Lukas Nelson says he’s always wanted to play music.

He’s Willie Nelson’s son, so you’d figure music is probably in the genes.

But the 23-year-old Nelson did not decide on music as a full-time gig until he got his heart broken.

“I was in college and I was in a lot of pain emotionally, and I had just broken up with a girl,” said Nelson. “I just had a feeling that the only thing that would keep me from being completely depressed would be to play, to put a band together. Even if I had to sleep on people’s couches and in my car, which I did.

“I always knew I’d do this, and it had nothing to do with my dad. I just knew when I played, people would want me to come back. I had that confidence.”

Five years later, the therapy appears to have worked. Nelson has written a hundred or more songs and toured the world with his band, Lukas Nelson and Promise of the Real. They will be playing Portland’s Empire Dine and Dance tonight, with local favorite The Mallet Brothers Band opening.

Nelson’s band has played on several high-profile late-night talk shows. He even helped out his dad recently by bringing Promise of the Real to play with Willie and other family members on “Late Night with Jimmy Fallon” on NBC. Nelson and his father sang together on a cover of Pearl Jam’s “Just Breathe,” which is on Willie’s new album, “Heroes.”

On Lukas Nelson’s own most recent album, “Wasted,” his twangy tone is reminiscent of his father’s, but more powerful. The songs vary in style from old-time ballads with steel guitar to more rocking numbers with a pulsing drum beat.

One song on the album is also evidence of the things Nelson has in common with his father. It’s called “The Joint,” and it’s not about a place.

Like his dad, who has had highly publicized run-ins with the law over his marijuana use, Nelson exhorts the calming effects of marijuana and thinks it should be legalized. He wrote the song after feeling “exasperated at being pulled over so often.”

“I guess it’s me crying out, ‘Let me have my weed,”‘ said Nelson. “It’s just a plant that makes people feel good, relax.”

Nelson grew up mostly in Hawaii with his father and siblings, but spent a lot of time in Austin, Texas, as well. Just about everyone in his family is musically inclined and has performed professionally at some point, including an aunt, a brother and a sister.

His biggest musical influences growing up included The Beatles, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Jimi Hendrix, Neil Young, Pink Floyd and, naturally, his father. He left Hawaii after high school to attend college at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles. After a short time there, he had his break-up and subsequent break-down, and that’s when he decided to pursue music.

While in L.A., Nelson met drummer Anthony LoGerfo at a Neil Young concert. The two hit it off right away. LoGerfo said he knew who Nelson was, but it didn’t seem like a big deal.

“We have a lot of the same interests, surfing and music,” said LoGerfo. “He didn’t know many people in Los Angeles, so I took him around to the surf spots.

“I didn’t know Willie Nelson’s music very much, and I wasn’t a huge fan or anything, so (the fame of Nelson’s father) didn’t really matter much to me.”

LoGerfo had moved to Europe and was playing music there when Nelson called him, about a year after they met, to start a band. Joining them are Tato Melgar on percussion and Corey McCormick on bass. LoGerfo said joining a band with Nelson was a no-brainer, because the band is basically a group of friends who share the same passions and hobbies. Plus, he has gotten to witness a multi-generational musical family firsthand by playing with Nelson, his dad and other family members.

LoGerfo says Promise of the Real’s music has been fairly spontaneous, and for most recordings they’ve only practiced songs three or four times in an effort to sound fresh.

But on the band’s next record, that will probably change, Nelson said. He’s got a stockpile of songs he would like to produce in a more complex way by experimenting with various techniques.

“I’ve been listening to a lot of Flaming Lips and Fugees and David Bowie and club music, so with the next record, I’d like to try a lot of things and come up with a record that’s like nothing anyone’s ever heard,” said Nelson. “I think I still have yet to make the album I was put on the Earth to make.”

Staff Writer Ray Routhier can be contacted at 791-6454 or at:

[email protected]