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Advice

Jeff Moehlis: Lukas Nelson Gets Real about Upcoming Show, Neil Young and Dad Willie

Neil Young (center) and Promise of the Real will perform at the Santa Barbara Bowl Saturday, Oct. 10.
Neil Young (center) and Promise of the Real will perform at the Santa Barbara Bowl Saturday, Oct. 10.  (Press photo)

The inspiration for the name of the band Promise of the Real comes from the Neil Young song "Walk On," specifically the line "Some get stoned, some get strange / Sooner or later, it all gets real".

Well, "sooner or later" is here, in the sense that Promise of the Real played with Young on his latest album The Monsanto Years, and is now on tour with him.  

They'll be performing together at the the Santa Barbara Bowl on Saturday, Oct. 10 (check here for tickets).

Promise of the Real guitarist/singer Lukas Nelson talked to Noozhawk about the upcoming show, his admiration for Neil Young, plus a bit about his father, country music legend Willie Nelson

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Jeff Moehlis: Can you tell us a little bit about how the upcoming show will play out? I've read that for previous shows on this tour Neil starts with an acoustic set, then it gets heavier and heavier.

Lukas Nelson: That's it, that's how it's been. You can't say for sure how it's going to be, because things can change, but that's how the tour was laid out.  

He would come out acoustic for a little bit, do basically my favorite songs in the world, and then we come and join him later, and then we do another bunch of my favorite songs in the world.  So it's all pretty great.

JM: How did you get the gig playing with Neil?

LN: Neil and I have been friends forever — he's been family — but we hadn't really gotten close until Farm Aid 2010.  

I think we did a Neil cover in our set, and he came up to us and said, "Hey, I like that!" and then we started keeping in touch.  

We greatly admire him, and he just said, "One day we should jam." And then when we jammed we really had fun, and so we just kept jamming.

JM: Can you tell us a bit about the recording sessions for The Monsanto Years album? What was that experience like, being in the studio with him?

LN: It was awesome! We were in Oxnard, Calif., at the Teatro. It's a great little theater. My dad did a record with Daniel Lanois there. I think Bob Dylan did a record there at that studio with Daniel. Lanois used it a lot.  It's a great place.  

It's near Ventura, so we'd go surfing every morning. We'd go surf and then go play with Neil — it was perfect! It was the dream, man [laughs]. It is the dream.

JM: People have talked about how Promise of the Real is bringing a Crazy Horse vibe to Neil's music. What's your take on that? Do you feel that also?

LN: I think we're different from Crazy Horse. I think Crazy Horse the best band to see Neil with, probably. Of course. But we have a lot of versatility as a band, and we love working with each other.  

It's a challenge every time. We can do any style of what Neil does, whereas in the past he'd have to go play with the Stray Gators, or go play with somebody else to go do a different type of music.  

We can do all of it, and I think that's why he really likes playing with us, and we can really do it convincingly, too. It's not like we're just going through the motions.

Because I grew up listening to Neil's music, the whole span of Neil's music. I like rock 'n' roll, hard rock, I like grunge, but I also like the soft stuff, too. To be able to do both is really cool, because we're going out there and giving a really dynamic show. I think that's really important.

JM: Are you willing to go on record and say what your favorite Neil Young song is?

LN: Right now, my favorite Neil Young song is "Birds," the Crazy Horse version. [sings] "When you see me fly away without you." It's a beautiful song.

JM: I also have to ask, because we all love your father's music — do you have a favorite Willie Nelson song?

LN: I don't have a favorite of all time, but right now, "I Just Dropped By" is my favorite. That one or "Happiness Lives Next Door."

JM: What was it like growing up as Willie Nelson's son?

LN: You're going to have to give me a little more specificity for that question.

JM: Sure, let me ask it this way. You've gone into music also. Did you find it a little intimidating when you consider his body of work, or do you find it to be more inspiring?

LN: It's more inspiring for sure. He's my best friend, and I look up to him as a mentor to me. So it's definitely an inspiring thing.

JM: What inspired you to pursue a career in music?

LN: Music just captured me, man. I started young, messing around, playing, maybe to just get closer to my dad. Then I just fell in love with it myself. That was a long time ago.

JM: What are your plans for the near future? Maybe something else with Neil in the works? And you have your own band which is doing great stuff.

LN: We've got a record coming out with my band, and the announcement is tomorrow or something. We've been working with this record label called Royal Potato, and I think we're trying to get it out in February.So we've got a definite plan.  

Everything is basically signed, ready to go. We're thinking February is our release. There'll be an official announcement either later today or tomorrow.

JM: I get the impression that it's hard to make long-term plans with Neil. Is there anything in the works with him, or who knows?

LN: Neil and the band, we will be playing together hopefully forever. We'll do our own things, we'll go in and out, but we're friends.  

We play music together because we love it, first and foremost. It might not be that he tours with us forever, but we'll always be playing with him, we'll always be hanging with him.  

He's our family. It's not just business with Neil. We love him.

Click here to read the full interview with Lukas Nelson.

— Jeff Moehlis is a Noozhawk contributing writer and a professor of mechanical engineering at UC Santa Barbara. Upcoming show recommendations, advice from musicians, interviews and more are available on his web site, music-illuminati.com. The opinions expressed are his own.

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