. On March 20th we’re playing Café Du Nord. Then we’re doing the Stagecoach Festival in April. Our tour is booked until April and the information can be found on the website, www.promiseofthereal.com.