Lukas Nelson: On the road with friends
Lukas Nelson and Promise of the Real may have the most unique, not to mention enviable, job description of any working band around.
When not serving as Neil Young's primary recording and touring band, their gigs range from Charley's, a small club in Paia, Maui, owned by Lukas' dad, Willie Nelson, to opening stadium shows for The Rolling Stones.
The quintet's popularity has steadily grown over the course of five stylistically varied albums. The latest, "Turn Off the News (Build a Garden)," released in June, helped by the Tom Petty-esque lead single "Bad Case," topped the Americana album chart and penetrated the venerable Billboard Top 200.
Oh, and the band also backed actor Bradley Cooper's character in last year's version of "A Star Is Born," for which Nelson wrote songs with Lady Gaga and served as Cooper's "authenticity coordinator."
If the flurry of activity and acclaim is overwhelming for the 30-year-old — a powerhouse singer, poetic songwriter and virtuoso lead guitarist — you wouldn't know by talking to him.
Last week the loquacious-yet-laid back bandleader, who with Promise of The Real will perform a dual show with Steve Earle & The Dukes on Sunday, Aug. 11, at the Oregon Zoo, took some time from the road to talk about his life and career so far.
Tribune: How are you and from where are you calling?
Nelson: I'm doing great, doing great. We're riding down from the Hamptons, now in New Jersey.
Tribune: What was your most recent show?
Nelson: Our most recent show was in Virginia, at Floyd Fest. It was really nice. I like the festival setting — a lot of happy people.
Tribune: How is the tour going? Are you doing other shows with Steve Earle?
Nelson: No, just this one. We love Steve. We can't wait. The tour's going great. We're doing two shows at The (Stephen) Talkhouse (in Amagansett, New York). Then we come to Portland. The next day is with the Stones in Seattle.
Tribune: Is it intimidating to go from smaller venues to opening for the Stones?
Nelson: I don't know if intimidating is the right word. It's quite an honor to be opening for them. We're really excited. We did play on the same bill with them, with Neil (Young, at the 2016 Desert Trip festival), so we were opening for (Paul) McCartney at that point.
It's not intimidating, but more of an honor. We're super grateful to be in that setting.
Tribune: How well do you know the Stones?
Nelson: Dad's friends with Keith (Richards), so I've known him awhile. I think I've met the guys, all of the Stones, at one point in my life. I've never spent much time with them, but I have a tremendous amount of respect for them as some of the first people who started rock 'n roll.
Tribune: Do you have a preference regarding venue size?
Nelson: I don't have a preference on a venue. ... Wherever I'm playing, I'm happy to be playing and not sitting behind a desk.
Tribune: Are you enjoying playing songs from "Turn off the News (and Build a Garden)"?
Nelson: I am. I feel like people are really resonating with that message. It's about connecting with the people around me — a shared love of art and a movement of rock and roll. It's a community-building thing, making music. It's a good time.
Tribune: How did the songs come about?
Nelson: The songs came right into being from us just creating. The thing about this record is ... I have tremendous respect for my elders, the people who ushered my nourishment and allow me live the way I want to live. My music will always be a tribute to the influences I have.
At the same time, we're working on our next project, continuing forward. It's a love letter to all our heroes. The lyrics are more personal — that style of music. It's a smorgasbord of all the people we love.
Tribune: The album and the single "Bad Case" have a more pop-rock sound to it than the previous album (Lukas Nelson & Promise of The Real). Something tells me it wasn't record company pressure to create a hit.
Nelson: No, that whole thing has gone out the window. We did it on purpose. This is (the kind of material) we wanted to play live.
It's constantly evolving. I think we're finding our sound, finding who we are. We want to put great music out there that touches people and stands the test of time. We have yet to make our masterpiece, but it's coming.
Tribune: How has Promise of the Real evolved as a working band?
Nelson: The record is doing so well, we have the freedom now — and we're making more on live shows — to really spend some time, focus more. We're more a unit that ever. With (bassist/vocalist) Corey (McCormick), we hit the 10-year mark. We know each other really well. I think we're ready to do something special together.
Tribune: How is your dad doing? Do you hear a lot about similarities in your voice and his?
Nelson: Dad is doing fantastic. He's in Hawaii now, just chillin'.
We're pretty different (vocally). I can sound like him if I want to. We do a lot of the same things, but also sing different styles of songs. Dad's pretty versatile.
Nelson: We've got dad with the Outlaw (Music Festival) shows, and more Neil shows coming soon. And Zac Brown shows. We're collaborating a lot. That's the whole thing: If you lift everybody up that you love, you'll go through the world surrounded by great people.
Steve Earle & The Dukes with Lukas Nelson and Promise of The Real play at 7 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 11 at the Oregon Zoo, 4001 S.W. Canyon Road, Portland.
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