"We were in the studio working on some of her music, writing a song together," Nelson recalls. "Then she heard that song and said, 'It sounds like something different and something new and I really like it and I'd like to sing on it.' I said, 'OK, let's do it.' So we went into another room in the studio and had the files sent over and she sang on it as we were working on her stuff. It was very natural and sounds very cool."
Kesha is among a number of guests populating Turn Off the News, which comes out June 14. Nelson and company are joined on the stylistically diverse 13-song set by his father, Willie Nelson, occasional POTR employer Neil Young, Sheryl Crow, Margo Price, Randy Houser, Shooter Jennings and Lucius, among others. The album's title track appears twice, in a full-band version and an acoustic treatment with Young playing pump organ -- though the message remains the same in both.
"I think we're in a dire place right now on the planet -- hopefully just the cries of an adolescent culture that's bound to move on and grow up and mature," explains Nelson, who wrote songs and appeared in last year's Academy Award-nominated film A Star Is Born. "What I'm trying to do is just encourage people to connect with their community so we can cooperate better and focus on things we can do something about. The national news is gonna be the national news, so you can be completely absorbed in it all day long and not do anything or turn it off and do something about everything that's going on, even if it's just choosing to support local farmers." But at the same time Nelson says there's more to be gleaned from the rest of Turn Off the News.
"The whole record isn't trying to drill home one message," he says. "A lot of these songs do sort of have a theme to them, but it's not like I was sitting down to write a concept album like Pink Floyd would write. It just comes together sort of magically; You don't understand the theme until you've picked the best songs and they form their own record. But we really just tried to pick the best songs, that's all."
Nelson and POTR will be touring non-stop into the fall, including dates with Young, appearances on Willie Nelson's Outlaw Music Festival and opening for the Rolling Stones in East Rutherford, N.J. and Seattle. Nelson did, however, have to postpone a May show in Tennessee due to health, which has since become a lesson about slowing down that he says even Young has encouraged him to do.
"Making that choice (to postpone)," Nelson says, "marked a new era in my life where I'm going to be taking better care of myself -- not booking so many gigs in a row, trying to make each gig mean more. It's hard to say no to things, but you have to understand more opportunities will come if you just treat your body well. There are so many great things you could be doing all the time, which is fantastic. I'm so lucky. But now I have to balance it with taking care of myself."