Bandmates Lukas Nelson and Tony LoGerfo both made their professional debuts aged 13. Drummer LoGerfo’s was at The Roxy. Singer-guitarist Nelson’s was on stage with his superstar dad Willie.
Their love of performing eventually drew them together in Promise Of The Real. Since 2008, the five-piece have recorded six albums. In 2018, they were the onscreen band in A Star Is Born, and Nelson co-wrote most of the Grammy-winning soundtrack.
Promise Of The Real’s latest release, A Few Stars Apart, mixes California country with singer-songwriter smarts and was recorded with producer Dave Cobb at Nashville’s legendary RCA Studio B.
“It was analogue, live in the room, just how we like it,” says Nelson. “And seeing all the pictures on the wall of everyone who’s recorded there was cool – Elvis, Dolly, and of course my dad.”
Nelson and LoGerfo both learned valuable lessons during the pandemic.
“I discovered that love is all we really have to ground us in a chaotic world,” Nelson says. “I felt lucky I could be with my parents in lockdown for six months. It was a good time to write from a place that was almost womblike in its comfort level.”
“I learned that nothing is guaranteed in life,” LoGerfo says. “We know that instinctively, but for it to happen to the world how it did was like losing someone you love. It taught me to enjoy every minute.”
For Nelson, being on the road was a way of life from an early age.
Nelson grew up “like a gypsy” on the road with his dad. “And if I wanted to be close to him,” he says, “I knew I better learn how to play guitar. It didn’t really feel like I was sharing him with the world, it was more that I enjoyed watching him make people happy. When he toured with The Highwaymen they were like my uncles, looking out for me. I remember Jessi Colter, Waylon’s wife, when she saw me biting my nails all the time, she’d grab my hands and say: ‘Stop biting your nails or I’m gonna paint them!’”
Promise Of The Real was born from a mix of weed, surfing and stingrays.
LoGerfo and Nelson met at a Neil Young concert, bonding over a shared love of the inimitable artist. “Later that night, we went surfing and I got stung by a stingray,” Nelson recalls. “I had my foot in hot water, because that’s what you’re supposed to do. We were sitting on the couch, smoking joints, and listening to On The Beach, and Walk On came on. It goes: ‘Some get stoned, some get strange, sooner or later it all gets real…’ And I thought: ‘I want to start a band called Promise Of The Real.’” Neil Young became their captain.
POTR were Young’s backing group on two of his albums: Earth and The Visitor.
“I call him Captain Destroyer,” Nelson says, laughing. “That’s how I have him on my phone. He’s the greatest band leader. Just fearless. I feel like we’re shipmates, travelling through the stars, and he’s our captain.” “Neil’s our mentor,” adds LoGerfo. “When we played with him, he’d travel with us and hang out with us. It felt like he was in the band."
An adventure at sea led to a ‘connection’ that changed Nelson’s life.
“In Hawaii, we took a boat out and came upon a pod of dolphins. We jumped in the water, and they seemed to really accept us as one of their own. There was such an energy of wisdom and playfulness. A connection. I actually became a pescatarian after that. I figured you are what you eat, so if I want to be a dolphin, I have to eat what dolphins eat [laughs]. But that experience really caused me to look at what energy was and how I was projecting it.”
In years of non-stop touring, Promise Of The Real have had some weird gigs.
“We played one in Fort Worth years ago,” LoGerfo recalls, “and the club owner had a wooden leg, like a pirate. And there was a horse at the bar; you could ride your horse in from the street. The only other audience member was a guy in the front row filming us [laughs].”