18 The Importance of Writing Really Bad Songs with Dean Nelson

The Important of Writing Really Bad Songs with Dean Nelson
Alone With Peter
18 The Importance of Writing Really Bad Songs with Dean Nelson

Welcome to Season 2 of Alone with Peter

Our guest today is singer and songwriter Dean Nelson. In this episode, we talk about control versus collaboration. Dean’s unconventional path to artistry, his upcoming album, the importance of writing really bad songs, and so much more.

Please enjoy this transcript of my interview with singer and songwriter Dean Nelson (@DeanNelsonMusic)

Transcripts may contain a few typos. With interviews ranging from 1-2 hours, it can be difficult to catch minor errors. Enjoy!

Peter Kersting: Welcome to Alone with Peter, I’m your host, and on this podcast, you’re going to hear interviews with entrepreneurs, digital nomads, and people seeking personal growth. We’ll dive deep into what set them on their journey where they are now and how their story can impact you, including helpful insights if you aspire to take a similar leap of faith

No matter where you are in the journey, thanks for spending some quality time Alone with Peter.

Our guest today is singer and songwriter Dean Nelson. Born and raised in Virginia, Dean’s toured across the U.S. and parts of Europe in various bands since 2013, before settling in Chandler, Arizona. With the pulse on the local music scene,

Dean currently collaborates with several different rock groups in the metro area, including Erin Shea, Pablo Love Train and Juniper Ridge. He’s working on his next studio album, Kiss Me First, which is co-written and produced by Garrett Bowers of Juniper Ridge.

Kiss Me First is set to release in December of 2021 and will be followed by a U.S. tour. If you want to stay up to date with Dean and support his music, you can find him on Spotify as Dean Nelson.

You can also find him on Instagram and Facebook. As DeanNelsonMusic. You can check him out and his show Music Theory Philosophy there, or on his YouTube and website CrazyLegsDean.com.

Control vs. Collaboration and the Importance of Writing Really Bad Songs

Peter Kersting: In this episode, we talk about control versus collaboration. Dean’s unconventional path to artistry, his upcoming album, the importance of writing really bad songs, and so much more.

Stay with us for all the good stuff and join me in welcoming Dean Nelson to the show while we turn it up to eleven.

Meet Dean Nelson: Professional Musician

Peter Kersting: I am excited to have with me, Dean Nelson, who identifies as a musician. And I’m really excited to have Dean in the room with us today because Dean has been gigging for well over ten years, he’s gigged in the US and in Europe and he’s somebody who has been in several different bands. 

He’s collaborating with a bunch in the Phoenix area and he’s kind of got the pulse on the Phoenix scene, so I think it’s going to be interesting to hear from you Dean about what you’re working on right now, and as we go forward to go get a little into your backstory and, ultimately, what we can learn from your experience because I really do believe that everybody that we interview on the show has something to share that is really going to be having a takeaway for the listener. 

I’m excited to dig into that, but first and foremost, I want to ask you the question, “Do you identify as a musician?” And I guess I want to ask you in the perspective of, “do you consider yourself a ‘professional’ musician?”

Dean Nelson: Oof. I feel I am professional because I get paid to do it? Maybe not great, but I do get paid to do it. I do identify as a musician, I really am trying to go from musician to feeling more like an artist.

And that would just be kind of just like defining expressions a little bit different, I guess. But that’s kind of splitting hairs. So yeah, yeah, I guess I identify as a musician.

Peter Kersting: I mean, fair point. You’re getting paid for it. You are doing it professionally. 

Recently I talked to you about a book that I was reading that I really enjoyed called The War of Art by Stephen Pressfield, and in that book, Stephen Pressfield makes the distinction between an amateur and a professional.

And I’m just curious, if I’m interested in playing guitar, it’s different than if I’m interested in playing professionally. What is it that you have to do to say, “this is my job?”

