Freddie Nelson admits he doesn’t like talking about himself.
But the Penn-Trafford High School graduate, who grew up in Penn Borough, says a lot via his debut solo album, “Shake the Cage.” The album blends the vocal harmonies of Electric Light Orchestra, the rock dynamics of Van Halen and the effervescent pop of Cheap Trick, and was recorded in his home studio in Green Tree.
“Shake the Cage” was mixed by Rob Hill of X Music Studios in Los Angeles, mastered by Maz Murad at Metropolis in London, co-engineered by Nelson with Robby Breckinridge, and features drums by Thomas Lang, who has worked with Peter Gabriel, Robert Fripp, Tina Turner and Kelly Clarkson.
Nelson, formerly of the Pittsburgh-based bands Triple X and Too Tall Jones, who spends time in Los Angeles as an in-demand sessions player, has also recorded an album, “United States,” with Greensburg native Paul Gilbert.
Question: The intro to the song “Never Fight Alone” features a snippet from a YouTube recording, with a 1960s preacher intoning “Whatever happened to good music?” Is this a commentary on mass-produced pop music?
Answer: To me it’s a double-edged sword because without the technology I would not have been able to do this album. But there still comes a point where you’re either using the technology as a crutch to make things happen, or if you’re trusting your instincts and trying to get down the wormhole of it. That particular song is my own little personal rebellion against trends that are occurring right now. You can get stuff out there so quick and people don’t put the work into the music, or work on coming up with stunning performances and taking the time to let the songs bake and cook a little bit until they’re done.
Q: What was your recording process like?
A: It took a lot of time because I had to develop the songs myself. I didn’t have a band to develop them. I would have to play each one of these parts 150 to 200 times. I would come up with a guitar riff, lay it down, sit at the drums and play them against the guitar riff. If something happened with the drums I would go back and change the guitar riff. Then I’d throw the bass on and have to change things again. And that doesn’t even take into consideration the vocals.
I also had world-class ears around the house (he’s married to musician Nina Sainato) and I’d play something and hear ambiently “Oh, I love that.”
Q: People might be surprised by how you use melody on “Shake the Cage.”
A: I’ve always been a melody guy. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with playing a zillion notes, and that definitely has its place and there’s a lot of people who do that really well. But I’ve always gravitated toward melody. … I hope people walk away after listening to it humming it or singing it, and that it stays with them.
Q: The intro to “Keep Running” evokes the feel of the Beatles’ “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds.” “Monster in My Room” has a Duran Duran pop quality. You seem to be consciously shunning contemporary trends.
A: The demographic this seems to be hitting and getting the biggest response from is 18- to 25-year-olds (via services such as Spotify). I think you never really want to be in the place where something is happening at a given time. First of all, you have to be true to yourself, true to what you do. If your instinct is to jump on a trend that’s happening at the moment, you’re probably two years behind the eight-ball. If you stay true to yourself, if it’s real, if it’s honest, if it’s good, it will find its mark, find its place.
Q: The song “For Those Who Die” has a touching back story.
A: When I was writing this song my mother (Betty Nelson) was sick and she ultimately passed away. It was kind of a blessing because she was in some pain. My dad (John Nelson) who was unbelievably healthy and played ping pong three or four times a week and jogged, had not been to a doctor in 30 years. He kind of hit the lottery of death: He put his ping pong shoes on, his hat on, sat down and had a cup of coffee and basically went to sleep. It was two weeks after my mother died.
I was writing and had so many emotions floating around I was trying to process. This particular song, I sat there for 45 minutes silently meditating, picked up a pen and wrote the lyrics, picked up a guitar and literally played the thing straight out against the lyrics and had the music structure. I firmly believe that we don’t own any of the stuff that passes through us, we’re the vessels that deliver it. My biggest thing in those moments was trying to find an open door, which I knew had to come from my heart, to get this stuff out.
More information about “Shake the Cage”: freddienelson.com
Submissions are being accepted for the 2017 PennRock Scholarship. Presented by SuperMonkey Recording Co. and Pat DiCesare Productions, the showcase is an opportunity for musicians and bands to earn studio time and record a four-song EP on the SuperMonkey Recording label.
Three qualifying events will precede the final, to be held at the Hard Rock Café, Station Square, on Oct. 7.
The winner will be judged on songwriting, musicianship, live performance, crowd reaction, promotional efforts, and ticket sales. All entrants must play three original songs and a cover of a song by Chris Cornell, Soundgarden, Audioslave or Temple of the Dog.
First prize includes the recording agreement with SuperMonkey Records, studio time, a photo session, 12 cases of Yuengling beer (the sponsor of the PennRock Scholarship) and other items. Deadline for entries is Aug. 15.
Rege Behe is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.