Andrew Nelson answers the phone, and I can hear the highway. In any other set of circumstances with a new album on the horizon, Great Peacock— which features Nelson, guitarist Blount Floyd, and bassist Frank Keith IV– would already be thousands of miles in and watching their festival tans fade into fall. 2020, of course, is different. COVID-19 has rendered live music and touring nearly impossible, and while many artists are releasing some of the best music of their careers, the inability to perform for the masses is taking its toll. As such, Nelson is in fact back on the road– but hauling fresh meat to restaurants and grocery stores instead of amplifiers to clubs and theatres. While he’s thankful for the work, he’s also keen to get back on stage. But speaking of career-best music… Produced and largely funded by the band, Forever Worse Better finds the Nashville-based outfit wiser than weary and anxious to prove their mettle. The songs on FWB are ambitious, full and melodic, guitar-driven, often rollin’ over rockin’. Great Peacock knocks the corners off and shows what years of dedication to the craft earns.
AI- This experience has to be completely different in so many ways than any record you’ve ever done before– in no small part due to COVID-19 and its effect on musicians. How are things looking in Nashville right now? I’ve spoken to a couple people throughout all of this that have been there and it’s been a huge back and forth with some bars and clubs attempting to open and then others not even wanting to take the shot… Same thing with the artist. How are you guys holdin’ up?
AN- Other than the touring factor, it really hasn’t been that different for us. We’re a band that’s still trying to climb up the mountain of success. We’re nowhere near where we want to be or a well known enough in the nomenclature of rock bands people know about right now. I mean, we’ve done well and we have somewhat of a following– and thanks to stations like you that play us! It hasn’t been that different for us because we aren’t selling out amphitheaters or anything like that. You know what I mean? We’re still tryin’ to get noticed. It was weird though, to try to figure out the timing of when to release [the album].
That was the hardest part because everybody’s playing a guessing game right now. ‘Cause we were thinkin’ originally like August and then September… And then it was October… Everybody’s just tryin’ to play this game where it’s like we’re trying to release it in just enough time to where all of a sudden the vaccine comes out and you can tour again. But a lot of it’s just unknown, man. It’s just the same thing with anybody, you know? Any job, any family, school, college football, whatever. I think everybody just doesn’t know what the hell is going on. And they’re just trying to make the best out of the situation. For us, we hit a point where we’re like, “Well, we gotta release this by this time because it just seems silly not to.”
I don’t know if people are listening to music more or less now? I know video is getting consumed massively, but I would think due to some of the free time people have that maybe they’re listenin’ to more music. But most people listen to music in the car! And I don’t know if people are drivin’ as much as they used to or if they aren’t. In some ways, we thought maybe this would be an advantage to a band our size to get more notice. Maybe there’s more of a captive audience out there? But we don’t know! All we can do is just put the damn thing out and hope for the best! We have more resources this time than we’ve had in the past. We’ve gotten lucky in the sense that we’ve had a small record label, but with a really good investor, that’s a good fan of the band. He’s supported us as soon as he came along and gave us a lot more resources to hopefully have a more successful release this time around than the last one. We’re hopeful! That’s all I can say is that we’re hopeful and we just want people to hear it and like it!
Tell me about the new label. The last time you and I spoke– which was almost a year ago– that was sort of up in the air. You weren’t sure what was going to happen. The album was basically all but in the can. I think you still had some mixing to do and then the mastering, but you did not have a definitive plan as far as releasing the album on a label.
Dude, it’s all about money (laughs)! Your station has been so supportive of us… You know who we are and y’all have a lot of freedom compared to other stations. [But] it takes money to hire somebody to let radio stations know who you are or bug them enough to play you. We needed that. We spent so much money of our own making this album. We spent a lot more than we ever had, as far as studio time, musicians, mixing engineer, mastering engineer… We really spent a lot more and I think it’s great because I think it’s the best sounding album we’ve ever made. Whether people feel the same way about the songs…
I like the songs the most out of any album we’ve ever done too, but I do objectively think it’s the best sounding album. But back to your original question, yeah, it takes money to get known and promoted– and it’s just hard! There’s a lot of noise, there’s a lot of bands, and there’s a lot of people tryin’ to make it. Some are great, some aren’t, some are in the middle, and it’s a lot of noise to cut through. So we needed that.
