Rising Sons: Willie Nelson, Lukas Nelson, Micah Nelson featured in Austin Man Magazine

rising sons

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by:  By Steve Uhler

 

FAMILY TRADITION

 

« BACK TO THE SUMMER 2014 TABLE OF CONTENTS.

Rising out of their fathers’ shadows, four talented young musicians come in to their own.

By Steve Uhler

WHAT WOULD WILLIE’S BOYS DO?

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It’s called the Julian Lennon Syndrome— a peculiar malady visited on the sons of famous musicians. Symptoms include critics and audiences compulsively comparing the talents of the sons to the fathers. Notable cases include Julian and Sean Lennon, Ziggy Marley, and Gunnar and Matthew Nelson, twin sons of the late Ricky Nelson. Coincidently, it also afflicts another pair of siblings named Nelson: Lukas and Micah, heirs apparent to the kingdom of their dad, Willie.

On this particular day, the brothers are in a festive, rambunctious mood. It’s their dad’s 81st birthday, and later they’ll be celebrating by playing with him at his annual birthday party-cum-concert at The Backyard. Right now, though, they’re setting up shots at a photo shoot. Mugging, wrestling and trading quips, they’re driving the photographer to distraction, but having a good time.

Though only two years apart, Lukas and Micah Nelson don’t appear much alike. Twenty-five-year-old Lukas is compact and muscular, with a finely chiseled face and easygoing but outwardly wary demeanor that can effectively stave off the curious. When he speaks, the unmistakable inflections and twangs of his father’s voice pepper his conversation.

Younger brother Micah is tall and wiry, loose-limbed and loquacious with no discernible accent when he speaks, which he does with exceptional articulation and candor. On the surface, no one would assume they were brothers. Until someone brings up the subject of their dad. Then they blend in to one protective entity.

“I rarely tell people who I am ’cause it seems to make people act differently,” Lukas says. “I don’t mind introducing people to my father if they’re my friends, but I’m very protective of my family, of my dad’s privacy and my own.”

“There’s a lot of mosquitoes in the world,” Micah says. “It’s a small fraction of humanity, but when my brother and I were growing up in that world, we realized that when we met new people, it was better to have them get to know us for who we are, and respect and appreciate us as individuals before they knew who our family was. If our last name falls in to the picture, then a lot of times, there’s an agenda behind it. There’s a lot of fake people surrounding the music industry and entertainment business in general, people who just want to suck your blood and get what they can out of you.”

Both brothers are keenly aware of the unique position of having Willie Nelson as a father.

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“I wouldn’t say he’s a textbook parent,” Micah says. “But he’s the greatest dad that anyone could ever have. Just by growing up around him and observing how he interacts with people and how he carries himself, the respect he shows for people and having that example to live by. He’s the best.”

“We have a family rule, which is don’t be an asshole. If you can master that, you’ll have a good time being alive,” Micah says.

“Our family doesn’t live the same way a lot of people do in terms of the kind of traditional values that some people would impose on others,” Lukas says. “We really believe that caring for others is the most important thing in the world. We forgive each other a lot of mistakes that we make because we understand that everybody’s got a light and a dark side, and those who pretend they don’t have a dark side are controlled by it. It’s the yin/yang thing. They both work together.”

The brothers were raised together, often spending summers on the road with their dad.

“We did a couple of tours with Bob Dylan,” Micah recounts. “My brother had picked up a guitar when he was about 10. I was younger, so I figured, ‘Well, I guess I’ll play drums.’ I was his rhythm section, basically. We learned by jamming with each other. That was a lot of our musical education, learning through observation and playing with each other.”

As time passed, each developed his own unique vision and talents, though they still collaborate frequently. Both brothers understand the slippery slope of celebrity, their father’s and their own.

“Whatever anybody thinks about me—or anybody else in the limelight—I’d caution them that you never truly know who they are; you never truly know why they do what they do,” Lukas says. “Like Miley Cyrus, for example. Everybody gives her a bad time. Nobody knows her the way she knows herself. When you’re in front of everybody, you’re never going to be safe from criticism. That’s just how it is. We’ve learned to deal with it.”

The two brothers’ respective artistic pursuits reflect their differences. Lukas is drawn to the grittier side of blues and country, and his finely honed guitar chops owe more than a little to Stevie Ray Vaughan and Jimi Hendrix. He wrote his first song at 11, You Were It, which impressed his father so much that he recorded it. His band, Promise of the Real, has built a solid rep with audiences, tours constantly and has appeared on numerous late-night shows, including a memorable appearance on Letterman when Lukas’ glasses went flying off his head in mid-flail.

