About seven years ago, Lukas Nelson went to see his hero Neil Young play in Los Angeles. At the show, he happened to meet a drummer named Anthony LoGerfo. They took the party to a friend’s house, where they surfed and played music late into the night. Soon, they’d formed a band, Promise of the Real, their name taken from a lyric Young’s 1974 epic “Walk On:” (“Some get stoned/ some get strange/ but sooner or later, it all gets real.”)
Now, for the last two years, the “cowboy hippie surf rock” band has been Young’s band on the road and in the studio, backing him on last year’s The Monsanto Years. “You couldn’t write it in a book,” Nelson says. “The vibe is perfect, and it’s real. We’ve learned from each other, and we’ve gotten so tight. I don’t want to stop, and I don’t think Neil does either. There’s transcendental experiences on stage with Neil. Like, you’re looking down at yourself and you’ll be like, ‘Oh my God. I’m down there, and I’m up here. What’s going on?'”
For Nelson, this chapter is the culmination of years of hard work and hard touring for his band, which includes LoGerfo, bassist Corey McCormick, percussionist Tato Meglar, plus Lukas’ brother Micah on guitar and other instruments – when he’s not touring with his own project, Insects vs Robots. Lukas grew up on the island of Maui, Hawaii, a student of the island’s jam band scene and his guitar teacher, gypsy-jazz virtuoso Tom Conway. There was also his dad, Willie Nelson. By 14, Lukas was playing guitar with his father on summer school breaks, occasionally sitting in with his dad’s touring partner, Bob Dylan. Willie’s Number One rule at home while Lukas was growing up: “Don’t be an asshole.”
“My dad and I are alike in a lot of ways,” he says. “I’ve always looked up to him, and I’ve always wanted to be like him, in terms of being a human being, and also in terms of being a musician. I’m lucky to have such a great example.”
To record their new album, Something Real, Nelson and his band moved to San Francisco, living and working in a 19th-century Victorian mansion. “The vibe was so deep and heavy,” Nelson says. “It used to be a Russian embassy. It was one of the first places ever to have a radio signal come out of. It could have been the first radio signal ever to come out of a tower there, in the mansion. And I mean, it’s got old gramophones in it.” They built a studio and utilized the house’s equipment, like a century-old pump organ, which can be heard on their menacing album closer, a cover of Scott McKenzie’s 1967 classic “San Francisco,” with vocals from Young himself.