Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Genetics not excluded

Lukas Nelsonís career is his own, bent on honoring a promise to keep it real

Express Staff Writer

Lukas Nelson Photo by Jay Blakesberg

Genetics can be as cruel as kids on a playground. Think about that Judd girl that didn’t sing? It’s worked out in the long run, but it was a rough road.
    Fortunately for Lukas Nelson, son of American icon Willie, it’s working. He’s a man of inherited talents to be sure, with a similar primal connection to soulful thoughts. But this offshoot is showing the backbone early on to do it his own way, without a stint in rehab or a confessional about overcoming his dad’s shadow. The 20-something already has been on Letterman’s show twice and his famous father was not mentioned in the intro.
    Lukas Nelson and Promise of the Real is authentic, original and familiar in its alchemy of genres mixed from various influences that he grew up with. It’s pure American rock ‘n’ roll, with all the leaps, grimaces, screaming rifts and sweat, and a U.S. flag with a peace sign in place of the stars as a prop.
    Before he plays at Whiskey Jacques’ this Thursday night, Nov. 8, he proved his mettle as a human by thoughtfully answering a few questions from the Express.


IME: Lukas Nelson and Promise of the Real has two successful albums in this incarnation, with yourself, Anthony LoGerfo, Tato Melgar and Corey McCormick. Is this a grouping you want to stick with for a while? What does Promise of the Real mean?
    Yes, this is the band that will stick. We all have our many projects, and the band lineup will change a bit as we put family issues on high priority. Tato is going to have another baby, so he will be gone for a while. We may change the sound up a little while he is gone. Maybe a lot.
    The band name came from a Neil Young song called “Walk On (Sooner or later, it all gets real).” To us, staying real means keeping our integrity. So it [the name] serves up as a daily reminder to do so. We have to be alert to live up to it.

You started appearing on stage with your dad when you were 3, but I read that Neil Young and Jimi Hendrix were your musical style heroes. While you have done well exposure-wise traveling with Dad, it was the pairing with B.B. King that got you recognized for yourself. Did you struggle with your musical identity?
    I honestly didn’t struggle with that much. It’s more about decision making. Should I put out this country album now or wait until my rock album comes? When do I do the blues one? I have to dodge the stigma that I am living off my dad’s coattails, but that just comes down to the music. I’m constantly improving.

Yours and fellow musician Shooter Jennings’ dad, Waylon, made a classic song about growing up to be cowboys, but the word musician could be just as easily inserted and describe the same life. Did you ever get discouraged by your dad away from the business? Do you find it as lonely a life as the cowboy they sang about?
    This life chose me. I found something that I am good at, and more importantly, that I continue to improve at. There is nothing more inspiring than that.

Is there anything musically you won’t do, genre-wise, promotion-wise?
    I will do anything as long as it fits within the boundaries of my integrity. I am a puppet for nobody, but if something is tastefully done, if there is thought put into it, I am usually interested.

Do you compare notes with Dad much?
    We write together often, although the process is natural and rarely takes more than an hour.

What’s your goal musically, what do you want said in your eulogy about who you were?
    I want to continue to build my talent until it exceeds my expectations of myself, which are very high.

You wrote “Wasted” wasted and have since sobered up. Are you going to start singing about the pleasures of being sober? Should songs stop glorifying the drink or is that too much of a buzz kill for the larger audience?
    I think you should write about what’s going on in your life. Neil Young and I wrote a song called “Singer Without a Song” about someone who needs to write songs that they are actually living in order for an audience to relate, or better yet, to be moved.
    I’ve had a few beers recently. Moderation is key for me.

What have you learned about who you are and who you want to be in this process?
    I’ve learned that there are always ways I can improve my focus, and I want to be someone who can be depended on to give an emotionally charged and moving performance on a consistent basis.

Get ‘Wasted’
When: Thursday, Nov. 8.
Where: Whiskey Jacques’ in Ketchum.
Tickets: $10 in advance, $15 day of, at the box office or online at
Get a preview: Visit

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