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Next Gen Nelson

Subhead: We spent a day at Luck Ranch getting to know Micah Nelson

Micah Nelson is the youngest of Willie Nelson’s six children. He’s one of two sons Willie has with his wife of over 30 years Annie D’Angelo and is an artist entrenched in the family business of music.

When asked if he always wanted to be a musician, Micah, who performs under the moniker Particle Kid, says, “I never really thought too much about it. I was always the weird artist little brother. I wanted to be a filmmaker and animator and I drew pictures and was really into visual arts. But I always loved music, I was always around music, I actually started to play the harmonica when I was three-years-old and would play on stage with my dad. It’s not so much did I ever think I would be a musician, it’s that I never thought I wouldn’t be, even if nobody ever wanted to pay me to be one.” 

Micah wrapped up a tour with the Flaming Lips late last year which supported his latest album, “Time Capsule.”  On his website the album is described as “taking listeners on a nearly two-hour trip through various genres, ideas and sounds, an eclectic palette of sonic colors, both familiar and exploratory feelings painted together like a collage, as if 90s alt, 60s psych, 70s electric jazz, and some abstract future were all magazines chopped up and somehow cohesively glued together by Micah’s voice and lyrics as well as guest spots from Margo Price, J Mascis and Sean Ono Lennon, among others.”

 

If this sounds complex, so is Micah. He’s also humble, kind, gracious, engaged in making the world better and very much in love with his wife of four years, Alex, a literature teacher who teaches English literature, mythology, fairy tales and French online.

Although he currently resides in Northern California when not on the road, every year he finds his way back to Austin. “Austin is like a childhood friend, we’ve both grown up a lot and changed a lot, but we'll always be in each other's lives. I still love it,” he says.

Here he shares more about how the pandemic helped determine the future of Luck Ranch, growing up the son of Willie Nelson, meeting his wife and more.

How did you get the moniker Particle Kid?

I was about 14 and I came home from school or something and was playing video games. My dad came in from his poker room, stood there for a minute and said, ‘Welcome home particle kid!’ I thought it was hilarious and it stuck with me. I named my solo music project Particle Kid and when it started getting attention and people started asking me about the name Particle Kid so I asked my dad and he said, ‘I meant to say prodigal son.’ He was so stoned, or I was stoned, that I heard it as Particle Kid, but it was a happy accident.

 

When you wrote “Die When I’m High,” did you sit down with the intent to write a duet for you and your dad?

In a way, I did. It was Christmas time 2020 and we were hanging out a lot and playing a lot of dominoes and out of the blue he said, ‘If I die when I'm high then I’ll be halfway to heaven’ and I thought it was so great and told him he had to write that song. He said, ‘Why don’t you write it?” SoI went into the garage, picked up my guitar and wrote it. It just came out as I was imaging what he would have written if he had written it. I tried to channel that, just to see if I could do it. I also thought it might be something that I could write and he could sing it, but it ended up being something that we sang together and it came out great. I surprised myself and I'm really proud of it, it’s a nice moment in time.

What was it like growing up as the youngest kid in the Nelson clan?

By the time I showed up my dad had already been through hell and back countless times and was pretty humbled by life, love and loss. He was already the total icon he is now and he had enough kids at that point I didn’t have the pressure of being Willie Nelson Jr that Billy had, or even that Lukas had. I think being Willie’s last child, plus coming of age at a happier time in his life, allowed me to feel a bit less burdened by any of that pressure compared to some of my older siblings. I could just be the neon sheep of the family.

Either way, I’d rather be hated just as I am than loved because of my last name. Being born a Nelson was lucky, but it isn’t something I earned with my own work. I’ve always been a sponge and a curious person with an insatiable drive to create my own mythological path. Having my own talents encouraged by both my parents and people around me helped. I established early on that I was a weirdo and not so interested in people’s expectations, so I think people started expecting the unexpected from me. There’s a freedom in that which I enjoy. Even doing something really obvious like “Die When I’m High” becomes an unexpected thing at a certain point. Art without expectation is always better. When I learned the original etymology of the word “weird” (it originally meant “to have control over one’s own destiny”) the idea of ‘keeping it weird’ became more of a instinctual life code than a cliche bumper sticker phrase. 

From the very beginning, I imagined my life hoping for the best, expecting nothing, always keeping one eye on my soul. When it comes to my father’s humor, his character, his inspiring resilience in the face of unfathomable pain, his ability to transform that pain into healing music, his compassion towards people, his idiosyncratic talent and his fearless creative integrity, I try to be more like him every day. Those are the qualities of my father I hope to emulate in my own life. Everything else is wind. 

Were you on the road with your dad a lot growing up?

Yes, a lot. It was one of the only ways we could really spend time with him at a certain point, especially once we got old enough we had to be at school for a certain amount of days. On breaks and in the summer we would go out and play in the band. That was part of our education, being on the road. It was a different type of education than academic, but a valuable one.

Did you spend a lot of time on Luck Ranch?

