years ago, in the Spring of 2005 mwe3.com reviewed Poor Player,
at the time the new album by Mortimer Nelson. Then in 2011,
the web site reviewed Morts 2010 album Slow Times. Sure
its taken a while but now in 2020, Mort is back with Moving
Parts, another captivating album of solo acoustic guitar
magic. The sound on Morts 2020 CD is consistently challenging,
yet he totally succeeds in keeping the listener fixated on his wondrous
sounding solo acoustic guitar compositions by playing intricate parts
with arrangements that keep moving. Memorable melodies tastefully
collide with Morts masterful acoustic guitar work and the results
are both striking and totally sublime. Much like the fascinating album
cover art, Morts new music moves with clockwork precision, yet,
no matter how many times you listen, the steady pace will keep you
in an endless state of meditative awareness. In Mortimer Nelsons
capable hands, the solo acoustic guitar serves like a modern day classical
guitar instrument and the results make for a beguiling musical experience.
Because Morts approach to recording his guitars are so free
form, some may compare Mort to soundtrack maestro Ry Cooder, especially
as theres a very Americana sound and style to this music. With
a dozen guitar instrumentals that clock in at 56 minutes, Mortimer
Nelson gives the listener a very introspective listening experience
on Moving Parts. bandcamp.com
mwe3.com presents an interview with
Where are you from originally and where do live now and what do you
like best about it? Is music still the international language in your
Mortimer Nelson: Im from Detroit originally and grew
up by the Detroit River. My first travels were virtual, to places
where I imagined the freighters along the river were going to. Ive
been in Seattle most of my life so its home now, though it's
changed considerably, and living the life of a retired transit worker.
I do the tourist thing sometimes but mostly I head out to my cabin
in the hills when I can. As far as the idea of music as the international
language, I wouldnt argue with that but Id add that each
culture has its unique contributions to enrich that language.
mwe3: The world has changed so much since mwe3.com reviewed
your album Poor Player back in 2005 and then in 2011 we featured
Slow Times. What have you been doing since those days? How
do you look back on those two albums and how would you compare those
two with your 2020 album Moving Parts, both musically in the
writing and also in the recording aspects? I also saw your albums
Well and Acoustic Syndrome. Are those more recent?
Nelson: Poor Player (2004) came out of my time on the coffee
house circuit. By the time Well came out in 2007 Id pretty
much abandoned public appearances and focused on writing and recording,
setting up my own studio at home. I did a bit of double tracking on
Well, adding guitars and bass. Acoustic Syndrome was
the album I planned to do next but I got my thumb caught in a window
I was trying to close on a bus I was driving. It takes a year to grow
a new thumbnail so I wound up recording the slower and softer Slow
Times (2010) instead. I did Acoustic Syndrome in 2015.
Moving Parts, the new CD, like Slow Times is a solo
guitar album except for Slipstream, which has a synth
track, but Moving Parts has a different sound than any of the
others because I moved from steel to nylon strings and used a tremolo
effect. The album is available on Bandcamp, at some point I'll move
the other stuff there, at least what I have.
mwe3: Moving Parts captures your ears right away with
the lead off track called In Play. Does that track capture
the spirit and imagination of the new album? There seems to be a fascination
on this album with things that move or things that act like cogs,
which is another title on the Moving Parts album. Did you synchronize
the music to play into that concept of music that moves like a clock
and also is there a kind of theme or inspiration running through the
Moving Parts album?
Mortimer Nelson: I never used a click track before, but I did
a little experimenting and, yes, I used a metronome on Cog.
The fact that it has a strict 5/4 beat, though the timing changes
after the intro, gives it even more of a mechanical feel.
I don't think any one track captures the spirit of the whole album.
Optional Variations also uses a 5/4 figure but has a very
different feel to it. The title track is called Moving Parts
partly because though its a unified piece with a beginning,
middle, and end, its made up of modular chunks that segue into,
loop back, and refer to each other with subtle variations. In
Play, like Rudimentary Rhapsody runs through some
twists and turns so I thought it was a good way to kick things off.
You could say that Reverie, Merging Shadows
and Patulous Corridors are also meant to be moving
in a different, more emotional sense. Shadows and light, play and
reverie, human and machine, interact, and I think the music reflects
mwe3: How long did it take to write and record the new album
and what can you tell us about your studio that you recorded the album
in? How did you record your guitars on the Moving Parts album
and do you use amps or do you record directly into the board?
Nelson: I work sporadically, so once I had the music more or less
nailed down it took several months to get it recorded. I set up a
pair of cardioid condenser Neumann mics in front of the guitar, which,
for Moving Parts, was hooked up to an old Lexicon 100 processor
and a small Ashdown amp set up behind the mics. The mics are run through
a Presonus tube pre amp and an interface into my laptop. I use an
old 2-track version of Sound Forge to edit. Thats the whole
mwe3: You have worked with other players and producers before.
Did you specifically want Moving Parts to be totally you without
any outside production or influences by other players? How did you
self-produce the new album?
Mortimer Nelson: It's always pretty much been me. It's all
about control. I usuallly have a good idea of what I want to do, and
find that it's easier to just do it myself. I self-produce the CDs
online. I send the files out, I get a CD back. Of course, its
not that simple, but its all doable. Its a little more
complicated these days because Ive lost some high frequency
hearing and cant really master my own tracks anymore.
mwe3: Is that your guitar in the Moving Parts album
art and design? There are also images of gears or cogs in the art.
Does the art and album title fit in perfectly with the music? What
guitars are you playing on the Moving Parts album and how has
your choice of guitars changed over the years? Are you still playing
the same guitars on Moving Parts that you featured on your
earlier albums and can you remember your first guitars?
