I Love Guitars. An interview with Keith Nelson of Buckcherry.

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Buckcherry-Teresa Burke-57Buckcherry’s first album was released in 1999. Six studio albums later and somehow fifteen years have flown by but they’re still passionate about making music. I had the opportunity to sit down with Keith Nelson prior to the Buckcherry show at Austin’s Fuel Room in Libertyville, IL, to talk about his new Gibson Collector’s Choice and guitars in general, Buckcherry’s past year since the release of Confessions, not to mention a few details regarding the next album that is already finished. We discussed set lists and song choices plus he revealed information on an upcoming cover songs project. Find out what still inspires him, one of the few regrets he has after all these years, what he’s most proud of about Buckcherry and why connecting with the fans off stage is important.

 

Listen to the entire Keith Nelson interview below:

Today I’m joined by Keith Nelson of Buckcherry. Thank you for taking the time to speak with me.

Nice to see you.

In February it was announced that you would have your own Gibson Collector’s Choice based on your ‘59 Sunburst Les Paul, Louis.

Yes.

I’m guessing you’re pretty pleased with that.

I’m very pleased with it. Having that guitar made is a complete honor for me. As a collector, as a guitar player, so yeah, it was a complete honor and they really went out of their way to replicate that guitar very, very closely. I’m really, really knocked out by how close they got it. Not just the look but the way the guitar actually feels and the way it sounds, they really matched the electronics really well. As a matter of fact, right before you got here today, a friend of ours, Todd, owns #11 in the series and he brought it down to check out and compare against the original and we decided it was pretty, pretty close.

Awesome.

Yeah.

So when did your love for Gibson’s start?

So early on, you know, I think just seeing old pictures of Keith Richards, and I was really into Free when I was a kid, the band Free and Paul Kossoff played a Les Paul and Jimmy Page and Joe Perry, you know, all those guys just made me, I just, when I thought of the guitar, I thought of Gibson Les Paul.

Cool. So do you think you’ll ever have a different model released in the future or possibly a specific Signature guitar?

You know, I don’t really care much for the Signature guitar thing. I don’t think I can really better what they’ve done, you know? I do have another guitar that we’re talking about doing another Collector’s Choice on at some point which is the ’57 TV Junior that I play every night. So there’s some talk about that but I’m just stoked to have Louis out there and that it was done right. Like I can really say, honestly, if you go to the store and you grab one of those guitars, at least from what I’ve seen, it’s pretty, pretty close.

Well cool. So I once had a conversation with Xavier and he referred to you as having eleventy-bajillion guitars. Is that an accurate statement? (laughter)

(laughter) I love guitars. I love them for multiple reasons, you know, but ultimately they’re great tools to get songs written and performed on and that’s really what it comes down to for me. I’m not really a guitar shop guitar player. I’m not a schooled player. It’s all a tool for the song. So yes, I do have eleventy-bajillion…or so.

Are they all at your house, studio, do you know every one in and out?

You know, it’s funny. We’ve been on the road for so long and the traveling acquisition of gear is something that we’re kind of well known for in certain circles and I will get back to the storage locker back in L.A. in between legs of the tour and I’ll see cases and I’ll look at them and I’ll go, “What’s in that case?” and I’ll open it up and I’ll be like, “Oh. I remember that guitar. I haven’t played it since I bought it.” So there is a little bit of that but I’ve really tried over the last few years to really weed some things out and only hang on to guitars that I’m actually really using and really loving.

Alright, so I have a few rapid fire questions.

Sure.

First guitar you ever owned?

A Fender Telecaster.

Last guitar you bought?

(pauses)

Not acquired, but bought.

Bought… (longer pause)

It’s been that long?

No, it hasn’t been that long, just so many. Umm, I know it’s supposed to be rapid fire too…last guitar I bought. I bought a….’57 Reissue Goldtop from the guys at Dave’s Guitars in La Crosse, WI.

Another guitar player you would like to collaborate with?

Collaborate with… I’d love to write songs with Rick Nielsen.

Which guitar do you consider the Holy Grail that you would love to own some day?

Man, I feel like I kind of own it, you know, a ’59 Les Paul. I don’t know if there’s more of a Holy Grail than that for me. I think it’s kind of it.

The coolest Zemaitis engraving you’ve ever seen?

