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A Conversation With Beaver Nelson
by
Samuel Barker
January 4, 2001

Beaver Nelson

Samuel Barker: To begin with, introduce yourself and let everyone know what you do.

Beaver Nelson: My name is Beaver Nelson, I write songs and I play them. I play acoustic guitar and I sing.

Samuel: You moved from Houston to Austin 10 years ago, what kind of impact has that had on your life and your music?

Beaver: Iím sure itís had tremendous impact, Iím surrounded by people who write great songs, itís hard not to be influenced by that or inspired by it, to see bands on a fairly regular basis who have good songwriters. There are songwriters everywhere in Austin, some really, really great, and some really, really terrible ones too, you just got to weed through it to find the good ones and see them as much as you can.

Samuel: Doing the music thing so long, are you still a fan, do you still go out and see people play, or are you more focused on your music?

Beaver: I donít know...thatís an interesting question and I have an answer to that. No, generally, Iím frightened by music. So much music is so god awful and so bad right now, and Iím not talking just talking about radio, Iím talking about in general. That I...I wonít even say itís bad, Iíll just say itís got nothing to do with me as a human being, so Iím really hesitant to listen to this band or that band, or to Ďcheck this out,í and stuff like that. I donít get out much, Iím playing all the time, Iím married, I have a one year old kid, Iím not hopping bar to bar like I was as a young man, so I donít try out a lot of new stuff. I donít know, maybe thatís getting older. Iím still open to the idea that there is stuff out there that will knock me out because Iíve had that happen a few times over the past couple of years. I know itís possible. I just listen to the guys who I think are really, really great. There is just so much out there I donít want to fill my mind with. I donít like to fill my mind with bare rubble, I like to fill my mind with whatís great. Thatís a real long answer to the question, but yes, there is still stuff out there that knocks me out, and Iím open to that. I usually have to hear from more than one person that ĎI really like this.í before Iíll invest the time to put the CD someone gave me into the CD player. What I donít want to do is get burned so many times by Ďyouíll love thisí and I put it in and itís a load of crap, that Iím just scared to put anything in my CD player anymore.

Samuel: I saw in your bio that you named Springsteen and Dylan as your major influences, but who are some of the more modern songwriters, in the past 10 years or so, who youíve found inspiration in?

Beaver: Springsteen and Dylan in the last 10 years. Look at what Dylan has done in the past 10 years, Time Out Of Mind, Oh Mercy...Oh Mercy may be í89 or í90. He also put the two acoustic records, those are some of his greatest records ever, so I still draw a lot of inspiration from those guys. To say heís one of the best is a silly thing to say...then there is just...thatís the thing about living in this day and age, I can just mine though 70 years of recordings and constantly be inspired. The truly great songs still mean something today as it did when it was recorded, sometimes it means more. So much of the world those people lived in is gone. I find more inspiration in the older stuff than I do in the new, but then again, as I said, there is some new stuff that really knocks me out. But it seems to understand that timeless thing, theyíre shooting for that. Thatís what I shoot for, I donít know if I get there or not, thatís for someone else to decide.

Samuel: What was it about songwriting that made you willing to commit your life to doing it?

Beaver: Umm...Well, I always liked music and I always liked words, all in the matter of a couple of weeks I realized I could put the two together, it made so much sense to me. Itís such an efficient way to communicate. As you can tell by this interview, I have tons of swirling thoughts constantly, and songwriting is a good way for me to categorize a mood or set of thoughts and put them in a working order to try to tell someone something. Itís a lot more efficient than the general ramblings I do in conversation.

Samuel: I know you had a hell of a time getting a first record out, is it comforting now that you have a couple of records under your belt, you know have more to play that people know, or are you pushing to get more out now?

Beaver: Iím already writing the next record and the new one just came out two months ago. I donít think in those strategic terms. I do, as much as I can, but I donít have a big operation. I donít have big money behind me to where it makes sense to be like ĎIíll record this, then make the push to sell it, then Iíll lay lowí and wait for the economic cycle to turn over and wait 14.2 months...I donít think like that, I write songs and I play them. Thatís my life, thatís what I do. None of us have an guarantee we have to do what it is weíre doing, and Iím planning on leaving as much evidence as humanly possible that I was here.

Samuel: How do you handle songwriting with the band? Do you write something and come to them with the song or do you ever write with them?

