WR695: Nelson Little

Episode 695 June 06, 2022 00:44:35
WR695: Nelson Little
Witchpolice Radio
WR695: Nelson Little

Jun 06 2022 | 00:44:35


Hosted By

Sam Thompson

Show Notes

I had a great conversation with country singer-songwriter Nelson Little about his new single, “High Road”, his musical origins and coming to Winnipeg's music scene from outside the Perimeter, creating daily content during the pandemic, and much more.

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Episode Transcript

WITCHPOLICE RADIO: Welcome to Witchpolice Radio. I am on the Internet again, as I always am. I know… I feel if I have this compulsion to say that I'm on the Internet, even though everyone is at this point, because we're still hopefully getting out of it, but we're still in the pandemic. And this is how I do interviews now. And this is how I think that a lot of the artists that interview have been talking to people, too, just at home or wherever they are, via a phone or computer and disembodied voice over the Internet. But it works, and it's a good way to talk to people, despite all the craziness that's going on. So the guest on this episode is someone who is relatively new to me. I know you've been doing this for quite a while in the province, but I'm kind of a newcomer to your music. So I think the best way to start this off is if you wanted to just briefly introduce yourself and give a bit of background about what it is that you do. NELSON LITTLE: Okay. I'm a singer-songwriter. I was born in Thompson, Manitoba, and raised on a family farm in the parkland in between the Duck Mountain and the Riding Mountain. And that's where I graduated high school. , ended up in a bad car accident where we lost a loved one. And yeah, being on the farm at that time, I think, is what put a guitar and some emotions in my body, for sure. WR: Yeah, that would do it. Something like that kind of traumatic experience often gives people the opportunity to find a creative way to put their feelings out there, for sure. NL: Yeah, it was a car accident. We were 17 and 18 years old, so quite young, graduating year, so had to finish school and carry that loss and, yeah, the tragedy. And you do, you're right. You do find a way to, I guess, deal with it positively. You can't be mourning all your life, but it does definitely affect you all along. WR: One of the things that I find interesting about talking to people from across Manitoba is that as a Winnipegger and as someone who does this podcast, I feel like Winnipeg always seems like the priority because there's so many artists from the city, and it's easy to forget that there's so much cool stuff happening outside the perimeter. There's so many different musicians all over the province. You go up north, you go the east, west, south, it doesn't matter. There's just tons of cool stuff happening, and it's easy to be kind of blinkered and think, Winnipeg only. So what was it like for you, growing up what was there, as far as a music community? Did you feel like there were, other artists that you could learn from and then play with and then jam with and things like that where you were growing up? NL: Yeah, there was, a guy named Barry Matkowski. His band was called Bearcat. WR: Okay. Yeah. NL: So he's from Winnipegosis. That's where my dad's family's from. And at that time, I might have felt like I was the only one. Besides being in a Ukrainian band, maybe there's a lot of older fellows that played in Ukrainian bands, and Bearcat played like, a contemporary rock, like a roots rock. If they had events, like a community event or like a fundraiser or New Year's, we had to wait. There's a time gap between shows that you got to experience that. So, yeah, I wasn't around it very much. And then Ryan Cowen is a country artist from Roblin, Rossburn area, and he would tour around in those venues around Gilbert Plains and Dauphin and Swan River. So I'd sneak out to those shows, too. Again, 17-18 years old. That's how I was getting my feed for live music, I guess. And then at that age, being young, moving out there and not really knowing about a scene anyway, you got to scout around for it. And there's people that are passionate about live music, and then people that just take it as it comes. Some people would come into the city to a big concert, come see Garth Brooks. That was never my thing. I always managed to get enough of it. Like you're saying there, we found the little honky tonks. WR: Yeah. I like that because I think being from the city, it's just all around for bars, they each have a band playing. Right. But, yeah, you have to actually seek out and find the people who are doing it, first of all, and then find out where they're playing and then actually get to where they're going to do that. So, yeah, I imagine it's a very different experience. NL: Yeah. And you're a bit of an odd sheep, too. There, like, I mean, grade 10-11 in the early 90s, that's not what everyone was doing, jumping in vehicles and looking for live music. But if I heard of something, I was finding a way to commute 30 minutes to an hour and a half to go. Because it was always going to be a good time when you got there. Just like you just had to convince your friends that country music was actually a thank you. WR: Was country always the thing with you? Was that always for you? NL: I think in ‘91, when I moved out to my uncle and a farm, they had just bought the property at that time too. So it