Photo: Daniel Mendoza/Recording Academy
Exclusive: Lukas Nelson On Neil Young, 'A Star Is Born' & New Music
Lukas Nelson may have been born into music high royalty as the son of country legend Willie Nelson, but in person, he's as humble, friendly and thoughtful as they come. In the middle of a huge year for his growing music career, we caught up with Nelson backstage at Newport Folk Festival to ask him about his self-titled debut album, his experience of his band Promise Of The Real playing with Neil Young, his involvement in the anticipated film A Star Is Born, and what he's up to next.
You've been making and releasing music your whole life, but your official self-titled debut arrived in 2017. What does it mean to you to have a full-length record that's out there with your name on it?
Like you said, we put out four records before, and some of those have even the same songs. But I just basically wanted to get the band, because we'd just come off the road with Neil [Young], we're very inspired and I thought, "Let's go in the studio," with my manager, Scooter [Weintraub]. And we were thinking, "Let's go in the studio and do a record that is just the best of what I've written so far," and just put down what we've got. And I feel like I could have done a few things differently, but I feel like it generally got there, to where it was a good first impression on a major scale. We're having a label behind us and all that, and it was really a good first record. But right now we're working on so much music that's way more involved than that music, and so I'm looking forward to putting that out.
Can you tell us a little bit about what you're working on?
Oh, well, there's a couple songs that we re-recorded. Actually, the next release that we're going to have is going to be a couple songs that didn't make it on this record. So I recorded it back then, so it's got the same vibe in terms of the instrumentation and the way we're playing it as those older [songs].
But then we also did a more recent cover of David Bowie's "Life On Mars," which really came out well. Super fun. And then we're going to put out a music video for "Forget About Georgia," and we released that sound in an edited down format so that we can try and get more people to hear that song, as more people are paying attention [now]. ... That was one of my favorites of the record.
And then I've got another 30 songs, or 40 songs recorded for the follow-up record, and I've got to pick those songs out of that batch, and then go in maybe one more time and record, and we should have a record for the spring or somewhat near there.
You're a busy man! You mentioned Neil Young — what did you learn from being around him, and then what do you think Neil took away from you and your band?
It's definitely a symbiosis between Neil and the band. We give and we take. He's a master, and so we've become his pupils in some ways. But then also, it's like as we learn more and we grow, then we give him energy at the same time. It's definitely a cycle. … People in the audience can feel that too I think, and they get caught up in the cycle and that's what makes for a great night.
Let's talk about A Star Is Born. What was it like to work on a film and operate in a different creative reality?
It was great, man. Bradley [Cooper] and [Lady] Gaga, I mean Bradley being a great musician and Gaga being a great actress, I'm really looking forward to seeing people's reactions to the movie and seeing how they like it. I think they really will. I think they'll like the music, it's all original that we wrote, and Promise Of The Real is in it. And there's music from Dave Cobb and Jason Isbell. Mark Ronson produced a bunch of stuff. And then Bradley's just so fantastic. I mean he put his heart and soul into it. So I'm really looking forward to when that comes out.
There's such a rich history here at Newport Folk Festival. It was 53 years ago that Dylan went electric here at Newport. What do you think, 53 years from now, fans are going to remember most about this era?
Well, I'll tell you what I visualize for that, because if we are, in fact, in 53 years still having music festivals, or even still alive as a human race in 53 years, that means we figured some things out. So I imagine it'd be a pretty beautiful celebration of music and love. ... I think that if we can learn to take care of our planet and have more music festivals and less wars, then I think that maybe in 53 years we'll all be here saying, "Hey, remember when ..."