Beaver: Almost entirely me. Sometimes Iíll write something with someone, thatís pretty rare. More often than not Iíll an idea in my head I canít quite pin down and someone I know will have a chord progression that Iíll go ĎCan I take that, can I steal that from you?í though I donít really steal it because I put their name in the CD. With Scrappy, who produced all 3 records and plays in the band, sometimes Iíll bring in a song and Iíll say ĎI think this needs a musical interlude, or a chord change to give it that extra something, why donít you find ití because heís pretty good at reading my mind. That happens periodically. Generally I just walk in and say Ďthis is the song.í The band has a hand in arranging sometimes, but I pretty much do all my writing all alone.

Samuel: Speaking of Scrappy Jud, how did he end up in the band? I know he played with Toni Price for a long time. Was he just done with her and dug your music enough to play with you?

Beaver: There was some other people out there. He played with Toni a long time and he was in a band called the Loose Diamonds before that. He co-fronted that band actually. I donít know why he joined this band, other than thatís what he wanted to do. Youíd have to ask him. Iím incredibly grateful he did. Like I said, youíd have to ask him, I canít speak for anyone elseís motivation.

Samuel: In your press book you had explanations of the songs, but they still left mystery as to what the songs meant, do you feel it takes away from the impact of the song if you have to explain what everything means?

Beaver: I donít know if it takes away from the impact of a song, but sometimes itís tiresome to explain. Sometime itís just more fun to not pin yourself down. I like the fact that I can put on a Townes Van Zandt or a Dylan record and 15 years after I first heard it and can be like ĎNow I get it. Now I know what he meant by that.í or Iíll be taking a leak in some restaurant and be like ĎThatís what he meant, I like that.í and there are a few people out there that like that, and thatís for them. In my songs I try to do what I like about songs I enjoy. I like mystery and I like figuring things out and getting to the bottom of that. I donít like songs that mean less the more you hear them, I write songs that mean more the more you hear them, thatís my humble opinion. Thatís what Iím trying to do. I think I pull that part of it off pretty well. Theyíre not all that hard to figure out. There are a few that itís pretty obvious what Iím getting at. I donít think theyíre all particularly shrouded in a cloak of mystery. A lot of them you could still listen to 10 or 15 times and be like Ďhuh?í but the mood is there and the sentiment gets across. The heart of the matter is there, but how I get there, thatís for the interested listener to figure out. Whenever someone asks me something specific, like Ďthis line, what were you getting at?í then I donít mind talking about it, but when some asks Ďwhatís this song about?í thatís when I get cagey, and I donít know why. But when someone asks me about a specific line, then I instantly think, Ďthis is someone who has listened to this album over and over and is curious about what this meansí and then you canít get me to shut up.

Samuel: Well, I know a lot of writers will explore many different things in one song, are you that way or do you stick with one set of ideas to follow?

Beaver: Thatís a song to song thing, like on this last record...well, the first two records were just a collection of songs written over a long chunk of time and I just picked my 12 best songs on this record and my 10 best on this record. Everything on this new record was written after the record before it, it was all written after I recorded Little Brother. Theyíre all cut from the same cloth. With the new record everything is pretty much about the same thing, just each song approaches it differently. It deal with the concept of time and the disappearance of time, the meaningfulness of it and the meaninglessness of it. Thatís the concept of the record. I wonít say itís a concept album entirely, but it is a record where Jud and I mapped out the order of the songs and what weíre trying to do. We mapped out the order of songs before we had out first rehearsal. We were really going for a mood and a feel on this record.

Samuel: Speaking of time, I read that you actually took time between writing parts of each song, did that help you be more focused on each song or did it drive you nuts waiting to finish it.

Beaver: Both. What I wanted to do...well, people like great love songs when theyíre in the midst of a love struggle or like great whatever songs when they are struggling with whatever. Concepts about time, not to get mystical or anything, because thatís not what I meant, and not to get completely existential about it, because I donít think that way either, but itís the tension between those two extremes that drive this records. And I thought on the actual construction of the song, wouldnít it be interesting on several songs to write two or three lines and willfully put the paper down and say ĎI canít touch this for 3 days,í wait 3 days, write some more, then be like ĎI canít touch it for a weekí and feel the passage of time as I wrote about that subject. Iíve never written like that before, usually Iím like a boiling pot of idea and I keep getting ideas and keep getting ideas then Iíll write a song in like 20 minutes. This time I just took a very, very different approach, on some of them. Some were written in a moment of inspiration or desperation, or whatever you want to call it. Some of them were written in that way, which is an interesting thing, a stretch in my way of writing, to test myself.

Samuel: Do you have any plans coming for the new year?

Beaver: Iím working on a record. I have no idea when I will come out. I have a few tours coming up, then weíll see. Iím going to write songs, I know that.

Samuel Barker is Senior Editor. Contact him at suma@rockzone.com.

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