was brand new. I was there from the start with them. It's not like I came in mid-career of them doing that. And he always played like the old farm trucks and every machinery had a tape of something, some kind of old and the music was good. Like Nitty Gritty Dirt Band. You'd have Don Williams and Merle Haggard, Conway Twitty, George Jones. That's the kind of tapes that were everywhere. I mean, not every song was good. That's where you get that old, sad, ‘sell my truck, my dog’s dead, lost the wife’. WR: Yeah, the stereotype. NL: Yeah, the stereotype. But every third, fourth track on there -- really catchy, good music, you still hear it today. WR: Well, and you're getting close to some of the greats of the genre too, just from being around that, right? NL: Yeah. Probably the more in tune influences, I guess, from like the people seem to really work in those days, within 100 years. But still, things have really changed and developed technological wise for us. , everyone was hands on work and a different story to tell. WR: Yeah, for sure. And that comes through in a lot of songs, I think, from past eras too. You see more of that actually being talked about in the songs directly, that experience, the farm experience and the rural experience and things like that. NL: Yeah, true enough. And then, as I got older and spent a little more time in the city, exactly like you're saying, we played… 2008 would have been our busiest year in Winnipeg. We are playing four and five nights a week and we managed to do that for the whole year. It was a goal we set and yeah, you're right. Winnipeg is a hub and a centerport for musicians. Someone like myself, I need musicians, and there's a ton of them and they all have great accolades. Everyone's doing something really good. WR: Maybe that brings up another question then. I haven't played in bands in like a decade or more. But Winnipeg is a very, very tight knit music scene. A lot of my friends from 20,30 years ago are people that I knew from playing in bands. And I'm still friends with them today. Was it difficult at all for you as someone from outside coming in here and trying to fit into the scene and trying to meet the musicians you wanted to play with and things like that? NL: Yeah. I went from playing in a band called 100 Years Rising. We had five members, and we did every show together. Everything we did was together, and that was a cover band. It was really going that way. And we struggled with going original. And at some point of this band, Dismembering, in maybe 2010, we still had a lot of respect for each other. But that's only been like, ten years, like you say, in a decade now to start finding the freelance guys, earning their respect, playing with them, not being able to book them at the next show because they're booked with so and so and respecting that. And it's just kind of a whole new avenue. And I wouldn't say tricky, hard. You got to stay committed, dedicated. You can't step on anyone's toes and you can't have your toes stepped on. But that's the way it seems to work today. There's a large group of players out there, and if someone can't do the job for you, then they'll find someone that they think can do the job for them. And there's a huge level of respect there. No one wants to lose the next phone call. Right? WR: Of course. Yeah. NL: And they're not paying. They're not paying. So you got to take as many as you can. You got to come up with the bill money by playing more for less. And that's what everyone's doing, yeah. So I guess it is a tight circle we all want to get to pay our bills. WR: And what you just described, too, that kind of hustle of just getting whatever shows you can get because you got to pay the bills, that has been completely upended, , by the situation the world has been in over the past couple of years. And what has that been like for you? I understand your new single touches on some of the pandemic situation as well. But what has it been like for you as an artist, trying to just do what you do during this period of time? NL: I'm lucky enough that I'm carpenter as well. I don't have my Red Seal, but I've been doing this type of work for 20 years. WR: Okay. NL: And I managed to score some really big jobs and stay busy working. I didn't feel that type of stress on the music, but I did definitely feel like the stage lights got shut off, the curtains were closed, the seats were put away. Totally. And then we're doing what we're doing here today, and on our first time doing this, maybe not someone like yourself, if you've already worked in radio or podcast or any like, for us, it's like, we have to come learn how to get an app, download it, synchronize with someone else's music, or like everyone stepped it up a notch. And we were forced into it, I guess, not really by choice. And for myself, it wasn't something I was interested right off the bat. There was no feel. There's no connection at the end of an exchange of the art, you know what I mean? You just hit end and it's over. There's no feel, so I did, I had this little show called Corona Country, and I just got up in the morning, put on a different shirt. I went through every shirt I owned and a different shirt. I went a month straight, 30 days. At six in the morning, I'd get up and I'd have a coffee with whoever was logging on, and I ended up having a couple of hundred viewers every morning. And I would sing one song, but I would just look out the window. I'd