The Journal-News caught up with Raelyn Nelson in a recent phone interview to find out more about her, the band and what we can expect when she plays in Hamilton. Raelyn is also the host of several podcasts, including “Music Is Funny”.
Q: What are you working on at the moment, musically?
Raelyn Nelson: We are releasing a new single called “Free”. I wrote it a few years ago after getting divorced and was stuck at home with three small children, two dogs, five cats, two birds, a gerbil and a fish. I sat down and wrote a song called “Free”, because I felt so free, even though I was stuck at home with all these animals and children. So this song seemed right to start the next stage of singles. I’ll be releasing singles for a while, and putting them together on a CD later, after I’ve released a few. So we’re releasing this new single and we’re working on a video with a production team and it’s coming out soon.
Q: On your website you are labeled as “Country/Garage Rock“. Some of your band members are more rock-trained and your upbringing is more rooted in traditional country. How would you describe your sound?
A: land of rolling stones was the one who said, “Mix old country and dirty garage rock.” They wrote that when we made our first single, “Brother”. We have also been nicknamed “Caffeinated Country Punk”. It was another way of saying it, and I was like, I like that, but it’s hard to label yourself and know what you are. So, I like to hear other people’s views on this, because, to me, I’m just me, but my biggest influences were Loretta Lynn, my grandfather (Willie Nelson), and Dolly (Parton ,) and all the old country like Kitty Wells and Tammy Wynette. I was limited to Christian gospel music and old country when I was younger. It wasn’t until my teens that I spread into the Top 40, pop, R&B and rock. My mother only listened to praise and worship music when I was growing up. My dad died when I was little, so it was praise and worship, old country and my grandfather’s music that I started. So I feel like it’s me. And my band, they grew up doing all the rock, like The Clash and The Ramones, and they introduced me to all that stuff. Then once I heard some of these artists, I was like I loved The Runaways, I loved Joan Jett. So it was later in life that I met Joan and Chrissie Hynde, and others. They really paved the way for us, but I just wasn’t exposed to them early on.
Q: What do you think is one of the most important things you learned from your grandfather? And what’s the biggest piece of advice he gave you?
A: It always says, you’re on a roll. Keep going, keep writing. Do not stop. The only way not to get there is to quit or die, obviously, before you get there, but don’t give up. The people who make it don’t give up, and whatever it is made, you’ll know, you’ll know what it’s all about. He also taught us that horses are smarter than people. I try to think of the sayings he said: “A family that smokes together, stays together.” He’s the coolest. He is exactly as you would like him to be. I think he’s most like Jesus to walk the earth after Jesus, because he’s for everyone. (He defends) The outsiders. If someone speaks ill of someone, they are the first to come up and make us feel stupid and tell us why we should like them. He just has a very Jesus-esque way about him. I remember a story, not the people who work for him now, but years and years ago there were people who worked for him who took off with the merchandising money and Paul, his drummer , came to see “Dad Willie” on the bus, or in the van, or wherever they are and said, so-and-so left with all the money and I’m going to get them… He said I’m going to get them and we go and get them our money, and “Daddy Willie” said, “No, they probably need it more than we do, let them have it.” It’s things like that, that he did, just by his actions, that taught me so much.
Q: Do you have other musical inspirations in your family?
A: My aunt, Amy, and my aunt, Paula, they both write and sing music. They are amazing. My Uncle Lukas & Promise of the Real is awesome. It’s like a rock and roll church. Then My Uncle Mike is like psychedelic rock. It’s cool. We all sound different, and that’s really interesting, because I’m sure it all comes from our different influences growing up and “Papa Willie”, of course. They are all his children, so I am the only grandchild who plays music. They are all my father’s brothers and sisters. Paula doesn’t sing so much anymore, she does a radio show on SiriusXM, on the “Willie’s Roadhouse” and “Outlaw Country” channels. Amy has a band, Folk Uke with Cathy Guthrie, who is Arlo Guthrie’s daughter and Woody Guthrie’s granddaughter. Woody wrote “This country is your country”. Micah Nelson is also doing his own solo thing. Check them all out because we all sound different, that’s for sure.
Q: What contribution do you hope to make, musically, and how do you think you are making a difference?
A: I just want to be authentic, real and not fake. I am mom. I am female, living in 2022. I am 37 and identify as 27. I’m about reality, levity and comedy, and laughter. That’s the kind of impression I want to leave on this world. Musically, it’s really the same thing, just laughter and happiness. I’m not a big fan of ballads… I just want to leave everyone on a high.