Dean Nelson: Sell out. That’s about it. Besides sell out. I mean, you genuinely do have to play some stuff that you don’t absolutely love playing and kind of attempt to take on some more of the bar gigs where you got to play Santeria a bunch of different times or something.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but you have to take it that way. There’s a difference between taking on those things that people want you to do and trying to balance or sneak in, well not sneak in, but give them stuff that you enjoy that you’ve written and is your own.

Also to take on those on those covers as well. We really try to make a lot of that stuff our own when we go play these gigs, which is fun, and that kind of makes it rewarding… Defining professionalism, like what makes it a professional versus amateur?

I really think. I haven’t read the book, but it seems like to me, it’s about, did you get paid to do it? If that was the answer, then yes.

Peter Kersting: Well, I think the thing that sticks out to me about what you’re doing is you’re constantly taking action and you’ve always got something that you’re working on. Right now you’ve had two different singles released and you’re working on your new album, Kiss Me First, which is supposed to be out in December, right?

Dean Nelson: December, yes.

Peter Kersting: Tell me about that album. How has the process been for you? Because this is your second album as Dean Nelson, correct?

Dean Nelson: This is, this is my first one under this name.

Peter Kersting: You’ve had one under Winchester.

Dean Nelson: Good memory. This guy does his homework, guys.

Peter Kersting: We’re going to talk about Winchester, but I want to talk about Dean Nelson, now.

Dean Nelson: Dean Nelson, now.

Peter Kersting: As Dean Nelson, you had Peacock and Cream come out recently. Two different songs that are available on Spotify.

Dean Nelson: Thank you for the plug.

Peter Kersting: Of course, we’ll talk about that more in the future. But you’re working on this album and you’ve been collaborating with a fair amount of people in the process.

Dean Nelson: Yes, I’ve been working with Juniper Ridge or Garrett Bowers from Juniper Ridge. I’ve been working with Pablo Love Train. Pablo plays the drums on the track and Lee Nelson is playing bass on the track. So we’ve really all been working together to make something. Garett and I mostly are the ones that are taking the reins and kind of going with it. And it’s been really fun , kind of trying to get away from that “strumming and humming in a bedroom” and just be like, “Oh, I got these chords, and then this can come over the top.”

Working with guys like Pablo and Lee and Garrett have all kind of opened some more doors of like “Oh, I hear the drums doing this part.” Instead of just, I played this guitar part and then more of the drum is going to do underneath it.

Or the bass, I hear the bass work with that. Lee and I work really close and well together. We’ve written a few different things, obviously an album, and some other stuff that we’ve been working on where you it really works well together instead of just the bass is just playing the root and then the fifth underneath. 

Sometimes that’s what the music calls for, but this one’s been really fun. Attempting to try a couple of different genres in the same psych rock, bedroom, boozyness or singer-songwriter ish. 

There’s a song that we were working on that had taken from some hip-hop, R&B vibes, and seen what we can do outside of those norms instead of just saying I’m going to play rock. And here’s some Beatles, Rolling Stones ish.

Control versus Collaboration: Working with other musicians

Peter Kersting: I’m curious to hear you talk a little bit about the difference between control versus collaboration in the creative process because it seems to me that one of the most challenging things about being a musician is that you have a vision and you have an identity like you talked to me before about, I don’t want to be a rock star. I want to be an artist. I want to be putting forth something that has meaning to me. 

And yet, you need to be working with a group of people who all have their own vision and their own idea of what that looks like.

Dean Nelson: Yeah, yeah.

Peter Kersting: So first, before we even get into that, do you prefer to collaborate with others or work alone?

Dean Nelson: I definitely prefer to work with others. I worked by myself for a really long time and I saw the stuff that was coming out from it. But I really feel like there’s something rewarding and enriching for the art itself, if you are able to collaborate with somebody instead of just being like, here’s 95% of the work. Take the rest of it and kind of put some shine on the top of this thing, Polish that turd, you know?

I’ve always worked with collaboration. I’ve always been collaborating with somebody. I collaborated with my cousin, Spencer from a pretty young age. We would start to work on stuff. We called each other up and we’d listen to… I’m trying to remember who was big at the time. Maroon 5, like early Maroon 5. Or Daughtry.

