Despite canceling his tour dates for the rest of the year due to COVID-19, singer-songwriter Lukas Nelson — the eldest son of country legend Willie Nelson — is keeping things real and staying connected with his fans by playing short live streams Tuesdays and Thursdays on social media dubbed Quarantunes Evening Session.
Keeping things real is in Nelson’s nature. When it came time to naming his band a dozen years ago, he didn’t have to search too long to find the perfect moniker. He turned to his mentor Neil Young, specifically his song “Walk On” from the singer’s 1974 album “On the Beach.” There’s a line in the song that goes, “Some get stoned, some get strange. But sooner or later it all gets real.”
It inspired the name Promise of the Real and reinforced the advice Nelson had heard from his father and others: “Keep your head down, work hard. Stay present, breathe and exercise. Stay true to the muse.”
“It’s a pretty great little mantra there,” says Nelson. “I’ve been using Promise of the Real as something to look at every day on the marquee and remind myself to stay grounded, and not try and bow to any pressures from any outside source to change who we are, or the integrity of what we’re doing artistically. We’re in a lucky place where we have that luxury, so I think it behooves us to take advantage of that.”
That mantra manifests fully on the band’s latest album “Naked Garden. The album seeks to capture the raw energy of their live shows.
“I think that we’re a band that thrives on spontaneity,” says Nelson. “Our live show is our strength, so we wanted to capture as much of who we are naturally as possible, without any extra production on it, and I feel like this record really does capture that.”
“There are a lot of mistakes. There are wrong words, and I’m singing the wrong lyrics sometimes. But I do feel like people tend to gravitate towards vulnerability. There’s a vulnerability to that music where you’re not afraid to show all sides of yourself.”
The album’s songs come from the same sessions at Shangri-La and Village Studios that produced their 2019 album “Turn Off The News (Build A Garden)” and act as a companion to that project. In addition to 10 songs that didn’t make the cut for that album, the album also features five alternate versions of songs that did.
“I’ve always written very quickly,” says Nelson. “I probably write at least two or three songs a month, if not more. Sometimes I’ll write 10 songs a month. It’s just something that I never say no to. When I’m feeling the urge to write, I always say, ‘Okay, well, I better sit down wherever I am, and write.’”
Nelson and his bandmates felt the songs that missed the cut for “News” were too good to simply keep to themselves. At first, they thought of making “News” a double album, but ultimately decided to release the songs on a subsequent project.
“A lot of the songs that we didn’t release, we’re still playing live anyway right now,” Nelson says. “I’d like people to have access to every song that [we play live].”
Nelson is a fan of artists such as Bob Dylan, who offer fans alternate versions of songs, so he similarly wanted to give fans a glimpse into the development of some of his own songs. That includes two versions of “Civilized Hell.”
“That was written so long ago now, it’s gone through so many transformations, and every one of them I enjoy,” he says. “I even did a version with Shooter Jennings a long time ago that we released, and we just wanted to put another iteration of it out there.”
Nelson says he relishes the unexpected surprises that come every time he’s in the studio.
“It’s always a surprise to go into a studio, not knowing what’s going to happen, and then often you’re surprised at how easily it comes up,” he says. “The biggest surprise of this record was the fact that we were able to go in for six days and put 20 tracks down pretty seamlessly. That was a pretty epic session that we had.”
Joshua Miller is a local freelance writer.