Just because you’re the son of Willie Nelson doesn’t mean it’s your destiny to become a musician. Case in point, Lukas Nelson had his sites set on being, first, a fighter pilot and then an Olympic swimmer. But when you grow up in a house full of guitars, it’s hard to resist the pull of music, and Nelson picked up his first one when he was about 12 years old.
Now, at 28, he has no plans to ever put it down. “I don’t really care to quit traveling or stop in any way, shape or form. I think as long as I’m healthy, and I can play music for a living and go out and play live and do my thing, then I’m OK,” said Nelson, 28, who will be Port City Music Hall on Nov. 17. “That’s the only time I really feel whole.”
Nelson and his band, Promise of the Real, are – to lift a line from his dad – on the road again in support of their self-titled album released in August. They just played a handful of shows in Europe, and on the band’s Facebook page, there’s a clip of Nelson singing “La Vie en Rose.” The song first made famous by Edith Piaf in the ’40s was an unexpected cover for Nelson but one he nailed with poignant grace. He said he first started playing it while on the road in Europe with his friend and mentor Neil Young.
Hear it for yourself:
“There was a friend of mine that was French, and I started learning songs in different languages and singing them on the tour. I sang ‘La Vie en Rose’ in Paris and ‘Volare’ in Italy,” he said.
On the new record, guest vocalist on the tracks “Carolina” and “Find Yourself” is none other than Lady Gaga. Nelson and Gaga became friends while filming “A Star Is Born,” which is set for a May 2018 release. It’s the third remake of the 1937 film, and it stars Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga (Stefani Germanotta). Nelson and Promise of the Real are featured prominently in the film. “We play 90 percent of the music, and I wrote 80 percent of the music. It’s Bradley and Gaga mostly, but the band is in there a lot,” he said.
Nelson said he enjoyed the experience of being part of a big-budget film, and he spent a lot of time in pre-production with Cooper, consulting him on how to be a rock star.
Two other guest vocalists on the new album are Jess Wolfe and Holly Laessig from the indie-pop band Lucius. The two women just wrapped several months as vocalists on Roger Waters’ Us + Them tour. Nelson said he met them last year while playing at the Desert Trip music festival in Indio, California, which Nelson said some people referred to as “Oldchella.”
“It was with (Paul) McCartney and The Stones and (Bob) Dylan and Roger Waters. That’s where we met, and we just became good friends, and they’re still great friends of mine,” he said.
Wolfe and Laessig’s potent vocals tattoo five tracks on the album, including the opener “Set Me Down On A Cloud” and the heartbreaking ballad “Forget About Georgia.” The pianist on the latter track is Nelson’s 86-year-old aunt, Bobbi.
Take a listen to “Set Me Down On A Cloud”
The album was produced by John Alagia who has worked with Dave Matthews, John Mayer, Herbie Hancock and several other well-known acts. Nelson said that Alagia’s incredible spirit and ideas were key ingredients. “He’s a really great producer and has a great feel for what sounds good.”
When all was said and done, Nelson had way more songs than could fit on one album. “It was really hard cutting down all the songs, that’s for sure,” he said.
What’s more, since the album was recorded, Nelson was written at least 60 new ones. “I probably have three albums right now, and I just keep writing new ones. I feel like I’m never ever in my whole life gonna get all the music out. But one day I’ll have my own studio that I can just sit in anytime I want, which will be really nice.”
As for having Willie Nelson as a father, Lukas said that his dad has imparted some sage wisdom. “He always said keep your family around — keep good, grounded people around you all the time.” He also said that his dad taught him about the importance of persistence. “He teaches by example. He never stops. That’s something that I always felt I related to.”
WHEN: 8 p.m. Nov. 17
WHERE: Port City Music Hall, 504 Congress St., Portland
HOW MUCH: $20 in advance, $25 day of show, $ 40 preferred seating. Note, the show is now officially sold out.