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 some of the things you’re working on right now, musically?
Raelyn Nelson: We are putting out a new single called “Free.” I wrote it a few years ago, after I got a divorce, and I was stuck at home with three little kids, 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 kids. So, that song felt right to start off the next leg of singles. I’m going to put out singles for a while, and package them together in a CD later on, after I put a few out. So, we are putting out this new single and we’re working on a video with a production team and that will be coming out soon.
Q: On your website, you’re labeled as “Country/Garage Rock.” Some of your band members have more of a rock background and your upbringing is rooted more in traditional country. How would you describe your sound?
A: Rolling Stone Country was the one who said, “Mixes old country and dirty garage rock.” They wrote that when we did our first single, “Brother.” We’ve been called “Caffeinated Country Punk,” too. That was another way they said it, and I was like, I like that, but it’s hard to label yourself and what you are. So, I like to hear other people’s perspective on it, because, to me, I’m just me, but my biggest influences were Loretta Lynn, my grandpa (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 I was a teenager that I spread out into Top 40, pop, R&B, and rock. My mom just didn’t listen to anything but 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 grandpa’s music that I first started off on. So, I feel like that’s me. And my band, they grew up doing all the rock, like The Clash and The Ramones, and they introduced me to all of that. Then, once I heard some of those artists, I was like I love The Runaways, I love Joan Jett. So, it was later on in life that I connected with 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 feel like is one of the biggest things you’ve learned from your grandpa? And what’s the biggest piece of advice he’s given you?
A: He always says, You’re on a roll. Keep going, keep writing. Don’t stop. The only way you don’t make it is if you quit or you die, obviously, before you make it, but just don’t quit.” The people who make it don’t quit, and whatever make it is, you’ll know, you’ll know what that make it is. He also taught us that horses are smarter than people. I’m trying to think of sayings he’s said, “A family that smokes together, stays together.” He’s the coolest. He’s exactly like you’d want him to be. I think he’s the most like Jesus to walk on the earth after Jesus, because he’s for everybody. (He stands up for) The underdogs. If somebody is talking bad about somebody, he’s the first one to pop up and make us all feel dumb, and tell us why we should love 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 some people who worked for him that took off with the merch money and Paul, his drummer, came up to “Papa Willie” on the bus, or in the van, or wherever they were and said, so and so took off with all the money and I’m going to go get them…He said I’m going to go get them and we’re going to get our money back, and “Papa Willie” said, “No, they probably just need it more than we do, let’s let them have it.” It’s things like that, that he’s done, just out of his actions, which have taught me so much.
Q: Do you have any other musical inspirations in your family?
A: My aunt, Amy, and my aunt, Paula, they both write and sing music. They’re amazing. My uncle Lukas & Promise of the Real is great. It’s like rock and roll church. Then, my Uncle Mike is like psychedelic rock. It’s cool. We all have a different sound, and it’s really interesting, because I’m sure it’s all just from our different influences growing up and “Papa Willie,” obviously. They are all his kids, so I’m the only grandkid that’s playing music. Those are all my dad’s brothers and sisters. Paula’s not singing so much anymore, she’s doing 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 Land is Your Land.” Micah Nelson also does his own solo thing. Check them all out because we all have different sounds, for sure.
Q: What contribution would hope to make, musically, and how do you feel you’re making a difference?
A: I just want to be genuine, real and not fake. I’m a mom. I’m a woman, living in 2022. I’m 37-years-old, and I identify as 27. I’m about realness, levity and comedy, and laughter. That’s the kind of impression I want to leave on this world. Musically, it’s the same thing really, just laughter and happiness. I’m not a big fan of ballads…I just want to leave everyone on a high.