give you the weather forecast from just looking out the window, because that's how it felt. Like, why do we need to put up? You know what I mean? The wind buying or whatever, the windsock and a thermometer we could just guess because that's what life was about at the moment. Sure, lots of people didn't know if they were going to work. I knew I was going to work, so I had that story to share a little bit. But yeah, I wish people happy birthday on there. It was maybe eleven to 15 minutes long. And that's what I did for people. And I know that listeners and others that don't have something like this to turn to, to their music or an art or anything, you can keep your mind and your soul busy with anything if you're passionate about it. That's what artists are. WR: Sure. NL: So when you share that art with people that don't have that, like, I find it's really genuine that they really appreciate that cup of coffee. My fake analysis of the news are of the weather. It looks cloudy, it might rain, it might not. So I did that. I was tired of it after the 30 days, because, like I say, it left me with just nothing but more work and more work and more work, and it's volunteer. So I wasn't reaching out for any type of fun. Later on, I realized, and you just keep away at this. The arts councils are there for programs, like that and like yours, and we just got to wake up in the morning with that attitude. And no matter what happens in society, we should be able to overcome it as a whole nation and across the globe. We get through the hardest times. WR: Yeah. People have survived and found new ways to approach whatever it is they're doing because they kind of accurate. You, did you feel like doing those morning sessions there? Did that give you maybe a new appreciation for this sort of method of communicating? I know again, the warmth of having in person performance isn't there. But did you sort of develop a better understanding or appreciation of being able to reach an audience through a computer screen? NL: Yes, both pros and cons. I think I overthink a lot of things, and that one was I quickly realized how much the people were appreciative of it and they were kind of waiting there cups of coffee after the third or fourth day when I told them, I'm going to do this for a month, that's the challenge. And I would decide then if I was going to keep going. But seven days a week, that was a challenge in the morning. Put a damper on some of my evening activities, no doubt. Yeah, but it did. I felt that and then I felt it was still there and got used to it. This is what we've been all been doing now. So a couple of times a month we get down here on Zoom or whatever it is. I've done a couple of big conference staff parties now on, , here. And I'm appreciative of it. Yeah. WR: Cool. So your latest single came out, I guess it was the end of last month or end of May. What can you tell me about the song? NL: Well, that one there, we got into some grant writing about a year ago, and something I've experienced now with grant writing is once you say and you apply for a project, you follow up with that project whether you're in the mood to or not. You have to. It's the way it goes if you're going to apply for something that's in the future. So what I've learned there is I have to respect this project, I have to follow it up. And in part of following that up was writing two more songs. WR: Okay. NL: And the time came and my business partner, Steven says, you just got to do it. Go get something that's close to you and go think about it for a while and see what you come up with. And sure enough, that worked. I went and locked myself in a room, cup of coffee, my guitar pen and paper, and it was a no brainer. I was working in Ottawa for eight months and I was lucky to not have any mental stress from the pandemic because my tools are being used every day. But my kids I got a ten year old, I got three kids and my oldest is ten. And grade four, I think they just had enough of. We're not going to school today. We are going to school today. They don't even care who the teacher is anymore because now it's a computer, it's a different lady. There's no trust and bond there anymore for the kids. And I mean, I learned this after because I had to really dig into my kids life and figure out what the heck was going on. And it took a full year, but the hardest part of those years was now meeting with the school and are we putting him on meds? Are we a psychologist? This he's got to go to a doctor here at More School. Next thing you know, he's only at school half days. And I'm like, this is affecting everybody now. And so I had to quit my job in October and ended up working for the school division here in Portage and told of my situation. I ended up with a job half day. So I was able to pick him up at noon and come home with him. And I was like, there's nothing wrong with this kid. Maybe he's just bored and sick and tired of everything like some of us are. But you don't want to teach a ten year old that. WR: No, for sure. WR: I think the pandemic has definitely affected kids. I have two kids of my own, too. They're twelve and eight and similar thing in that school. It was so nebulous, you didn't know whether it was happening, you didn't know how long would happen for or if you go back to class, is it going to last a week? And then you stuck it home again. I can't imagine what this impact this has had on that generation