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Sound Circuit

The accidental life of Nate Nelson


Nate Nelson performs at The GrapeVine on Sunday, Jan 5. Photo by S. Talkovich

Nate Nelson performs at The GrapeVine on Sunday, Jan 5. Photo by S. Talkovich

“Everything that’s happened so far has happened by accident,” Nate Nelson said while talking about his brief time playing music.

The 38-year-old Nelson is proof positive that it’s never too late, or the wrong time, to follow your passions. Blessed with boundless energy and an infectious smile, Nelson has spent a number of years around live music, following the efforts of a number of friends. But it wasn’t until he was living in Texas and a chance encounter with the band Truth and Salvage Co. that he started learning how to sing.

“Truth and Salvage Co. is just some feel-good, five-part harmony. I liked the way they made me feel, and (I started) singing their songs,” he explained.

After moving back to Iowa, Nelson fell in with a crowd of local musicians and started going to more shows, taking pictures and just being around the stage. Eventually, as musicians are wont to do, some started asking if he wanted to sit in.

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“I’ve got a friend of mine who performs around town, and she asked me to sing with her one day. So we did that, and it turned into a kind of regular thing; every time I’d come up, we’d get together and sing.”

Nelson might have wound up being content as a guy who had friends in music, saw a lot of music live and occasionally sang with his buddies. But then, another twist of chance:

“My in-laws had gotten me a $100 gift card to Best Buy,” he recalled. “I happened to be walking around there one day, and they had those cheap, Gibson Maestro guitars in the box for $100. So I bought it, taught myself how to play one song, and from there learned other songs that had the same chords.”

He’s completely self-taught.

“Smartphone apps and YouTube videos have been a blessing,” he admitted. “The more I learned, the easier it got. Then I started whistling while I was playing, which eventually turned into words.”

So now, officially a musician, Nelson is playing with friends and perfecting a small set of covers. Which, again, he might have been perfectly happy with. But then…

“A good friend of mine was packing up to move to Alaska. This was in March,” he said. “Their house had already sold, but they weren’t moving until July, so they had four or five months to sit there and freak out about it. Me being the levelheaded one, I said, ‘Well it sounds like everything’s done. You’ve sold the house, you’re going to a good situation up there, so it sounds like it’s too late to stay now.’

“I thought, ‘You know, it would be really cool if I could write a song for him before they left.’ He’s a big guy, but emotional, so I thought it would be great if I could send him off in tears. So I just kind of wrote some lyrics down, and after three or four days I thought up three or four chords to go along with it and out came the song. Collectively it probably took 20 minutes.”

From lover of music, to singer, to musician, to songwriter. Every step of the way Nelson has preferred to let the chips fall where they may. It’s an outlook befitting of a man who engages and makes friends as easily as he does. Everything about Nelson speaks to a man who leads an unfettered life.

“Everything’s pretty much come by accident,” he shrugged. Then, he added with a smile, “and I’m trying to keep it that way.” CV

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