Off and on. During the pandemic we were there for months. The pandemic sort of galvanized the need to really maximize the potential and integrity of the Luck Ranch in regard to bringing the native soil back and incorporating regenerative farming practices there. We teamed up with local regenerative farm and collaborated on doing regenerative agricultural farming on the land and using it as a demonstration of generative farming.

We want to bring in workshops for students to earn credit and learn how to do regenerative farming. We're doing rotation grazing, we’re planting native crops and doing things that are not just producing opportunities for nutritionally rich produce and farmers market events with live music, but also helping to mitigate climate change by healing soil and keeping carbon in the ground and being an example of that type of farming, which is the future. That was a really great silver lining of the pandemic, it gave us time to focus on that and incentive to do it.

Regenerative farming seems to be growing momentum.

Not quickly enough, but yes. It’s fortunately becoming a household topic in more of a mainstream way and there’s no time to lose, so it's heartening to see that.

It sounds like Luck Ranch got a new infusion of life from the pandemic.

Yeah. I hope that we can continue that and sustain it and it can be a lasting legacy.

And horses are still central to Luck Ranch?

We still have the horses there. It’s been a horse rescue sanctuary for a while, which is great. It’s kind of a money pit, but it's great. We always joke that after we die, we want to be reincarnated as one of these horses, they're living their best lives.

How did you meet your wife, Alex?

We met in Venice Beach in 2015. She was working at a cafe called Menotti’s and I would ride my bike there every day, get coffee and work on animation. She would bring me coffee and cookies and we started talking and becoming friends, but were in denial that we liked each other for a while, even though we clearly did. I had just got out of a relationship, and so had she, so it was the classic story of we’re not interested in a relationship, just trying to be single, and then of course you meet the person.

Once you got over the denial, things sped up pretty quickly?

The universe kept conspiring to keep us together. About three months after we started dating, I was going to Europe on tour with Neil (Young) and we talked about her going to Europe and staying with a friend so we could meet up here and there because we really liked each other and wanted to keep this thing alive. She found a three-week Barista Convention happening in Dublin and we thought she could go there and we’d meet up in Belfast, she could hang with us for a week, and then go back to the Barista Convention.

When she met us in Belfast we were very conscientious and self-conscious and didn't want to be an imposition because it’s not generally normal for the girl you just started dating to come and be on the bus on tour with you. I made sure everyone was cool with it, but told her she couldn’t be there the whole tour. Of course, by the end of the first week, everyone's in love with Alex. They don't want her to leave. She made coffee every morning and breakfast and everyone loved her and was upset when she left, but I was trying to be cool and respect everyone’s space.

Meeting the parents…

A couple of days later she called and said customs told her she had 24 hours to pack up her stuff and leave Ireland. Now she's stranded and I'm on tour and I don't know what do. We were going to be in Marseille next, so I told her to meet us there and we’d figure it out. When we got to Amsterdam, my mom and dad were coming to join the tour for a week and she’s never met my parents. So, she met them in the close quarters of a double decker tour bus with the band driving through Europe. Talk about the ultimate meet the parents test. We played the show in Amsterdam with Neil and one of the songs that we played for the first time was the song “Change Your Mind” from the Sleeps with Angels album. It’s about not letting another day go by without the magic touch of the one you love. It’s a beautiful song.

After the show Alex has all of her stuff packed up and she's ready to get on a train and my mom says to me, “She's not leaving is she? We like her, why are you making her leave? I don't want to be stuck on this bus with a bunch of guys.’ I told her we were trying to be cool and then everyone came and circled around us and they started singing ‘Change Your Mind.’

Alex ended up on the entire tour with us. She and my mom got oil spotted together once, which is where the bus drives away and forgets you. But hey both stayed calm and after my mom said, ‘I think she’s going to do okay in this family with our life. We got stranded and she just flowed with the chaos.’

Our lives are totally chaos. You can make plans and then instantly some random stuff happens and everything changes. This is constant with life on the road and just the way things are with us. It can be very stressful and frustrating, but it’s definitely never boring.

Any tour plans set for 2023?

I may tour with Neil Young and Crazy Horse in the summer. I try to balance my time between Particle Kid and playing with my dad, especially since Aunt Bobbie passed away.

If you could tour with anyone, who would it be?

Probably the people I get to tour with already. I’m pretty lucky. I don’t know how it happened, but my daydreams have come true. I’m glad that for the most part that I’m a free agent and I can do my thing and then be there for my dad and support him and Neil and all these guys while they’re still with us.

Quick Fire Questions.

 

Lucky charm? Long John is kind of my lucky charm. He's my (stuffed) octopus. He's on stage with me at every show.

 

If you could share with anyone, who would it be? My wife

If you could have one superpower, what would it be Sleeping on command.

Favorite quote? The one that pops into my head is something my dad says a lot.

‘When you get right down to it, there it is.’

Favorite Book That’s impossible to answer! Today my favorite is the Dune series by Frank Herbert, he was a super genius..

Favorite Willie Nelson song: My favorite lately is “Dusty Bottles” off his last record “A Beautiful Time.” That’s a song he only could have written in his old age with a whole lifetime inside him. 

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