Gunnar Nelson on the Early '90s: 'If You Weren't Addicted to Heroin, They Simply Wouldn't Play You on the Radio'
Brian Lowe Photography
While tastes and trends have changed, the rockers have never stopped performing or recoding and still maintain a healthy touring schedule. Noisecreep had the recent pleasure of catching up with Gunnar Nelson this week.
Gunnar, describe how you think things have changed in the business since you guys had your first big hit back in 1990.
The only thing that is consistent in the music business is inconsistency. So we can only control what we do and we figured out early what it is that makes us unique – it's the brother harmony thing. We grew up focused on that sound; that was our true north. Today we are book ends of the rock generation. While on our first tour, our label signed Nirvana, which created the biggest paradigm shift in the music history. I always looked at myself as a songwriter first and foremost, but during the 'flannel years,' as I called them, if you weren't addicted to heroin, or from Seattle, they simply wouldn't play you on radio. So while things have changed a lot, we've been true to ourselves and so we've able to survive some pretty big changes.
Do you ever think about what your dad might think of things today?
Well, he'd be amazed. I think that we've gone back to a singles market. See, that's what my dad weathered through during the first years of rock 'n' roll, the way they'd write big hits for certain artists and create lots of hype like today. But today, you've also got a lot of bands selling records out of their trunks, so in a way, it's reverted back in that way too. The artist has taken some of that business power back. You can be a real deal artist or you can be just a product. Matt and I look at our career as more of a marathon than a sprint and that's how we've managed to hang in, slow and steady.
You guys were not really part of the Sunset Strip metal scene early on, but you competed against it.
Some one pointed out to me recently, and I never put it together, that what helped us stand apart from our contemporaries was that most of them came from a blue background. Take Guns N' Roses - great records, but really based in that 1-4-5 blues. Matt and I were raised in Southern California around my dad's Stone Canyon Band, which many consider to be the first country rock band. In our very house we heard Jackson Browne, Linda Ronstadt - we grew up around lots of great melodic folk songs full of love and affection.
Yet you still found your way onto the radio.
We were originally too heavy for pop ready and too light for rock radio – so we had to force our way in there and pop radio eventually embraced us. But radio is a fickle mistress. I remember my dad always told me, the difference is usually between being a product and being an artist - but they are not mutually exclusive. When the two worlds collide, it can be great, and the Beatles are a good example of that. That's what we always strive for, being true to our art but also being commercial enough to find a big audience. So it will always come back to the allure of finding the next hit song.
You still invoke your dad so easily. Do you think of him often?
All the time. He was our best friend. We bonded through the music and he encouraged us to be writers. When I asked for my first drum set at six - he didn't look at me like I had six heads. He gave me free reign to pursue it and always supported all that we did. Our dad was just wonderful.
Was there a first concert you remember that stands out in your life?
Absolutely. Linda Ronstadt at the Universal Amphitheater in Los Angeles, before they enclosed it, 1976. Such a magic night. The stars were all out, amazing band, her voice is just so pure. I was just six or seven years old and I've never forgotten it.
Head over to NelsonRocks.com, Twitter, and the group's official Facebook page, for tour dates and more information on Nelson.