nelsonbros.jpg
Brian Lowe Photography
That's Gunnar on the right, savoring the 11 days per year shorter hair has given him.
For sheer androgyny in the L.A.

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Gunnar Nelson on The Jonas Brothers, High-Maintenance Hair, and How Grunge Stopped His Career Cold

nelsonbros.jpg
Brian Lowe Photography
That's Gunnar on the right, savoring the 11 days per year shorter hair has given him.
For sheer androgyny in the L.A. hair band scene, the twin brothers Nelson were the ne plus ultra. Most impressively, Ricky's kids (and Ozzie & Harriet's grandsons) achieved this look sans guyliner--their porcelain skin, bombshell blonde locks and a few hand-me-downs from their stunt double, Daryl Hannah, seemed to do the trick just fine.

Unfortunately for Nelson(s), they burst onto the scene in 1990, at the precise moment when grunge took an aluminum bat to the head of hair rock, and then torched all its Aqua Net for good measure, thus totaling Nelson's Fiero to megastardom, the apex of which was the power ballad "(I Can't Live Without Your) Love & Affection."

But Nelson's on the comeback trail, playing both their father's classic tunes--with original members of the Stone Canyon Band--and their own songs at the King Cat On November 18. Here's what Gunnar had to tell Reverb about, well, everything in his entire life to date, except whether he prefers Granny Smith to Braeburn apples:

Reverb: When After the Rain came out, that was around the time that L.A. hair bands were going out of style and grunge was about to take off. Do you feel like your career was stymied by Seattle's signature sound?

Gunnar Nelson: "Absolutely. It was the single largest paradigm shift in music history. Geffen (Nelson's label) actually signed Nirvana. We went on the road and played 220 dates, and came back to find that even our record company guys were wearing flannel. We went from heroes to zeroes overnight. Had our record been released two years earlier, when it was ready, we would have gotten to release one more record and been able to swing for the fence. It really wasn't fair, because the industry did what it did."

Do you feel like it was unfair to classify L.A. rockers as "hair bands" when Seattle grungers typically wore their hair just as long?

"I suppose it's a lot shorter than saying melodic hard arena rockers. We're a hard pop band and always were. The label marketed us equally as a hair band and to the teen audience. We broke on pop radio. All the Warrants and Wingers and Slayers wouldn't let us into their little club. Our thing was the Billboard Top 100; that's what we were looking at. Our motto was, love us or hate us, you were gonna knew who we were. We always thought we'd get a second and third record to build on that foundation, but that was truncated unfairly."

Did you guys have any sort of rivalry with Extreme (a contemporary of Nelson's which cut the hit acoustic ballad "More Than Words")?

"No rivalry at all. They're buddies of ours and we admire them quite a bit. I always thought Nelson and Extreme would have been an excellent tour back in the day, but Nuno wouldn't go for it. I guess he was taking his musicianship so seriously, much like Kip Winger. I come from a family that's into entertaining people. For whatever reason that tour didn't happen, which is kind of a shame."

Why are you more comfortable playing your father's songs now?

"We wanted to make our own mark before we explored the idea of going down that other road. Now what we've got is the 25th anniversary of our dad's passing, and that's what we're marking."

What do you think of the Jonas Brothers, Miley Cyrus, Taylor Swift and all these other teen musicians who inhabit the same space your dad once did?

"There's a real place for teen idols, so to speak, because it's the first crush that a young girl can have that's safe. It's unattainable and it's not going to hurt anybody. The Jonas Brothers, do I care for their music? No, I don't think they can sing for shit. But that's just my opinion. Taylor Swift can write better than she can sing, but she's a really good writer, and we've got studio techniques that can make people sound their best in the studio. I really like Miley Cyrus' voice, and she's been writing since she was a little girl. I think the big surprise is gonna be Miley Cyrus; I think she's going to prove that she's the real deal. We accomplished everything we accomplished without the power of the Mouse (as in Mickey) behind us, and I think that's really impressive."

Who was more successful with women back in the day, you or Matthew, and why?

"Define success with women. Is there such a thing?"

Numbers.

"I would definitely be the quantity guy, and Matthew would definitely be the quality guy. Any musician who says he started playing music for any other reason than impressing chicks is lying to you. We were always nerds back in school, and music was the great equalizer."

Did you guys ever pull the classic twin switcharoo in the sack?

"No, we never did. As far as anything else, I'll have to plead the fifth."

Do you look at your uncle, Mark Harmon, and his longtime wife, Pam Dawber, as a modern day Ozzie & Harriet?

"Mark & Mindy, you mean? I wouldn't say they'd be the modern Ozzie & Harriett. They were supposed to personify Eisenhower-era American ideals; clearly, what's going on right now is family is what you choose. I don't know if their would be an archetypal American family. Mark and Pam are a great married couple and great parents, but they'd be the exception, because they actually do come together for dinner and work out family problems, and most people seem to have two families. My upbringing sure wasn't Ozzie & Harriet--I had the opposite."

Which do you feel is the more successful haircut, the neverending blonde locks of the early '90s or the tidier bob of today?

"Having wash-and-go hair has definitely revolutionized my life. I'm actually one of those guys who sat down and did the math on how much time having that long hair cost me. I was wasting 11 days each year blow-drying my hair."

Did you ever get mistaken for Daryl Hannah or Kim Carnes during the "Love & Affection" phase of your career?

"Not this week."

How about this week in '90?

"We got our share of guys whistling at us when they saw us from the back. Those were always really uncomfortable moments. But again, there were a lot of great things about that era. The only thing I regret is not having done a shampoo commercial."

 
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