We’d say, “Really? Did you hear that solo that Slash did on that one? On What I Want?”

Peter Kersting: That was slash in Daughtry?

Dean Nelson: Yeah, he played on one song on Daughtry.

And we’d say “Oh, that’s really cool. What kind of chords they go into?” We didn’t know very much about, I didn’t know at least, about intervals or, “Oh, he just went from a C to an A minor there.” I wasn’t like, “Oh, that’s the one to the six or anything.” 

I’m still trying to take in all this information with some theory, but that was a really big thing for us to go through and just take it note for note, like, “OK, what did John Mayer do with this thing?” or something like that.

That’s more in the past. And now it’s learning from those past experiences in trying to implement that with working with new guys right now.

Working with Pablo, now if he asked me to play guitar on his track, then it goes, “What is the sound that you’re looking for?” More than. “I want it to sound like this band.” We’re kind of trying to fill out what he normally likes on that, or with Garrett or with Erin Shea. I work with her a lot. 

Being a good band member: The art of collaboration

Some other people have asked me to play guitar or singer over the top of their songs, and a lot of that is taking your ego out of that and going, “OK. They said no to that. That’s not about me. That’s about the song and what the song needs and they have…they’re taking the reins on that one.” 

So a little bit of you said, is it collaboration or control? It’s really both. There’s somebody that controls all of that, and I really think it benefits from somebody being like, this guy’s in charge or this girl’s in charge, and I’m going to follow and trust them. And I still get to speak up and say, I don’t know if I like that idea, but let’s keep going to the end of that.

Peter Kersting: Which one do you fall under? More naturally, do you like to cede control to somebody else, or do you have a good, strong idea of what your vision should be?

Dean Nelson: Usually, for the stuff I’ve been doing lately, it’s been more I’ve been in charge with that and I’ve been the guy that says, “I don’t like this,” or, “I do like that.” One thing that I’ve learned with Garrett, who really is great at pushing the boundaries of what I thought was possible with music outside of pop-formulaic stuff… he will push it really far. I’m like, “I don’t know, that’s pretty far.”

And then… I’ll let it sit for a little bit instead of just going, “no.” I’ll say something like, “I’m not sure if I’m 100% comfortable with this idea now. Let’s put it in there for the rest of the day or for the week.

And then let’s see. I don’t know if that’s what I liked.” Nine times out of ten, he was right. You know, I’m not going to say, 100% right because with art, there’s so many different ways you can go about it.

Peter Kersting: But by letting it ruminate, you’re kind of sitting on it, not getting emotional about it, not having too much of a personal connection to whether or not you want that to happen. Stepping back, you feel like you’ve been open to more?

Dean Nelson: Way more open to it, you’re right. Yeah, 100%, man, that’s cool.

Peter Kersting: I think that’s a relatable thing regardless of whether or not you are a musician. I think when you’re trying to do creative work or trying to be entrepreneurial, having the openness to trust to try something different that’s outside your comfort zone, is almost always necessary for this kind of stuff.

Tell me about your connection to the scene, if you will, in Phoenix.I was surprised to notice because I’m not a local, but Phoenix actually does have a pretty defined music scene here.

There’s definitely a solid group of artists trying to make their way. And you found a way to kind of entrench yourself, at least in the Chandler area, and to the point that people come to you asking you for advice.

How does that make you feel? Someone comes in to say, “how do I do this thing?” People who want to be musicians, they say, “Dean, tell me how I could do it.”

Want to be a musician? Become a genuine fan of the local scene

Dean Nelson: Well, thanks for saying that. It’s funny because I feel like I’m still trying to figure all of it out so when somebody will ask me about this, that or the other thing…

It’s flattering that’s what I should just say. it’s very flattering to think that. I wish I was more entrenched in all of this stuff. I’m still learning a bunch of new stuff from people and here in new bands.

