A South Bay Musician Lands the Opportunity to Record His Album in Nashville. Just Don’t Make Big Deal About It, Ok?
Let it be.
- Posted onFebruary 10, 2020
- Written byJared Sayers
- Photographed byBen Meek
Someone once told me that the players who average the most home runs in a season also lead the league in strikeouts. Ponder that for a second. If you lead the league in hitting a 90+ mph fastball 325 feet, doesn’t that translate to overall good ball contact? Not necessarily. Those who swing the bat the hardest also miss the hardest.
Jeff Nelson is a contractor. His presence is large—one of those if-you-know-you-know type of individuals who always makes you feel better when you’ve been around them. I envy those people.
He is a family man who purchased and remodeled his grandfather’s home in San Pedro, where he currently resides with his wife and four children. He leads a humble life: coffee, family, building homes and good bourbon. That’s it.
But don’t mistake simple for slow. Life is full for Jeff. His family of five ensures there are no flat-footed moments. There are diapers to change, dishes to do, laundry to fold and bedtime stories to read. There is also a business to run: homes to build, clients to please, subs to pay and invoices to process. Jeff is in the arena—fighting the good fight—and a cold, timid soul he certainly is not.
Once the phone stops ringing and the family begins to drift off for the evening, Jeff quietly slips out the back door and heads to the garage. Flip on the light, and you’ll see tools neatly on display, surfboards hung in the rafters, a beer fridge in one corner and a record player in the other. With the smell of sawdust permeating the room, it is seemingly the ultimate man cave.
But Jeff’s man cave is not for ordering chicken wings, drinking a twelver and watching the big game while wearing sweatpants in his favorite team’s color. It’s a different kind of man cave.
On the workbench is a notebook. With a coat of dust on it, one could easily assume it’s nothing. Next to the notebook is a recording microphone. And next to the microphone is one of the most beautiful guitar displays you will ever set your eyes on. Each serves its own purpose. Some are tuned to a different key; some have six strings and some 12; some are in mint condition, and some look like Willie’s Trigger.
This is where Jeff goes every evening, putting his thoughts in his notebook and picking his guitars—giving a voice to the melodies that are already inside. A raw, creative outpouring that flows through his fingers.
Western conventional wisdom would say, “Make something so it can be commoditized, distributed, in hopes of creating consumer demand, and thus financial gain will be reaped.” The make-something-to-get-something approach. And to that approach I say, “More power to you.”
However, Jeff’s songwriting takes a more post-conventional approach: “Create something simply because something needs to be created, with the only gain being the actual creative process itself.” And once complete, it must be shared for the simple reason that it can be. Relinquishing creative control to let it become whatever it was meant to be.
Now do not mistake this post-conventional approach for the easier alternative to songwriting. Quite the contrary. It still demands the same quality and effort of someone who is driving for commodification: countless hours, multiple revisions with rigorous refinement yet shelving any expectations.
It’s an odd interplay of worlds, but I don’t know anyone better at this approach than Jeff. Jeff is swinging the bat, completely impervious to a potential strikeout.
“Jeff’s man cave is not for ordering
chicken wings, drinking a twelver and watching the big game while wearing sweatpants in his favorite team’s color.
It’s a different kind of man cave.”
After months of sneaking out to the garage at night, Jeff was picked up by a label that wanted to fly him to Nashville to record some of his most recent tracks. How a label found Jeff—when Jeff was not trying to find a label—is something I can’t quite explain. But I do know the universe has a funny way of conspiring in your favor when you take the post-conventional creative process.
In Nashville, Jeff was a long way from the garage back at home. Instead of contractors’ tools hung on the wall, there were cables, headphones, amps and microphones. Tools nonetheless, but these served a different purpose. The surfboards on display at home were replaced in Nashville by framed records. The workbench by a soundboard. Jeff had entered the music-making mother ship and was once again ready to swing for the fences.
The three days in Nashville consisted of early-to-rise, heavy studio time, track-lay after track-lay, coupled with long, bourbon-infused evenings. Rest was not a part of this equation, and Jeff drank deeply from what Nashville was able to provide.
Only after he returned to the South Bay and I asked too many overly inquisitive questions did I hear names like Chris Stapleton and Sturgill Simpson, who both recorded in the same studio Jeff had just visited. What?! That’s kind of a big deal, right? How did that get overlooked?
Certainly this means Jeff is on the brink of some sort of musical “breakthrough,” and we need to really think about how to leverage this for … Wait. No. Just make the music. Nothing else matters.
I so easily slip into this opportunistic mindset of breaking down ways Jeff and all of us are able to benefit from our scenarios. It’s an exciting tension for me, but Jeff seems ambivalent. He’s been down this road before. High expectations met with the white-knuckled grip, convincing himself of the scarcity of the opportunity in front of him. Turns out, that leaves you exhausted and is often followed by a strikeout.
But does that mean you resign from what you love? For many it does. Jeff, on the other hand, is now stepping up to the plate clear. Well-intentioned. In full recognition of his ability to rip the cover off the ball but completely aware that homerun hitters also have strikeouts and plenty of them.
Have we lost this mindset? The creating-something-because-we-can mentality. The proverbial swinging of the bat. Do we find joy in that process, as opposed to the reactionary mad dash to get it up and out the door—only to expect something in return?
To a degree, I think we have. Jeff’s new album Hypebeast counteracts that commoditized rush. It’s pure artistry that is not on Facebook. And if you think for a second that Jeff has an Instagram account, think again. There is no brand in place, and no immediate distribution strategies have been discussed.
For someone like me, at a glance it can seem frustrating. But it is also the very thing that draws me even closer to the music. I can hear the hum of the beer fridge and the smell of the sawdust in the music. It adds a layer of depth amongst a very noisy, topical time in humanity.
People don’t always want the expedited click of a button to get what they want. Sometimes we want a process of discovery and a higher level of intention. Context. Essence. Subtle bass notes. To go a few layers deeper and take more time. And that is exactly what Jeff has done with this new album. Home run. Bravo!
All this has happened amidst caring for and building a family. Home run. While owning and running a business. Home run. Being a son, friend, husband, etc. Home run, home run, home run.
So go find a copy of Jeff’s new album, Hypebeast, where all major record labels are not sold. Or don’t. But if you do stumble on it by chance, listen carefully for the hum of the beer fridge.