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March 2018 Relix Magazine Sampler: Umphrey's McGee "Maybe Someday"
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Lukas Nelson: Sooner or Later, It All Gets Real

Jeff Tamarkin | March 01, 2018
Myriam Santos

Willie Nelson and his wife gave their two boys three valuable pieces of advice when they were young. “Number one,” Willie recalls, “was don’t be an asshole. Number two: Don’t be an asshole.” And number three? “Don’t be a goddamn asshole!”

“That’s true,” chuckles Lukas Nelson, one of the recipients of that pointed parental guidance. “I learned not to be an asshole. It’s a great lesson and it’s given me quite a lot of joy in my life and in love. But I also learned the value of hard work from my dad, just from watching him. And I learned how to treat people. Dad leads by example; he’s humble.” 

“I’ve always believed in treating people with respect and treating people the way you want to be treated. It seems to work,” confirms Willie.

What also worked was letting the two boys—whose mother, Annie D’Angelo, Willie’s fourth wife, has been married to him since 1991—find their own way in life. The couple neither encouraged nor discouraged Lukas, who turned 29 on Christmas Day and fronts Promise of the Real, or his 27-year-old brother, Micah, from following in their father’s footsteps.

“Ever since they were born, there’s been musical instruments around them where they grew up,” says Willie. “There’s a cabin at our place with a piano and five or six guitars. So it was just a natural thing. I didn’t try to push it on them. I kind of let ‘em hear me play, and hear my sister Bobbie [Nelson, Willie’s longtime pianist and elder sibling], and the next thing you know, I see Micah over on the drums and Luke’s playing the guitar. And then the next thing you know, they’re playing good!”

So good, in fact, that both Lukas and Micah—the youngest of Willie’s seven offspring—are now prolific and highly creative artists in their own right. Last summer, Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real released their major label debut—easily their most impressive album to date—and they’ve served as Neil Young’s chosen backup band since they met at Farm Aid in 2014, touring with him extensively and collaborating on three albums (2015’s The Monsanto Years, 2016’s live Earth and the recently released The Visitor). Micah also serves as an auxiliary member of Promise of the Real when they support Young and leads Pårticle Kid, a project he describes on his Facebook page as “Folk-a-delic Forest-Funk Space-Punk Avant-Pop Psych- Rock Dope-Scapes.”

In addition, Lukas and Micah teamed with their dad to record this past fall’s Willie and the Boys: Willie’s Stash Vol. 2, which finds the trio putting their own harmonic stamp on country classics, mostly by Hank Williams.

POTR, as Lukas’ band is often called, is coming up on its 10th anniversary this year. The lineup currently includes Nelson on guitar and lead vocals, Tato Melgar (percussion), Corey McCormick (bass, vocals), Jesse Siebenberg (steel guitars, Farfisa organ, vocals), Alberto Bof (piano, Wurlitzer, B3 organ) and Anthony LoGerfo (drums). The self-titled Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real (Fantasy Records), produced by John Alagia (John Mayer, Dave Matthews Band), features a dozen songs composed by Lukas (he co-wrote “High Times” with Alyssa Miller), and follows Promise of the Real (2010), Wasted (2012), Live Endings (2012), 2016’s Something Real and a handful of EPs. Two of the tunes on the new release are remakes of songs that appeared on the last album, another dates back to their debut and one is a longtime live staple.

As far as Nelson is concerned though, Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real is, in many ways, the band’s first truly representative release—its music honed by an annual touring schedule of more than 200 shows and countless hours spent writing and recording. “The production is the key,” he says of the album. “The quality of the studio, the quality of the production, the decisions that John Alagia and the band made in the studio—that all led to a higher quality sound. It sounds more cinematic; it’s got more of a weight to it. And we’re a better band than when we recorded those other albums.”