What’s it like? – a new conversation with Lukas Nelson
Catching up with Lukas Nelson
A new conversation with Doug Heselgrave
It’s official. Lukas Nelson’s home is on the road. After keeping an apartment in Venice, California for the last little while, Lukas realized that he was paying rent on a place that he almost never slept in, so he recently gave his notice and moved himself onto his tour bus. In many ways, it was as much a declaration of purpose as it was a sensible economic decision. After playing telephone tag for months and having short conversations with Lukas from different tour stops all over America, I finally caught up with Lukas somewhere in Wyoming shortly before going on stage with his band, The Promise of the Real.
Doug: Hi Lukas! You’re a hard man to get hold of. You’ve had a busy year.
Lukas: Yeah, you caught me in between interviews. You’re the third person I’ve talked to today. I’ve made the switch you know –
Doug: The switch?
Lukas: (laughs) Yeah, I sleep during the day and get up at night. So, you know, if you ever want to call me at one in the morning, we’d probably have a more amazing conversation.
Doug: So, it’s what – three in the afternoon your time – you’re back east. Time for breakfast.
Lukas: Yep, we’re in Wyoming. We’re playing at a place that we’ve been at about ten times. It’s an area of the country that’s really embraced us and warmed up to what we do.
Doug: Are you finding more and more places like that?
Lukas: Yeah, we’ve been working very hard. We’ve been touring both with my dad’s band opening up the shows and just by ourselves playing in pockets where we’ve developed an audience.
Doug: So, is the travelling musician’s lifestyle working for you?
Lukas: Yeah, it’s all that I want to do.
Doug: It sounds as if you’re comfortable with all of the aspects of the business. You know, the travel, the interviews…..
Lukas: Yeah, my publicist, Elaine calls me and gives me the phone numbers of people who’d like to talk to me and – and of course I’ve grown up with my father, so I’ve observed what he does, how he treats people.
Doug: You accept it as all part of the job –
Lukas: Yeah, I do. I mean there are questions that drive me crazy, but mostly I like people and I’m friendly, so I enjoy talking –
Doug: So, do you have a favorite question that drives you crazy?
Lukas: Oh yeah! You know the one that goes ‘what’s it like being Willie’s son?’
Doug: What’s it like? (laughs)
Lukas: Yeah, what’s it like, man? What does that mean – what’s it like?
Doug: That’s kind of a “what’s it like to be alive” question?
Lukas: Yeah, you really don’t know where to take that one.
Doug: You could ask them what it’s like to be their dad’s son or daughter.
Lukas: Yeah, how can you talk about that? It’s just your life, you know. You’re right in the middle of it so how can you talk about it? I mean….well, I guess some people get told they’re going to interview me and they read questions off of a sheet. Well, it’s no problem. I do like talking to people. It’s no problem for me to be friendly to people.
Doug: You seem to be really balanced. I find it hard to imagine you freaking on people, and that’s saying something given how busy you’ve been in the past year.
Lukas: Yeah, I’ve been busy, but I love it. I love what we do.
Doug: So, why don’t you catch us up on what’s happened since we last spoke.
Lukas: So, when did I last see you? You came down to Bellingham to hear us play at the end of the summer, I remember. We’ve spoken since then a few times just to talk and you wrote a review of the record, so I guess we could just go from there.
Lukas: So, that came out – the record came out – and that was a lot of fun to do. It got some good responses. We got to play on both Jay Leno’s and Letterman’s shows, so both of those helped to get the word out a bit.
Doug: Speaking of the Willie’s son thing, I watched your Letterman performance – which was a real scorcher – and he seemed really pleased and to get into what you were playing. He was beaming, but he only had time for one question….
Doug: …and it was that one. ‘Who are you?’ and you answered ‘Willie’s son’
Lukas: Yeah, funny, but he seemed really to like what we were doing and there’s only so much time.
Doug: Yeah, you can’t fake that. Like I said, he was smiling from ear to ear. I guess when you’re on prime time TV you have to make every second count and use a shorthand.
Lukas: You do, and I was ok with that. A lot of people got to see us and that’s a really great thing. Letterman is a good guy, but it’s kind of what he’s got to do you know and I respect that.
Doug: He is a master of tv culture to be sure. He’s got only a limited time to identify someone and that was the best way. It’s up to people to take it from there, I guess. But, other than having the album out – which is a big thing in itself – what else has changed since we last spoke? By that, I mean how have you evolved as an artist or grown as someone who’s chosen to work within the music business.
Lukas: Well, to put it briefly, I have come to a point where I feel like I’ve made it. By that I don’t mean that I’m a big star now, but more to the point that I’ve committed to what I’m doing and I’ve gained the respect of my peers through the work I do. I’ve gained the respect of my peers and of my elders and that means a lot to me.
Doug: Can you say a little more about that?
Lukas: Well, I just spent an amazing three hours talking and hanging out with Neil Young backstage at the Bridge benefit concert. He was so relaxed and warm. We just hung out you know. Neil let me play his guitar which was a trip and I played ‘Don’t Lose Your Mind’ for him….
Doug: That was a good choice.
Lukas: Yeah, I was just strumming on his guitar taking it all in. Neil’s been so great and supportive. Y’know he told me that he felt he was leaving things in good hands and that I was the future of rock and roll and that Jamey Johnson was the future of country music.
Doug: Wow, that’s saying a lot.
Lukas: Do you know Jamey?
