Minnetonka grad turned musician makes a name for himself with local resources


photo courtesy of artist

John Mark Nelson is starting to emerge in the local music scene with the help of The Current and a Kickstarter project.

Jenny Krane, Staff Writer

Local artist and Excelsior native John Mark Nelson, a 2012 Minnetonka High School graduate, completed a Kickstart project recently with all the proceeds going towards his first studio album. With all of the songs and musicians ready to go, John Mark gears up for a big step in his music career.

To the surprise of his classmates, Nelson made it a personal goal to share his music with others. Self completing his first album “Still Here,” he held a release show and sold CDs to local supporters, all while in high school. “When I was a junior, I had a lot of material and I figured I should probably do something with all of the songs,” Nelson said.

Self recorded, self produced, self engineered, and self mixed, “Still Here” served as an experiment for Nelson to find his sound. “My first album was kind of ambient like [Bon Iver’s] “For Emma Forever Ago,” Nelson said.

A big game changer in John Mark Nelson’s music career came to him through local radio station 89.3 The Current. “One day I saw that The Current had done a write up about my music without me even knowing––they found my bandcamp,”Nelson said.

“I got a message from Jon Schober [local music assistant for The Current], and he said they found my music but said it wasn’t really radio material,” Nelson said.“He said if I wrote anything new I should let him know.”

After getting back from a school trip to Europe, Nelson started writing again. “I put together a song in like 24 hours and put it on my bandcamp, and the next morning I emailed Jon Schober. He sent a message back and said he had found it already and was going to play it,” Nelson said.

The track John Mark put together for Jon Schober served as the beginning to his sophomore album, “Waiting and Waiting.” “Waiting and Waiting was still a part of experimenting,” Nelson said., comparing this album to his first as “brighter and less somber.”

“To have my music picked up by the Current was almost vital,” Nelson said.. “[After being played on the Current], I showed up on a Top 20 list in a Swiss magazine, I had a lot of albums sold in Europe and the UK, and I was played on a Milwaukee radio station and many college radio stations.”

My songs are pretty exact science––everything is characters, stories, and experiences from my own life”

— John Mark Nelson

Though not always open with his music, Nelson has been musically active for about 6 years. “I started writing songs when I was 12 or 13,” Nelson said, “It was quite a few years before I shared my music because it was very personal.”

“As a young boy I was exposed to a ton of music,” Nelson said.. With a piano player for a father, Nelson had musical influences from a young age; he currently plays guitar, piano, accordion, and drum set, but only actually studied drums.

To get to know John Mark’s music is to get to know him as a person; “My songs are pretty exact science––everything is characters, stories, and experiences from my own life,” Nelson said. “[My songs are] me in a very cryptic sense so you don’t know too much.”

With lyrics that serve as “sort of snapshots or vignettes” of his life, John Mark Nelson worried he’d be limited. “But now I’m experimenting more with inanimate objects, like one song is from the perspective of a home,” Nelson said.

Looking towards the new album, John Mark predicts it will sound more mature in comparison with “Still Here” and “Waiting and Waiting,” and will be a fusion of the two. “The record will not be so blatantly bright like Waiting and Waiting,” Nelson said, “but it’s hard to say exactly what the album will sound like.”

Though a part of his experimental stage has passed, John Mark is still uncommitted to a specific sound or genre. “My heart is so many places––my heart has been fractured and put into so many genres,” Nelson said.

Despite his lack of a specific type of music he wants to stick to, Nelson finds inspiration for his music in 1960s-1970s pop songs, composers and arrangers like Henry Mancini, and more recent artists like Sufjan Stevens. “I’m inspired by anyone who can be identified as a good arranger [of music].” Nelson has recently been intrigued by the producer for Lana Del Rey, David Khane.

“I would take something really crazy to get me to leave [Minnesota].” “This is such a great place because whatever walk of life you’re in doesn’t matter; it’s just about that we’re all here because we love music, love the city, and love what we’re doing,” Nelson said.

Lately, Nelson has been a large part of the local music scene and has been interacting with more local artists: “I’ve been doing some shows and writing more, ” Nelson said. One big thing he has done was being part of the Minnesota Beatles Project, an album fundraiser that compiles Beatles covers from local artists that gives back to public school programs.