going forward, just having lived through it. NL: Yeah, so you're absolutely right. And when you want to worry about that, you'll drive yourself nuts. I think that's what I ended up sitting there doing. What can you tell a ten year old? Besides, you know, what if two grown men like us, we have a different opinion of how we're going to deal with this, but you can't really teach that to a kid, right? So I was like, I guess like a fight in the playground type thing. Controversy. Let's just give the best advice. What is that? Turn the other cheek, put your head up, keep your chin up, keep your back against the wall. And this just started playing in my mind. And the melody come at the same time. It's like you have to uplift a sad emotion with a good melody. WR: Sure. NL: And the same thing, what we talked about with tragedy, you have to find a positive way to come out of it. And that's how that song kind of formed. It was just like, just give good advice. And before finishing the song, we steered away from making it so personal to a ten year old. And it was quick. Dave Laslow helped me finish it from Doc Walker and Stephen Arundel is my producer now, and guitar player for the last twelve years. Okay. I brought them in and said, let's finish this one. This one is the one like, I can feel good songs when they're starting. Like, let's just show this one up. And it's part of this program we're applying for. The way it came back from those two guys, we had maybe four exchange meetings and that was it. We knew it was done. And it was about that like the state of society's mind. We all just need to maybe zip it. How many family dinners, I mean, Christmas dinners were canceled because people just didn't have the same opinion. Whether it was all we're allowed to get together, we're allowed to be from different towns. All these rules that were playing into people's actual plans, well, they changed often, too. WR: The rules would keep changing. So people just trying to keep up on what was cool and what wasn't. NL: You had your quiet people that were indulging anyway, half vaxxed and half not. And then you had on the other side, the people still playing by the rules. Half vaxxed, half not. Those are the ones missing out on everything. And not. And then who do we blame at the end of this? The government or each other or it was just turning into exactly that. So it was actually an easy song to finish once we started thinking like that. Rather than about my son. WR: Yeah, that's cool. Use that as a jumping off point and then make something more universal. NL: Yeah. Too many songs can go emotional and personal if you don't be careful of that. As a songwriter, I think. So I'm glad to have professional writers around and able to filter some of that. WR: Yeah. What is the experience like releasing a song during all of this? Because that's different, too. Releasing any music pre-pandemic would have been very different in terms of how you get it out there, how you let people know that this song is out. You can't perform it for live audiences necessarily. Although that's getting better. Now. What was that like, compared to previous stuff you put out? NL: I think for myself, not an underdog, maybe an underdog, but, I think it kind of put me on a level playing field with everybody else that was writing and releasing. Because you're right, we all kind of were doing it the same way right now. And one little it's not a rule, it's just something I really think about all the time is how much time and money and effort am I willing to sacrifice song after song if I don't start living by the means of my music or dedicating 100% of it to that. I'm always looking after contracts with, , building, or I'm looking after jobs for organizations. And I'm wondering, I'm at a point in my life where it's time to think, hold on tighter to the music. Because if it's there, it's there. You just got to create it. You got to create it and share it. For me to try and not pursue that anymore, I think, would be silly. WR: I guess a part of that, too, is finding out how to get it to the right people, right. To the people who are going to appreciate the people who already have yours for the type of stuff that you're playing. And then from there, that just helps spread with word of mouth and everything else. NL: Yeah. No, for sure. You got to work with the right team, the team that's behind you. Each one of you want to be when you look left and right, you want to see them pushing as hard. And you're right, it did. There's about ten of us now. And it's just the way it's got to be. You got to work and pay the bills, get the music. Like it's a creative and a sharing process. That's what it is. And when you let the clay makers make clay, they'll do a good job. Right. And let them do it. I'm very appreciative now. It's maybe my third year working with it. And you're right. Right through the pandemic. So I guess I am just seeing brand new changes. They're not even something a change that you're aware it's brand new. WR: Yeah. Okay, that makes sense. , is this going to be kind of the lead into something bigger? Are you hoping to put out an album or an EP coming up in the relatively near future, or is that still quite a ways off? NL: No, that is actually getting visual content up on the internet is the next goal. So, we do have three acoustic videos, coming out simultaneously, one after the other over the summer. And you can look out for