Critics may think they have Lukas Nelson all figured out. At first glance, Wasted, the newest album from his rock and roll band, Lukas Nelson and the Promise of the Real, seems as if it’s only about having a good time. They may cite nepotism, by way of his famous father, country music legend Willie Nelson, as the sole cause of his success.
They’d be wrong on both counts.
While Wasted’s obvious theme is about partying, it doesn’t paint a glamorous picture. Nelson was freshly broken-hearted when he went on the road in mid-2011, leaving him particularly vulnerable to its temptations.
“I never really drank to excess, I’d never blacked out or had problems, but when I was doing that [tour], I was in kind of in a self destructive mood. I wasn’t using my normal judgment, and it had consequences.”
After too many nights of excessive drinking and partying, Nelson began to write down his experiences as a way to get back to himself. He considers Wasted as a sort of “journal entry. I wrote it down and put it in a bubble and sent it away so that I can let it go and not go back to it, hopefully. I’m in a pretty good place now, you know?”
The result is a powerful album of rock and roll blues, filled with Nelson’s sick guitar riffs and hints of country and reggae sprinkled in for taste. The only evidence that you’re listening to Willie Nelson’s son lies in their similar voices.
Certainly, his father’s music business connections gave him a leg up; however, Nelson uses his own undeniable talent, drive, and work ethic to boost himself further and make his band successful.
Far from having a chip on his shoulder, Nelson is quick to show his father support. While recording for Wasted was underway, Nelson played on 9 of 14 tracks off Willie’s album Heroes. He has also toured with him- both with his band and as a guitarist, including the XPN Non Comm at Philadelphia’s World Café Live this past May. On September 22nd, Lukas Nelson and the Promise of the Real will be playing in Hershey, PA at Farm Aid, the annual concert benefitting American farmers that his father helped start in 1985.
“I’ve played almost every Farm Aid since I was [little]. I’m proud of my dad for starting it, it’s a good cause and it’s important for the country.”
Besides making the occasional guest appearance at his dad’s concerts, Nelson spent a lot of his childhood in the pool. He was a talented swimmer with dreams of the Olympics; however, around the age of 12, he could no longer stand the sport’s inescapable repetitiveness. He began playing guitar and, from then on, music was his life.
In an effort to please his parents, Nelson reluctantly enrolled as a classical music major at Loyola Marymount University instead of immediately pursuing his music career. He made an effort, but couldn’t hide the fact that he was miserable.
“I was trying to make someone else happy, and that’s not what you’re supposed to be doing when you really want to live your life. Eventually you’re gonna have to make your own decisions, even if it makes somebody upset at first. [In the end] they’ll have a lot of respect for you because you’re being an adult, making decisions like [one] rather than a kid who just does what he’s told.”
Nelson was cut off financially after dropping out. He struggled to get by, living out of his car and on friends’ couches as he busked for money and began forming his band. Despite the hardships, he was much happier because he was finally playing music.
The heart of Wasted explores the idea of not living up to your potential, a negative path Nelson refuses to take:
“[Wasted is about] not wasting your talent or your loves, the people that care about you and believe in you and help you to move along your life’s path. That goes with anything you’re doing that you’re good at or that you love. I know it’s cheesy, but follow what makes you happy, even if it seems like it’s not going to make you rich or you’re not going to be able to survive on it. I still haven’t really made it–I’m not rich or anything, and we still have to tour a lot to make money–but I’m happy doing what I’m doing, and I feel successful because I can make a living doing what I love, and that’s what’s important. ”
Besides following his heart, Nelson followed the schedule of the moon during the album’s creation. Neil Young, whom Nelson has called a “loose mentor”, suggested recording on full moon nights. The band took it a step further, mixing, mastering, and releasing the album according to the lunar phase. Nelson explains the significance:
“The full moon is an energy source. There’s a magnetism brought to earth when [it’s] around. When you’re playing music on a full moon, you’re playing in an environment that’s more conducive to an energetic anomaly. Recording on tape—tape is little magnets that are being arranged as you play on them, so as you record to it, it arranges the little magnets on the tape to the musical notes. Recording to analog [means] you’re using the earth to imprint music on a magnet in the earth’s magnetic field. It’s super organic and energetic, so it just adds a lot.”
Nelson’s current schedule is far too hectic to schedule so precisely, but he remains unruffled, explaining he simply takes “every day at a time, and give every day my best. I try not to think about where I’m going to be tomorrow.”
His distaste of repetition shows up in his unique performances; could he also be channeling residual energy from those recording sessions into his vigorous live show?
“Oh man. I come out every show like it’s the first show I’ve ever played, you know?”
Written by: Dana Giusti