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Lukas Nelson Carves His Own Path in Music by Keeping It ‘Real’

Lukas Nelson and Promise of the Real
Courtesy of Shock Ink

To some music lovers, Lukas Nelson is known simply as the son of Willie Nelson, but if that hasn’t changed already, it’s about to. The 22-year-old Nelson is following in his legendary father’s footsteps, but carving his own path in the music industry with his band. Lukas Nelson and Promise of the Real have just released their debut self-titled album, loaded with original tunes that set them apart from just about every other artist or band in any musical genre.

Rather than shadowing his father or other music icons, Lukas Nelson and Promise of the Real take pride in doing things their way and keeping their music true to who they are, not only for their sanity, but also for their fans who have come to expect nothing but “real” and honest music from the band.

Talk about the musical journey in your life that has led you to this point in your career.
Lukas Nelson: When I got into music, I was sitting with my dad, and I asked him what he wanted for his birthday. He said he wanted me to start playing the guitar. So I started playing and started to really fall in love with it. He taught me a few chords, and the first few songs I ever learned were Django Reinhardt tunes, and it took a lot of memorization and focus to learn the whole song the whole way through. It was a lot of picking and all instrumental … a lot of chords. It was really good to learn those first. He took me beside him and said that now that I had learned those songs, I could learn anything. He was always really encouraging about it. Then I got into Stevie Ray Vaughan and Jimi Hendrix. I really delved into those guys. I loved them so much. They opened me up because I studied them and learned from their influences. So once you find your inspiration you find out who inspired them, and that was kind of my approach to it. I wanted to listen to the people that they listened to so I could be as good as them. I’m still learning.

Where did the name of your band, Promise of the Real, come from?
Nelson: We’re all family here, and we’re all trying to be real as far as keeping our integrity as a band. I don’t mind the challenge of writing a pop song, but I’m not going to send anything in and have some record label tell me I’ve got to do it differently. If we’re going to be with a record label, they need to be open to us making the music we want to make. I already know that it’s good, and if they don’t think it’s good then that’s their problem. I know that we love it, and that’s kind of what being real is. If I like it and the band likes it, we’re putting it out. People will like it because it comes directly from us. It’s pure art coming directly from the artist, rather than have it become some produced thing. I think our songs could be money makers without all that producing, so I don’t feel like I have to worry about it. There’s no formula to it … or it’s an older formula. It’s just a combination of influences.

Did you write many of the songs on your debut album?
Nelson: I wrote every one of the songs, but three. I have hundreds of songs in a backlog, so it’s just a matter of getting into the studio and picking which ones I want to do first. Then waiting and waiting. I’ve got so many songs out there that I want to record, but we don’t have that much time for the studio. We’re on tour most of the time. If I had three or four months, and sat and recorded all day, every day, I could maybe get down an archive of everything I’ve got.

Seeing how you grew up around music your entire life as Willie’s son, was the studio a pretty comfortable environment for you to be in?
Nelson: It’s comfortable, but we work really hard. We do 14-hour days and take very little breaks. We work really hard, long hours, but it’s relaxed. When we do take breaks, we’re always wanting to just get back in there, and we all work really well together. We’re all musicians who have been playing for at least 10 years in the business.

Will you be releasing a single off the album in the future?
Nelson: We’re not played on the radio, so the ‘single’ is any song that you like, really! The music is available on iTunes, and on our website you can order a hard copy. It’s got liner notes with my brother’s artwork in there. I wish more people would get the hard copy for the art and everything. I’m not so down with the downloading thing, but it’s part of the world we live in.

Your live shows are a huge part of who you guys are. For those who have never seen you guys live, what can they expect?
Anthony LoGerfo (drummer): Expect to have your mind melted and blown away. We jam, we rock, we try to give it our all whether it’s three people with three light bulbs or 5,000 people with full production. We do it the same each and every night.

Do you ever get nervous playing for some of the larger crowds like Farm Aid?
LoGerfo: I get butterflies, but I turn that into energy for the show. Like at Farm Aid, Neil Young was standing right off the stage, and it was like, ‘OK … come on! We’ve got to play real well!’

Lukas, you’ve been touring with your dad here recently on the 2011 Country Throwdown Tour. How has it been going?
Nelson: It’s been great. We’ve been jamming a lot. I’m playing with Jamey [Johnson] most of the dates. I’ll just go and sit in with him. I go up with my dad. It’s just great. We’re just having fun jamming together.

Have you been doing any songwriting with anybody on the tour?
Nelson: I may want to write with Jamey at some point. I don’t write with a lot with other people. I don’t mind doing it, but I write really fast. Like 15-20 minutes per song. I don’t want to sit and deliberate about it much. It comes from my heart. Maybe I also don’t want to compromise either, I don’t know!

Watch Lukas Nelson and Promise of the Real Perform ‘Four Letter Word’

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