A really great guy, Jeff Zimmer– he has a small record label out of Fairhope, Alabama– he’s been a fan of the band for a long time and he had the resources with his label to give us… The name of his record label is Baldwin County Public Records, and we got a better deal with Jeff than we would get with any other record label, as far as resources of advanced money and creative control. He just gave us what we needed and said, “Y’all hire the right people that you want to use to promote the album.” And we did! You’re not gonna find that anywhere (laughs)! That’s a rarity! So we’re super grateful and super thankful for that.
With Forever Worse Better, as you have just illustrated, you guys have done a lot of the heavy liftin’ in gettin’ that album ready. You talked about being so thrilled with the songs. Now, if I’m not mistaken, if you didn’t write ’em all, you wrote the majority of these songs while you were driving a truck full of meat?
That’s correct. I’m actually driving right now! I’m on my way to Asheville, North Carolina with a couple o’ hogs and a bunch of other stuff in the back of this thing!
I figured you were!
We ain’t tourin’! I gotta pay the bills (laughs)!
Well, you know, you’re not the only person… A lot of the guys that I’ve been talkin’ to lately, through all of this, they’re right back at work, man! I spoke to Zach Aaron, he’s back puttin’ in septic tanks during the day, and Kalen Nash– he used to be in the band Ponderosa…
Yeah! We played a show with them once. Well, Kalen and his wife. And then obviously, I’m familiar with Ponderosa. Talk about great sounding albums? They had great sounding albums!
I just spoke to Kaylen and his wife, Aslyn, and they just released a new album which sounds fantastic. He was like, “Well, I’m back to work and it’s construction and it’s considered essential. So I’m just thankful that I can go to work.” And I feel that exact same way. Throughout all of this, I’m thankful to go to work. I just happened to be lucky enough to what I do is talk to musicians. Mostly.
Can I trade jobs with you (laughs)?
I’ll drive a truckload o’ meat! Man, I’m good!
Tony Doolin [co-owner and station manager of 100.9 The Creek] probably wants you to drive a truckload of meat to his house!
I’ll bet he does! Dale Watson is famous for writin’ songs while he drives. I think he keeps a little recorder goin’ while he’s doin’ it. Did you do that? Did you work on melody and lyrics, like on your phone or anything while you were drivin’? Or was it just a matter of creating a mantra throughout your day?
It’s so easy! I could not be more thankful for technology and smartphone technology, and quite frankly, mobile, digital audio workstations. Which is basically what GarageBand is on the iPhone. “Child’s version” is not the right word, but it’s one for the everyday person and that is awesome. We have so many advances in digital instruments and being able to get sounds off of your phone that sound like real things. I did it this morning! I was driving and I was working on a new song! If I get a great melody and some ideas and some lyrics or something, there’s the voice memo. That’s the first option.
I use the voice memo to get the idea, and then when I have a chance to stop a minute, I’ll pull up GarageBand and there’s a feature on there where you can put the song key in and fix the chords you want. You open up the piano and then it has the thing where you don’t have to play each note, you automatically play chords on it. If you’ve ever heard of an omnichord, an old instrument you can just play full chords on? I can create melodies over chords and then I record that into the voice memo. Yeah, it’s just constantly. Then you get home and you pick up the guitar or whatever, and you start tryin’ to write a real demo!
Being on the road, it’s like your mind is… You have hours to just be creative. And honestly, listening to other music really makes you more creative. I get so many ideas just by hearing one song. I’ll get like a vibe in my head and that makes me want to do somethin’ else. It makes a big difference, having that free time. I have a much harder time sitting down and forcing myself to do that. I’m a firm believer that there’s something about your mind being sharper because I’m actually doing something while I’m writing. Like I’m driving and my mind is actually sharper than it would be if I was just sittin’ down with a cup of coffee, tryin’ to write,
You’ve said that the album is broken up into two parts.
