John Mark Nelson
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John Mark Nelson

Minneapolis, Minnesota, United States | Established. Jan 01, 2013 | INDIE

Minneapolis, Minnesota, United States | INDIE
Established on Jan, 2013
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John Mark Nelson is just 21, but he's already figured out how to make a cohesive album in I'm Not Afraid, on which he sings with easy confidence. On this week's episode of World Cafe: Next, you can hear two songs from the Twin Cities singer-songwriter — and download them as part of the World Cafe: Next podcast, available at the show's Tumblr. - NPR


Young Minnesotan singer-songwriter John Mark Nelson has accomplished more in 21 years than some artists do in a lifetime. The fresh-faced, Minneapolitan multi-instrumentalist has already released two critically acclaimed folk albums, and now the “Boy” wonder has a third, I’m Not Afraid, on the way—that’s where “Control” comes in.

“‘Control’ is one of the fundamental anthems of this record,” Nelson says. “It speaks honestly and openly about the chaos that life can contain. Even when we try our hardest to manage and calculate the many facets of our lives, often times things spin out of control, and leave us to pick up the pieces.” And though “Control” may be rooted in chaos, its composition is anything but.

The song is a concise and plaintive confession, powered by an understated yet driving thrum of drums and bass, with Nelson’s fragile vocal layered over top. “In the past, what might have influenced me was a lot of acoustic instruments—folkier, jangly sounds,” the singer says. “But I was pulled into the songs being driven by drums and bass and more adventurous guitar tones.”

Ironically, “Control” finds Nelson during a transition period in which he is letting go, opening up and leaving his old approach to songwriting behind. “I think if anything, this project—maybe even more so than a sonic departure—is a vulnerability departure,” he says. “In the past my writing has, in some ways, been guarded. Now I’m putting all my cards on the table.” - Paste Magazine


"I enjoy hearing that people appreciate the new direction while still recognizing my writing," says John Mark Nelson. "It lets me know I'm growing and changing in a way that is still true to my own artistic voice."

Anticipating the release of I'm Not Afraid, Minnesota's own John Mark Nelson and his band—Kara Laudon (keys, backup vocals), Benjamin Kelly (bass), Nate Babbs (drums) and Steve Bosmans (guitar)—stopped by The Current to perform all new songs live in-studio and to chat with host David Campbell of The Local Show.

Though it's the 21-year-old's fourth studio album, I'm Not Afraid is John Mark Nelson's first label release as the principal signee to GNDWIRE Records, the new label co-founded by Trampled by Turtles frontman Dave Simonett and Twin Cities-based artist manager Mark Gehring.

And with a record deal comes a booking contract. John Mark Nelson recently signed to Billions Corporation, a big break for the local musician. The show booking agency represents artists from Vampire Weekend to Arcade Fire and HAIM, and John Mark Nelson hopes that the new relationship will help the band reach more people in new cities opening for other artists on Billions' roster in addition to headlining tours.

What better way to kick things off than with a hometown headlining gig: John Mark Nelson and his band celebrate the release of I'm Not Afraid this Friday, Sept. 11 in the First Avenue mainroom with opening acts Black Diet and We Are the Willows. - The Current


World-wide premiere of "The Moon and The Stars" single on MTV. - MTV


Minneapolis obviously has a rich musical history: Prince to the Mats, Tapes n Tapes to Howler. Meet their latest troubadour, John Mark Nelson. - fuse TV


The 19-year-old Twin Cities songwriter has an ear for whimsical melodies and ornate arrangements. Watch Nelson and his cadre of teenage friends make their radio debut on Minnesota Public Radio's The Current, as they perform the song "Reminisce." - NPR Music


Don't let John Mark Nelson's age fool you. (He's old enough to grow a very fine beard, after all.) This kid has a precocious talent, and what's more, he already has an old soul's feel for folk music. Nelson, straight out of high school, gate-crashed the local music scene last summer with his crisp melodies on Waiting and Waiting (already his second album!), which vaulted straight into regular radio airplay and a series of highly impressive live shows with a sprawling but tight 10-piece ensemble. As a lyricist, Nelson has honed an eerie, ethereal sensibility, one that gets amply reinforced by his rough-hewn, smoky voice. But it might be the arrangements themselves that really set him apart as something special: lush and jam-packed with pianos, mandolins, and all manner of other embellishments. Nelson harnesses it all together expertly, while building in interludes and detours that only enhance the emotional effect. With that kind of ambition, it's easy to forget this kid is just getting started. - City Pages / Village Voice


“This old-soul youngblood conjures up a wistful past, present and future.” - The Huffington Post


Discography

I'm Not Afraid - 2015

The Moon and The Stars - 2014

Waiting And Waiting - 2012

Still Here - 2011

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Bio

The past may be prologue, but for John Mark Nelson, the present is something else entirely: a gateway into a new era of life and the new sound that defines his upcoming album, I’m Not Afraid. Having released two critically lauded albums of melodic, lilting folk songs the ages of 17 and 19, Nelson, now 21, is set to take listeners on a leap forward into a new sonic landscape of propulsive rhythms and bright, complex instrumental arrangements.

“It’s impossible to progress through life without the outlets through which you experience life changing in tandem,” he says of the shift. “In the past, what might have influenced me was a lot of acoustic instruments—folkier, jangly sounds. But I was pulled into the songs being driven by drums and bass and more adventurous guitar tones. It wasn’t that I sat down and said ‘I want to make a record that’s a departure from what I’ve done.’ It’s just that as those things started coming through the speakers, I thought, ‘I want to follow that.’ “

The smoldering warmth and haunting beauty of Nelson’s voice strings a line of continuity from his past work into the new album, as does his astute, literary songwriting. But he confesses that even in his wise-beyond-his-years,
autobiographical lyrics, the album marks a passage. “I think if anything, this project—maybe even more so than a sonic departure—is a vulnerability departure,” he says. “In the past my writing has, in some ways, been guarded. Now I’m putting all my cards on the table.”


In the years since his first release, Nelson has solidified his position as a member of Minnesota’s new musical guard. Along with building a small army of loyal fans, he’s earned a spot in regular rotation on 89.3 The Current and caught the ears of fellow Minneapolis-based musician David Simonett (lead singer of Trampled by Turtles and co-founder of GNDWIRE Records). Nelson’s new work stands him on firm footing to launch into the national consciousness, a move that was primed by nearly a decade of writing, rehearsing, recording and performing—all before he turned 21.

From the irresistible bounce and frustrated romance of the first single, "Dream Last Night," to the clap-along amble of "Broken" and the timeless, elegant sweep of "I Won’t Win (If I Let You In)," I’m Not Afraid defies genre and demands attention. As a document of what Nelson calls “a very new, very different season of life,” it positions him as one of the most exciting young songwriters and multi-instrumentalists of his generation.

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