High Road will be the first one, obviously, because it's the single. I'll let your team in on a little couple of secrets here. And then the Nickel Mine is another one from last year's release. We're going to put that one up. People like yourself, when you go to look for our content, it's not really there. So we're just in the building stages of that as well. But, definitely there's an album. There's a couple of older songs I wrote that weren't mastered, and I feel like they never really had the chance to be exposed. And we're going to revisit those. And you're right. An EP or an album is definitely in the next… it won't be this year, it'll be next year. Okay. WR: What does the situation look like for you right now as far as playing shows? Have you been out there now that the restrictions have eased a little? NL: We're playing at the Portage Exhibition here in town, July 8, full band, and July 9 in Mossy River Days. We're opening for Charlie Major there. And another musician from our community, Emma Peterson. She'll be with us there. And I'm playing at the Indigenous People's Day at the Cube in Winnipeg on June 21. Some good gigs and some private functions into August and just marketing the music. Marketing the new song. That's what my summer looks like. Yeah. WR: If someone is hearing about you for the first time on the show, or wants to hear more of your stuff, or follow what you're up to, what's the best way to sort of keep in touch with you online and just hear the new single, hear the stuff that you already have out? NL: Yeah, we're on Instagram and Facebook. Nelson Little Music, and any of my songs are on all streaming platforms. I prefer Apple Music over Spotify, I have both, but, I mean, the Apple, for myself , is just a good app to have and we use it for our sharing with all of musicians and whatnot. So it's a good platform for that. Just sharing songs and making set list straight there. Yeah, that's about it. I do have a website, Nelsonlittle.com, and our info goes up there. Steven Arundel manages that in my bookings. So you can find us there as well, Nelsonlittle.com. WR: The good thing about this being a podcast is someone could hear it when it comes out, or they could hear it a year from now. And by then you could have a bunch of new stuff out. You could be playing a bunch of so I guess the website or the Instagram or something would be the best spot to look at, regardless of when you're hearing this. NL: That's right. Yeah. WR: Cool. And then, I guess, obviously the new song is something that you're pushing and you're getting out there and you want people to hear. What would you suggest as a good starting point for someone who is unfamiliar with your music? Would you want them to go right to that new single and use that as kind of an introduction to you? Or is there other stuff you've done in the past that you think is a good… just like a beginner's guide to what it is that you do. NL: Yeah, there's a song called There's a Few. So, my first album was called The Little Things. This album was never mastered. And I was in my, you know, let's just call it my juvenile years of recording music. And as long as you got a CD back, you were going to go burn that and make a bunch and everyone had a copy. That's kind of what happened. But there's three good songs on there, okay? And one is called I Won't Fall Down, Whiskey Devil and Hide and Seek. And there's another song, actually. All of them are great. I get great feedback from them. But because they don't have the ISS coding and they're not mastered, there's not much we can do with them. But I get a lot of feedback from those songs. That's why I want to rerecord them. WR: Okay. NL: And then, on the last album that is mastered, it's called Ain't Afraid of the Truth. There's a couple of songs on there and fast one sticks out. It's a non-chorus, five-verse song that has no leads and no chorus. But it's a very catchy song. And that one has number one feedback because it's a five minute song and that'll never get radio play. And it's just unique. But it's a story of a mom and a son and very catchy. If people open up these platforms, you're going to see maybe five songs on there. And the last four songs we produced ourselves. So we stepped away from paying for a producer and just started doing it ourselves here in Portage. And we still farm out all the… everything we just produce and play the guitars, we sub everything also. And, where was I going with that? So you'll see now, because I think, , as you build these platforms, I don't know if these large companies do this or I don't know how the quality, content, kind of prioritizes on these platforms. So it already shows your best five songs, whether it's by interest or, I don't know if they have like a sensor for quality, but it almost seems like they do. You know what I mean? Because some of these earlier songs that they're way at the bottom. You might not even find them. Right? Yeah. So as long as you're listening to the last five that were put out, you're going to hear you might want to dig deeper. And as you dig deeper, you might like those ones on the little things. Like I say, they're not mastered. And I think we even took them off the CD, baby, like the distribution, but somehow they're still floating around everywhere. I think YouTube harnesses, they just have their own thing going on. WR: Sure. Yeah. NL: Cool.

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