A Conversation With Paul Nelson
I had the opportunity last month to sit down and chat with the Grammy award winning artist Paul Nelson to discuss his new musical project called “Badass Generation”. For those of you not familiar with the name Paul Nelson let me give you a quick introduction.
Paul Nelson is renowned musician, song writer and producer. He’s most notably known for working with Blues legend Johnny Winter. Paul is also a trained session musician who’s worked with many artists on many projects in his career thus far. Paul has no specific genre that he claims, he’s more of a chameleon who’s able to play just about anything and is always learning new stuff and studying the old stuff. He’s a professed lifelong student of music, as most working musicians today are. So one minute he can play some blues, the next he could play some pop.
Paul started working on a new project called the “Badass Generation” and has since released a the self titled album “Badass Generation” on February 5, 2016 on the Friday Music/Sony Music Group label. The Paul Nelson Ban is: Paul Nelson – Guitar, Morten Fredheim – Vocals, Christopher Alexander – Bass and Chris Reddan – Drums.
Paul and his bandmates are currently out on tour so if you get the chance to see them, pick up a ticket or two and plan to enjoy some great music. Also, get your copy of “Badass Generation”. It’s out now via Amazon, iTunes and Friday Music.
You can follow the Paul Nelson Band via their Website, Facebook, and Youtube.
Now, let’s get to the interview with Paul Nelson:
Yesterdazenews: “Badass Generation” (Album) Released Feb 5, 2016 on Friday Music/Sony Music Group. How is that doing for you?
Paul Nelson: Yes, actually really well. The title came about because, I guess that’s the term our generation uses now to describe everything. It’s kind of like when I have people to come into the studio and listen to the music they’d say, wow that’s badass when I was looking for a title. Then someone would go outside and say oh what a badass guitar or car, so I’m like it’s like hmm, a badass generation. That’s what’s going on and a lightbulb went off and I was like oh there we go, because I was looking for an iconic title because the sound of the album we’re all into the retro 70s kind of vibe. Boston, Queen and Aerosmith all that earlier stuff, the jam band stuff. And that’s why I had a cassette on the cover, but it’s doing really well. I think we’re at a point now where you could pretty much write anything you want on album as long as it’s good, but it can be very diverse. The public’s open to not pigeonholing oneself into that, well you’ve got to play blues and you have to play this. So I think that there’s bad problems with the music scene today but there’s also some good things. That is the fact because of the jam band scene and the rock, the blues and the classic rock appreciation you can mix it up. So that’s we did and we’re really pleased with the way it’s doing and we recently submitted it to the Grammy’s.
YDN: Very nice. I’ve sat down and listened to the album a few times.
PN: They’re songs, they’re songs. I didn’t want to give everybody a guitar lesson. The shredding stuff, I can do all of that. I studied with Steve Vai, I studied with Stern and all that stuff but I’m like you know what, I want to write a classic guitar solo. Like a Brian May solo or a Joe Perry solo, that kind of thing. You know, let the public to determine whether I can play or not, but I just really want to write for the purpose of the song, you know?
YDN: Absolutely. I know what you are saying, because when I listened through, actually repeatedly listened through because it was so good;
PN: Aw Thanks.
YDN: And I was sitting here thinking this is supposed to be some sort of blues or rock blues type of album and I think about a lot of listeners out there who are the average music fan that think blues and believe that you’re just talking about B.B. King, Muddy Waters or Buddy Guy and that so not with this album is. It’s got a little of that, but when I was listening I heard a lot familiar rock groups. Some Tesla, Van Halen, Black Crows and even some Bad Company.
PN: Oh yeah we’re big fans of that and Free. And the singer, he’s just phenomenal and a big Paul Rodgers fan.
YDN: You’re getting such a positive response. How do you feel when you listen to the album? Are you far enough away from it now to where you hear the entire product or are you only hearing your parts in the album?
PN: Yes we went so far out that we came back and listen to it as listeners. Absolutely. That’s hard to do because usually you don’t come back to material and listen to it and that was long enough, I’ve recorded it, I’ve nitpicked, I’ve been ocd about it. I analyzed it and mixed it and all of that. But there’s something about this and there’s a million albums out there and everybody says the same thing, there’s something about this that I actually enjoy as a listener. We put a lot of work into it in and I’m a big fan of the other musicians so I’m listening to their parts and the singing in this and that. I’m really pleased with the way this came out.