Nelson: Thats the main guitar I used for Moving Parts
on the cover, a factory Taylor 812 ce-N. I took the photo of the headstock
against the wall of my studio on my phone. This is the first album
I did with a nylon string guitar, and now that I have an acoustic
nylon that I can plug in that I like, I may never go back to steel.
I also strung an old Taylor 412-ce with nylon strings and to my surprise
got a nice sound out of it. I used that on a couple of tracks as well.
Ive gone through a lot of guitars, mostly factory built mid-range
Taylor steel string acoustic-electrics that Ive been using for
recording up to now.
Actually my first instrument was piano. When I was a kid Id
spend a few minutes working on my piano lessons and then start improvising.
I guess I made a racket in our small house and ended up getting banned
from the piano. In retaliation I took my sisters guitar, a cheap
_ size Gibson with an adjustable saddle. I still have it. Shed
play Moonlight Sonata on the piano while I worked out
House of the Rising Sun and Martha and the Vandellas
Heat Wave on the guitar. It wasnt exactly the Partridge
Family, but thats how I got started on guitar.
mwe3: Is it easier in 2020 to put your music out there, more
than it was in 2005 or 2011? What do you make of CD Baby stopping
the sale of CDs and what made you switch to bandcamp?
Mortimer Nelson: If CD Baby, or anyone else, could still make
money selling everyones CDs theyd still be doing it. Theyre
not even selling downloads now. If youre an indie musician youre
on your own, and the online landscape is always changing so you have
to adapt. Bandcamp and similar sites at least give you the option
to use their website to sell your music. They take their cut, but
its a far cry from the shameless exploitation of musicians by
the big companies. Its important for people to realize that
if youre not buying from the artist or from a site like Bandcamp,
youre not doing much to support the music or the artist.
What do you make of this 2020 pandemic? Its been so tough on
musicians and those music venues where they perform. Do you have any
forecast or prediction about this period in music history?
Mortimer Nelson: Seattle had a lively coffee house scene until
it dried up almost overnight in the mid 1980s over alleged copyright
violations. Apparently the performing rights orgs hired a guy to go
to the venues and wait for a performer to do a cover
the venue owners told me the guy identified himself as a UW music
professor. Hed then go to the owner and demand a monthly payment
to the PROs. All of a sudden I had no place in town to play.
It can be pretty devastating for musicians to be shut down like that
and lose their audience. For me it was okay in the end. I was about
to get married, had rent to pay, and the demand on solo acoustic guitarists
was for the alt tuning fingerpicking, new agey stuff that was in vogue
then. I wanted to develop as a composer and I could do that on my
own. Just the same, its a challenge for a musician to develop
without an audience.
Depending on how long the pandemic lasts, I would guess youtube will
continue to profit from people staying home, but a lot of struggling
musicians are not going to have an easy time finding an audience online,
much less be able to make a living from it. Others will no doubt find
ways to adapt to the new reality.
mwe3: Much has been said about your musical influences. In
the earlier mwe3.com reviews I mentioned artists such as Stefan Grossman
and even Leo Kottke. Even so, your style is very unique in its own
right. Are those influences accurate in your estimation? What era
of music did you grow up in and did you grow up in the Beatles era.
They were one of the first bands to prominently feature the acoustic
guitar in their music.
Nelson: Its hard to know where to start. Its a cliché
to say that so-and-so came on the scene and changed everything but
in the case of the Beatles it was literally true, so I followed the
Beatles like everyone else at the time. I also followed hard rockers
like Jeff Beck, Hendrix, and Detroit bands like the Stooges and MC5,
but as a guitarist I gravitated to folk-rock of that era: records
from Simon and Garfunkel, Dylan, Donovan, Joni Mitchell, Fairport
Convention, etc. Blood, Sweat and Tears had an album in 1968 that
featured Variations on a Theme by Erik Satie. That was
a revelation to me.
Wormhole, a track on the Poor Player CD is a nod
to Kottke. Another favorite guitarist is Stefan Grossman, who I met
in Seattle in the mid 1970s. He invited me to do some solo recording
on the label he had at the time, Kicking Mule. I resisted because
I was putting my efforts into a group I was in. We recorded what we
thought was a killer demo and sent it off to Italy where Stefan was
staying but it got lost in the mail and we managed to lose the only
other copy. Also around that time I saw a concert by an unknown guitarist,
Pat Metheny, and that was an ear-opener. Thats just a few of
mwe3: Can you list ten albums that inspired you over the years
and also what artists of today do you like and that can be any kind
of music and also some guitarists your feel have broken ground over
the past 15 years...?
Mortimer Nelson: Theres been an explosion of so much
young talent that I really cant keep up enough to comment on
more recent developments on guitar. The techniques and technologies
that guitarists use these days are amazing. Of course at the end of
the day you still have to make music out of it.
So heres a random sample of albums that inspire me, in no particular
1 The Essential Chet Atkins
2 Bill Evans, You Must Believe In Spring
3 Latin American Music for Two Guitars, Sergio and Odair Assad
4 Blue Bell Knoll, Cocteau Twins
5 Le Secret Des Muses by Nicolas Vallet, Eugene Ferre lute
6 The Guitarist John Williams
7 John Fahey, Return Of The Repressed
8 Sunken Condos, Donald Fagan
9 Duke Ellington, The Pianist
10 Jerry Byrd, Steel Guitar Favorites
So with the 2020 release of Moving Parts, what other plans
do you have for this year?
Mortimer Nelson: Im working on material for another CD,
but who knows what the future holds? Its always a surprise...