Coolest Zemaitis engraving I’ve ever seen, you know, Danny O’Brien actually did a Zemaitis top for me that has a mermaid on it and that to me is my favorite one.

Do you sell or trade your guitars to make room for more?

I do, but usually it’s all about trading up to consolidate.

Do you design your own guitar picks or does somebody else?

I definitely design my own guitar picks. As a matter of fact the skull with the seven deadly sins on it, I drew that on a napkin and took a picture of it with my iPhone and sent it to the merch company and they took that design and made it into a t-shirt and I made it into a guitar pick.

Awesome. Do you have any guitar related tattoos?

I have no guitar related tattoos. Well, if you don’t count that one.

(he showed me his Rolling Stones tongue logo tattoo on his left arm)

That’s not a guitar though.

Yeah, it’s not a guitar.

Do all of your guitars have names?

No. Absolutely not.

Okay. The last time you played Fastback 69?

1999, maybe? It’s been a while.

No, because I saw you in 2001 and you played it at that show. (laughter)

Okay, so that was probably it. That was probably it. Good song though.

Yes it is. Do you have a specific go-to song when you’re sitting around at home playing?

I mean, you know, it’s funny when I, it’s usually something by AC/DC or Free. To just kind of pick up and acquaint myself with a guitar, an amp or whatever it is.

Cool.

Like Alright Now or Highway to Hell or something where you can just grab the guitar by the neck and just spank it.

Alright so Confessions was released a little over a year ago. Are you guys pretty happy with the reaction from fans and your experiences overall this past year?

I mean the reaction from the fans has been really great. Record sales, as an indicator of your success has been something that’s been harder and harder to actually use as a barometer because of the way people are getting their music and experiencing it now. That record probably has sold less scanned copies at retail stores and online than anywhere else but more people seem to be familiar with that record and come out to shows, you know, and when you factor in how many times the songs are streamed on different sites and everything like that, I would say it’s been really well received. The thing I like about the record is that, if you’re a fan of the band and you get into the story you can really go deeper than just the songs but if you’re not really into all of that and you just put the record on, it’s still a rock record that makes sense, so, I think it’s been really well received.

I debated saying this, but I will say, to me, having been familiar with the band all these years, it’s very mature sounding and don’t take this the wrong way, but I was glad there wasn’t a “Crazy Bitch” type song on there.

(laughter)

Do you feel the sound and the vibe you achieved with this album will continue onto the next one or is it “whatever will be, will be”?

I can tell you the next record is already done and it’s definitely not as adult or mature as you would say, in your words, but I think that there’s moments of that. I just think, we want to make, I think we all want to make, and I truly want to make the most genuine record that we can at the time, just that speaks of the place that we’re in and I don’t think we can really fake that, you know? We made the Confessions record, we were really ready to make that record, we were really ready to do a record without a party anthem on it or, and you know, and to kind of roll up our sleeves and deal with some heavier subject matter. The next thing that we’re about to put out is a complete antithesis of that, but I still think it shows the growth of the band and it was a lot of fun to make. We made it really fast, we laughed a lot and we just kind of did exactly what we wanted.

Now I read in a recent interview that you mentioned a “very exciting EP.” Is that what you’re talking about?

That’s what I’m talking about.

Okay, so you can’t elaborate anymore than what you’ve just said.

It has a little bit of a theme. You’ll know by the title and it’s going to basically knock you over the head.

And when will we know more?

This Spring, for sure.

Spring? It’s technically Spring.

Yeah.

(laughter)

Sorry.

So I’m not getting any more out of you. (laughter) Okay.

No.

Alright, so with 6 studio releases, and I’ve always wondered this with every band, how do you decide the set list each night? Is it based on your mood, the city you’re playing in, fan requests?

I mean, all of that and coupled with the fact of, the songs that we actually can remember. (laughter) There’s a lot of songs at this point. But you know, you’ve seen multiple shows, so you know we never really play the same set list twice. We may include the same songs in every set list because there’s a certain contingency of our fan base that wants to hear Lit Up and Crazy Bitch every night and that’s cool, I love, we love playing those songs but we mix the set list up every night. Tonight… (Keith turned over a piece of paper to show me the 3/22/14 set list)…that’s what you’ll hear.

