In Boulder, Colorado, Lukas Nelson is preparing for his first show in over a year. It’s not often that Nelson and his band, Promise of the Real, take time off of the road (whether that be from their own shows or performing as Neil Young’s backing band) but when touring became impossible over the past year and a half, Nelson found himself spending some much-appreciated time with old friends and family.
Now he’s back out on the road in support of the band’s newest record A Few Stars Apart, the 32-year-old feels grateful for the opportunity. “It feels fantastic,” he says with a sigh of relief. “I think the crowd is going to be pumped, and we’re pumped, so the chemistry is going to be good.”
Lukas Nelson & Promise of The Real released A Few Stars Apart earlier this month, marking their fifth studio album. Recorded in Nashville’s legendary Studio A at RCA - where his father Willie Nelson cut records some fifty years prior - the album is the band’s most personal yet.
“There was a lot of really important bonding that happened during that time,” Nelson shares. Ultimately, this is what A Few Stars Apart is about after all: family, home and belonging. More importantly for Nelson, it was about finding himself and confronting his woes.
Full of candour and backed by some of Promise of the Real’s finest playing yet, Nelson comes into his own with authentic and genuine emotion, the same he shares across the call today. With a pensive but happy tone, it’s evident that he’s come to terms with what it really means to be Lukas Nelson.
Congratulations on the release of A Few Stars Apart. How does it feel to have it out?
I feel stoked! The band and I are very proud of this record. We feel we’ve shown a lot of greater musicality. We were looking at what a song needs - allowing ourselves to focus on the lyrics and melodies that support what it wants to say emotionally. We purposely didn’t play a lot of solos on this record, it’s much more of a songwriting album. We’ve done a lot of rock and roll, but now we’re in a more reflective mood.
Has the past year and a half been a reflective time for you in general?
Absolutely. It’s been the most reflective time I’ve ever had. I spent some of it on my own, but a lot of it was with my family in Austin. I probably couldn’t help but integrate that into the music we’ve been writing.
It appears some artists have come out of the past year and a half feeling inspired to do more, whilst some have really struggled with being creative. How do you fit in with that?
I would say the former. I think that this record, if anything for me, is about understanding that the world around me is uncontrollable - letting go of that control and trusting you’re where you’re meant to be is what’s needed. It’s also about cultivating the inner strength required to get through any situation that comes my way. Writing songs is a form of resilience for me. It’s how I try and find peace when things around me go to shit, frankly. I use music as a healing tool.
A Few Stars Apart focuses a lot on human connections; with family, friends and others. Do you feel you’ve been more in tune with your relationships during your time off from touring?
Yeah, I’ve cultivated quite a few strong connections with people I already knew but have been able to strengthen my bonds with. I’m really grateful for that. When I went home to Hawaii - where I grew up - I reconnected a lot with old friends. I’ve been on the road my whole life and have loved them from afar, so being able to spend quality time with them was a very important thing to do in a strong relationship.
A Few Stars Apart is such an inward-facing record - when you finished the songs, you performed them for your family and your mum told you that you had “found your voice”. That must have been an important moment sharing such personal tracks with those so close to you?
It was great when she said that because she’s a real tough critic. She won’t pull any punches, so when she told me that I was really happy. It was absolutely an important moment, but you know what, my dad has been sharing his personal tracks with me forever. Some of the vulnerability on his records are a real aching pain that he’s sharing, so I grew up with that openness.
Did this record help you deal with some inner turmoils?
For sure. There’s a reason why you wanna run so hard you never stop. I had to come to terms with why I was running so hard my whole life and what I had to face and confront about myself. Luckily, I had the courage to face my inner demons and doing so has prepared me for a much happier life going forward.
What do you think you learnt from facing your demons head-on?
I learnt that most demons are just your mind creating stories and scenarios that don’t exist. My dad says that 99% of the things you worry about never happen and he’s right. Building the strength to fearlessly take on whatever is in front of you is an ongoing lesson, but I think I have the fundamentals to do it.
So do you feel you’re well-rested now and ready to get on the road again?
Definitely. We’ve got a few shows coming up which is sort of like dipping our toes in the water. Then at the beginning of September, we start a four-month tour.
You’ve been touring with Neil Young for a while and have done a few records with him. Alongside this, of course, you've also played shows with your dad and collaborated with some great musical minds like Dave Cobb. How important is it for you to be able to work with your predecessors and collaborate in this way?
This is the great thing about country music: it’s one of the only genres that really respects its past. I think respect is a big part of country music, even in the outlaw world. Honour among thieves, so to speak. We all know what came before us, and there’s a tradition of singing and telling stories that as country musicians we pass forward.
We collaborate too - it’s what we do as country musicians, and maybe rock and roll ones, too. Neil [Young] has been teaching us a masterclass in rock and roll - combining the primary colours of music from the past to create the secondary colours of contemporary music. I think it makes the world of music a more vibrant and colourful place.
You’re in a great position to be able to have shared those experiences. I’m sure it’s a very valuable thing for you.
I’m in a great position to learn and luckily, I really love to. You’ve got to get out of your own way to do that properly. I’m just soaking everything in and trying to bring myself to the point where I can take on that role of inspiring others.
Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real's new album, A Few Stars Apart, is out now via Fantasy.