NELO–named for a strategy in the card game Spades where one loses every hand in order to win big in the end–is led by the team of childhood friends primary songwriter and rhythm guitarist Matt Ragland and lead singer Reid Umstattd. The name of the band draws likeness between the strategy in the game and the experience of songwriting, where one often takes the loss and pain experienced in life and uses it to create something distinctly positive. After several years of grinding it out on the road and in the studio, NELO is now ready to share those deeply personal stories.
NELO, the new self-titled full-length album, will be released February 4, 2014. It is gritty soul and authentic American rock; a big, bold, evocative ensemble of sounds that somehow feels edgy and alluring at the same time. And this record is perhaps truer to the band’s roots than any of the other recordings that NELO has released. The album is packed with effortless live energy.
“The new album is about new love, loss, frustration, my closest friends, my race against time, and more,” Ragland explains. “It’s just what’s been on my mind the last couple of years. One nice thing about these songs was that they all kind of fell out of me. I didn’t really labor over them. It felt like they were kind of begging to be written.”
The band–which in addition to Ragland and Umstattd also includes David Sierra (drums), Matthew Muehling (guitar/bass) and touring member Dave Scher (also guitar/bass)–recorded Nelo at Willie Nelson’s Pedernales Studios, just outside of Austin, off and on over a year and a half when not on the road. As with their last album, 2010’s Ordinary Scene, which debuted in the top 5 of the iTunes rock chart, Ragland helmed production duties for the new album. While working with several talented mixing engineers, the band realized how intensely personal this record had become to them so, for the first time in his career, Ragland mixed the project himself.
“Throughout this process I learned once and for all that ‘vibe’ is the most important element to any recording,” he shares. “It’s easy to get bogged down in the studio and obsess over fidelity and equipment and technical things. But when it’s all said and done all that matters is whether or not the recording vibes. Does it take you somewhere? Does it conjure up images in your head? Does it feel like your band?
“It took me awhile, but I realized that for me to get what I was looking for, I was going to have to learn a little bit about mixing and co-mix the album myself. I’m so glad that we did it this way because the record sounds like what it is: a labor of love. I went half-crazy working on it, but it was worth it. No compromises were made. It’s honest. And it vibes.”
Standout tracks on Nelo include “Old Friends” and “Hometown.” A music video for “Old Friends” will debut in the coming weeks. Ragland opens up about the deeply personal connection and inspiration for “Old Friends.” “On the surface the song is specifically about an old friend of mine who actually has struggled with a number of issues for as long as I have known him. He’s a talented, loving guy with a lot of stuff that weighs him down. One night recently we had a long conversation about the same frustrations that he has had since we were kids. The same darkness, but we talked about it in a positive, supportive way. It occurred to me that all these years he had been reaching out to me and it reminded me of how guarded I can be at times and how I need to reach out to my oldest friends too. How in many ways, his story is also my story. And that no one knows you like your oldest friends. They know where you come from. They know how you got to where you are now. How you became the person you are. They have a perspective on you that no one else can ever have, just like you have on them. Helping my friend with his pain is also him helping me with mine. And it’s been that way with all of my old friends since we were kids. There’s nothing like the quiet bond that you have with an old friend. ‘Old Friends’ feels like home to me. It’s a tribute to my oldest and best friends.”
The self-titled album is overflowing with special moments. NELO has a few shows booked around their Austin, TX hometown and will announce new dates for 2014 in support of the record. Visit www.nelomusic.com for the latest news.