(Silence while I pointed out some songs I was surprised to see on the set list)

So, and I can tell you there’s 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 songs on there that we did not play last night.

Awesome. Yeah, I like how you’re opening with Lit Up vs closing with it.

Yeah.

I think it really sets the tone…

You know, back in the early, early Club days when we were an unsigned band, we opened with that song every night and then it became the first single and we had some success with it so we were advised to move it later in the set, and we did, and then when we came out on the Confessions tour I had been wanting to open up with that song for a long time, because we have a few other well known songs that people like to hear and we were saving that ‘til late and I’m like, “Why don’t we just…” we were going on these festivals and we were playing with these bands and we were playing a few more album style tracks before we got into what we were doing and I was just like, “Let’s just go out there and fuckin’ knock ‘em, knock their dicks in the dirt right from the jump and let’s open with that song,” and we started doing it and it’s kind of stuck.

It’s awesome.

So you’ll probably hear that as the opener for a while to come.

Well that’s cool. So are you playing different new songs than you were last year or the same rotation?

No, definitely different new songs, like off of Confessions we’ve been, we did Water a lot, we did Air last year, we do Water all the time now. Dreamin’ Of You is going to get added to the set list pretty soon. We just pulled out Too Drunk, we haven’t played that in probably four or five years. Lawless and Lulu, we played that last night, so you know it’s definitely always, always changing. We played You a couple weeks ago off of Time Bomb, Fall from Time Bomb gets played a lot.

That’s my favorite song off that album. Alright, so for a short time you guys were doing covers like Midnight Rider, Highway Star…

Uh huh.

…any chance of bringing those back or different covers even?

We’ve actually moved on to a whole new set of cover songs and it’s funny that you bring that up because we, during the last break, after we finished the EP we decided that we’re going to start recording some cover songs and probably put them out on the web site, straight to the fans, by-passing any kind of mechanism other than getting the music directly to the fans so we just recorded four cover songs and we’re going to do three more when we get back on the next break so we’re kind of getting a little stock pile of fun covers that kind of give you a little glimpse into some of our influences.

Are they older bands then?

Some old, some very, very modern and new.

Interesting.

Yeah.

Is that a Spring release too? (laughter)

I don’t think it’s going to be released as a body of work as much as it’s gonna be released kind of one at a time.

No, I know, but are you still thinking Spring time?

Yeah. Those are probably going to come out in the next month or so, we’re going to start releasing those.

Well cool. I look forward to that. Alright, so for anyone that hasn’t seen Buckcherry live, the energy and whatnot behind your performance is super amazing, powerful, electric. For me personally during the last few years though, I’ve noticed that the interaction between you and Stevie D. on stage has really changed. You guys, instead of staying in your corners, you now interact a lot more and I will say it’s a lot of fun to watch you guys.

Well I think that’s just a, that has nothing to do with, other than just, more familiarity and just really appreciating being in a two-guitar band and what the other guy does that you don’t do, because we’ve always been really close personally and it’s just a little bit looser, we’re more comfortable and it’s fun.

It is fun. So you’ve been making music as Buckcherry for 15 years now. Are the things that inspire you now drastically different compared to what they were back then? Are there still obstacles to overcome and do you find you discover new things, whether it’s evolving as an artist or about yourself personally?

Yes.

(silence then laughter as I gave him a look over giving me such a short answer)

The things that inspire me now are the same things that inspired me when I started and it was really about songs, you know. For me it always goes back to the song. I think, as far as learning new things, there’s always something to be learned and I think when you think you know everything that’s when you’re really fucked. That’s when you really don’t know much at all because there is always something to be learned, whether it’s from other musicians, other songwriters, other bands, the guys in your own band, yeah, there’s always something out there to be learned.

Well cool. So what was the thought process behind following up the video for Nothing Left But Tears, with its dark imagery of the seven deadly sins, to the chill mellow vibe of Dreamin’ Of You?

