The Artful, Animated World of Scott Nelson, Front Man for Flatland Harmony Experiment
I first met Scott Nelson in 2012 at the 2nd John Hartford Memorial Festival. He was performing with his fellow band members, Johnny Plott and Kris Potts, aka Flatland Harmony Experiment. I heard them before I saw them. I was blown away with their music, songwriting and those ethereal harmonies. Seven years later, FHE and myself and many, many more, are still a presence at the John Hartford Memorial Festival. This event has an effect like that. Shortly after that 2nd festival, I wrote a review and referred to the fest as the “Most Laid Back Festival in America”. Several music eZines picked that article up and most notably, the Grateful Web. That phrase stuck and it is now our motto. It is true. One leaves the festival with this easy groove that stays with you. It sure stayed with me to the point that I am now a staff member, helping out in several key areas. So is Scott Nelson. While Scott Nelson and FHE has been booked at each fest since that second year, and folks continue to rate them highly, Scott has joined the staff as Band Contest Coordinator, helping design and administer the contest. Scott also manages the Hippie Hill Stage and runs the sound there.
When I attend a festival, I spend a lot of time observing festy folk, artists and musicians. I love to people watch. Scott was interesting from the start. Scott, born in 1969 in South Milwaukee, WI, grew up in Wisconsin and currently resides in Noblesville, IN with his lovely wife of 20 years, Lynn and two kids, Kearns (18) Marin (14).
Scott graduated with a double major of Global Marketing and Spanish from Clemson University.
Scott’s work life is divided between FHE, his visual art and working as an instructional assistant and substitute teacher. Scott’s album cover and poster art is in my opinion, far out funky reminiscent of art deco. Scott Nelson is one multi-talented, all around good guy! Scott is currently working on a stop motion video to his award winning song “Joanne Revisited”, which took 3rd place in our 2017 Songwriter’s Challenge. Click here to hear Scott’s song and the top ten songs from that contest. www.johnhartfordmemfest.com/2017-songwriter-s-challenge
Get to know Scott Nelson in the following interview and be sure to meet him at JHMF9!
Do you come from a music/art background? I do. My father is an accomplished pianist, singer and trombone player who is still actively performing at 80yrs. His father was an opera singer and accomplished violinist. I also have visual artists from my mother’s family
Who was your earliest music and art influences? When I was young I performed professionally in the Florentine Opera Company children’s chorus in Milwaukee. From there I never stopped singing. I received training and was actively involved in choral ensemble from a child performer through high school. In college I picked up the bass to give me a vehicle to perform in bands. I have performed in bands ever since.
At what point in your life did you decide that music and art would be your life? I left a professional sales and management career 10 years ago and have been primarily making art whenever I can ever since.
Scott you are quite a songwriter. Do you write most of the band’s songs? I would say I am the primary lyricist and bring a lot of the core ideas to the table. I also have many compositions to my sole credit. While I mention this, I must credit the band many times for bringing a final product to the table. I work hard to stay open to editorial suggestion from the band and we work together to bring many ideas to a final state. I feel like FHE’s best songs are collaboratively written and arranged
How do you get started on a composition, lyric first, melody first, both, either? Everything you said. Sometimes it’s a lyric. I keep a lyric stem idea journal for those unique and interesting sayings or thoughts that many of us have in our heads or in conversation. I try to write them down when I can for future expansion. It could also be a story that inspires me to tell it. However, I really think my best work comes from hearing melody first and working out chords and lyrics later.
Is creativity instant with you? I don’t wait for the muse. I create and accept that a large percentage of my work may not see the light of day. It’s more of a question of making time for creation.
Do you mull over projects and come back to them later, I guess with the previous question, what is your process? If it’s my sole creation I generally work it start to finish and may make some small adjustments later. If it’s a co-write, I will bring an idea to the table and we will collectively refine it.
What is your is your earliest memory of John Hartford? I had covered a few of his tunes when I first started to play string band music in 2000. My real introduction came at JHMF1. I was hired by Dan Bent to run for the Hippy Hill Stage and dove in deep.
About puppets, last year you brought a Hartford head and now you are doing a full song length stop motion video. What led you down the puppet road? The giant puppet head came from me seeing a post on the JHMF group page of a picture of a Del McCoury giant puppet head. I saw that and said to myself, I can do that. The puppet song video idea came about from a FHE marketing strategy to expose more people to our music that is about to be released. We would like to make videos to support the tracks. Joanne Revisited has been remixed and remastered for this release.
So the banjo that John made, given to you by Jeff Mankins, inspired you to build the story around your song. Nope...but I did base the scale of the puppet characters on it so that it could be used as a prop in the video.
Tell me about the construction of this project. I made front and side view puppets to represent Joanne, Norman, and John. Those will be the only featured puppets. Noted exception...in the first scene I am piloting the Steam Powered airplane.
-For materials I am using various backing boards. The small scenes are on foam board and the large scenes are on mat board. The puppets and scenes are decorated in colored construction paper attached with glue sticks. The curtains in the stage scene are faux velvet. They were hot glued to the mat backing board. In the “Steamboat” scene I water colored the sky background with watercolor paints to show a sunrise/sunset.
-My stop motion process is to use a digital video camera rigged to my basement ceiling. I pose figures in scenes and take photos using a remote. I then pull the memory card and upload the images into iMovie for editing.
-Each scene has 200-300 pictures and there will be 23 planned scenes
-At the time of this interview, I’m about 1/4 of the way through shooting and editing but there has been a ton of set up work and trial and error getting to this point. I feel like I’ve got the process hammered out and the project should move forward at a good rate.
I remember your song well, and at the time, I wondered where you got your story. The only mention I have is from “Blame It on Joann”, from Steam Powered Aero-takes. What is the story behind the song? The song was based on a true story told to me at the 2012 IBMA in Nashville TN. I took a few volunteer shifts to gain access to the professional conference. One of my shifts was doing instrument check in for the artists visiting the conference. My partner in this volunteer shift was a middle aged woman. She heard me playing JH music on my laptop and told me she had a story about John. She told me that she lived in an apartment below Norman Blake in the early 1970’s in Nashville. At that time John would sometimes crash at his place after a night out on the town. Occasionally Norman wouldn’t be home and John would crash at her place. I would love to think that hers was the couch that John Mentions stashing his sleeping bag behind in “Gentle on my Mind”. note...Her real name wasn’t Joanne. I just borrowed that from “Blame it on Joann.”
I do not want to release a spoiler, so can you tell me what folks should expect from this project? At this point I am making a stop motion music video that supports the story of the song.
I would love to see this played in some form at JHMF 9. Do you have a plan? Not at this point but I’d be open to it for sure.
FHE, you all have been together how long? What is happening with the band? We’ve been at it for since 2011. We’ve played over 1400 shows all around the country. We are about to release our 8th studio release “Lying Down Looking Up”. We have agency support and are actively touring.
You also head up the band contest, as well as producing the mighty fine sound on Hippie Hill. What do you think about the contest? I’m thankful to be involved in a professional level contest that brings some of the best new talent to the festival. It also gives new and young bands an amazing opportunity to share their art with a larger audience.
What advice do you have for beginning musicians, songwriters and artists? If you have no other choice but to do art, do art. If you can’t see yourself doing anything else, do art. If you are willing to sacrifice, do art. If reason leaves you while you do it, do art.