Six years after Cloud Room, Glass Room, American musician Mark Nelson announced his return with the project Pan American. A Son is out in two days, on November 8th via Kranky Records. According to the press release, Motivated by notions of “moving backward” and tracing roots – as well as a couple years of hammered dulcimer lessons – the album’s nine songs were written and recorded in his home in Evanston, Illinois, and honed during a recent solo tour in Europe.
The emphasis on uncluttered arrangements and the centrality of the guitar and vocals reveal these songs as the most direct and emotional statement of his career. Nelson cites everything from June Tabor, The Carter Family, Suicide and Jimmy Reed as oblique inspirations, though his truest muse was creative self-inquiry: “What does music do, Where does music start? How simple can it be? How honest can it be?”
We had a nice talk with him about the new album, the artwork, live shows and much more. Check it below after the streaming of the new track “Brewthru“.
Let’s Start from your new album “A Son”. What about the idea, the inspiration and the creative process of the album?
This record started with the idea to just speak as clearly as I could. It’s a bit of a return to music that was written to be played live. I’ve moved backwards to wanting my music to leave the digital world and come back to its source. For the most part I can play these songs on acoustic guitar if I want. It might be boring, but I could do it!
It is the first Pan American record where you played/sang/recorded everything, right? How was this experience compared to previous works?
In the very beginning of Pan American, I looked at it as a way to do things that I couldn’t do in Labradford-collaborate with different people was a big part of that. So playing with other musicians has always been pretty important for me with Pan American. But now, I’m the only one left. One interesting part of this is that I have learned I really like playing live alone. I hope to play in a band again, but for now this works and there’s a lot to explore.
The album’s nine songs were written and recorded in his home in Evanston, Illinois, and honed during a recent solo tour in Europe. I’m very interested to the connection between the places we live over the years, the territorial geography of our roots and the art. How do you feel these themes connected to your music, your way to think of music?
Well, it’s less a question of geography, more a sense of home. This was recorded and written in a house with children and people working multiple jobs and cooking and arguing etc. So it connects in a sense with the question of where are we from? The idea (and ideal) of home is central to this record.
How did you choose the artwork of the album?
I make these little constructions in our house-the cover here is a brick I found at the beach in Evanston-we’re on Lake Michigan, some toy animals and a birds nest that my mother brought to me one of the last times she visited here. So it’s layered with personal meaning but I think also just a simple idea-being a witness to and sometimes protecting the nest. I took the photos and My dear friend Craig Mccaffery did the design and layout.
What is your way to give new shape to the sound and what is your idea of experimentation in art?
I try to work on instinct for the most part. But also I really like boring technical practice on guitar-scales, learning songs etc. For me experimentation comes when I’ve found something the perfect distance beyond my technical abilities. (I find a version of this place 20,000 times a day of course)
There will be a tour to introduce the new album? What kind of live shows we can expect from you?
Yes, looking like a tour in Europe in April-hopefully dates in the US before then. Or after. We’ll see.
Ritual question. What are the best releases you recently appreciated?
Two of the top of my head-Alison Cotton “behind the spiderweb gate” on Longform editions she has an ep out too-but I haven’t had a chance to hear it yet.
Also I love M. Grig record “Mount Carmel” on 12K