I really think the biggest thing that I would say to anybody though, and I think a lot about this, is if you want to get involved in anything, you’ve got to be a fan, like a genuine fan.

Most musicians can sniff out posers and fakers and all that stuff, so it’s really important to you. I usually ask them why they somehow would be like, Well, how do I get involved in this thing? Do you have a Spotify or the equivalent of that playlist of people that you listen to in the area?

If the answer’s no, then you really don’t want to be involved in that scene. You’re not even listening to anybody. OK, let’s say not Spotify, exactly. Bandcamp, SoundCloud, whatever you want. There are so many ways that you can be involved in it that nobody attempts to do because they just go play a show an they go, “Nobody comes to see me play.”  And you’re like, “who do you go to see play?” You know, if you can’t name five bands off the top of your head?

UVC. Humanoide. Humongrel…I know I can cheat and say, Juniper Ridge, Pablo Love Train, Erin Shae. These are bands that I’ve worked with, but more than that, like Sara Cisneros. Vicarious King. He just moved out, but he was like an amazing artist.

Matthew Merchant, I don’t want to just keep name-dropping, but there are so many people that are in the area. And if you don’t have a playlist or are attempting to listen to their music, why would anybody listen to your music? Because you’re better?

What makes you so much better than all these people that are phenomenal and have their own voice? You’re not really part of that community because you’re not attempting to be. Speaking for this area, I’m still trying to make it through and be just a fan of the area.

There are a lot of great people that want to hear you and come to your shows and be part of that scene. And to do that, you really just got to go out and be a fan of those bands.

Make a bunch of mistakes. Write really bad music with these people

Dean Nelson

And not just do Instagram or anything else, genuinely listen to the music and dissect, like, what do you like about that? That’s the biggest thing. Kind of like what you were asking with Question One, too.

I want to collaborate with people because I really like that person’s music and the way that they approach art. And I’ve learned a lot from going through and working with somebody like Nick Miller. Nick Miller, Lady Killer. Or with Rara, Avis or Neutral Waves. I think he’s doing a new project now.

They’re just fascinating. These guys and girls are so good, Sammi Martinez, right? But you get to pull them in and go, “OK, well, I might be taking the lead on this one. How much do you want to decide with that?”

Make a bunch of mistakes. Write really bad music with these people. Don’t release it, or do release under something else. Don’t put so much pressure on you. If you want to be a performer, go out there, go out and play open mic nights.

If you want, be stronger, work with other people. Take a back seat on it. Write songs that you’re like, “Man, I really like the rest of that, but that second verse, the guy wrote? That’s pretty bad, so I’m not really going to talk about that. Yeah, that song? You know, I mean, that’s OK.”

Peter Kersting: It sounds like there’s got to be a lot of give and take when you first try to enter the scene. It also sounds like you’re saying their needs to be a level of authenticity because if you don’t actually care about the other people on the scene, then they’re not going to care about you.

Which is kind of a funny thing to think about, because when you want to make music, obviously you want people to hear it. You would think that’s the most important thing to people, but it makes me want to ask you a specific question.

If you knew that no one was going to listen to your music, would you still go out and make it?

Dean Nelson: I mean, there’s this really stuck-up artist part of me that just thought, “eff em, man, I’m just doing it for me!” But that would be facetious. I want people to listen to and like my songs.

Peter Kersting: But do you need that back?

Dean Nelson: Yes. Well, I think something clicked for me. I do have to have that. Does it have to be on the scale of thousands and thousands or millions of streams? No, it doesn’t have to be that for me.

And I think people get hindered by that number. Like you said, authenticity may not be the best word because sometimes you gotta pick yourself and be like, I only need one person. And you have to tell yourself that until that actually is true.

Maybe not just one person, but, I’m still trying to blow Lee out of the water when I’m not blown out of the water, like make him go, “that was a good solo.”

Or, I heard what you did! Or like, Oh, that’s a really cool chord progression or problem. I’m really trying to make him excited to play, not specifically with me, but make him go, “Oh man, that was really cool.”

