Lukas Nelson, a name synonymous with country music heritage and history, continues to whittle his own way through the music industry, seamlessly merging the elements of country, rock and Americana to create his distinctive sound. From his early entry into the music world at the age of 11, writing "You Were It" featured on his father Willie Nelson's 2004 album, It Always Will Be, Lukas has since evolved into an artist who, with his latest album Sticks and Stones, is catering to the fans this time around. In a recent interview, Wide Open Country caught up with Lukas to learn about the influences on his new record and his recent impassioned efforts to support the survivors and victims of the wildfires that took place in Maui in August.
Lukas defined the time period of the fall of 2021 as a pivotal moment for musicians and fans alike. Artists were back on the road and he had the opportunity to perform songs from his reflective record A Few Stars Apart. These songs, such as "Smile" and the title track, formed a mellower and more acoustic album. However, Lukas noticed a shift in his audience's energy when he finally returned to live performances.
"I could tell they wanted to dance and they wanted a honky-tonk," he told Wide Open Country.
This realization led to Lukas developing a dynamic setlist that balanced lively tunes with heartfelt ballads and ultimately led to a "continuation album," Sticks and Stones, that was especially tailored for the fans.
"It's more about the party," Lukas says, "about the celebration of just being out and connected with people being out on the road. It's a chronicling of my years, really."
The track list of Nelson's latest album Sticks and Stones serves as a captivating map of his incredible journey. As you immerse yourself in the melodies, one thing becomes undeniably clear - the deep-seated influence of country music courses through the entire album.
"Most of the record is an upbeat, honky, classic country record," Lukas says. "Merle Haggard style. [He] could have written 'Every Time I Drink. I've got a lot of great honky-tonk songs now," he shares.
Throughout the record, it's hard to miss the rock sound that Lukas is known for. However, there's a distinct honky-tonk effect in this album that isn't so obvious in previous releases.
"I have a rock influence, sure," Lukas admits. "What I loved about Stevie Ray Vaughan was the guitar playing, and what I loved about Jimi Hendrix was the songwriting and creativity, and what I loved about all the rest of the bands, that it's all about the songs, the lyrics, the melody," he says, "but when you look on Spotify, you see the most popular stuff I've done so far - it's all country stuff. I see that I connect more when I'm in country. So I explore, I go off, but I have to come home sometimes."
The album is masterfully woven together with elements from the rich tapestry of country music, drawing inspiration from outlaw country channels and beyond that has been well received by critics and fans alike.
"It's a lot to go on the road for three months at the time, leave your family and come home. And when you get older, it's even harder," Lukas says. "But knowing that it's appreciated and knowing that people are going to come [to shows] and they're going to listen and it touches their hearts- it helps us keep going."
Other songs like 'Alcohallelujah,' and the album's title track reflect a time where Lukas was very familiar with a wild and carefree lifestyle. "These are [the songs of] my wild party days, like "Wrong House." But as you delve deeper into the album, you'll find gems like "All Four Winds" and "The View," which candidly explore the yearning for stability and settling down. These songs were heavily based on the island he grew up loving.
"'The View' was written about Maui," he says. "It was written about coming home and looking out at the ocean, but it can also be about looking at someone you love every morning."
Regardless of your interpretation, the song encapsulates the deep sense of love and connection that can be forged with both a place and the people who call it home.
Amidst the accolades and acclaim that Sticks & Stones has garnered, Lukas' heart remains closely tethered to Maui, a place that's played a formative role in his life since he was just one year old.
"I have most of my friends out here," Lukas says. "My buddies are bow hunters and fishermen and surfers and tree artisans. There's a couple rodeos near us, it's actually what they call the Paniolo cowboy community.There's a similarity between cultures... the immense natural beauty, the super strong sense of community are what keep me in love with it and it'll never stop."
Lukas has been vocal about the recent Lahaina wildfires, which displaced thousands of locals and tragically claimed the lives of at least 97 people, with over 30 still reported missing. Through videos shared on his social media platforms, Lukas has expressed his profound thoughts and emotions regarding the tragedy, emphasizing the need to prevent such devastation in the future and offering guidance on supporting the grieving community.
"I think this is sort of the worst thing I've ever experienced in my life. It's like being shot in the heart with an arrow," Lukas shares. "Lahaina is the economic capital of Maui and to have it burn completely to the ground, killing all those people — it was a near fatal blow. But Maui is so strong. Everybody's come together in such an inspiring way that I know we're going to pull together, we're going to do okay."
His most valuable advice to those willing to help is simple: "Come to Maui." However, he encourages fellow travelers and adventurers to venture beyond the surface and explore Maui's lesser-known treasures, highlighting the island's hidden gems. Lukas and the Maui community are hopeful that a robust fall season will bring visitors in droves to support local businesses, which are now more dependent on external support than ever before.
Lukas' commitment to helping Maui recover extends beyond just words. He was recently part of a special livestream event called #MauiStrong aimed to raise funds for relief efforts. This event was a significant and heartfelt initiative aimed at aiding the recovery of the affected community and proceeds went directly to the Hawaii Community Foundation and MusiCares, which are playing a pivotal role in supporting the victims of the disaster.
"If you donate to Hawaii Community Foundation you can actually trust that your money's going to the right place. But there's a lot of great international organizations that are out here doing really great job," he says. "There's been an outpouring of support from all over the world, but the attention sort of wanes after the initial disaster. So we need to keep it going. Maui is really hurting."
Looking ahead, Lukas is stacked with headlining performances promoting the new album. With venues like Madison Square Garden and the Moody Theater in Austin on the list, he understands the symbiotic relationship between the different audiences and his music.
"It's like going to church at that point, not to be blasphemous or anything," he says, "but your spirit gets high. Everybody's dancing, everybody's swaying, sometimes there's tears, it's powerful. It's people that have had heartbreak that are singing these words and really letting loose and taking their power back."
As Lukas continues to create music that transcends genres and captivates a diverse group of music fans, his unwavering spirit and love of Maui serve as a reminder that music isn't just about melodies — it's about the stories, the places and the communities that inspire it.
"Come enjoy the view," he says.
For more information on how you can donate to Maui relief efforts, visit here.
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