Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

‘Country Soul Funk’: Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real ride into Rochester Sunday night

Lukas Nelson & The Promise of the Real perform at the Water Street Music Hall on Sunday, Nov. 26.
Lukas Nelson & The Promise of the Real perform at the Water Street Music Hall on Sunday, Nov. 26.

Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real come to Rochester’s Water Street Music Hall on Sunday, Nov. 26. The band is touring to promote their latest album, “Sticks and Stones,” which Nelson wrote “with his live audience in mind.”

“I started to realize that all of my favorite songs that I’ve written are written for what I love to do live,” Nelson says on his website. “And what I love to do live is play country soul funk. Something with a nice backbeat, something you can move to, and something that makes you want to sing along and shout out at the top of your lungs.”

“Sticks and Stones” comes in the footsteps of 2021’s “A Few Stars Apart,” which took a more inward-looking approach. Instead, Nelson + POTR draws extensively from his country-music roots – which, as the son of the legendary Willie Nelson, run deep.

On Wednesday, Nelson spoke with The Route’s Ryan Yarmel from a tour stop in Port Chester, New York.

Ryan Yarmel: How’s the tour been so far?

Lukas Nelson: It's been excellent. I've been away from home for quite a while, and we're on the homestretch. It’s starting to get chilly and the leaves have turned, but spirits are high.

RY: How is it having Thanksgiving on the road?

LN: Well, you know, every day is Thanksgiving. I just have to make sure that tomorrow, I connect with my family and make sure they know I'm grateful to them. We live in a family of show business, so everybody knows the show must go on – everybody’s got to get out there and make a living, so the understanding is there. And we just trust that we're there for each other in the ways that we can be and so that's really what how we approach it.

RY: That's such a great way to put it when you when you have people that are far away – you just have to think about what's important.

We just heard the title track from your new record, “Sticks and Stones.” And I have to admit to you that that's a song that, even if I just read “Sticks and Stones,” gets stuck in my head at the drop of a dime. I'm wondering if you can recall what was going on when that song came to be.

LN: Yeah, I was sitting on the Camino. If you roll the dice at any given time, most likely the face that shows will be me on the road. And so most of the songs that have been written on this record were written on the road, with the road in mind.

I think I was sitting in the back of the bus, just picking along kind of figuring out things and this chorus came to mind, and I wrote the song pretty quickly. At that point, I just felt like that just came together. It's one of those songs that came together quickly

RY: There’s so much power in taking a universal trope like “sticks and stones” and giving it some new meaning in life. Do you think that that has an added benefit for resonance with people?

LN: I think that most songs are these universal tropes, right? Most clever songs that I love are universal or clever turns of phrase, and just with the little melody, and a context lyrically, it really just makes everything pop out. And when it hits your ears, it goes down to your soul, and everything feels good.

Lukas Nelson & The Promise of the Real
Lukas Nelson & The Promise of the Real

RY: Yeah, it just takes a little bit of maybe modifying or rethinking it…

LN: Yeah, it takes a little modification and visualization – visualizing how it's going to be live, and how the live show’s gonna be.

RY: You have a great emphasis on live performance, particularly with this record. And I was thinking about a chance I had to see you perform live – I think back in 2018 at the Newport Folk Festival – and I can still remember that energy. How has your tour prep changed for you over the years? You've been doing this for a long time now?

LN: Yeah, I mean, we're all a pretty well-oiled machine and we all give our all when we're out there and on the road. And, you know, I've got a trusty group of folks with me. So we've prepped mentally, we've prepped physically, and we go out there and do the best we can.

RY: I would love to play a bit of another track from your new record called “The Ladder of Love.” It's a song I've been playing on the show quite a bit. What can you tell me about that song?

LN: Yeah, I sat in my room and I just was playing around with like these diminished runs. And I was reading a bunch of Socrates and Plato and sort of got the “Ladder of Love” concept in my head. I sort of wrote that one pretty quickly to just put down a demo acoustically. And I love that demo so much. But it was structurally all weird, different, and sort of not normal. But we chose to just record it exactly how the demo was, with all the with all the random beats and changes. So you'll notice that it's never really the same. One thing doesn't happen after another in many ways, at least, with the climbing runs – they sort of evoke the ladder, the climbing the ladder of love, and all that. I thought it was a really fun sort of thing that just popped out of the ether.

RY: As you said, there were some weird things about that song. And that was one of the things I wanted to mention. I love all the key changes and everything, and it’s very fast. It's a fast one. It's probably one of the has one of the faster clicks on the record, is that fair to say?

LN: That's true. Yeah, it's fast. But I'm actually proud of the lyrics and it gets people going – it's one that's really fun to play live and that the band really excels at playing, so we have a good time with it.

RY: Do you stretch it out in a live situation?

LN: We have some times that we stretch it out a little bit, but I love the structure of it.

What we'll do in the live show is, we'll put it in a medley of other songs that are sort of in a similar vein, like we've been running in from playing a song before that goes right into “Ladder of Love.” That goes right into a cover of “Bloody Mary Morning,” which is a song my dad wrote, and so it all kind of runs together and becomes his big, long, super-fun song, which is pretty fun, so it's a good time.

RY: How does it feel to play a long medley and go from one thing to another? And then you're in a 15-minute medley?

LN: Yeah, it’s somewhere around that, 10 to 15 minutes. “Ladder of Love” is like a two-minute song, so it feels good to play those things. It’s just the musical journey that we all take ourselves on and the audience.

RY: It made me think about how sometimes a short song can be as powerful as a long song, like comparing Isaac Hayes to Roy Orbison? What do you think about that?

LN: Well, I love both of those guys, and there are just strengths to both approaches, and I don't think one is better than the other. I'm a huge lyric and melody guy, though, so I always come down to that. If that's there, then the rest, I think, is icing on the cake.

RY: I just wanted to close with one question. I'm an instrument lover, and I'm always curious about the musical instruments in your life. Do you have your first guitar still, and what was it?

LN: I do have my first guitar Yeah, it was a black and white Stratocaster. I was skateboarding at the time so I'd put all these skate stickers all over it. And then as I got older, I said, “Man, I'm ruining this guitar,” so I peeled all the stickers off and cleaned it off as good as I could. I love that guitar – it’s still sitting at home in Maui.

RY: That’s so great. Well, Lukas, it's been such a joy to speak with you – thank you so much for taking the time. Everyone can look forward to seeing you play this weekend in Rochester at Water Street Music Hall on Sunday, November 26.

If You Go

Who: Lukas Nelson & the Promise of the Real, with opener Ben Chapman

When: 8 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 26

Where: Water Street Music Hall, 204 N. Water St., Rochester

Cost: $32-$36, available online here

Event Info

Lukas Nelson website

Note: This interview was condensed, edited, and formatted by The Route's Jim Catalano

Ryan Yarmel is the music director of The Route: WRUR in Rochester (88.5 FM, and WITH in Ithaca (90.1 FM,