Fri, 11 Apr 2014 10:08:26
"The most important thing in any song is that it's true to whatever picture you're seeing or feeling," nelo mainman Matt Ragland. "I really do want to paint a picture, and it happens when I'm honest."
Nelo's self-titled album [iTunes] is chock full of those kinds of pictures. Ragland crafts an emotional and evocative portrait with brush strokes of airy rock, entrancing acoustic guitars, and vivid lyricism. It's a powerful and poetic ride that leaves its mark immediately.
In this exclusive interview with ARTISTdirect.com editor in chief Rick Florino, Nelo's Matt Ragland talks the album and so much more.
What ties the album together for you?
Well, that aspect of anything is really important to me. You probably noticed. Between a number of the songs, I put in some more ambient interludes. I thought that really tied the album together and make it one cohesive whole. There's not really a concept or a story I'm trying to tell. It's not a concept record. I want it to sound like one thing, and I want the songs to belong together, but they're each telling their own story—if that makes sense.
At the same time, they converge into one vision.
That's the idea. We wanted it to feel like one big ride, not a whole bunch of little ones. I feel like the interludes were a big part of that. They tie the songs together. Some of the interludes are taken from songs that came earlier in the album and vice versa. Earlier in the record, you'll hear some things that are going to come later. I was very careful and deliberate about choosing where everything went. For it to sound cohesive, everything had to be creatively deliberate.
Those musical touchstones continually surface, and they foreshadow what's to come.
Yeah, that's the best word! That was the word I was using when I first came up with the idea. I was like, "I want to foreshadow. I want to give you a taste of what's to come".
What's the story behind "Take It Back"?
You know, it's cool. You're the first person to highlight that song, actually. It's been interesting. Usually, there are one, two, or three tracks on an album where everybody goes, "Those are my favorites". With this, between fans and writers, everyone seems to like a different song. That's cool. You don't want there to be only two or three songs. You want everybody to take something different from the album, and it seems like people are responding to different songs. "Take It Back" is a song I wrote for my girlfriend. So many of the songs are so personal that they're the exact way I wanted to express whatever it is I'm trying to express. To explain the explanation is a weird thing for me. It's something as a songwriter I need to get over. It's about a new love realized between two people and that excitement and early time where all the baggage, strain, and the difficulty that had nothing to do with that other person is right there out in front of you. It's there, and it happens in that cozy, warm, and trustful environment. Without going into too great of detail, it's about triumphing over the past and moving forward with this new excitement and love you found. That was a reflection of what was going in my life at the time I wrote it. I had just found my girlfriend who I'm still with.
Where did "Until We Die" come from?
I wrote that song after reading Walden by Henry David Thoreau. He wanted to reject society for a time and live totally alone in a cabin he built for himself in the middle of nowhere. The revelation he came to in that peace and quiet, the calm that came over him, and the acute awareness he had of everything around him was really inspiring and interesting to read. As soon as I picked that book up, I put myself in his place. It made me think of how the simplest interactions with the simplest things can be the most satisfying. In that song, I imagine him having a relationship with a bird. I think I called it a "songbird". If you read that book, the simplest pleasures keep him going. That pertains to our lives and the hustle and bustle of the city life. I think of our friends and the simplest things in my life that keep me going. Sometimes, it's just an old friend and being able to sit down and talk with someone I really love. It takes me away from all the other noise that I'm used to feeling.
If you were to compare the album to a movie or a combination of movies, what would you compare it to?
There's a part of me that wants to say it's our own movie. The people who have wrapped their arms around the band have seen there's real message and depth that might come from some pain and darkness behind and underneath the music. The expression and surface of the music is usually pretty joyful. I think of some of my favorite movies. There's an indie movie called Love Liza that starred Philip Seymour Hoffman. It's a really beautiful movie. It's really dark and very real. There's a lot of pain in it, but there's conquest and catharsis in that movie. That's what I hope Nelo is for me. Another one is Into the Wild. It's an awesome film. I wrote another song about it. It's not on the album though. That's an example of one person's pain and idealism and excitement. It's a sad movie, but it's also so beautiful. So much joy comes out of much despair. That's what Nelo is. I'm not saying I or the rest of the band come from dark, terrible places. Most of us come from great families, and we've been very lucky relative to what a lot of people deal with growing up. Obviously, that hasn't prevented us from feeling the pain and struggle that comes with life. Nelo is very much about finding catharsis and finding a way to use whatever frustration and pain you've experienced in life as energy to create something positive.
Have you heard Nelo?