Lukas Nelson has made a case for himself as an honorary Aspenite over the past five years.
Soon after forming his band, Promise of the Real, in 2009, Nelson started playing Aspen a handful of times a year, building local buzz with swaggering, good-time rock shows punctuated by Nelson’s crowd-pleasing guitar theatrics.
As he’s returned seasonally, his band’s national profile — and reputation for raucous stage shows — has risen, with three albums and hundreds of live shows. He counts Belly Up Aspen owner Michael Goldberg and the club’s crew as some of Promise of the Real’s earliest champions in the music business.
“Michael’s a good friend of mine, and I consider him a mentor,” Nelson said recently from his home in Hawaii. “I can’t wait to get back there. It’s really like a family reunion.”
Now 25, Nelson is the son of a legend with a seemingly inescapable shadow — Willie Nelson. And while the twang in Nelson’s voice is reminiscent of his father’s, it’s getting easier to see him as his own musical animal as he blazes his own trail with Promise of the Real. He counts his father as his biggest influence, but his live performances are often more comparable to Stevie Ray Vaughan or Jimi Hendrix (he memorably covered Hendrix’s “Pali Gap”on Promise of the Real’s self-titled debut album).
Two songs the band released in recent months — “Little Girl,” on the “Dumb and Dumber To” soundtrack, and the single “Find Yourself” — showcased a mellower side of Nelson. “Little Girl” has a reggae feel to it. “Find Yourself” is laid back and R&B inspired.
But Nelson isn’t losing his edge. He and his quartet recorded an album, titled “Love Yourself,” that included those and other less aggressive tracks, but then scrapped it. They recently laid down 14 new songs in a recording session in San Francisco, which they plan to release next year instead.
“The record we’re putting out in the next few months will be full-on rock and roll,” he said. “There may be a few vibey ones like that on it, but it’s mostly just straight, guitar-heavy rock. It’s pretty fun.”
The band — rounded out by Nelson’s childhood friend and percussionist Tato Melgar, drummer Anthony LoGerfo and bassist Corey McCormick — has made its rollicking concerts its calling card. And they decided they needed to make songs that are built to play live, Nelson said.
“Those songs are much better and more fun to play live,” he said. “We want to be able to tour and rock and roll when we play.”
Their hard-touring, road warrior approach, he said, has helped the band continue to improve and hone its sound.
“It’s become more of a solid band,” he said. “Our telepathy is growing stronger every show that we do.”