Interview: Lukas Nelson on his UK and Ireland tour and The Hokey Pokey

Photo credit: Shervin Lainez

“Sticks and Stones” is designed to be played live and for audiences to have fun, dance and shed a few tears.

Just being part of a legendary musical dynasty doesn’t mean you don’t have to work hard for a living, even if you have chosen to follow the family tradition.  This is certainly the case for Lukas Nelson who spends most of his life on the road playing his own hybrid of country and rock & roll, working on the odd film soundtrack, and backing another music legend, Neil Young. Americana UK’s Martin Johnson caught up with Lukas Nelson over Zoom as he readied himself for his UK and Ireland tour that starts on 13th June in Oxford.  Lukas Nelson explained what audiences can expect at the shows and that his imminent new album, ‘Sticks and Stones’, is designed to be played live ensuring that concertgoers can have fun, dance, and shed a few tears. He shares what he learnt from Neil Young and that he has been writing songs since he was a kid. He attributes his work ethic to his respect for his own musical gifts, and that his home in Hawaii is what helps recharge his batteries when needed. Finally, he shares his love for The Hokey Pokey.

How are you and where are you?

I’m good and I’m actually not sure where I am. I’ve just been told we’re in Mount Pleasant, Michigan, and we are here tomorrow and then we are off to Illinois.

You seem to have inherited your dad’s work ethic with your career with Promise Of The Real, your songwriting, backing Neil Young and your soundtrack work.

I feel I have a responsibility to nurture the musical talent I seem to have. I feel we are like that band on The Titanic, you know, those violin players, we just have to keep playing because people need music while the world falls apart

There say your musical tastes and outlook are set by your formative years. Who were your formative influences?

Other than my father, it was Stevie Ray Vaughan, Jimi Hendrix, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, Paul Simon, Neil Young, and all these folks. Also, the old country folks, Patsy Cline, Merle Haggard, Tammy Wynette, George Jones, Buck Owens, Lefty Frizzell, Hank Williams, all the Highwaymen, Waylon Jennings, Johnny Cash, Kris Kristofferson. All these people combined to turn me into who I am musically.

Did your dad give you any particular insight musically, or was it simply a case of being around him?

I’m sure I picked up some insights here and there, but I tend to absorb things around me like a sponge, I just soak it all up, so just being around him really.

You have a fairly extensive tour of the UK & Ireland coming up in June, what can people expect?

Well, we’ve got a great show for you guys, we are going to play a lot of ups and we are going to play a lot of downs, we are going to turn ourselves around and do the Hokey Pokey.

How much improvisation will the audiences hear?

It is all improvisation, we are flying by the seat of our pants out there, we don’t know what we are doing, we are just trying to keep the ship going.

How do you judge a great show?

We all have to be still alive and kicking, nobody died or got impaled by a guitar, everybody in the audience is safe, and maybe there isn’t a dry seat in the house. That’s how we look at it.

‘Sticks And Stones’ is due in July, and this seems to be a self-contained record with your songwriting and production work with the band.

We had a lot of fun doing that, and it was geared towards the live show, you know. We wanted to make sure we put the best live show out there that we could. It is going to be a lot of fun, there is going to be a lot of partying, and there will be some tears. As I said before, we are going to turn everybody around and do the Hokey Pokey.

What are you most proud of about the record?

Well, ‘Alcohallelujah’ is a fun song, I liked that one a lot. ‘More Than Friends’ with Lainey Wilson is quite a gem, and those two are out right now. The title track ‘Sticks and Stones’ is another fun one, and there is a track, ‘All Four Winds’ which I’m kind of proud of. On the more introspective side, there is ‘The View’, a great song about settling down and landing where you want to be. A song called ‘Lying’ which is just me and an acoustic guitar, and that will be a nice moment in the show when we bring things down after we’ve been dancing all night, and then we’ll lift each other up in many different ways. I do think it is a dynamic album, geared to give people a live show they can sing along to, they can dance to, and celebrate human connection and that.

You do a lot of dancing, how much is rock & roll and how much is western swing?

In my world, they all just merge together, and there is no need to tarry. You just jump in and see what happens. Just use protection.

You alluded to it earlier, do you think music can help heal modern-day America?

I think it has the power to do that, it has before. Whenever we go out to play music, it doesn’t matter where you come from, it doesn’t matter whether you are riding alligators or you are riding dolphins, everybody is welcome and if you have a heart you can come to our shows

How much of an influence has your dad been on your songwriting, or is it simply a matter of the Nelson genes?

I know I’ve got his genes, but I don’t know how all that works, I just know I’ve been able to write songs since I was a kid. I love writing songs, it is something I think I do pretty well, and I feel it’s my obligation to write and continue to write and play music and have a good time. And like I’ve said, we are just fiddling while Rome burns.

What did you learn from working with Neil Young, someone else who is difficult to categorise?

He pays great attention to detail, he is a very hard-working fella, and he has a great sense of leading the band, so there is a lot I’ve learnt from him about communication with the band, what he wants and needs from the band, I can bring that to my outfit and let them know how I feel. I bring a song and say what I want, and I remember taking a lot from him in that way.

What was it like working on the soundtrack of ‘A Star Is Born’, and did you look back to the Streisand Kristofferson version?

It was referenced a few times, but we looked forward. We wanted to do our own thing, and I think it came out pretty well.

Are you going to write another soundtrack, or are you waiting to be asked?

I’ve going to write my own ‘A Star Is Born’, I’m going to write it tomorrow but the problem is I’ve only got a budget of $5,000, so I’m going to get some Lady Gaga impersonators, some Bradley Cooper impersonators, and I’m going to get a Lukas Nelson impersonator and I’m just going to direct the thing and get someone else to write the songs. No, I’m waiting on someone to ask me. I’d do it again but it has to be the right thing because we are working hard out here.

What is it like being a hard-working musician and living in Hawaii?

It is necessary because when I’m out on the road, I’m out for months at a time and I need to go back to somewhere where nobody can get to me, and I can just jump into the ocean. Even if it is just for a week, I just turn off, and if I lived anywhere else I would just get pulled back into work. So it is really important for me to be able to go somewhere like Hawaii, where it is remote enough that I can’t be coerced into working again until I really need to.

Do you get a chance to listen to any of the local musicians?

There are a lot of local musicians there, and they are all fantastic by the way, but I don’t do a lot of appearances there because that is where I go to just relax. I need it as well with all the work I’m doing out here.

At AUK, we like to share music with our readers, so can you share which artists, albums or tracks are currently top three on your personal playlist?

There are some really good musicians out there right now. I’m really into some of the new folks that are coming out. I know Tyler Childers has a new track coming out, and Nathaniel Rateliff, who’s a good buddy, is working on an album. Billy Strings is one of my favourites, so there are some good folks out there.

Finally, do you want to say anything to our readers?

Stay there, we will be right there, we will be right back after these beverages.

Lukas Nelson and Promise Of The Real’s ‘Sticks and Stones’ is released on 14th July on 6 Ace Records/Thirty Tigers.
Details of Lukas Nelson and Promise Of The Real’s UK and Ireland tour can be found here.

About Martin Johnson 399 Articles
I've been a music obsessive for more years than I care to admit to. Part of my enjoyment from music comes from discovering new sounds and artists while continuing to explore the roots of American 20th century music that has impacted the whole of world culture.
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