YDN: So when you are listening to it and you hear the whole sound of it, do you yourself find that you say, I hear some familiarity of the other influences I had my lifetime?
PN: Oh totally. I can run down bar by bar, chorus by chorus, verse by verse and say what influenced me for this section or in that section. It was all the influences during my career that have just poured out of me. Like I mentioned those other artists Aerosmith, Zeppelin even Sabbath. Like you said, Buddy Guy and of course Johnny Winter that kind of thing you know. I could’ve come out and done a Johnny Winter record and tried to sound like him. I was around him long enough where I could have, but there’s no use in that. As well as, I would’ve played Johnny’s stuff, why? I was influenced by the singer and the writing process and I just went for it. I could have done the instrumental guitar thing, but I said no. I really wanted to work with the singer and the singer so good. Morton Fredheim, he was number two on Europe’s “The Voice” show. It was like the writing process was just so comfortable and I knew whatever I handed him, he would do a great job because he was so inspirational. This different style of stuff started coming out and it started off as a blues album and then it’s like, no! We’re not going that way and we couldn’t stop it. It just poured out of me and us and the lyrics and it was just like, they were all keepers. I didn’t want any throwaway music on this album and also the the order of the songs have a specific meaning and reason/rhyme to them. The key changes and such and yes there’s influences of Van Halen, there’s influences of southern rock jam, Tom Petty and everything, everything is in there and Zeppelin of course.
YDN: I heard a lot of influences. I hear the music that I grew up on. I live in Seattle now, but part of my family is from Florida and I would spend summers there and you know of course Tom Petty is from there and I’m a huge Tom Petty fan. So as I’m listening to it, it just takes me back to the late 70s and early 80s. This is all this music I grew up listening to and I’m holding this album going, wow and thinking you can’t get any better than the song I’m listening to and then the next track would start and it’s like, what is this???, how is this even possible?
PN: That’s what I try to achieve and really appreciate that. I’m really glad that you get that. It’s not egotistical thing, I just wanted to create a classic record and one of the highest compliments I got was someone said, ”this feels like a classic album that I forgot to purchase during classic album times. This is like an album that I’m like, oh I missed one I need to go get this one, it should be with my Boston collection or my Queen collection” and that’s what I wanted to do. I wanted to retroize that. I didn’t want to go too 80’s but of course you know there are some bands that started in the 70s and the early 80s. I wanted to re-create those guitar sounds. The vocal sounds, the production sounds but I didn’t want it to be to dated that it sounds really old, people like retroizing stuff but they don’t want to live it, they just want to morph it into now. The play on words with the badass generation is this generation, just appreciating that. Everybody’s into 70’s retro stuff but nobody’s playing it, nobody’s writing it. They all love it and they’ll cover one song here and there so I really wanted to go for it and like I said it’s doing surprisingly well. We got released in Japan so now we’re going to be touring in the Midwest and we’re coming over there towards Seattle. I’m glad you like that because a lot of people that have bought the album, they tell me on the side, you know not only did I review it but when I go to exercise in the morning I take it with me. It’s what’s on my iPod when I drive the car to work instead of the radio station, it’s what I put in and that’s what I wanted. Something that you put in and drive or workout and it flows and that’s what I tried to achieve and I’m glad that it stuck, so thank you.
YDN: It has a very genuine sound and feel to it. I know that you’ve worked with Steve Vai and I don’t know if you caught the tour that he did earlier this year called Generation Axe with Nuno Bettencourt, Yngwie Malmsteen, Tobin Abasi and Zakk Wylde. I caught that tour here and I just sat there with my mind just kind of blown, like what am I witnessing here because I’m such a fan of genuine and great guitar playing, so to sit there and witness that was just amazing. To hear something like that pulled into your album as well. I mean you are your own class of guitarist and you’ve worked with a lot of these really great people out there but you are, in your own right, just as great. It carries through on your own personal musical projects, as a fan and a music lover, you’re so inspiring.
PN: I appreciate it, I can do the Generation Axe thing and the Satriani thing and after a while I’m like where’s it going? The listener is getting bombarded and I’ve seen people fall asleep during things like that, no offense, but it’s like you’ve got a write song or just to have a career. Like I said, nobody’s writing songs. It’s a great form and a sounding board for your playing absolutely, but you make your mark right in that little area that fits the song and compliments the vocal and that kind thing. A great Brian May solo, you always remember that. A great AC/DC solo you’ll always remember, a Ted Nugent solo you’ll always remember. A Van Halen solo, those things are great and they’re songs within themselves. What about the rest? What’s the beginning of the song? What’s the verse? It’s very important. Like I said, when you have the right players, it’s like you can do no wrong. They create this great safety net or bed of music that you’ve written and it’s like okay that was fun, but thank you for the compliment.
