Trail Mix – John Mark Nelson

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Minneapolis songwriter John Mark Nelson returns with his fourth record this month.

Just prior to my twenty-second birthday, I had written zero songs.


Now, two decades later, I am rapidly approaching my forty-third birthday and my total number of songs written remains unchanged, still firmly fixed at zero. The title of “prolific songwriter” will never be granted unto me.

The same cannot be said, though, of Minneapolis based troubadour John Mark Nelson.

Nelson, just two months shy of turning twenty-two, last week released I’m Not Afraid, his fourth record.

That is a prodigious amount of recording for such a relatively young guy. While I have yet to delve deeper into his earlier releases, Nelson’s work on I’m Not Afraid sparkles and offers solid evidence supporting the quality of his songcraft. I was immediately struck by the synth pop vibe on “Dream Last Night,” which is featured on this month’s Trail Mix, and the somber, contemplative nature of the title track.

I finished my first listen of this new record wanting more.

I had the good fortune to chat with John Mark Nelson about the new record, working with Trampled By Turtles front man Dave Simonett and his new label, and beard grooming.

BRO – This is your fourth record and you haven’t yet reached your twenty second birthday. You starting to feel like an old hand at this record releasing thing?

JMN – I feel incredibly lucky to be coming down the home stretch on my fourth record. There have been so many people that have encouraged and inspired me along the way, and I never could have done it without their support. Every record feels more like a gift than a reason to be prideful or happy with myself. I just feel really grateful and humble.

BRO – Your new record is the first release on Dave Simonett’s new label. Can you describe the level of camaraderie amongst Minneapolis musicians?

JMN – The Twin Cities have a really fantastic music community. It’s a very nurturing and encouraging scene to get your start in. There are so many people here that I admire and who have been so kind and supportive of what I do. A lot of music communities can be competition based and more hostile. But the Twin Cities have managed to move beyond that and become a really powerful and growing force on the national music scene.

BRO – We are featuring “Dream Last Night” on this month’s Trail Mix. What’s the story behind the song?

JMN – “Dream Last Night” is a song about taking a good look at yourself and realizing that who you thought you were, and who you actually are, are two separate people. The song wrestles with personal failures, expectations that never get realized, and learning to find hope in spite of those things.

BRO – The University of Minnesota once described you as having a beard that would make a hipster boy jealous. That’s high praise. Your best bit of beard grooming advice?

JMN – I don’t really have any specific tricks or secrets. I have heard a lot of people talk about various oils, trimmers, and other tools. Just let it grow, and when it gets gross, trim it. Works every time.

BRO – You titled the new record I’m Not Afraid. Got any childhood fears you want to confess to? The dark? Spiders? Clowns?

JMN – I have always been pretty terrified of the ocean. That was true in childhood and remains true today. You just never know what could be down there.

John Mark Nelson celebrated the release of I’m Not Afraid last week with a release party in his hometown of Minneapolis. This week finds him in Duluth, Minnesota, on Thursday, and in Grand Marais, Minnesota, on Friday for a taping of NPR’s Mountain Stage program.

For more information on tour dates and the new record, please point your browser towards John Mark Nelson’s website.

Also, be sure to check out “Dream Last Night” on this month’s Trail Mix.

Photo by Nick Fay.


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