Searching for just the right words.
Jeremiah Nelson is forever revising his work. It's one reason the local folk artist is such a strong songwriter. But at some point, the meticulous tune-whittling must stop. This was the case with his new EP, Whittier.
I had been working on a bunch of things at once and was perpetually sitting around with a bunch of works in progress," he says. I thought it made sense to assemble a little EP and start doing some shows rather than to continue to revise for months."
At first Nelson was concerned that Whittier might be seen as unfocused since it contains such a wide range of sounds. But he concluded that the EP is a good cross-section of his most recent material, and that making it was a valuable learning experience. It shows a musician in motion, traveling the country as he explores new musical and lyrical territory with his songs.
Whittier draws its title from a neighborhood in Minneapolis where Nelson spent some time. He recorded it at studios in both Minnesota and Wisconsin, and he handled much of the editing and mixing on his own. A few of its tracks reflect Nelson's life. Dog" is about a constant source of companionship: the lab mix he's had for 13 years. Other songs explore problems -- and solutions " he's encountered. For instance, Truckers in Drag" references the time he got stranded in Missoula, Mont., and had to sell quite a few of his belongings to return home.
Though Nelson is known for lyric-driven songs like the ones on 2011's Drugs to Make You Sober, finding the right words is one of his biggest challenges in turning experiences into music. Nelson sees wordsmithing as a type of craftsmanship: Its difficulty is part of its charm. Instruments can feel less complicated, and Nelson plays quite a few, including guitar and drums.
I've been drawn more toward instrumental stuff lately because I find it's much less about the craft and assembly, and more about the interesting stuff that happens in the moment," he says.
Nelson says creating the elements that hold Whittier together, such as sequencing and between-song instrumentals, was comparatively easy. He suspects this is because he noticed the importance of smooth transitions when producing Dietrich Gosser's 2013 release, Oh to Begin!
For the most part, Nelson composed with the aim of finding material he enjoys playing live.
It had been a while since I had been playing much, so I wanted to write songs I felt could translate to playing with a band or solo," he says.
He also tried to explore themes that would resonate with listeners. While he's not afraid to get abstract, his lyrics are seldom cryptic.
I think it's good to leave some room for interpretation. A song may mean one thing to me, but someone else listening might hear it completely differently, and I think that's really the whole point," Nelson says. What the song is actually trying to say often reveals itself at the end."