YDN: As you were talking about the people that you collaborated with and the people in your band you’re working with Morten Fredheim – Vocals, Christopher Alexander – Bass, Chris Reddan – Drums. How did you decide to work with these guys for this project?
PN: Well I’ve been thinking obviously, about my own career and Johnny really supported me . He always wanted me to do well and he would say, “Paul I know you’re helping me out but I want to make sure you do well”, and he was going play on this. As we toured the world I met, I was fortunate enough to meet a huge selection artists and Chris Reddan was drumming with Papa Chubby, Christopher Alexander was playing with Samantha Fish and Morton Fredheim, I had produced like several years ago. His band came over and opened shows for Johnny and I was like, so if he’s ever available and he just happened to be. So I flew him over and yeah we just locked ourselves in the studio. It was a full lockdown we didn’t allow ourselves to go out to eat, everything was brought in. Barely any tv and just absorbing the 70’s stuff. Anything good from the 70’s stuff, Steve Miller and such that’s what we did. We really wanted to get that mindset. It doesn’t mean we were running around wearing flared out jeans, but close.
YDN: Ha ha ha, please never bring flared jeans back.
YDN: So you guys were working and it just kind of flowed together and it seems from the songs that came out of this you collaborate very well together, so at this point are you guys planning on continuing to work together?
PN: Oh absolutely we’re already working on stuff for the next album. I said if this sticks, if this works, there’s a formula there and we should continue with that same kind of theme, so yes absolutely. And it’s pretty wild, it’s rev’ing up even more than my expectations. You see the number, it’s getting alot of airplay and it’s building. I’m really happy nobody’s saying there’s a bad song. They’re saying I like this one, but oh wait I like this one now too and this one is my favorite. And a swamp thing…
YDN: It’s a good song.
PN: Yeah we were thinking like “Duck Dynasty” and trying to get Morton, who is from Norway, who’s speaking voice is proper English, the King and Queens English, to sing with a southern drawl was the funniest thing you’ve ever seen.
YDN: I have some friends from Norway so I can see how that’s really funny.
PN: We even went down and recorded the crickets outdoors in that song, the frogs and the crickets.
YDN: You mentioned you were going on tour and that was to the west part of United States?
PN: In a couple of weeks are going on tour doing a Midwest thing the first or second week of August and then eventually will come out toward your neck of the woods sometime around October.
YDN: Nice that’ll be very good show to catch.
PN: And then hopefully Japan, the album just got released there.
YDN: Oh yes and the Japanease fans, once they find something that they really like they will be saying please come over and see us. The whole culture when it comes to Japanese music fans is that they are extremely loyal fans when they find music that they truly like.
PN: It’s funny because I was thinking about the album being released in Japan and a solo in the song “Come With Me” is actually reminiscent of a Japanese melody even that was thought out. I was like you know what, Sony’s going to release this over in Japan so let’s give them a little nod because I’ve toured there with Johnny three or four times and we went over after the earthquake with Fukushima nuclear disaster when other bands wouldn’t and they were very appreciative that we came over because a lot of bands wouldn’t there tour during that time. That’s how I met Sony and all those guys was while we were touring over there and they were gracious enough to sign me so yeah I gave them a little nod in that song and no one knows that.
YDN: And that is awesome because as a fan when I’m listening to something new and I find something in it, it might just be a little riff for something but it’s familiar to me, it kind of attaches you to the song that you’re hearing. To me as a fan, if an artist can catch that and make something a little familiar, your fans are definitely going to catch it and relate to it.
PN: Yeah and the lyrics too. You know they’re life experiences, they’re from the heart and you’re pouring yourself out on the page. There’s a lot of relationship stuff in there whether it’s good or bad. When you have someone like Morton singing those words giving them emphasis and that feel it’s just, uh this is great and the harmonies were spot on.
YDN: Music has always been such a great therapy it’s kind of like, you don’t need therapy or religion if you’ve got great music. When you have music it’s all you need.
