April 19, 2007
Interview with Gunnar Nelson
By Valerie Nerres
Live photo by Cherri Dukeshier
Gunnar is the son of the late American teen idol Ricky Nelson and actress Kristin Harmon. He is the identical twin brother of musician Matthew Nelson and brother of actress Tracey Nelson and musician Sam Nelson. His paternal grandparents are Ozzie Nelson and Harriet Hilliard from the long running TV series Ozzie and Harriet.
The Nelson brothers spent two years learning how to write songs and in the process, met LA artist/producer Marc Tanner who became their mentor. Together, Marc, Gunnar, and Matthew brainstormed and wrote what would become the triple-platinum After The Rain album in 1990 after being signed to Geffen Records in 1989.
Their singles, "(I Can't Live Without Your) Love and Affection", "After the Rain", "More Than Ever", Only Time Will Tell" and "(You Got Me) All Shook Up," all held positions on Billboard's top 40 with "Love and Affection" reaching #1 in September of 1990 after receiving airplay on MTV where they also had #1 videos.
Gunnar co-founded Stone Canyon Records label with brother Matthew in 1995 after leaving Geffen Records. He released seven albums on that label.
Gunnar plays a variety of instruments, including the drums, electric and acoustic guitars, mandolin, piano, and bazouki. Recently Nelson has toured extensively with Peter Frampton and Styx. Currently Gunnar is touring with his band Nelson performing full band shows as well as acoustic duos with his brother. The shows include their own hits as well as those of their late father. Along with the pop/metal music they have always performed, the Nelson brothers have also recorded country music.
In addition, Gunnar along with fellow musicians Kelly Keagy and Mark Slaughter have formed a band called Scrap Metal for which they are currently recording material and planning a tour.
AAM-Valerie: Hey Gunnar, hope everything is going well with you, I just had some questions that I wanted to ask you about Scrap Metal.
Gunnar: Right, that's it. Let's rock and roll.
AAM: It seems like you and Mark Slaughter conceived the Scrap Metal project and are the driving force behind it. At what point did you decide that this was something you wanted to do, to see happen?
Gunnar: Well, you know, it's funny. It's been a little over a year since we started this whole thing. But the short answer to that question is I knew right after, actually, the first two songs from the first show that we every played. It was last year, here in Nashville, at a place called the Mercy Lounge. And it was the first time I really got to see the reaction of people in the audience when we were playing. I think Mark had kind of the same response too.
AAM: Was Mark the first artist that you contacted to bring into this thing?
Gunnar: Yeah, Mark and I had been talking about this for 3 three years.
AAM: Originally, what was your concept for the project, and has it played out that way for you?
Gunnar: Well, it's constantly being refined. I suppose that my initial goal for some of the components of it were naive. And it really comes down to practical application. I mean when I first told some managers and agent types, who had been in the business for a long time, what it was, I wanted to do, they thought it was insane. Because it's great in concept, but having six lead singers from six different bands onstage at the same time is going to be logistical nightmare. To get everybody scheduled and coordinated, get everybody's egos in check. All that stuff is just very, very difficult. So just putting that whole thing forward, I realized that part of what they were saying is right. And part of what they were saying is absolutely inaccurate and just laziness on their behalf. It is absolutely doable to put something like this together. You just have to make sure there’s certain criterion, and the band members that rotate in stay cool. You don't allow people with ego problems; you don't allow people with drug problems; and you don't allow people who are flaky. At the same time, you have to find people whose name, talent and voice really actually matter. So, it's a very small talent pool when it really comes down to it. We've tried people, who shall remain nameless, on certain shows. And for a variety of reasons, either they flaked out, got drunk, or whatever and that was like their only chance with Scrap Metal.
AAM: What are your visions for Scrap Metal, and how would you like to see it progress?
Gunnar: Well, it's actually taking on a life of its own. We did a show at the Cannery- Nashville. And from that, we've already got tour plays. So what do I want for Scrap Metal? Well, I just want it to build and I want it to be at the point where, if I'm not working with Nelson, or Mark's not working with Slaughter, that we're doing some Scrap Metal shows and having a great time.
AAM: What can our readers expect to see at a Scrap Metal show?
Gunnar: First off, they can expect nothing but hits. It is stem-to-stern songs that you know and love. It's one of those things where, just when you thought you’ve heard it all and then a song comes up, and you're like, “I love that song!” And that song will be sung by the original lead singer that sang it to you on the radio, and imprinted it into your mind and into your life. So you also get a bunch of guys who take music seriously, and don't take themselves seriously. So you get lots of energy along with a lot of laughs. And what that does is, you know, you combine the hit songs, with the energy and the pageantry of a high-energy full tilt arena rock show and the comedy of a Vegas routine. You walk away from this show with your head spinning, going “yeah, that's like the best time I've had on my feet in 15 years.”
AAM: Do you think it'll always be a band that brings in new members or will you form a band?
Gunnar: Well, I think if it were up to the agents and the talent guys out there on the road, they would be happier if we did have one set band. But I never want to make it easy on anybody. I actually constantly want to push myself as well, and have fun doing this. For me, it definitely does force me to keep on my game, and keep my songs up because I'm learning new songs all the time. As a music fan, I love that and if I were somebody who was following Scrap Metal at every show, I'd be excited about that fact that I would know I'd be guaranteed that every show was going to be completely different. So yeah, I'm totally committed to having revolving members all the time.