The first part’s about strugglin’ to be loved. And the second half is about lovin’ yourself. The first half is romantic and the second half is existential. But really what it is, the album as a whole is just about the listener and the person singing… I don’t even like to think of it as me even though I’m the one doin’ it. It’s about you puttin’ yourself in the shoes of the person’s song. The first half is just sort of about romance and the second half is about existence, about being okay with yourself. The album as a whole is very much about ambition. It’s about wanting the most you can have out of your life– which I think is why it was so easy to write and why it came so naturally. I was doin’ a job and workin’. As thankful as I am for this job, it’s not what I wanna do with my life (laughs)!
Everybody understands that. Everybody wants to be their own boss. Everybody wants more. Everybody wants to rise above whatever situation they got in life. And that includes love. And that includes health. Honestly, a lot this album’s about health, you know? How do you stop having bad habits? How do you take care of yourself better? How do you be okay with making the most out of whatever time you have left? ‘Cause there’s not much! It just flies by, man. It like a blink of an eye! And that’s really what the album’s about, saying, “However much more time I have on earth, I’m gonna do whatever I can to make the most out of it. And I get to decide what I want that to be.”
You mentioned that you were writing this morning. One of the things I wanted to know was being in this position that we are all in right now, living through a pandemic, watching multiple industries around the world stop… The music industry, the professional and collegiate realms of sports, everything down to food and services like the mail are being affected. Is that informing the music you’re writin’ now?
You know what? It’s not (laughs)! It’s really not! It’s funny ’cause this album is such a heavy album lyrically. Even though there’s lots of joy on the album, tons of joy, it’s a heavy album. I’m feelin’ more joy… This is a really interesting and weird thing to say, but I started dating somebody on New Year’s Day this year. It’s the happiest I’ve ever been! And aside from the pandemic and all that, I’m just so happy and so in love with this person that I’m seeing. We really officially started seeing each other at the beginning of 2020– literally what most people consider to be the worst year in a long time. That’s really what’s fuelin’ my songwriting, man. I mean, it’s weird! I’ve never written more joyous, happy songs, very easy. It’s always been easier to bitch and complain. And I’m really enjoying the challenge of writin’ stuff that’s happy and about love. Albeit with my sort of fucked-up take on the world where there’s going to be a little bit of melancholy in each happy song!
I have enjoyed the Monday Minute covers that you and Blount [Floyd] have been doin’. I think you need to keep doin’ that. And I also think that when you are able to get back on stage, you guys need to put together like a Buck Owens-style medley of all of the Monday Minute covers that you have done. That’s my suggestion to you.
Oh, I like that! I think, actually, you’re making me want to do one where I can see how many cool songs we can fit in one minute!
Now that’s an idea! Do you guys have anything planned for the album release in October? Are you working up some sort of streaming extravaganza?
A week before the album comes out– I don’t know if I can say when or where yet– we’re gonna at least do one live stream, full band, full concert not attended by anybody, but full production, where we play the whole album from top to bottom. And then, I believe a week after we might have a safe social distancing show lined up. Most people would call me an idiot, but I’m hopin’ a vaccine comes through before then! It’s not outside the realm of possibility and I’d like to see that happen. Everyone would like to see it happen. I’m not sayin’ I believe it will happen, but I’m hopin’ that. ‘Cause I think we’re all incredibly resourceful people and we want to see the world get back on track and I’m saying it’s possible. I don’t buy these things that like the concert industry is dead and all that stuff. I do feel for the venues. ‘Cause I know that tryin’ to pay that mortgage or that lease or keep your employees on staff… The industry as a whole will come back. People will immediately wanna buy tickets to concerts the second you say they safely can. I’m hoping that that’s the case, but again, that’s just hope.
The last time we spoke and you were telling me about the album, you were proud of it then and I can tell that you are obviously extremely proud of it now. But you told me that you felt, with those songs and with the album, that it felt like your last chance. Do you still feel that way?
Commercially? Yeah. I don’t know. I’m already writing the next album. So the question is, “Will I give up or not?” As long as I don’t give up, it’s not my last chance. But I’m approaching 40, man. It’s tough to keep doin’ this without being on a bus and making money. It’s tough to keep doin’ it out of the back of the van. I can’t complain. We’ve had a lot of great stuff happen to us that other bands, people my age haven’t. I’m not at all complaining or ungrateful for it, but yeah, we need a little push, a little magic to happen. I honestly don’t know the answer to that question, but I do know as of now, I haven’t decided to start selling insurance!