“I didn’t have ’em on tight enough,” he confesses. “Maybe I should’ve taped ’em to my head.”

38_lukas2His early recordings came under occasionally snarky fire from critics, who accused him of dabbling in different genres. Lukas is unfazed.

“That’s kind of how I am,” he says. “I don’t like to be in one genre. I have no boundaries. The sky’s the limit. I’ve got 100 songs that I haven’t released or recorded yet, and they’re all in different styles.”

He lives to tour, calling the road his home.

“I’m in it for the rush, really,” he says candidly. “The rush of playing for people. It doesn’t matter if it’s 300 or 30,000, it’s the same. When the energy is flowing back and forth and everybody’s jumping up and down and dancin’…it’s like riding a big wave. Rock ’n’ roll, that’s what I love.”

While Lukas embraces the rowdier side of the musical spectrum, Micah is at once more introspective and diversified, taking his considerable talents beyond traditional song templates, incorporating animation, art, video and film in to his palette. His website is more of an interactive museum than a marketing tool, incorporating samples of his work. His animation and video work are particularly arresting, with surreal shades reminiscent of Edward Gorey and David Lynch.

“My mom will tell you some of the stuff I used to draw as a kid freaked her out,” he admits. “She brought in psychiatrists, thinking I may turn in to Jeffrey Dahmer or something. And they were like, ‘No, he’s just a creative dude. He’s OK.’ ”

His music is abstract and impressionistic, more informed by Brian Eno than Johnny Cash, and light years removed from his dad and brother’s. He’s also incredibly prolific, with a musical output that far outpaces his dad’s and his sibling’s, both as a solo artist and founder of his touring band, Insects vs. Robots. (When he tours alone, he’s sometimes billed as Particle Kid.) As a boy, he was heavily influenced by movie soundtracks.

“When I was in middle school, I’d get those CDs and be sitting at the bus stop listening to this music and seeing entire films inside my head,” Micah says.

Micah doesn’t place one artistic outlet above the others.

“To me, they’re all kind of one and the same thing,” he says. “They all inform each other and complement each other. I’ll see a film or painting and I’ll have an entire concept album pop in to my head. Or I’ll hear a musical piece and a whole body of paintings will come to me. They’re symbiotically linked together, and I’m always trying to explore different ways to explore those links, just trying to find the links between all of our senses, the way we’re receiving and putting out information. They’re all from the same place somehow.”

Therein lies the key link in the Nelson brothers: the desire to explore new means of artistic expression, whether through a shredding guitar solo or a surreal film of seemingly random images. Lukas and Micah Nelson are taking their own paths on their own terms, just like their father did.

“My dad, to me, is like a f**king superhero,” Micah says. “His whole story of doing it his way and succeeding. I make much different music from my dad—from different worlds almost—but at the same time, I connect with him on a much different level because we’re both doing what makes sense to us, regardless of anyone’s expectations or what the end goal is. The end goal is right now.”

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3 Responses to “Rising Sons: Willie Nelson, Lukas Nelson, Micah Nelson featured in Austin Man Magazine”

  1. Deb POLANCO says:

    Your band is superb ! Loved it at the forum and as a long time Neil
    Fan obsessed with the new crew ! Yu guys tore it up in the desert last nite!
    Neil really pushed yu to your best , and was cool to see !
    Keep on rockin ???

  2. Lisa B. Guardiola says:

    Whether their talent follows one path or many, all three men are extremely gifted and creative. It’s so awesome to see how the sons love their Dad. What a wonderful way to grow up and become good human beings. I love Willie’s music and style. The more familiar I become with Lukas and Micah, the more impressed I am. Way to go guys, but I bet Mom’s no slouch either!

  3. Susan Markowitz says:

    I have long loved Willie Nelson’s music. I can’t imagine anyone who doesn’t. I feel lucky that now I can also enjoy the talent of Lukas and Micah. Watching the videos of them all together is so inspirational. I had the honor of being in the audience for the recent Live Stream of ACL on July 2nd and it was sensational. I didn’t know I could still move this much at 71 yrs old but I was up and rockin’, heck if Willie can at 85 I suppose I can. Lukas held the audience in the palm of his hands and his appreciation for the crowd could be felt! I guess I could sum it all up by saying THANK YOU to Willie and The Boys for giving so much of themselves to us, their fans. Peace and Love Y’all.

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