Doug: No, it’s a name I’ve seen.
Lukas: Well, he is amazing. I don’t think he gives interviews though. He’s a wild man. A badass. Real outlaw country. So, that was nice. I had a chance to jam with Rick Rojas – you know –
Doug: Neil’s bass player.
Lukas: Yeah, he is amazing. A real hot player. So, in the middle of it all, Stephen Stills came in on keyboards – and it all was so comfortable and relaxed. I’m thinking, yeah, this is what I want to do for the rest of my life.
Doug: No kidding. It impresses me, surprises me that Neil Young is still tuned in and checking out new music. I have met a lot of musicians of his generation who don’t listen to new stuff – just on principle. I’m glad someone of Neil’s stature still has his ears open.
Lukas: The thing about Neil is that he loves music and loves to play. It’s great to see. It doesn’t surprise me because my dad still loves to play. A lot of these older guys still do – I’ve been sitting in with Waddy Watchel in LA when I’m in town and he’s played with Stevie Nicks, James Taylor, Keith Richards – so many great artists – and he still just loves to play. He doesn’t care who he’s playing with, it’s just the music. I’ve also really enjoyed playing with Keith Allison – he’s a great player – when I’m in town. He used to be in Paul Revere and the Raiders back in the day. You should really talk with him some time.
Doug: Do you spend much time in LA still?
Lukas: My home is on the road these days. I gave up my place in Venice and moved it all onto the bus.
Doug: Yeah, you seem to pretty much play non-stop – either with your own band or with your dad. You still play with him right?
Lukas: Yeah, as often as I can. We actually just recorded an album of duets. We recorded a Pearl Jam song together which was a lot of fun. I think we cut 21 songs.
Doug: I can’t wait to hear that. When will that come out?
Lukas: I’m not sure. It was a lot of fun to do.
Doug: I’m sure your dad gets a charge out of you exposing him to new music – like Pearl Jam. It must energize him.
Lukas: Well, we energize and inspire each other.
Doug: You bounce between playing rock, blues and country. Does it ever make you feel schizo as an artist?
Lukas: No, never. I’m comfortable both places. Of course, country music is much more relaxed. It’s just a different feeling.
Doug: Your band – Promise of the Real – are you still ‘feeling it’ with them.
Lukas: Oh yeah, they’re amazing. They’re family. They’re my brothers. It’s hard to write with them sometimes because we never rehearse these days. We really need to find some time to write some music – I write songs all the time.
Doug: Yeah, you’ve found a great band to work with. I’d love to hear some group compositions. I mean, Anthony is one of the best young drummers in rock today.
Lukas: He is amazing. He’s my favourite. Next to my brother, Michah.
Doug: I don’t know if I’ve heard him – no I remember – he played with you in your dad’s band for a few tours.
Lukas: Yep, we did. He really is a great percussionist. He’s got his own sound.
Doug: So, you’ve got a record out now. Two records actually counting the Brando sessions. How important is it to you as an artist to have recordings available or to take part in that aspect of being a musician?
Lukas: I love to record and get it out there. I love the process of working, trying to record, write a masterpiece. The masterpiece that’s inside of me you know that I know I’ll find. I don’t care whether people buy my music or take it for free off the Internet. It’s something I have to do.
Doug: I’ve spoken to some artists who say they can’t be bothered recording anymore if everything they put out is just going to get pirated online.
Lukas: I don’t really care that much about that. I support myself by playing live. Ideally, people would buy what I release, but nothing wouldn’t ever make me stop recording.
Doug: It’s endemic to the point where it’ll only drive you crazy to worry about it. Everything I write is pirated and I only get paid once. You can lose sleep over it, or you can get on with it and follow your passion. We’re all free to quit. I don’t think artists like Van Gogh ever thought about who’d buy his paintings; he just had to paint.
Lukas: Exactly. That’s all I have to say about that.
Doug: So, back to life on the road. You’ve got such a high energy show, you play all the time, yet you seem healthy and centred. It’s not something everyone can pull off. You’re young, but a lot of people get really drained doing what you do.
Lukas: I eat well, take vitamins and fish oils to keep going. I work out when I can and I skateboard quite a bit on the road. My show is a workout in itself. I move around a lot on stage.
Doug: It sounds like it’s all working for you.
Lukas: Yeah, I totally love to play. I really do. I have a family on the road – my dad’s band and my band – and a family at home.
Doug: With all the travelling you do, is it hard to keep relationships together?
Lukas: No, you know it’s like, I have a girlfriend – and she’s going to Pennsylvania.to study at Temple University, trying to graduate, and I was in PA. on May 27 and New York on the 25th and her classes were cancelled those days, so
Doug: It sounds like the universe is trying to help you out and give you opportunities –
Lukas: It sure does. That’s a nice way of putting it. I’ve been truly blessed.
Doug: I know you’ve got to go, but can I ask you about the Country Throwdown tour
Lukas: It’s not Nashville, it’s like an outlaw country festival – Jamey Johnson will be there. We’ve become good friends and I look forward to playing with him. It’s a festival, so there’ll be some surprises I hope. There’ll be different stages.
Doug: Kind of like a country Lollapalooza?
Lukas: Yeah, just like that. It’s going to be so much fun and the tour will be running from May 27 to July 4
Doug: I really hope to catch up with you there some time.
Lukas: We’d all love to see you. It’ll be a lot of fun.
This posting also appears at www.restlessandreal.blogspot.com
sign up for free updates