jeffrey phillip nelson - the MFOA interview

MFOA doesn't do a lot of interviews, but when jeffrey phillip nelson got in touch with me and i heard his tunes, i knew i had come across a fellow traveller. i thought i would have a conversation with him, and post it here.

MFOA- what's your recording setup like? do the "limitations" of recording by yourself with a home studio setup on a self funded budget shape your artistic output? do you enjoy "working with what you have" and teasing the best product out of a minimal setup? do these limitations push you to new discoveries, or leave you frustrated?

JPN- my recording setup currently is crazy. some would call it crazy stupid and some would call it genius. i have a fender passport 500 portable PA with 8 inputs which i connect to my macbook pro via an 1/8 inch male to male cable. i connect the fender's headphone output which has a line level to the computers 1/8 inch mic input. i run all of the signal into logic pro with channel inserts applied so that monitoring the performance sounds like magic. i record in my apartment in redondo beach which is practically next to the busiest highway, so i pad the windows with pillows to illuminate the vocals, guitars, or whatever is being taped. recording on such an oddly rigged setup inspires me, i try to think of the dylan basement tapes or the recordings of daniel johnston and remember that moments can be captured anywhere and anyhow. i put most of my time into writing lyrics and melodies and the least amount of time recording and mixing. i've heard to many perfectly mixed and recorded songs that either bore me to death or have no substance. i truly believe that the good songs will prevail over any recording done. can you imagine hearing the first time brian wilson wrote and sang the words "god only knows what i'd be without you." i would have been sold before his perfect production on "pet sounds". the only time i grow frustrated with my own recording setup occurs when i feel alone recording sad songs. there is something super difficult about delivering the truth of a song while also working behind the screen starting and stoping recordings. i usually have to imbibe a few cocktails before sad songs are recorded so the engineer side and artist side don't mix. the fun thing about being my own engineer is each following album gets an influx of new gear because of the money from the previous record. it makes me feel like as soon as i'm 10 albums deep, i will have such a killer setup that i may start recording other aspiring songwriters.

MFOA- on the "this riders song" record, I notice a lot of gospel influence, both sonically and thematically, and in other recordings you have done gospel songs, such as "amazing grace". is faith a big part of your life, or are you simply inspired by this musical tradition, or both?

JPN- faith is the largest part of my life, more important than any single piece of my story. i believe that a creator created me and the music and melodies that come out of my person. a good gospel song often moves me to tears because of its lyrical content and delicious melody. for instance, the lyric, "i once was lost but now I'm found, was blind but now i see". just typing it wells my eyes. i recognize how great of a wretch I am hourly and I find rest in mercy. a lot of my songs speak of this, a broken person trying his best, failing and succeeding equally.

MFOA- i also notice a lot of influence in your songwriting from the secular side of american roots music. how have the traditions of american folk music affected your development as a songwriter? what are some traditional tunes that speak to you? do you see yourself as "another link in this chain"?

JPN- to be honest, i really hope to see myself as a link on the chain of the folk canon, but there are so many greats and great musicians currently writing that i would be affirmed just to be considered a copier of the greats. most of the music i listen to is secular, the well is larger and the content feels authentic. a few of my greatest influencers are harry nilsson, m ward, and pete seeger. seeger would probably be considered the only traditional out of this set, but the greatest also. seeger believed in people singing together, simple over complicated, and rich content over perfection. my favorite song by him is "waist deep in the big muddy". when i listen to it, i hear the angry cries of man to be wiser. pete's seeger's music, although very different than mine, taught me to write simple and profound. never hold back ideas because of the limitations of vocab. another great traditional song that will forever inspire me is "michael row the boat ashore".

MFOA- what is your ultimate goal in devoting your time, emotions, money and energy to producing music under your own steam? what would be the ideal fate, to you, of your recordings?

JPN- the ultimate goal of everything i have done thus far is to relieve the musically creative steam that has been inside of me the last ten years. music does not make me money but it keeps me from going crazy. i offer it free on my website so that i don't just sit on it hoping for some financial benefit. the greatest goal i have set for myself in music is to be the songwriter for people that really know how to sing and perform. the person i wish to be most like is harry nilsson. he rarely if ever performed, he wrote amazing songs, and most of the songs he wrote became more famous from others. i want to be just like this. i want my name to be in the small asterisks on the credits page of the back of the liner notes. i want to be a songwriter that puts new ideas and stories into the mouths of the great performers. to me...this is success at its finest, here's to hoping.

there aren't too many better ways to win me over than to talk about harry nilsson. find out more about jeffrey phillip nelson here. listen below to the lead track from his latest record, "this rider's song".


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