Lukas Nelson & Promise Of The Real
A famous dad and Neil Young’s seal of approval help, but this band show lots of real promise.
“I’m always so confused when people say that my songs sound so different from each other. To me it just sounds like rock’n’roll.”
“For a long time I wanted to be an Olympic swimmer,” says Lukas Nelson. “I was really into skateboarding and surfing too, but then music took over.”
For all his early ambitions, there was a certain inevitability about the career path he would eventually take. Lukas is the son of country legend Willie Nelson, and for the past nine years has been fronting his own band, Promise Of The Real. “Learning to play guitar and writing songs is how I got close to my dad,” says Lukas, whose first musical memory is being on stage with The Highwaymen, the country supergroup formed by his father, Johnny Cash, Merle Haggard and Kris Kristofferson. “I feel that the communication between us is a big part of why I play music.”
Taking their name from a lyric in Neil Young’s 1974 tune Walk On, Promise Of The Real hit the sweet spot between country, southern blues and classic rock’n’roll. Latest album Lukas Nelson & Promise Of The Real stirs memories of The Band, Leon Russell, Delaney & Bonnie and Glen Campbell. Plus, naturally, Neil Young.
“When it comes to the guys I grew up listening to – Neil, The Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan – no two songs sound the same on their records,” he explains of his modus operandi. “I’m always so confused when people say that my songs sound so different from each other. To me it just sounds like rock’n’roll. Back in the day, when I was trying to get a record deal, the labels would tell me that it was too varied. But it all seemed cohesive to me.”
The new album features a diverse range of guests, from members of Brooklyn quartet Lucius to Lady Gaga, Willie Nelson himself and, on piano, Lukas’s Aunt Bobbie, now in her 80s. It’s the sextet’s fifth studio album, but feels very much like a landmark. “I’ve got some new members in the band and they’ve added a lot of space,” Lukas says. “And we’ve built it up a little more, with a bigger sound. It’s a step up, for sure.”
This new‑found authority is partly down to their recent collaboration with one of their heroes. In 2015, having been impressed by their performance at Farm Aid, Neil Young enlisted Promise Of The Real to back him on The Monsanto Years. Immediately afterwards, they became his touring band.
“Sometimes you play golf with somebody who’s much better than you are and you start to get this surge of confidence and play better,” says Nelson. “That’s what it was like with Neil.
There’s a mutual respect there, and we’ve learned so much just from the way he keeps a constant focus on his music and his art.”
Nelson also reveals that there’s a new Young/POTR album on the way soon. “It’s a studio record, and the songs are so positive,” he says. “There’s a lot of love in there, it’s uplifting and it’s quite a departure from The Monsanto Years. I think it’s going to blow people’s minds.” RH
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“Neil Young has released so many records that have influenced me, but I also love Harry Nilsson,” says Lukas Nelson. “I think he’s one of the greatest singers in the whole of rock’n’roll. He did an amazing version of The Beatles’ Mother Nature’s Son on Harry , and his style of production is just so beautiful too.”