Gunnar Nelson  – Nelson – 02/21/2011

By Thomas S. Orwat Jr.


The multi-platinum selling band of the early 90’s, Nelson, have returned with a brand new CD entitled, “Lightning Strikes Twice.” With this release, the blonde-hair Nelson twins return to their melodic stylings that were prevalent on their debut release, “After the Rain.” The Nelson twins, Gunnar and Matthew, poured their heart and soul into this release, and are thankful that they were given a second chance, after being unfairly criticized and dismissed in the early 90’s, when grunge became the flavor of the day.

“Lighting Strikes Twice” is an amazing comeback release with great songwriting, stunning musicianship and amazing vocal harmonies. This CD has the potential to help bring the band back to headlining status, and prove that Gunnar and Matthew Nelson are talented songwriters, and not just a novelty act.

What follows is an exclusive RockMusicStar interview with Gunnar Nelson. During this interview, we discuss the band’s new release, past history and future plans. Here’s what Gunnar had to say.

RockMusicStar: Your new CD, “Lighting Strikes Twice,” is really a great pop/rock release, which is very well crafted, showcasing the vocal harmonies Nelson is known for. I think it’s the most solid release of your career. Now being issued in North America, it must be gratifying to have this impressive release out for all your fans and critics, here in the US.

Gunnar Nelson: Thank you. It’s cool, but it’s also a little concerning, only because I’m not sure how it’s going to be received by critics over here. I’m kind of used to a lot of haters. When we put out our second CD, “Because they Can,” in 1995, during the grunge movement, we got a lot of personnel attacks. The new CD was released in Europe a few months back, and the critics over there did not get a lot of the negative press on us, that people got over here back in the day. So, they actually listened to the CD with a very open mind, and criticized the record for what they were hearing, and not something else. So, I’m cautiously optimistic, but I feel that we made a great record. We didn’t cut any corners or phone this in. We did the best that we possibly could do. I think that anytime you can do that it’s a success regardless of the number of records that you sell.

RMS: “Lighting Strikes“ marks a return to the sound and style that is similar to that of your debut release. However, between these releases you have experimented with many different styles. What lead to you returning to your signature pop style? And how difficult was it for you after the buzz of your first release faded away?

GN: Well, my father, Rick Nelson, taught me that a career is just a series of comebacks. It really doesn’t matter what you do for a living. Matthew and I are pretty optimistic guys and yes, musically speaking, we have explored other terrains over the years. We did this for a couple of reasons. First, I don’t think we would have been able to make the record that we just made if we didn’t go off and try other styles. And also, right now, it’s not uncool to be a creature from the 80’s. For the first ten years after our first release, when grunge was dominating, everything – that whole rock confidence generation, were really treated like zeros overnight, and unfairly. Now I think that people really just want to have a good time. They don’t want to take themselves too seriously, and I think that memories to people are really important. I saw this first hand, when we played Firefest in Europe, recently, in front of several thousand people. For the first time, we were playing in front of mostly guys, which was interesting, because we were mostly a chick band back in the day. We had people singing the words to our songs back at us, and really being lost in the moment, with their fist in the air. It’s really great, and it feels really good.

RMS: Do you feel “Lighting Strikes” is sort of a vindication for you and your brother.

GN: Yes, I really do. I always wanted to make this record. But, it wasn’t until now, that I was able to make the record that I just did – with 100% commitment from a label that really believes in us. To be honest, I’m really grateful.

RMS: Nelson became popular really fast soon after your debut release, “After the Rain.” You were the headlining amphitheaters, selling a ton of merchandise and you were all over MTV. Do you feel that your early overexposure may have also been a factor to your quick demise?

GN: Our motto with the first record was, “love us or hate us, you will know who we are.” We were serious about that. We made sure that when we styled ourselves, it was outrageous. They were also factors that we had no control over, such as the family that we came from, and the fact that we were a couple of long hair blonde twins. In addition, the Milli Vanilli scandal happened a year before, and some thought we were another Milli Vanilli. During that era, the record companies were fabricating a lot of the bands, kind of like what Disney does nowadays. But the tragedy for us as artists was that we were playing since we were six years old. We worked our way up the LA club scene from the time we were 12. When we got signed to Geffen records, we had been songwriters for a decade. We got signed when we were 18. The funny thing is, is that when we made that first record, we never wanted to be regarded as a hair metal band. That wasn’t our thing. We were a hard pop band. That’s what we wanted to be.

Now as far as headlining amphitheaters, we really wanted to be an opening band at first. However, no one would take us on tour. So we really didn’t have the option. So, we started out at theaters, and we put out “Love and Affection” as our first single and we didn’t sell any tickets. And then we did a live looking video for our third song “More than Ever.” We ended up selling out a whole run of 50 theaters in a couple of minutes. So at that point, things were up and running, and we were on our own path. We ended up doing 13 months headlining. But right in the middle of that 13 month period, there was a music paradigm shift, that was as big as the death of disco. When all the record companies got together and decided that they weren’t going to support that style anymore. And that’s basically what happened to us, and bands like us (when the record companies focused on grunge).

