“It was the first song I ever wrote,” Lukas Nelson said while taking a tour break to surf with friends and band mates in Southern California. “There’s no way I could have felt all that, but I was imagining how it would feel.”
And you know what? It’s a good song. “You could bring out the worst in everyone you knew/But no one could ever bring the worst out of you” is a pretty good turn of phrase whether you’re 11 or not.
These days Nelson has twice as many years on him — 22 — but to hear him tell it, the creative process, whether it’s songwriting, playing guitar or singing, is just as natural and unforced.
“It’s about allowing your masterpiece to come through you,” said the leader of Lukas Nelson and Promise of the Real, who are touring to support their album of the same name. The band makes a stop Friday at Antone’s, and Nelson notes that he’s never been able to have a sellout crowd in his hometown so, ahem, the pleasure of your company is requested.
The son of Willie and Annie learned to play guitar at 12 as a gift for his dad — at the elder Nelson’s request — and soon enough he was plowing into Stevie Ray Vaughan, Jimi Hendrix and Mike Bloomfield. The blues is a thread that runs through “POTR” (cut at Pedernales Studio, cousin Freddy Fletcher’s place in Spicewood), although the album covers a lot of stylistic ground. Still, there’s an identifiable vibe, not unlike the one the Band had. What it’s not is Willie Nelson 2.0, although Nelson’s reedy vocals now and then will hang just a tad behind the beat like his dad’s. Aside from nine originals, the record contains covers of Neil Young’s “L.A.” and a mini-medley of Hendrix’s “Pali Gap” and “Hey Baby (New Rising Sun).” Dad’s vocals are featured on two tracks and guitar on one. Moreover, there’s a version of “Peaceful Solution,” which Willie co-wrote with Amy Niccore. Aunt Bobbie Nelson plays a little piano and brother Micah did the CD booklet artwork. But still, the sixth son is intent on finding his own way. It runs in the family.
Since the release of an EP in 2009, the band has toured with everybody from B.B. King to the Dave Matthews Band . For a guy who used to write three songs a day when he wasn’t quite so busy, it seems a schedule like that would be an impediment to writing the next masterpiece. Nelson just doesn’t worry about it.
“Hell, no,” he said. “If I go a month or two without writing, that’s fine. It’s not really coming from me anyway. It’s like forcing a well to give water. You have to get out of your own way.”
And sometimes you have to choose a path of which your elders disapprove. Nelson dropped out of Loyola Marymount University in LA, after which the folks cut him off ; he played along the Venice boardwalk and lived in his car for a year. It’s not something he wants to talk about at length except to say: “That was great, though. I wouldn’t change it for the world. I know I can live that way; if I ever have to, I know I can. It definitely taught me a lot.”
And it’s not like the guy is a stranger to sleeping in things with wheels. He was living out of the Honeysuckle Rose touring bus with the Highwaymen before he graduated to big boy pants.
And now he has this band — which includes drummer Anthony LoGerfo, percussionist Tato Melgar and bassist Corey McCormick — making sounds he couldn’t have imagined. They’re already thinking about the next record, maybe seeing if Brendan O’Brien wants to produce them. That’s quite a ways from busking on the boardwalk.
“I never had an idea of how it was going to sound except for myself playing acoustic guitar,” Nelson said. “I had those songs, and I always have so many grand ideas for our songs. It’s turned out way better than imagined. These are our brothers, and we’re all our favorite musicians: You could have the best drummer in the world and I wouldn’t trade you him for Anthony. I hear string sections in my head when I write songs. One day we’re going to be able to hire an orchestra and have choirs, come in with the best amps and the nicest equipment.”
And there’s a studio just outside Austin where he might get a pretty good rate.
Correction: In one of the photos with this story Lukas Nelson was initially misidentified.
Lukas Nelson and Promise of the Real
When: 10:30 p.m. Friday
Where: Antone’s, 213 W. Fifth St.