It’s not exactly in that vein, but everybody respects the song when it’s that take,  or respects that show. With recording, it’s a little bit different because you really want to get something super solid.

But like every song that you play you probably have a mistake, if not multiple mistakes in it. And I’ve really struggled with, when I was starting off, being like, oh man, I did that one song was bad. 

And you’re like, “Dude, you played good, especially in a bar gig where you played for three hours. You played two hours and 53 minutes of soul music, and you’re upset about one song that nobody even really remembers? It wasn’t even that bad.

Get out of here, man.

Peter Kersting: Yeah, that’s definitely something I want to talk to you about more in-depth. Maybe a little bit later on. There’s the mental side of it. I think a lot of people can dissect that and apply it to their own thing, whatever that might be.

Taking Risks and Pushing Boundaries

Peter Kersting: As a musician taking risks trying to push yourself outside of your comfort zone you talked a little bit about that. Doing that with Garrett on this newest album, Kiss Me first. How are you pushing past what you’re comfortable with?

Dean Nelson: Songwriting structure would be a big one….Like what is that the whole thing? “Don’t bore us, get to the chorus?” That kind of thing. I get that and that’s not a wrong thing to think but it might be if you are somebody that’s trying to stay like Dua Lipa is or Lippert, depending on what part of the country you are from.

It’s like she’s supposed to get to that chorus. She’s got to get back to that in Don’t Start Now, (a song inspired by the Bee Gees.) But now they want to get there immediately. 

Writing reallly bad aongs to improve your craft and test your range

So something would be songwriting structure. Some part of it might be throwing a voice. I’m not really comfortable in this range. So part of that is…

Peter Kersting: Testing your range as a songwriter, even?

Dean Nelson: Yeah. Vocally, as well as lyrically. You can spend a ton of time on, “what should I say? Like, don’t surrender? Don’t forget me now?” Or should I say, “don’t give up, don’t get me now?”

There are so many things. Just write the next song. Go to the next one. I’m not saying don’t care about how you are feeling about it at the moment, or not to give it the time that it deserves. I’m not saying that, but if you’re like me…”I spent a year on that song.” OK, you messed up.

Maybe that’s too harsh, Leonard Cohen but you don’t have to. You could have… how many other songs could you have been writing? Like if you were to put them on the shelf? That might be fine but go.

Start writing really bad songs toyou can learn your craft

Go start writing some other stuff. Take more chances lyrically. Take some chord-wise. Maybe throw a couple of extensions on there that you’re not comfortable with. Learn some theory, but push yourself.  I’m not saying you have to straight-up put a book in front of you, test yourself, but put that new chord. That’s… 

We can talk about this more later, maybe, but I used to just pick a chord and go, like, I’m going to write a song around that chord and that sounds cool, but it was also like I just was tired of using a minor right? I didn’t want to use a capo for that one. 

There are so many inversions that you can use all the time and people go, if you’re starting off, you go, “Oh, OK. What does that you like? Really? Look at a piano and put this here instead?” That’s it.

Peter Kersting: A slight difference to make a big change.

Dean Nelson: It can make a big change in the way that you do that. We did a song called All I Need. I did that with the late great Andrew Brademeyer, a bright man who passed away recently and he was a great songwriter.

And I took something to him when he was just like, Oh, just put this up here instead. So we kept the same chord shape and we were able to use instead of just going from this normal chord structure we used a different shape over the top of it, and that made it sound a little bit different compared to just a normal blues groove or like a rock and roll groove over the top of it.

He did a lot of things that were experimental as well, too, with his own music that was really inspiring to me. He’s just a really great guy, and the world lost a lot when he passed away.

It’s crazy to think about that. Sad. Incredible, incredible guy. Andrew Brademeyer

So a big thing, not to bring the mood down, the big thing is he lives on through the music and the creativity that people have.

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Peter Kersting: That is something I really like about the scene around here, how much you guys are jumping around in different bands.  I mean, you help out. You mentioned Garrett and his band Juniper Ridge. You play with him sometimes. Pablo has his own band, Pablo Love Train.

