When Lukas Nelson, 28, is asked a question about his creative process, he is reminded of some words of wisdom passed down to him from his father, country icon Willie Nelson.
“I see songs everywhere in everyday life,” Lukas tells CMT.com. “My dad told me a long time ago when you’re a songwriter, you can’t force the song because songwriting is like rain water. If you’ve got a well, and it’s dry, you have to wait for it to rain. Sometimes it rains hard, and you’ve got plenty of water to drink. The songs that you try and write when the well is dry are forced, and that’s not right.”
Lukas’ songwriting well sounds like it’s brimming with ideas at the moment. Although his band Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real just released its self-titled album, he is already sitting on approximately 40 songs to sort through for the next project.
And there was no rushing Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real. Recorded over 18 months at Los Angeles’ Village Studios with producer John Alagia, the music is a stunning collection of cosmic country soul that it is full of vivid storytelling inspired by loss, love, friendship, commitment in the country, moving on and living for high times.
Lucius vocalists Holly Laessig and Jess Wolfe lend powerful backing vocals throughout the collection, while Lady Gaga appears on “Carolina” and “Find Yourself.” On the rolling “Just Outside of Austin,” Willie offers a stylish jazz guitar solo from his famous acoustic named Trigger, while Lukas’ 86-year-old aunt Bobbie Nelson can be heard on piano.
“My goal is to create a new world and when people come and listen to the music, they feel good,” Lukas says. “I do try and keep the subject somewhat personal to me. I always try to write something I can relate to, even if I bring myself in someone else’s shoes.
“There’s really no subject that’s off limits. Wherever the source of inspiration is in general, you can’t really limit that. You can’t really put chains or bars on that because if you do, you might snuff it out.”
The music kicks listeners in the teeth from the first notes of the mournful opener, “Set Me Down on a Cloud,” a song inspired by a request from a fan who had experienced a family tragedy.
“It’s a sad story actually,” Lukas reveals of the inspiration behind “Set Me Down on a Cloud.” “This lady, her and her husband accidentally somehow ran over and killed their four-year-old daughter. They came to one of my shows, and they said it was the first time they were able to feel happy since that occurrence, and they asked me to write song about it. I was very honored to be able to write about that situation and try and capture it in the art. I felt like a spirit was guiding me.”
One of Lukas’ favorite songs on the album is the philosophical closer, “If I Started Over.” “It’s a matter of what if we have to start over and do the same things until we get it both right and we both learn a lesson,” Lukas says of the song. “It’s a romantic song, too, because there are one or two people I’ve met in this life that I would definitely hope to meet in the next.”
Lukas first connected with Lady Gaga through their work on the upcoming remake of A Star Is Born, which is due sometime in 2018.
“We were writing songs together, and we just became good friends,” he says of his first impression of Gaga. “She’s just a gem of a human being and one of the best musicians of all time.”
That’s high praise coming from a musician like Lukas. His earliest childhood memories are of being around legendary artists like the Highwaymen’s Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings, Kris Kristofferson and his father Willie (Lukas started touring with his father at age 13, and he started touring with his own band at around 17). When Lukas was 11, Kristofferson told him he should be a songwriter, and as a guitarist, he grew up emulating blues rockers like Jimi Hendrix and Stevie Ray Vaughan.
But Lukas believes that Promise of the Real probably wouldn’t be what it is today without Neil Young. He first connected with Promise of the Real drummer Anthony Logerfo at a Young concert a decade ago, and they named the band after a line in Young’s 1973 song, “Walk On.” Years later, Young hired Promise of the Real as his touring and studio band for his two most recent albums, including 2015’s The Mansanto Years.
“I pictured myself playing with him ever since I was a little kid,” Lukas says. “The first show we did with him with the band was in Nebraska, and it was like we had been playing together for years. Working with Neil has added a lot of weight, and the energy that we absorb from being around Neil carries over into the music that we put down afterwards.”
Promise of the Real’s current six-piece lineup includes longtime bandmates Tato Melgar (percussion), Anthony LoGerfo (drums) and Corey McCormick (bass, vocals), along with new members Jesse Siebenberg (steel guitars, Farfisa organ, vocals) and Alberto Bof (piano, Wurlitzer, Hammond B3).
Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real is on tour through November. The band will continue the Outlaw Music Festival tour Sept. 8 in Holmdel, New Jersey.