Freddie Nelson, sometime Paul Gilbert collaborator, offers up the first single from debut solo album Shake the Cage and reflects on its various points of inspiration.
Freddie Nelson’s solo debut Shake the Cage will see the light of day on 7 July, and we are premiering the official video for the track “Hey Doll” today.
Based in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Nelson teamed up with Mr. Big’s Paul Gilbert in 2010 for the United States record and Nelson contributed to Gilbert’s 2016 effort I Can Destroy. For his record, Nelson opted to make an album that shined the spotlight on his talents as a writer, arranger, producer and multi-instrumentalist. Relying on only one outside player, drummer Thomas Lang (Robert Fripp, Tina Turner), Nelson delivers a collection of songs that display incredible emotional range and depth.
Shake the Cage isn’t just a testament to Nelson’s skills as a writer and performer, it also speaks to his sense of perseverance, whether the loss of his parents or a vocal fold hemorrhage he suffered on the eve of a tour or his lifelong dedication to music.
Though some of the material may have been inspired by weighty events in his life, Nelson points out that there’s still plenty of levity in the new material, including “Hey Doll". “I wish that I had some type of deeper, underlying mean for the song,” he says. “But I had a good chorus and a good hook. It was inspired, I guess, by every woman I ever tried to pick up. It’s really just a feel good tune.”
The video itself was shot in Nelson’s home by a friend. The concept was simple: Give the musician the stage and let him continue with the notion of a one-man band. Edited by the guitarist/vocalist and his wife, the clip exhibits the passion Nelson pours into both his writing and performance.
There’s an Anglophile sensibility lurking in the track’s harmonic structure, recalling the Beatles and Queen, while demonstrating Nelson’s knack for crafting hooks and blazing on the guitar. Above all, Nelson makes the work of writing and performing sound effortless across the tune’s three minutes and 33 seconds, a passage of time that ultimately seems too short. There’s more of all this across the LP, including “Light” and “Let You Go". In the end, Nelson’s songs are tailor made for an audience that can’t help but sing along and feel lifted by the music they hear.
Shake the Cage is out 7 June and may be preordered now.
You went through a number of personal changes through the process of making this record, including the loss of both your parents. Was their loss something you’d been bracing for?
My mother was ill for a bit. It was kind of a long process. She’d been in a lot of pain so in some ways it was a blessing. My father was in perfect health. He exercised every day; he played ping-pong three or four times a week. He hit the lottery of death if you want to look at it like that. He was going to play ping-pong at my brother’s house; he poured a cup of coffee, put his hat on, sat down in his favorite chair and basically went to sleep. It was two weeks after my mother had passed. I’m an energy guy and I believe that there’s a deeper bond and deeper connection that had been there for 60 years or more.
Were they big supporters of your interest in music?
Absolutely, from early on. My dad was a big classical guy he loved the great composers: Chopin, Liszt, Sibelius. He would prompt me into trading music with him. He would play me a half hour of classical and I’d play him rock ‘n’ roll. I didn’t appreciate it at the time but later on I realized that it was huge for him to expose that to me when I was pretty young.
You also experienced vocal problems during this time.
I wound up with a hemorrhage on a vocal fold. For anybody who uses their voice to make a living, it’s one of the scariest moments you can have. One second it’s there and the next second you can’t speak. I rested a lot but I had to go on tour in six weeks. I’d never had any formal vocal training, I’d always worked around a lot of great singers and picked up things over the years. My wife knows a woman, Kim Steinhauer, who’s a president of Estill Voice International. They use a system that looks at the anatomy of the throat and shows people exactly how they’re singing so they’re not guessing when they take their voice into certain spots. I worked with Kim for about three weeks and was 100 percent by the time I had to go back on tour. I was really fortunate to have her in my life.
Where did guitar first come into your life?
From a very early age, four, five, six years old, I knew I would be a musician. I was driven really early on. I come from a family of six boys but I came about seven years later. So I was exposed to some great rock ‘n’ roll early, early on. My brother, who was my number one influence, was a bass player in a rock band. I idolized him, thought it was cool. I was already playing at that time and I’d go watch him. It was great. I never said that I wanted to be a rock star but I did say that I wanted to be a professional musician.
Knowing that difference is important and there’s a certain discipline that goes along with learning how to live in that way, not necessarily having a lot of money but having a life that’s filled with art.
Lately, I’ve tried to be a more aligned human being and I’ve been trying to simplify more than gain. As I’ve done that I think more things have opened up to me. I think that early on, as a musician, you’re forced into living a simple life. You might not have multiple TVs in your apartment. You might not have multiple rooms.
So, with all the stuff going on in your life were you determined to make a certain kind of record, from an emotional perspective?
I’m always writing, the gears are always turning. I knew that I wanted to get this record out this year. It just so happened that there were a lot of experiences and emotions that I was able to draw from.
You did almost everything on this record yourself. Do you take a pretty direct line from start to finish or do you find yourself tinkering with ideas for a long period?
Some things have to cook a bit. But “For Those Who Die” came right out, directly from my parents’ passing. I sat in the studio a few days after everything was done, trying to make sense of my emotions. I wrote the lyrics out without a scratch mark, picked up my guitar, laid the main riff down and probably had the main tune done within an hour.
Your songs are notable for their hooks, that’s not an art that everyone’s acquainted with.
I’m a melody guy. Great, fast guitar playing, killer drums that can be fantastic but I’ve always thought if you listen to a tune you should walk away humming something, whether the lyrics or the guitar solo. It’s gotta move you in some way.