You jump on his band sometimes, and they’re on yours, obviously, as well, and then all the other musicians you’ve been mentioning, you’ve played with a decent amount of them.

Dean Nelson: Yeah.

Peter Kersting: Is that typical? I know you said you played in Salt Lake City. Obviously, you played in Virginia. Is that typical of the music scene that people jump in and out that often?

Jumping around to different bands

Dean Nelson: I think that you should. I played with another great band, The Big Blue. I played guitar for them right when I got here and I wasn’t necessarily looking to be like a lead guy. I don’t consider myself like a lead guitarist.

I don’t put on that hat and think of it that way. I can do stuff, but I don’t think of it that way. And there’s guys that will blow me out of the water.

But I think the biggest thing that you can… a good way to get back to what we’re supposed to be talking about, it’s just be the guy that is willing to try new things in different groups.

So if you know a band, don’t be an idiot and say I can play drums for you, if you’ve never played drums before. Don’t be a moron

But if you want to sing, say, “I can strum some chords and I can play. I can sing backup. And then, maybe I can try singing some?” Then there’s some give and take.

But you also have to be willing to give stuff where you’re not the front person. I got really lucky getting a job at Sozo Coffeehouse, which is where we met.

Dean Nelson: Woo Sozo shoutout.

Peter Kersting: Sozo shout out.

Dean Nelson: Yeah, those guys really came and saved me in a time that was really like a low point in my life. I have a really great support crew and they’ve been nothing but great to me. And that was actually a huge thing.

They were pivotal, too. If you want to say that I have any post back to being a bigger fan instead of being somebody that people come to about stuff because I like to pretend to know what I’m talking about.

Peter Kersting: I think the fact that people come to you is because you’re being a fan of other groups and other groups know you and recognize you because of that. 

Imposter syndrome is real for anybody, but the fact that people are coming up to you and asking you how you’re doing it means that they’re recognizing you’re doing something that they’re not comfortable doing. 

I understand that you’re a pretty self-deprecating guy and you’re being pretty humble in your own way here, but if people are asking you? That means that you’re doing something right.

Dean Nelson: Well, thank you. I ask a lot of questions as well. I was just asking another great band, Ruby Shore, about how to get, how did you get into this venue? And they go, Oh, well, we did it this way and everything.

And you’re like, Oh, that’s great, man. A lot of it’s just not being afraid to ask questions. And actually asking for those things. Lole when we jam the other day and you came up to me and said, “I want to jam.”

And I said, OK, let’s do it. I’ve talked to a lot of people that have come up to me, saying I kind of wanted to ask you to jam but I just know you’re busy and I was just like, Why didn’t you ask me? I could have. Maybe I can’t this week. I try to be busy, but we could have jammed. Let’s jam now.

The biggest thing is people don’t ask you those things. So maybe the first thing is, be a fan but the second rule is actually ask and don’t just think about asking people.

Saying Yes to Opportunity

Peter Kersting: Tell me about saying yes to opportunity.

Dean Nelson: I can do this. I can do that. I can say yes to this.

Peter Kersting: What was the craziest show, where you did not belong there? Like I should not have been playing that show, but I said yes, and it was good.

Dean Nelson: I’m sure I probably could think of something else, but on top of my head, we were in Idaho. I was playing with this band where I said yes to this band called Twist of Blue, with my good friend C.J. Rudolph, who is a phenomenal lead guitarist.

And I was playing with a couple of the guys and we booked this show. The whole weekend was really great, but we played the second night. We were trying to make some extra cash and we said we can play this place which is a rhythm and blues bar and we could not.

And they were all like, Play, play, you know something we can dance to and everything. 

OK, sounds good. We started playing Wicked Game by Chris Isaac. Not something you can dance to. Can you play anything like Chuck Berry? Whatever it was, or play this! And it was super embarrassing.

Like the whole crowd sniffed us out immediately. It wasn’t packed, but there were a decent amount of people there and it was really embarrassing to play because it was just like we were playing our stuff too.

