photo: Jennifer Bronenkant
by: Zoe Sharples
Willie Nelson and Family will perform at The Mondavi Center on April 9 at 8 p.m. Lukas Nelson, Willie’s son, will open the show with his own band, Lukas Nelson and Promise of the Real. Lukas is also part of Willie’s band. While traveling to Taos, N.M., Lukas spoke with MUSE in a phone interview about family, his music and being on the road.
MUSE: How is the tour going so far?
NELSON: It’s going really great. I just left Fort Collins and we stopped for only eight hours of rest. We were in Victor, Idaho; it’s where Wyoming, Utah and Idaho connect and Montana is close, just north. We played at a place called The Knotty Pine and before that we we were in Salt Lake City.
Your own band [Lukas Nelson and Promise of the Real], opens for Willie and you also perform in his band. What do you like about touring with your dad?
I’ve been playing with my dad [Willie Nelson] since I was 13 years old. I used to be on stage playing percussion when I was three years old, running around on stage. He’s always been very family oriented and he’s the best father anyone could ask for. Being on stage with him really makes me proud. That’s where he’s most comfortable, I think. He surrounds himself with his family and a lot of people on the road.
What is Willie like on tour?
He’ll ride his bike and hang out on the bus. Sometimes, on tour, it’s so quick, I get 15 minutes to spend with him in a day. He stays up until between four and five in the morning. I’m a day guy and he’s a night guy but we hang out and have a glass of wine or something and talk about life.
Can you tell us what songs you’ll be performing?
We make a new set list every night. We look at the crowds and we try and read what they might like. Sometimes, when we’re performing with my dad, there’s an older crowd and we try not to blow their ears out. Sometimes when we tone it down we get a better reaction. Then we get people saying ‘just rock out.’
You sometimes perform with your brother Micah too. Is family important to you?
Family is really important to me. I have a lot of extended family that I don’t know very well. I believe that family is very important but I also believe that people really transcend family; like, there’s a lot of people that have dysfunctional families and their friends become their family. It depends how you define family but the people that matter are there for you always. Micah is one person who I can open up to completely.
Willie is known as an activist as well as a musician. How do you feel about the role of musicians in politics?
Well politics, that’s the world around you. You can choose to pay attention or you can choose not to. I don’t recommend, as a musician, endorsing a political party but to endorse ideals that you believe in is part of being a human being. I think, really, there’s got to be common sense in this world. As musicians, we go out and we love each other and we spread joy and happiness. Playing music is catharsis and we go out to let our souls free. When we have people coming out and letting go, that’s already a huge statement. It’s a personal preference but I admire people that have ideals.
What’s the most memorable thing to have happened on the tour so far?
Here’s a great story. I woke up a few days ago in Salt Lake City and we got a call from the guys at Park City, Utah, about half an hour away. Their artist had cancelled last minute and they heard we were playing and said “So you wanna play this gig for 5,000 people?” I’d just woken up and I was still asleep really. It was 11 a.m. and we had three hours to pack everything up and drive down there and we just rocked it. We killed the show for 5,000, got an incredible reaction and went back and played The State Room in Salt Lake City. That day was just a really memorable day and we pulled off two great shows.
Which musicians have inspired you?
I really got into Jimi Hendrix, when I started he was my idol besides my dad. Stevie Ray Vaughan as well. I started getting really into Ray Charles, he was a huge love. I listen to Neil Young now almost every day, he has been a great mentor. The Beatles are huge, [Led] Zeppelin — I could sit here for hours and name more. I like The Arctic Monkeys and Arcade Fire, I mean anything that has soul to it. But of those few, Jimi was the catalyst for me.
How would you describe your own style of music?
I think it’s a combination of all those that I love. It’s rock n’ roll, it’s poetry, it’s folk rock and it’s indie rock. Not one song is really in the same genre. We’ve avoided being signed for that reason. It’s hard for a label to figure out what we do. You have to see us live and it’s a matter of the crowd. We’ll play a bunch of original tunes and covers at the end, like my dad.
The album you’re working on at the moment will be your third after Promise of the Real in 2010 and Wasted in 2012. How is your new album coming along?
It’s nearly out and we’ve drawn up the final pieces. We’ll have a date for you guys soon. There’ll be a press release out soon, probably in the next two months. I’m really excited about it and I feel it’s the best we’ve ever done. It’s got a lot of soul and is positive and uplifting but also deep.
What are your future hopes for your own band?
I really hope to be pushing the limits. We’re a young, small band so we don’t have a lot of money to use in the studio but we want to get creative. We want to look at techniques to make the production better so hopefully we’ll keep getting better at producing. I want to explore electronic dance music and I want to collaborate with hip hop artists, my idols, like The Roots. There’s a lot of great music out there and I don’t feel like genre should have anything to do with it. As long as it’s got a good vibe.
ZOE SHARPLES can be reached at email@example.com.