I mean, Dreamin’ Of You was a song that Josh and I wrote ‘cause we really just wanted to end the record on a lighter note and it fit into the story and he, you know, that song started, had its origins before we even came up with a concept of the seven deadly sins because, or definitely separate from it, because he was just asking me to come up with some music that reminded him of a certain song, you know, “I want to write a song like, blah, blah, blah,” and I kind of came up with this little acoustic guitar thing and he started singing on it and the song wrote itself in five minutes and you know, we’re kind of getting to the end of this record cycle and we really wanted to release one more song but we’re also at the end of our deal with our record company, that’s probably not going to do a whole lot to promote any kind of single, so we basically just went and did a really low budget video at the beach just so we could get that song out there and figured it would be on the internet and people would dig it. Now people are really starting to really watch it and it’s getting some attention so maybe we’ll see if we can turn it into a single but you know, it’s just we, you make these records and you look back at them and you listen to songs and you think, “Man, I can’t believe that that wasn’t a single,” and “I can’t believe that didn’t get more attention,” and it’s one of the few regrets in all of this, is that songs that you really, really fall in love with don’t get the notoriety that you think they deserve so, we just wanted to get that song out there. We think, you know, I’m really proud of the fact that this band has multiple sides to it. We’ve got the Crazy Bitch side and we’ve got party anthems and we’ve got darker more punk side to us and we’ve also got this side where we really love a good pop song and we love a good ballad, so we just want to make sure that it gets showcased. It’s kind of been overlooked I think in the last, in the promotion of the last few records.

It’s a great song and a great video.

Thanks.

So, for anyone that doesn’t know, last October the decision was made to replace Jimmy Ashhurst. How was the transition for everyone in the beginning, for the band, to bring in a new guy after all these years and do you feel the fans have been pretty accepting of the change and is he a permanent member now?

I think that the transition was pretty easy. Kelly’s [LeMieux] a great player. Kelly has a long relationship with Stevie and Josh. He’s known those guys for a long time and he and I have a ton of mutual friends. He’s a great player. He and Xavier play so well together and he really appreciates the other guys in the band and what we do, so it’s been a, unfortunately there needed to be a change. I don’t think any of us really saw that or looked forward to it but it happened and the fans have been really, really accepting of Kelly. He’s a super sweetheart. He takes a lot of time out with the fans. He’s really appreciative so that’s been really nice.

Alright, so speaking of the fans, over the years you guys have been known to hang out after the show, even if it’s freezing outside, and more recently, you’ve been offering Meet and Greets and VIP options. Why is it important to have that connection with your fans off stage?

I mean, it sounds so rote to just say this, but really, the fans are the people that enable us to do this for a living so there’s a definite appreciation of that from all of us and you know, we talk about it a lot when we’re just hanging out or whatever about, because we’re all such big fans of music and I know what it was like when I met the guys in Aerosmith for the first time and when I met the guys in KISS for the first time and as a fan of music you know, you really want to meet them and then followed shortly thereafter by the thought of, “God, I hope he’s just not a dick,” (laughter) you know because there’s nothing, I met a few people that I really admired and they were just assholes and it really bums you out and makes their music kind of hard to listen to after that. So, that’s always in the back of my mind, is when it comes to meeting people, it’s like, you know I want them to leave with a sincere impression but I want it to be a good one as well and it doesn’t really take much time and it means a lot to people that are fans of your music.

Well cool. So 100 years from now, what current style or genre of music do you think people will still be listening to and if someone were to come across the entire Buckcherry catalog for the first time that far into the future, what do you hope that they would enjoy most about it?

Wow. I mean, a hundred years…

I mean come on, nobody’s listening to music from the ‘20’s anymore.

Right. Wow, I hope someone gets it on vinyl and puts in on a record player and goes, “Wow, that fuckin’ sounds great. Why don’t records sound like that anymore? Why don’t people write songs like that anymore? Are those guitars? Who plays, they used to play guitar back then?” That’s probably what they’ll be saying.

(laughter)

I don’t know. I hope it evokes some emotion in people. I hope it’s the soundtrack to their parties.

Cool. Alright so you currently have tour dates listed through June. What are Buckcherry’s plans for the rest of the year?

That’s all I really know of so far. I think we’re talking about maybe staying out through August or September, but as far as I know we’re gonna be in Europe in June and I know we’re trying to figure out what’s going on in July, August, September.

Okay. So here at Unsung Melody we like to end with a random question.

Here it goes.

If you were part of a bowling league, what would your team name be and what color are the shirts?

The Lebowski’s and our shirts would be black, of course.

Of course. (laughter)

Alright, well thank you again for taking the time to speak with me and…

My pleasure.

…best of luck with everything.

Thank you very much.

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