It’s not rhythm and blues stuff. It was rock, which is fine. But it wasn’t like they wanted us to play one, four or five groups. And you’re like, Oh, we can just fake it, but you’re going to like, we’re supposed to play for three hours.

And after a couple of times, one of us would start to play and they’re like, OK, that sounds the exact same dude. 

There was a guy that played harmonica in the crowd and they wanted him up there more than us. So they kept throwing him up. He walked up on stage and by the fourth time, I just said whatever.

Peter Kersting: Did you just walk off stage?

Dean Nelson:

No, I didn’t get off the stage. I was just like, Just come save us, basically. But you know, he was just playing harmonica and we played stuff and he was doing….

Pretty Woman does not deserve a harmonica. But he was just playing over the top. We played the three hours and at the end of it, the owners were just basically like don’t come back. So that was pretty embarrassing.

Another one I played in.I just played in California. It was a hip-hop thing, and I don’t know how I got that gig. I went to play it and we started playing, and the guy midway through was just like, Yeah, you’re not going to play.

He paid me. It was in the hood and I should not have been there. He was just, “go, just get out, get up.” You got to play shows like that. It’s like, OK, good. I got that.

Dean Nelson: Somebody one time asked me to play this Irish place, you know, I was just like, I’m not going to play that. 

“Oh, We’ll pay you this much.” We are not going to play. You’re not going to like it if I play that.

But you have to say yes to play these gigs that you don’t fit in or you have to say yes, where you kind of like you said, don’t be boring, don’t say, “I can play drums,” where you’ve never touched the drum set.

Practice up and go in and try and then fail on these things and you’ll think, Oh, I’m never going to… I’m going to die. But you don’t. That’s the worst part. You don’t die and you have to live with that embarrassment. 

I’ve even seen people that I’ve seen bomb and I see them play later. I’m like, Wow, that guy’s really good. That was amazing. They would not have gotten that good if they didn’t say yes to that thing. 

It’s an easy thing everybody talked about. If you pick up any self-help book, they’re going to tell you to say yes, and they’re completely right to say yes to those things

Peter Kersting: You end up playing a bar mitzvah.

Dean Nelson: Play a bar mitzvah play, doesn’t matter. Play a quinceanera. Go play that.

Peter Kersting: How many bar mitzvahs have you played?

Dean Nelson: I don’t. I don’t think I’ve ever played bar mitzvah.

Peter Kersting: But you told me you played one.

Dean Nelson: I think… have I played the bar mitzvah? No, I don’t think I could have.

Peter Kersting: I could’ve sworn you told me that.

Dean Nelson: Did I? I don’t think I played a bar mitzvah.

Dean’s unconventional path to music

Peter Kersting: You have a pretty interesting, unconventional path, I might even say to music. Can you tell us about that?

Dean Nelson: Are you ready for this?

Peter Kersting: I think so. I mean, I did ask the question.

Dean Nelson: So I’m a janitor in Boston, and I keep passing these blackboards and they’ve got these things. I can solve the problems on the blackboards, until one day I decide I’m going to solve this problem to kind of put everybody in their place. And that’s how I met Robin Williams. It’s just Good Will Hunting

Peter Kersting: Get out of here. I was wondering what is going on? What is he even talking about?

Dean Nelson: I was going to Toshi Station to pick up some power converters

Peter Kersting: And all of the sudden boom, rock n’ roll.

Dean Nelson: Boom, rock.

Peter Kersting: Rock n’ roll music and blue milk.

Dean Nelson: Blue milk and rock and roll. Nice.

Nice reference. OK.

Peter Kersting: No. Seriously.

Dean Nelson: Sorry, OK. No. All joking aside. I grew up in a pretty religious household. My parents are great parents. They’re amazing parents. They really wanted us to be pretty well adjusted, and in their attempt to do that, they really didn’t like us listening to a lot of music.