PN: Exactly and I had a great mixing engineer Phil Magnotti, he’s like a three time Grammy winner. He mixed it, he loved it and his favorite song was “Please Come Home”. I almost didn’t put that song on the album. Funny story about that song, Morton and I, the other guys went to sleep, we stayed up in the studio and I had written a little acoustic thing and I was like Morton check this out and Morton was like huh so he wrote some lyrics, and he’s like, let’s put this bridge in and then little chord progression and all of a sudden this thing started developing it was like an alien on tour and all this weird stuff like wow. Then I am like I hear the Allman Brothers slide guitar and then I hear kind of like the Allman Brothers congas ya know, some kind of percussion and let me get my buddy over here, Damon Grant played percussion on that. So we finish it off at night and in the morning the bass player and drummer woke up and we were like guys we have to apologize and they’re like for what? We wrote this thing and we don’t know where it came from but we really like it and it’s so different, I mean first it was a blues album then it turned into a blues rock album now this thing and everyone else is like it’s so different but it works it’s got a great vibe. It was the engineers favorite and a lot of people’s favorite so we put on there and it actually got used on the Armed Forces radio for the military for the troops “Please Come Home”. So that was pretty cool. Nice little thing there.
YDN: And that’s the good thing about the blues genre is that there’s not one specific style there’s so many places that you can take it. People kind of expect that they’re going to hear something different here and there. Which is one thing that draws a lot of people to blues music.
PN: The fans that know me, know I’m not going to just do one thing they know my history, my lineage. It’s like, he’s going to come out and it’s going to be different. I don’t know what, but he’s going to do something. Well playing with Johnny for so long even a lot of his fans didn’t know. I mean, is he a blue’s guy what else does he do? I played a lot of stuff and Johnny took me under his wing and introduced me to a lot of the traditional blues guys and he really respected my playing. He said, “Paul, I know you can play a lot of stuff. Stuff that I don’t even do. I’m glad you came to play blues with me but damn what were you doing in sound check, what was that?” That would always intrigue him and that was cool.
YDN: You played a lot with Johnny and I’ve seen interviews where you talked about how you learned a lot from him. In the time that you had working with him what was the most important or inspiring thing you learned from him?
PN: The blues, the whole aspect. Learning the blues is not a simple musical form, it may be the first thing people learn but it takes a lifetime to really perfect it to make it sound like the purest traditional kind of blues that people listen to. John Lee Hooker and Son House, Robert Johnson, Howlin’ Wolf, B.B. King, Muddy Waters. Just an appreciation for that and for what it is and how difficult it is to duplicate that sound and those artists and he turned me on to Preston Shannon too. Shannon was a Motown guy, an R&B guy. He turned him and myself into blues aficionados and we appreciate it. Between that blues bass that he gave me and my pop background, funk, rock, and jazz it all just kind of came into this thing but I really made sure that no matter what, it wasn’t going to be anything too crazy where I would lose the listeners, fans or even myself. So that’s why I’m able to come back and listen to it because I’m like wow, this is something I would actually listen to.
YDN: You’ve worked with a lot of musical greats in year career. Is there anybody that you would say has been the biggest inspiration for your career?
PN: Well I was always a big fan of Clapton. Vince Gill was great to play with. Of course Edgar, Johnny’s brother. I played with him many times on Frankenstein and Free Ride live. Warren Haynes, I just played with him in Jamaica. Sonny Landreth, it was great playing with him. Each guy brings their own unique thing even, Susan Tedeschi was great. We all bring something to the table. Musicians are sponges so whenever you hear a great idea, a riff or a chord change or something, musicians listen the things differently, they analyze. You really can’t just go and listen to music and enjoy it because then you’re like hey I want to learn that, I need to learn that riff. We’re constantly learning. When you have an off day on tour and someone says hey you want to go see this artist it’s like yeah, but it’s kind of like going to work. And if I go there I’m going to want to jump up and play or they’re going to say hey, so and so’s in the audience. Come on up and sit in. It’s kind of difficult once you become a musician it’s very hard to enjoy the music from the fans standpoint because you’re always like wow I wish I was doing that. It’s always been hard for me in because I’m always, with my background from Berkeley, analyzing music and trying to come up with new ideas. When you see somebody playing live and it tweaks your ear you’re like, wow that’s really cool. The you have to go back and study all this so you can learn how to play it.
YDN: I think a lot of people look at musicians and see the finished product but forget that there’s a lot of hard work that comes with what you do. There’s a lot that they don’t see.
