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Lukas Nelson On Staying Home And Focusing On The Music

Instead of touring to promote his new album <em>Naked Garden</em>, Lukas Nelson is at home on his father Willie Nelson's ranch. "We're playing a lot of chess and dominoes. And we're writing music," he says.
Joey Martinez
Courtesy of the artist
Instead of touring to promote his new album Naked Garden, Lukas Nelson is at home on his father Willie Nelson's ranch. "We're playing a lot of chess and dominoes. And we're writing music," he says.

"Entirely Different Stars," from Lukas Nelson's newest album, Naked Garden, is a song many people might relate to right about now. It's a fantasy about grabbing that special someone and blasting off to a less troubled planet.

Nelson is a powerhouse musician in his own right: He co-wrote music for A Star is Born with Lady Gaga, and his band Promise of the Real frequently plays with Neil Young. He's also Willie Nelson's son, and while Lukas Nelson and his band were supposed to heading out on a tour to promote Naked Garden right now, instead he's hunkered down with his family on his father's ranch outside Austin, Texas.

Willie Nelson is almost 87 and has continued touring despite some health scares. Lukas Nelson says it's not so bad to see his dad taking a break.

"He's doing incredibly right now. He may be getting the most rest he's gotten in a long time," he says. "We're just hanging out. We're playing a lot of chess and dominoes, staying informed but not getting too bogged down with the news. And we're writing music."

There was also the small matter of hosting a digital music festival. Willie Nelson's yearly Luck Reunion "anti-festival" would have been held on his ranch March 19, but the family and the organizers were forced to cancel due to the coronavirus. Instead, they renamed it " 'Til Further Notice" and hosted it online. The Nelson family and artists including Lucinda Williams, Paul Simon and Kurt Vile livestreamed performances from their separate studios and homes.

NPR's David Greene spoke to Lukas Nelson about missing the human connection of playing live and music taking on new meanings as times change. Listen to the conversation in the audio link above and read on for highlights.

Interview Highlights

On 'Til Further Notice and missing the connection with a live audience

It was obviously different. Nothing will ever substitute for genuine human connection. There's a symbiosis between the musicians and the crowd that's irreplaceable. There's an energy transfer that happens when you're out there playing, and good Lord do I long for the times. "On the Road Again" has never been more poignant. It takes on a whole new meaning, that song now, when we can't get on the road.

There's nothing like it, and there's nothing like holding hands and hugging and kissing. That's the one thing that separates us from being computers ourselves: We have this sense of organic connection and touch. My hope is that people will value it more than ever after this is over.

On using music to help block out chaotic and stressful news

I've never felt so inspired to just sit and practice. I've sat and learned an entire classical [guitar] piece called "Classical Gas." Mason Williams wrote it back in the '60s. It's challenging, and I've never had the time to really sit and learn it before. I was always so busy with things that I thought were important — and that were actually important as well. Life has forced me to sit with myself, and I've actually been practicing transcendental meditation every day, doing two meditations a day. The only thing you can do in this time is make the best of what you have.

On the prescience of "Focus on the Music" and the title track of his last album

Sometimes I'll write a song and I won't realize the true reason that that song came to me until years later. I'll be so grateful that I wrote that song seemingly for another purpose, but songs can take their own meanings and it can go through transformations — the meaning can transform into a different meaning based on what's happening.

The last record, with Turn Off the News (Build a Garden), I almost wish I hadn't called it that. I don't want to be preachy, that was just how I was feeling at the moment and I wrote the song and people resonated with it. Now, it's taken on a whole other meaning and people are really resonating with that song more than they ever have because I think they are forced to slow down enough to understand that the most important things are in your immediate area and around you.

On focusing on the things that matter if you're otherwise safe

There's a lot of beautiful things that will come out of this, and a lot of maybe not-so-beautiful things. That's the way the world works: There's always a positive and negative side of everything in life, really. It just depends on how we look at it and your perspective. That's my great fear, is that people will forget how to have human connection, but based on the folks I've been communicating with and I've seen and the love for live music, I think it would take a lot longer than a few months in quarantine for people to forget that.

That's the only way we can come out of this without going to a dark place. We can choose to look at it in a negative way or a positive way. I think it depends on our own level of peace inside, and joy, and whether we want to cultivate that or give in to our darkest impulses and let our fear take over. I think our greatest lesson now is to confront fear itself. Dad said "99% of the things you worry about never happen." Was it Roosevelt who said "The only thing we need to fear is fear itself"? I resonate with that, wholeheartedly. We can't give in to fear. I think we should stay informed, but with the exception of listening to a little NPR every once in a while, I think we should turn off the news and build a garden.

NPR's Vince Pearson produced and edited the audio of this interview. Cyrena Touros and editorial intern Jon Lewis adapted it for the Web.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

David Greene is an award-winning journalist and New York Times best-selling author. He is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, the most listened-to radio news program in the United States, and also of NPR's popular morning news podcast, Up First.