So we listened to a couple of groups, but the music wasn’t a big deal in our house growing up. They didn’t. We just didn’t really listen to a lot of it. I mean, I remember walking out to like I was like ten and singing to like hymns from church and stuff, you know, I mean, like I remember mowing the lawn and doing that, I was like singing the prayers, and I like to sing like I’m a child God and stuff like that, which not it’s not anything wrong with.

Peter Kersting: They still bop.

Dean Nelson: They still bop every day. 

And my cousin, I remember driving to D.C.. And my dad does the channel change and Aerosmith came on, I didn’t know this at the time. I started laughing. I was like, What is it?

Why is this guy singing like this? And I was like, Oh, we should have listened to that. And my dad changed the channel right now, like an acrobat was just like, Oh, we’re not going to know. 

My cousin came to see us one day. My cousin Chase Given came to stay with us, another musician. He just dropped an album recently. Just Me

Everybody should check it out. It’s amazing. Just Me and My Baby is one of them and If I Don’t Make it Through the Night those are a couple of songs on his album that I really like a lot.

Peter Kersting: Chase Givens is your cousin?

Dean Nelson: My cousin, an amazing guy. So he comes by, comes by. I must have been twelve, maybe eleven. He came out. He couldn’t sleep one night and I couldn’t sleep either. And I heard some noise downstairs that came downstairs and he had a DVD on.

And it was Any Given Thursday by John Mayer. Man, now that I think about it. I’m getting kind of emotional. I remember coming down and I just was like, blown away. I hadn’t heard anything like that before. You know, it was like a really big moment to hear something that resonated with me.

Not specifically Your Body’s a Wonderland. I was pretty young. So that didn’t even click. And I was very religious so nothing like that. But this guy that was up on stage and everybody was like looking at him and wanting to be with this guy. I don’t mean that sexually, but just like I wanted to be that guy. 

Growing up, I was homeschooled as well, so I didn’t really know a lot of people. Like I said, my parents were just really trying to keep us…They had their view of the world and they really wanted to keep us in that. 

They’re understanding, but they saw the world that way, and they really believe it is that way, they still do and they’re great, they’re great folks and great people, great parents.

I feel like I’m really defending.. They’re great. Anybody that meets them would love them, you know? I mean, they’re really sharp.

Peter Kersting: But the point is you were sheltered from that, that was the first real exposure at twelve years old to popular music.

Dean Nelson: Yeah. twelve. I was blown away from there.

Peter Kersting: There’s something about that song? Do you remember what song it was?

Dean Nelson: I remember No Such Thing was one of the first ones. It wasn’t as big of a one, I remember. I mean, what is the name of the song?

Dean Nelson: Back to You was another one that I remember, which is not even my favorite song. Like, No Such Thing still sticks to me in talking about some day you’ll see I’m going to be like this guy.

And the thing that really resonated with me was that feeling of wanting people to see you. I think everybody feels that. And that was very much not in that pure artist form of, “I just want to make art.” It was like, I want to be noticed. 

And that was the first thing that really resonated with me, that I wanted to be noticed because I hadn’t been. 

I’d seen people.. It wasn’t like I was in a bomb shelter. I saw friends right around the neighborhood. We play, capture the flag and all that stuff. But right, it was like. And it’s also girls, you know?

Yeah, I mean I wasn’t Amish. It was close, but not Amish.

That really resonated with me. And so I just became obsessed and I really attribute that to him (Chase Givens) coming and listening to everything that we possibly could. 

My brother was very sneaky and learned the passcode to the satellite dish. I don’t remember it. I think it might’ve been 1173. I don’t remember what it was. We were thinking, oh, my parents are going to be so pissed. My mom and dad are going to be so pissed. 

We snuck off and we saw Fuse which was big at the time. I don’t even know if it’s still there. And VH1 and we just watched everything we possibly could.

Next week on Alone with Peter

Facing the music and pursuing the muse. How misplaced aspirations and childhood loss impact identity. What influence do our peers have on our goals? And why is it so important to find someone you love and create together?

All this and so much more on the next Monday on Alone with Peter.


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