AAM: I was talking with Eric Martin; he made a point to say that you and your brother were among the best people he's ever met and I'm curious to know how you’ve been able to maintain your personal integrity and your kindness towards other people and fans throughout all these years in the entertainment business, being the way it is.
Gunnar: Thanks, I think the Southern answer to that is, “you lay down with dogs, you get fleas”. I pick my friends very carefully. Like we picked the staff members for Scrap Metal very carefully. You're not going to see an asshole onstage with us. I don't care how many records they’ve sold. And, in Eric Martin's case, I mean I can return that compliment. He is truly one of the best people that I've met doing this. He allows his talent to speak for himself. I think what it comes down to is, I've been lucky enough to have meet true legends in the music business. I mean, not guys that have had hit records, but guys that are in the Rock and Role Hall of Fame. And I've found, without fail, the ones that are the most talented, that are the most accomplished, are also the kindest souls. My Grandpa Ozzie used that arrogance accompanies incompetence. And that always stuck with me. Whenever I see somebody on the E Channel going completely crazy or pulling an ego Hon, I really keep in mind that.
AAM: This event that's going on in Okalahoma, “Rocklahoma”. Are you guys considering doing that, or have you been approached to do that?
Gunnar: If you could forward me the link to that, that would be great. You know, the one thing I am going to say. As far as booking Scrap Metal, we're not inexpensive. We are an expensive band to book, and I'm not going to make any bones about that. But the buyers actually more than get their money from it. You know there are a lot of bands that have been out there who have been playing clubs for very little money, and just kind of scratching to get by. And I appreciate surviving. I mean, they’ve done what they needed to do to survive. Scrap Metal is not like that at all. God, man, I hate using the phrase, “Super Group”, especially cause it's a VH1 trademark, and the fact that it is the most overused term in the world. But with Scrap Metal you're literally getting six arena bands on one stage at one time.
AAM: I've been posting on their website forum section and there's actually been some response. “Yeah, Scrap Metal should play that”. I put it out there to so people would bite on it.
Gunnar: Well, thank you so much. I found, thanks to folks like you, this is really becoming a word-of-mouth success. I really enjoy because so much of this business for the last 15 years has been all about self-aggrandizing major label smoke and mirrors: press, promo, PR, press releases, and all that other kind of stuff. This has been a very organic thing, and it's really been building slowly, but surely.
AAM: Well, I think also because of people being on MySpace and things like that. You have got some really dedicated fans already, helping get the word out people that are going to your shows. And you know there's groups, Scrap Metal groups, and this, that, and the other thing.
Gunnar: I love that, and there are people all over the country that are excited about it that haven't seen it yet, like you. I know that we won't disappoint, we're just building this little by little. The plan was to do a couple of shows that we could get the film in the can, get it over to the editors, and comp together a promotional reel so the buyers that are out there all over the country could actually see what we were talking about.
AAM: Is your brother Matthew in the band? Some promo shots he's in it, some he’s not.
Gunnar: Well, the reason for that is because when we started this whole thing, the original plan. Was to not have more than one person from any one band in the band at the same time. We actually got booked for a show on Fourth of July Internationally, then was cancelled at the last minute through no fault of our own. But Matt was booked on that show because the original bass player couldn't make it on the first show. Matt had done such a great job learning so many songs and he's such a great vocalist that we all were very, very impressed. Then when we finally get our very first show, which was at the Mohig an Sun and we were already working in Eric Martin. We didn't want to have to work in another band guy, so we asked Matt to do that show as well. Matt had so much fun, and did an amazing job.
AAM: I'm thinking was this some kind of preconceived idea, so that you and your brother can kind of ambiguously slide in and out of the band. Is it Gunnar, is it Matt, is it Matt, is it Gunnar...
Gunnar: No, I'm actually the guy that likes being the architect of the whole thing, but Matt is in. He's sold on all the experience. He loves it too cause deep down inside, even if we're normally doing a modern Everly Brothers thing when we're not doing Scrap Metal, that's definitely a part of our personality. But the whole arena rock thing is also very much a part of our personality as well. We were both pent up and frustrated for years and years, doing the modern Everly thing, and not being able to exorcise those demons. And this is an outlet for us as well. It's a creative and spiritual outlet that we both get to share. And he loves it, and he's really good at it.
AAM: Is there anything that you wanted to add?
Gunnar: Well, you know again, as I think the whole concept of Scrap Metal is absolutely thanks to, and dependent upon, word of mouth. I'm just going to put out an Internet appeal- even if you haven't seen the band yet… turn on a few friends on MySpace page. Just spread the word and see what we can make happen with this whole thing because we're having a great time. And the bigger it gets, and the more shows we book, the better the chance we can bring the show to your area, and we can make the show better and better. We're going to be putting staging in this. We're putting in scriptwriters, the whole thing. And it's going to be the kind of thing eventually, in a perfect world, when you come to a Scrap Metal show, from the second you walk in the front door, you are going to be submerged in the best of '80s culture. And you're going to be there. And from every server you see, to every drink that's available, to everything you see on the screens, onstage, the whole thing; you're going to be there. You're going to be in an arena rock version of the wedding singer.
AAM: It was a pleasure talking to you.
Story and Interview by Valerie Nerres
Live photo by Cherri Dukeshier