PN: I mean the Grammy helped, my phone is ringing off the hook. Thank god for that, and you know just playing with Johnny was great but I will be forever the guitarist who played with Johnny. It’s like “what’s his name” who played with Clapton or “you know who” Buddy Guys guitar player. I became one of those, but it’s an honor. I mean, all I wanted to do was play with Johnny in that capacity and everything else is icing on the cake to producing and touring. We became really close friends. And now I just go out and play. The movie just came out too “Down and Dirty” about he and I. Yeah, it’s a biggie. I worked really hard on helping him get clean and sober. He really had to come back toward the end.
YDN: What do you have on your playlist right now?
PN: I am hard-core into studying and becoming better on my instrument. I am studying some serious theory of music stuff right now to really ramp up my game. I have been asked to guest appear with a lot of artists on a lot of different records and I’m back into study mode along with all the performance stuff. So as far as listening, I am listening to everything. Country, hard-core, jazz, rock, pop, Neil Young to Stevie Ray Vaughan to everybody in between. The Allman Brothers and jam band stuff. I have to be like a chameleon to be able to play everything and I’ve been practicing a lot of slide. I could be working on one thing and next I need to go another direction so you try to be as proficient as you can do in one area. Then it’s like okay this guy can play this, but I see he studied a little of of George Benson too. You have to be careful because sometimes you will just spin in a circle. I’m learning what I need to apply my playing and to get the job done.
YDN: Absolutely, it’s kind of a double edged sword but absolutely.
PN: That’s how players get the gigs. You get the call, can you do a country gig yup, can you do a jazz gig yup, can you do rock yup, big band yup, etc. That’s how you get to work, I’ve done all of that. Plus I sight read. There are a lot of players who focus solely on one genre and wonder why they can’t get more work. If you rely on being a working musician, you kind of have to branch out and learn a few these other different genres. Yeah and then I get these calls to produce that’s a whole other thing. Then you have to be the leader to produce another person’s entire album and it’s a totally different thing. I just did Joe Louis Walker’s album and James Montgomery as well as Lance Lopez.
YDN: Is there anything you want your fans to know.
PN: I would tell fans that social media is very important, not just to look at pictures. If you’re in a band you should tell your buddies and your friends to make sure they go to your page and like the page. Today having likes on your page, the record labels are looking at that and it could make the difference between a deal or no deal. They’re all following how popular bands are by how many hits they have on their Facebook page or their social media accounts. The other thing is don’t just buy one song off somebody’s album, by the entire album. Many artists have a reason why they put the songs on the album in the first place and many times in the exact order where they are in the album. So if you’re only buying one song you’re breaking up the concept of the entire album. For example, take Pink Floyd, where each song is part of a wall and if you only buy one, you’re missing out on the whole experience. So there is a reason for the flow of the songs. It’s great that you’re getting your favorite song, but the same time you’re breaking up this package of what an artist is trying to share with you. I don’t think people realize that as much and who knows how long say iTunes or other downloading sites will last, downloading is good, but just get the whole album.
YDN: I’m such a hard-core fan of having the physical copy that you can put in your hand. I like the CDs. I like to be able to pull out the artwork and take a look at the sleeve. If I can get on vinyl I like to do that too because you have that giant vinyl cover/sleeve to look at and the artwork for me goes hand-in-hand with the music that came with it. I think a lot of people from the today’s younger generation who haven’t grown up with physical records or cds with all of the artwork kind of missed out on the experience we had growing up with the music.
PN: Exactly. That’s why vinyls go so great. A lot of people who buy them won’t even play the vinyl, but they buy the vinyl for the artwork. They just want the artwork. The artwork is part of the experience. When we did Letterman, Johnny and I, he held up the artwork during the show and once vinyl became big you could see the artwork.
YDN: I can still look at album covers today, and I don’t know if you’re familiar with the UK’s radio station Planet Rock but they do this thing on their social media where the post just a tiny corner or spot on album cover that shows you part of the artwork and ask if you can guess what it is. And just by looking at it and knowing that I’ve owned many of these physical cds and vinyls in my lifetime, I can identify that album an instant.
PN: Yes and that’s what I was trying to re-create with my album cover. That’s exactly that kind of feeling that I just wanted people to experience. Thank you.
YDN: Thank you again for your time and I can’t wait to get this interview out there to the readers so that everybody see what you’ve been working on.