The Austin-based folk-rock band Okkervil River, revered by indie rock fans, released a new album this week and will be in Madison this weekend to play songs from it. The show will be a homecoming for drummer Travis Nelson, who lived here from 1993 to 1999. I spoke with Nelson by telephone last week.
Were you born in Wisconsin?
My family moved to Waukesha when I was 7 years old, and I went to high school there. I moved to Madison in 1993 to attend the UW. I started in computer engineering, and then I got the whole idea to become an elementary education teacher. Then I just decided that I wanted to do something different, so I dropped out to pursue music.
What local bands did you play in during your years in Madison?
I was in [a pop punk band] called the Coolhand Band that my brother Troy started. I joined them when I moved to Madison. Coolhand Band got the ultimate shaft from an Elektra Records A&R guy, who told us we'd have a big hit single. That never happened.
Another Madison band I was in for about six months before I moved to Austin was Heavy Balls & the Flipoffs. They were meant to be a joke band. The guys in that band lived in a house at 10 South Bassett. We played shows in the basement there.
I was always amazed by the amount of live music in Madison, but it seemed like none of the bands wanted to tour. It seemed like they were content to be Madison bands.
Did you collaborate with any other Madison musicians at that time?
Pete Kaesberg has been a longtime friend of mine. He works at B-Side Records. He was my drumming mentor when I first came to Madison. I was 18 and he was 30, and I remember thinking, how cool that this old guy is into drumming. I'm 32 now.
What else do you remember about living here?
I had a lot of different jobs. I was a doorman at O'Cayz Corral. I worked at Pizza Extreme on East Washington, and then at the Glass Nickel. I also worked at the printing press above Club de Wash (in the former Hotel Washington building). They say it was a cigarette that burned down the Hotel Washington. Knowing the guys that I worked with, it must have been a marijuana cigarette.
Barrymore Theatre, Sunday, Sept. 14, 8 pm