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DailyBoom Your Old School Music Authority

Tuesday, November 8, 2022

Exclusive Interview: Nelson's Matthew Nelson on Elevating People with Music in an Ever-Changing World


Do you remember when Matthew and Gunnar Nelson first hit the ground running with their debut CD, After the Rain? MTV took the title track, as well as, "(Can't Live Without Your) Love and Affection" and propelled the brothers to reach the kind of popularity most musicians will only dream of. Sure, they are the third generation of successful performers in the Nelson family (beginning with grandparents Ozzie and Harriet Nelson, then father Ricky Nelson), but it's their own undeniable talent that made them a household name. Thirty years later, the Nelson brothers are still playing to sold-out audiences worldwide.

Imagine not just being on the road, but being in a different country when Covid-19 first inched its' way towards becoming a pandemic. Countries began mandatory lockdown, schools closed and borders were quickly shut in an attempt to keep the invisible virus from spreading. The Nelson brothers ended up playing beat the clock to get back to the states and back to what mattered most, their families before the whole world would quite literally change overnight.

I caught up with Matthew Nelson recently and he told me all about that experience and how the music industry has already changed out of necessity because of the ongoing pandemic. Check it out below.

Matthew Nelson on being on the road when lockdown first started:

"When this outbreak first started to happen Gunnar and I were up in Canada because we had eight sold-out shows that we had been looking forward to all year. I remember getting up there right when the Prime Minister's wife got sick with Covid-19 and just knowing we probably weren't going to be able to play the entire engagement. We knew we needed a plan B to get out just in case they closed the border. We figured out how to get through the border from different ways and sure enough, the border was closed four shows into our engagement. We had our bags packed and ready so they took us across the border into Buffalo, NY, and Gunnar and I rented a car, sanitized it, and then drove home to Nashville. We had to make sure that we got home to our families. That was our biggest fear and we talked about it a lot because no matter what came next we needed to make it home to our families.

The last show that we played was a retrospective for our father's life and music, which meant primarily people over the age of 70 in the audience. We had 4,000 older people in front of us at the first show, then the news stories started coming out and even though the shows were pre-sold out, the balcony was getting emptier.  Then by the last show, there were about 500 people in the audience. That was 500 people that chose to come and relive their youth while knowing that this thing was targeting older people. We were doing a service to them by taking them back to their youth and then we were doing the worst possible thing by collecting them all in one spot next to each other. That was really hard because they were there to see us while this invisible thing could be putting them at risk at the same time. It was really heavy and I'm not going to forget the looks on their faces because these people were so happy to be there, but they also knew it could be the last concert that they ever went to."

Matthew on how Covid-19 will inevitably change things:

"Gunnar and I are using this experience and what we're learning from it to revamp the way that we do things. I think that by the time this is all said and done the concept of streaming virtual concerts by national acts will really have been fleshed out. That's not to say that we don't want to go back out there and do more real live shows, that's not going to be taken away, but we'll have more reach if we utilize the powers that are available to us through things like the internet. For us, there will definitely be a reengineering of how to do things and it will certainly drift away from the old '70s memo on how to be a viable artist.

We normally meet people after our shows for hours.  I'm a handshake or a hug kind of guy and I like to really connect with people, but how it's done is just going to have to, unfortunately, be different for a while. There will be some good stuff that comes out of this but I sure do miss human contact."

Matthew on the good things that have spun out of being lockdown for weeks:

"It's interesting how there is almost a stronger sense of community right now in spite of the restrictions. Everyone checks in with each other more even though you can't give a handshake or a hug. I've seen a lot of really compassionate people step up during all of this.

My brother and I have had such a great run and we've been all over the world. We work so hard that we say it's like being on a treadmill because, with travel and preparation, it's like a three-day time investment for us to do just one show. We do it because to a certain degree we feel like we're ministering through music. We're elevating people for an hour and a half and that's really important, but I think the positive side of what we're all experiencing now this year is that we are able to stay home. My five-year-old asked me if I'm going to be playing shows again soon, because he said that he'll miss me when I'm gone and oh, did that hit me right in the heart. I mean my dad went through it and my grandparents went through it and they figured out how to still keep the family close together. I don't care that much about money and things, I feel far wealthier by getting to be a dad. I value family and a good thing that is coming out of this now, people know what their house looks like. Parents right now have to be schoolteachers and funmeisters, and I don't think that's a bad thing.

Maybe we really needed to be reminded of what really matters most and it was going to take something this drastic to get everyone to all stop at once. We get caught up in thinking we have to have a nicer house or a nicer car and then we've got to pay for all of that stuff. So we all keep going, we stay on that treadmill and you know what, at the end of our lives we're not going to look back thinking, 'man did I have cool stuff'. If you were on your death bed you'd be hoping that your family would be okay, you'd hope that you made a difference and that they'll still love you when you're gone. That's the stuff you're going to think about and not what kind of car is in the garage. None of those things matter now it's all back to the basics of food, shelter, water, and our health.

I think our focusing on family now is a shift that really needed to happen. It has happened in a weird way and we are barraged with all kinds of conflicting information, it's like, 'don't ever leave the house unless you have to leave the house!'. The one thing that I'm not digging is the whole controlling people through fear thing. The opposite of fear is love and at least people at home with their families are connecting with their nexus, the people that are really important. Start right there with the people that you love and then kind of reset everything else. I think we were kind of in a hurry to nowhere with everyone being so divided on politics or on what they feel. A lot of people gain from that and people are easier to control when they're angry with each other. People are realizing that they don't like being told what to think or how to feel and I'm one of those people that believes that people are inherently good. I think we're starting to remember that because we're all together now. Alone together, but we're dealing with the same things and facing a common thread which is fear."

Matthew on why he and Gunnar decided to join Cameo:

"Cameo is a site that allows us to connect directly with our fans. People will ask us to send a greeting to this person or to cheer up that person and I always have my guitar with me when I'm doing them. One person mentioned an obscure song that was done years ago and never released so I relearned the song just to be able to surprise them with it. That kind of thing is cool because it feels like a personal meet and greet just for them, but it's forever. I really dig that, being able to make our fans something special and talk to them directly. It's not the same as a meet and greet, it's a little different, but it's something that we can do to stay connected to them for now and that's really important. If you're getting me or Gunnar, or both of us singing you a song personally, that's not so bad (laughing), plus we love doing it.

It is a pay service, everything has a value and that's really how you have to look at it. People aren't spending money on shows right now and it's not like it was when Gunnar and I were just starting out when everyone would line up at the record stores. When we first started we used to give a lot of tickets away and when you actually came to see Nelson on our tour in 1991 the tickets were $18.The philosophy was that we would give away our performances, and trust me we left it all on stage always, but the goal was to sell the CD's. Now kids aren't paying anything for music, they grow up thinking it's free. I'm a songwriter, I write my own stuff and I've found that if there is no value attached to something then people either take it for granted or they think that it's worthless. Entertainment is not worthless and we still have to put food on the table."

Matthew on what the immediate future may hold for music fans:

"We're going to have to figure out how to do concerts again with social distancing and so first we have to figure out how that can even work. Gunnar and I have taken this time to really study up and there are a couple platforms online that people are using to stream shows. At my brother's house, we've built what is basically a live performance venue, a full room with pallet wood and guitars everywhere, lighting, the whole deal. We're looking into purchasing a system so that we can actually broadcast and live stream real shows and maybe have it be interactive so that we can take people's requests. We still would need to figure out the monetization of it because again, things of value must have a value. We'll figure it out, I do believe that and I believe that stuff will get better."

Check out Nelson's official site for music, merch, and rescheduled tour dates.