RMS: Yeah, it was also financially beneficial for the record companies to focus in on grunge, they didn’t have the high overhead.

GN: Yeah, when were on Geffen records, they were very smart businessmen. They figured out they could make a lot more on a grunge band, and not have to sink all the money into them, as they did with a band such as Aerosmith. By time they would record and album, make videos and do tour support, it would cost them close to $10 million. Granted, they would make back their money and then some, but it still was a lot of money to put down. So they went up to Seattle and found Nirvana, and brought out their record for only $25,000 (to own it outright), and the rest is history. And then all the other labels jumped on board, and said this is better business. We don’t have to spend any money, this is great. So, all of the labels stopped supporting pop metal, and we were at ground zero. And we fell off of the face of the planet. It was of no fault of our own or anybody else. Nobody could have foreseen that at all.

It’s no different that when my father had a hit single with “Poor Little Fool” in 1961, and then the Beatles invaded America. But musicians have to adapt and overcome, and we have to do what we need to do to survive. That kind of explains the different musical journeys that Matthew and I have taken. But it feels wonderful to be able to continue what we started – way back when. Which back then, we were made to feel ashamed of. It’s amazing that we sold 5 million records, and people make you feel like you should be ashamed of doing that. As if we had fooled people. It was a real trip. But it’s nice to know that people now see that we are a real band, and we do play our instruments. This wasn’t just a bunch of rich kids making a record because they wanted to.

RMS: I remember seeing you perform on Saturday Night live a few years before your first album was released. But if I remember correctly, you were playing drums and Matthew was up front. Is that right?

MG: Yes, we were the first unsigned band to play SNL, and it was an honor. Matthew was upfront and I was the drummer. So yeah, we made a lot of changes between then and when out first record come out. Not just stylistically, but personnel wise as well. When we were six years old and given our first instruments, I was given a drum set. And I loved playing the drums. But it was on the plane back from SNL that I went back to Matthew and I said, “I have a vision. I want to break up the band and re-do this.” He thought I was the king of self sabotage. He said that I was crazy and that the band was working as it was. And I said that it was working in the wrong way. I wanted to sing. I was tired of being in the back. We needed to be up front together, for this to be as big as it could be. It would leave a big impression if the both of us were up front. Matthew said “Oh, that’s great, but you have never played guitar ever in your life.” When we wrote songs at that point, I used to hum the melodies. It was very frustrating. I said that if someone has been playing guitar for ten years, if they’re lucky, they spend an hour each day playing. So I said, “What if I did nothing but play guitar for one year, ten hours a day?” It stands to reason, that I would have the same experience that someone who played for ten years would have. Right? So I powered focus, as we have athletes on one side of the family, and entertainment on the other. So we learned a lot about discipline. So that’s what I did, every day, for ten hours a day. I played until my fingers bled. And a year later, I played on the “After the Rain” record. So all the guitar you hear on the record, is me playing, after only playing for a year. I wanted it bad.

The style we had when we played SNL, was a little more like Huey Lewis, which was big at the time. But in the process of learning guitar, I was gravitating towards arena rock guitarists. I was listening to a lot of Queen, Bad Company, Foreigner, Heart and bands like that. So that’s how the Nelson sound was formed. And not from the blues, which a lot of the other bands were influenced by. We were like the Hollies meets arena rock. We were going for that California rock thing (that you pull from folk), and not from the blues. When you heard the first riff on “Love and Affection,” that was a 12 string, and nobody was playing 12 strings at the time. We pulled that from our childhood in southern California, when guys like Jackson Brown, Bob Dylan and Linda Ronstadt used to drop by our house all of the time. We combined that with a Marshall stack, and had a really cool sound.

RMS: Wow, that’s really quite impressive how you learned how to play guitar so quickly. Did you also play all of the instruments on the new CD “Lighting Strikes Twice?”

GN: I played everything, except bass. Matthew is a world class bass player. That is the only instrument that I’m never going to try to play on a Nelson release. He is really amazing. But I did everything else you hear, with the exception of the solo on the song I co-wrote with Mark Slaughter called, “To Get Back to You.” Steve Lukather of Toto played the solo on that one.

RMS: I love the solo in the intro of “How Can I Miss You.” It sounds very much like Michael Schenker.

GN: Thank you very much! Yeah, I played that. Thank you for the compliment. Schenker is one of my all time favorite guitarist. His melodic sense is so good. It just grabs your heart. And he is completely insane and you can hear that in his playing. Brian May is also awesome. George Lynch is amazing, especially his rhythms. I actually got to sing on one of his solo releases. And my fourth favorite is Eliott Easton, from the Cars. Elliot had this knack for always playing the perfect fucking solo for every song he played. He composed these little songs within a song.

RMS: To wrap up the interview, could you tell us what are your tour plans, and would you consider taking an opening slot?

 GN: Absolutely. That’s what I wanted to do the first time. I would love to go out with some of those bands that I mentioned earlier, that really influenced us. I also look at Mathew and me, and think Heart. I would kill to go on tour with those girls. They are absolutely amazing. So who knows, maybe it might happen.

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