by Will Harris
Face facts: at some point during the years 1990 and 1991, whether you wanted to or not, you heard – and possibly even hummed along with – at least one song by Nelson.
Gunnar Nelson and his brother Matthew, the twin sons of Rick Nelson (and grandsons of Ozzie and Harriet Nelson), released their debut album, After the Rain, in 1990. It was a long time coming, with the guys having gone through several musical incarnations before finally settling on this one, but by the timeAfter the Rain had run its course, it had spawned no less than four top-40 singles: “Only Time Will Tell” (#28), “More Than Ever” (#14), the title track (#6), and, of course, Nelson’s signature song, “(Can’t Live Without Your) Love and Affection,” which, in case you’ve forgotten, made it all the way to the top of the charts.
NELSON stars Matthew Nelson & Gunnar Nelson (Photo: Brian Lowe)
It’s the post-After the Rain era where things got a little dodgy for Matthew and Gunnar: when the guys got back in the studio, their label (Geffen) wasn’t digging their new direction, resulting in a rejected record and a ridiculous amount of time spent writing and recording further material. By the time they got around to releasing their next album, 1995′s Because They Can, the ship of success had sailed elsewhere, leaving Nelson high, dry, and more or less on their own. Not that that stopped them from self-releasing records: for the next five years, Nelson put out a new album annually, including Imaginator (1996), The Silence is Broken(1997), Brother Harmony (1998), Life (1999), andLike Father, Like Sons (2000), the latter offering a live performance where the brothers performed a set composed strictly of Rick Nelson numbers. It would also be the last album to bear the Nelson name for more than a decade.
At the tail end of 2010, however, Nelson returned with what can only be called a full freakingvengeance, thanks to the fine folks at Frontiers Records, who – in addition to releasing a collection of After the Rain demos (Before the Rain) and a live album from the band’s 1991 tour (Perfect Storm) – have given the guys the opportunity to release a new studio album, Lightning Strikes Twice, which will make it very hard for you to believe that 20 years have passed since Nelson’s debut. As a result of this reemergence, Gunnar has been making the press rounds, and Popdose couldn’t resist the opportunity to get as many details as possible about the struggles and successes of Nelson.
Oh, and also their hair care regimen. There’s a very good reason those gorgeous platinum manes were so silky and shiny…but you’ll have to keep reading to find out what it was.
Just as a quick housekeeping note, I should mention that the first thing I did when Gunnar and I started chatting was to observe that, by coincidence, I received the pitch to talk to him on the very same day that my interview with his uncle, Mark Harmon (yes, that Mark Harmon), ran in The Virginian-Pilot in Norfolk, VA. I bring this up only because he makes reference to my interview with “Uncle Mark” later in the conversation.
Popdose: Lightning Strikes Twice is Nelson’s first album of original material since Life, but hot on its heels we also got Before the Rain and Perfect Storm. I know you and Matthew had been in the studio several times over the past few years, but was the decision to go vault-diving directly responsible for you guys starting to write new material?
LIGHTNING STRIKES TWICE (EMI-Frontiers-Stone Canyon Records)
Gunnar Nelson: It was wild! The way I look at it, we got a very rare opportunity for a second chance. Our career was unfairly truncated the first time around, with the rise of grunge on our own label. We were signed to David Geffen’s label, and we’d gone out to tour on our debut, which had sold a few million copies. We were out on the road for 202 shows…and they signed Nirvana. We got off the road 11 months later, and the entire agenda of the label had changed, as well as MTV’s and radio’s. The only thing they could do, really, was put us in the studio forever. They didn’t want to let us go to another label that was still backing that style of music, they didn’t want to be embarrassed with us having success with someone else like that, so they basically kept us in the studio forever. For five years. We came out with the second record, Because We Can, which, actually, I’m really proud of, but our fanbase had gone away. Everybody had changed their musical tastes, and… (Offers a humorless chuckle) …it was really kind of a drag, man! But warp forward 20 years, and I was approached by a European label to make the follow-up record toAfter the Rain that they felt we should’ve been allowed to make. It was surprising to me how easy it was for me to get back in that headspace, but I think it’s due in no small part to the fact that I always felt kind of cheated out of the opportunity to make that record back then, and I always, creatively speaking, had that record inside me, waiting to get out. It was nothing but a joy to do.