Meet the Nashville based singer-songwriter redefining expectations of country music.
Lukas Nelson returns to the UK this month with his band, Promise of the Real.
Celebrating the recent release of their second album, Turn Off the News (Build a Garden), the country music rockers will play at London’s O2 Shepherd’s Bush Empire on Thursday 27 June, before performing with Neil Young at Hyde Park on Friday 12 July 2019.
Forming Promise of the Real in 2008, Nelson went on to regularly perform with and open for his father – legendary country musician, Willie Nelson – in 2012, before collaborating with Neil Young from 2014 onwards in addition to performing his own music.
We caught up with Lukas Nelson to chat all things touring, performing with Neil Young, getting involved in your local community, growing up on the road and even winning a BAFTA.
You recently released your second album, Turn Off the News (Build a Garden), what’s the response been like?
It’s been mostly fantastic, and I think the only time I feel like the message is missed is when people don’t pay attention to the latter part of the phrase Turn Off the News (Build a Garden).
I think “build a garden” is the most important part of that phrase. It’s definitely not escapism, it’s more the idea that you get involved with your local community and that you’re actually doing something instead of sitting around with the paralysis of the mainstream media causing anxiety and preventing you from actually doing something, at least in your local area.
There are a lot of things you can do to change the world around you and I think that watching the news all the time keeps you from doing that. So that’s the point, there’s so much you can do in your community, whether it’s organising events or buying local foods and supporting local farmers, or going to feed the homeless. That’s the message of the record.
So it’s not a protest against the media, more of a positive take on community?
It’s definitely a positive. It’s encouraging positive actions and I’m proud of that message, because y’know it’s important for me – at this point in my career – to make a statement as to who I am in the public sense. As people become more and more aware of who I am, they ask: “Who is this guy? The son of a celebrity, he’s done a few things in his life, what does he have to offer?”, and my answer to that question to myself is I’d rather offer less of myself and more of a sense of community with my music and bring people together.
How do you think this record builds on your previous releases?
Just in terms of response alone we’ve doubled in sales on the first week of release, so already I feel like we’re doing twice as well. People are buying records less and less y’know, it’s just the nature of the game. The record industry is completely changing and morphing and we don’t know what it’s turning into. Luckily, I think that this record is going to have a life of its own and people are going to like it. If you understand the message then it’s a perfect thing to teach your children, so my hope is that this record will live for a very long time in people’s hearts and will spread that way.
You are playing in the UK this week. How does it feel to be back over here?
Yeah, we’re playing Shepherd’s Bush on the 27 June. I’m very excited, I’m very grateful that there are people from another country that’ll come see me play music, that’s very humbling and I’m really looking forward to playing the new songs for all the British people.
What do you love most about performing?
The new songs have been going over well. We stay true to our fans and we have the last record in there, and sometimes I’ll even go and play my favourites of the really old material. Live shows are something we’re very confident about, we’re very confident in our ability as a band. Promise of the Real is one of the best bands in the world, and I’m lucky to have them, so we’re ready!
Do you have any pre-show rituals?
Yeah, I meditate sometimes, but the one thing we do every time, we have a little huddle with anyone who’s in the room and we state our intentions and what we’re grateful for. That keeps us real for the rest of the night.
You are also performing as Neil Young’s band at Hyde Park. How are you feeling about that?
It’s great, we’re actually meeting Neil in Denmark right after Glastonbury and then we’re just going to continue with Neil for a while, for a couple of weeks actually, I think we’re playing nine shows total over the next fortnight.
Do you think you’ll approach that performance differently than your own headline shows?
I’m not singing nearly as much, but other than that it’s pretty similar. I’ve got my band there, and we’re locked in tight and we know the material well, and we’ve practised. We get our harmonies dialled and it’s just another aspect of musicianship being able to be a side man in a band as well.
Is there anyone else you’d love to play on stage with?
I would love to be on stage with [Paul] McCartney one day; Robert Plant, Paul Simon, I really like Arcade Fire. Arctic Monkeys are pretty badass, I really like them a lot and y’know Jimmy Buffet and I have gotten to play together, so that’s special. The list goes on, there are many influences from all different types of music. I love Snoop too, Snoop and dad did a record together it’d be cool to do something with him one day. You never know.
Do you think coming from a family of musicians has shaped the way you do things on the road?
Growing up on the road myself has helped me to learn how to live in a sustainable way. And in a way that’ll hopefully allow me to live a long time. I’ve already had a great life, so listen, live long and prosper.
You also won the BAFTA Award for Original Music for co-producing the A Star is Born score? What was it like to work on the film?
Yes! It was a great honour to work with them, and I’m grateful for the experience. It was a learning experience and it helped me grow so I can only take positives from that. And of course, what an honour it is to have a BAFTA award, that almost doesn’t even seem real to me even though it’s sitting at home in my bedroom.
Do you have any plans to do any more film soundtracks, or can you tell us about any other projects you’re working on?
We’ve been working with Kesha on her next few projects. I think she’s got her own record that she’s putting out first, but it’s been fun working with her, she’s fantastic.
I’m always writing so I never really have a shortage of material, and as more projects materialise I’ll either use those songs for that project or for the next Promise of the Real record, or whatever. And of course I’m always open to working on soundtracks for films, I think that’s really special.
Are there any more UK dates planned for after summer?
It’s too far ahead to really know when, but I know for a fact that I will be back. I love it here in England and it’s really not hard to get here. I feel like it’s another home in the world. Later in the year or next year we’ll be back.
You can catch Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real at O2 Shepherd’s Bush Empire this Thursday. [Find Tickets]
See them perform with Neil Young at Hyde Park on Friday 12 July 2019. [Find Tickets]