Lukas Nelson knows all about legacies, indeed he’s been hard at work carving his own for most of his young but extremely eventful life. Balancing his work as the front man of Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real — an emergent and vital force in American music — with his regular gig as Neil Young’s band leader and lead guitarist — and of course, the never-ending road alongside his father in Willie Nelson & Family — in song after song, on stage after stage, Lukas has sharpened the edges of his singular sound, one that nods to his influences while also pushing forward into uncharted territory.
That original sound, straddling rock and roll, country, soul, folk and R&B, reaches a new high-water mark with Turn Off The News (Build A Garden), Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real’s second full-length release for Fantasy Records. Grounded by the band’s kinetic energy and shared musical ambition, the new album, written and recorded during the busiest stretch of their career, shines a light on Lukas’ timeless songwriting and the group’s undeniable chemistry. For ten years running, Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real — bassist Corey McCormick, drummer Anthony LoGerfo, percussionist Tato Melgar, and multi-instrumentalist Logan Metz — played an average of 250 shows all over the world while also serving as Neil Young’s go-to support ensemble. In the past year alone, the quickly rising quintet turned in star-making performances at major festivals including Stagecoach, Newport Folk Festival, New Orleans Jazz Fest and dozens of shows as part of Willie’s traveling Outlaw Music Festival. The band’s memorable television appearances included Colbert, CONAN and scintillating debuts on both PBS’s venerable Austin City Limits and Nashville’s legendary Grand Ole Opry.
Turn Off The News (Build A Garden) likewise arrives on the heels of Lukas’ high-profile collaboration with Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper on 2018’s blockbuster film and soundtrack, A Star is Born. Lukas not only co-wrote and co-produced much of the film’s multi-platinum, Oscar-winning soundtrack, he also worked closely with Cooper in crafting Jackson Maine’s musical persona. In a classic case of art imitating life, Nelson, along with his real-life cohorts in Promise of the Real appear in the movie too, performing as Cooper’s (Jackson Maine’s) backing band just as they’ve performed with Young for years. Lukas, Gaga and Cooper recently won the BAFTA Award for Film Music, just one of the many accolades bestowed on the acclaimed project since its release.
That collaborative spirit runs throughout Turn Off The News (Build A Garden), whose songs include guest turns from Young, Margo Price, Sheryl Crow, Willie Nelson, Micah Nelson, Kesha, Shooter Jennings, Lucius, Randy Houser, Madison Ryann Ward, and Hunter Elizabeth. Yet, whether it’s the sweeping, Roy Orbison-influenced production of “Where Does Love Go,” the Traveling Wilburys’ rootsy resonance on the irresistible, “Bad Case,” the cosmic country-trance sound the band crafted for “Stars Made of You,” the 60’s infused sweet R&B of “Save A Little Heartache,” or Willie’s unmistakable guitar licks that grace the gorgeous, “Mystery,” ultimately it’s Lukas’ indelible songwriting that makes this album so special.
“Our trajectory has been similar to that of The Band,” says Lukas, who pulls quadruple-duty as Promise of the Real’s vocalist, songwriter, lead guitarist, and co-producer. “They supported so many incredible people throughout their career, but they were also focused on their own music. We’re the same way. We want to see good music and great artists succeed, because a rising tide raises all ships. We’re cheering for our friends, just as they’re cheering for us.”
Recorded at Shangri-La in Malibu and the Village Studios in West L.A., Turn Off The News (Build A Garden) features co-production from Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real and John Alagia, who helped produce the group’s self-titled debut for Fantasy Records in 2017. The group worked fast, recording 30 original songs during brief breaks between tours. They tracked straight to analog tape, too, keeping overdubs to a minimum and, instead, focusing on live performances. The result is an album that packs the same punch as the band’s live performances, while also delivering a message of awareness and togetherness.
“We wanted these songs to be fun and upbeat,” says Nelson, “but we also wanted to have something to say. Rock & roll began as a countercultural movement, so in the true spirit of rock & roll, we’re trying to encourage a lifestyle where people can be active in their local communities, rather than glued to a device. We listen to so many artists — the Byrds, Tom Petty, Al Green, Neil Young, Little Feat, J.J. Cale — and this album carries forth an ideal that they all represented, which is the idea of turning off the news and doing something constructive, like building a garden. I wouldn’t call it a protest record. I’d call it a statement about how you can live your life with your heart leading the way.”
Lukas began listening to his heart in his childhood hometown of Maui. He was a creative kid, writing his first song at 11 years old and sharpening his guitar chops with eight to 10 hours of daily practice. He headed to the mainland in 2007 to attend college in Los Angeles but found it difficult to shake his musical dreams. After meeting LoGerfo at a Neil Young concert in 2008, he dropped out of school and formed Promise of the Real, taking the band’s name from a line in Young’s 1973 song “Walk On.” By the time Young caught the band during a fiery set at Farm Aid in 2014, they were a proficient, well-oiled machine, playing with a skill and swagger well beyond their years. He asked them to join him in the recording studio, and the result — 2015’s The Monsanto Years — became the start of an ongoing collaboration that has included two additional albums, multiple tours, and countless hours of inspired performances onstage.
Since leaving school in 2008, Lukas Nelson has held fast to the things that he loves most, be it making music, traveling the world with his friends, or collaborating with the legends that inspired him — for Lukas, it’s about cultivating an insatiable curiosity and learning. As a singer/songwriter, he’s learned to roll his unique experiences into a catalog of original music that is spiritual, dynamic and endlessly absorbing. Turn Off The News (Build A Garden) marks the latest chapter in that ongoing story. This is Lukas Nelson at his best: involved, inspired, and eager to share his point of view, backed by a band of fellow road warriors who haven’t skipped any steps on their rock and roll journey and have the chops to prove it.
The album’s title says it all. Turn off the news. Tune in to something more meaningful and lasting. Get involved and, as Lukas suggests, let your heart lead the way.