Lord Nelson’s Kai Crowe-Getty On The Collaboration That Brought The Band Closer Together With ‘Transmission’ (INTERVIEW)

Lord Nelson’s new album Transmission is due out on January 21st and is the product of a very interesting evolution for the band. What originally started as a quick live album recorded between studio albums turned into their pandemic project and collaborating on finalizing the individual songs and tracks acted as a stand-in for the road band lifestyle they otherwise would have shared. As such, it was the focal point that brought them together and the result shines through, capturing as closely as possible the experience of hearing one of their live shows for the first time. 

The album is the product of multiple songwriters and includes multiple vocalists, something which is even more pronounced than on Lord Nelson’s previous albums, and yet the organic unity of the album comes down to the original recording sessions where a cohesive approach was key. I spoke with Kai Crowe-Getty about the development and recording of the album, his perspective on some of the songs he wrote for Transmission, and also about the making of the videos for “Tooth and Nail” and “Drag Me Down”, which have been gaining considerable attention, including from Glide.

Hannah Means-Shannon: How has having a winter release for Transmission impacted your plans for touring?

Kai Crowe-Getty: We were planning on taking the winter off anyway, since my bass player just had a kid. So we were going to take it easy and put the record out. It’s the first cycle where we haven’t been touring like crazy as the album came out. The silver lining for me has been having a lot more time to work on video and artwork. We’ve always been a road band, touring like crazy and then letting the other stuff work itself out, but this has been the inverse of that, which has been a good lesson for me. We’re working on Spring touring now, starting in March and April, but we’ll see what happens. 

HMS: When you are playing live lately, do you find that you’re choosing your setlist based more on your personal desires of what you want to play, given how few shows everyone has been able to do in recent months?

KC-G: I’ve been sort of more selfish with the setlist. I’ve been saying, “Here are the songs the band really has fun with.” We’re trying out new stuff now rather than saying that we have to have things practiced and perfect before trying them out. We’re doing a mix of our favorite older cuts, some of the new stuff from this record, then some of the stuff that we’ve been writing since this record’s been done for about a year. We’ve all been writing since, and we have fun doing it, so we’ve been doing those songs. As a band, we actually haven’t used setlists in a long time, though. That’s sort of the fun of it. On some sets, that’s keeps it interesting. I like to be able to go with the mood of the crowd. It feels more conversational.

HMS: How do you signal to each other in the band what songs you’re going to do next?

KC-G: I think, like a lot of bands who have been playing together for a while, there’s non-verbal stuff. You just have your own weird language. That’s something I’ve really missed during the pandemic. I’ve done a lot of acoustic livestreams and small shows here and there, but when you have five people on stage, we do two or three songs in a row without someone ever saying what we’re doing. Someone starts the next riff or ease in and out of things. There are looks, and we laugh at each other when we screw up. It’s our weird language without set cues. But it works for us.

HMS: It’s your alien language. I’ve got this on my mind because I’ve watching The Grateful Dead documentary, Long Strange Trip. They aggressive un-planned performances, then this great live album came out of it. It looked like pure chaos, but the result was wonderful.

KC-G: There’s a local radio station here that does a big Grateful Dead celebration where they have 22 bands playing 22 Grateful Dead songs. We do it at a big theater. I grew up never being a huge Dead fan, but this has changed things. They are a great example of a live band who know each other so well. There’s lots to learn there for sure. As I’ve gotten older and played more live shows, I’ve gained a greater appreciation for what they did.

HMS: Just as a performance phenomenon, there’s so much going on there. It’s rare to come across bands in current times where live performance is so big a part of their identity, though Lord Nelson is more in that vein in some ways.

KC-G: I grew up listening to 70s Rock, basically, with The Band, Tom Petty, The Grateful Dead. My hippie folks would play it around the house. So, the idea was that you play live shows. That’s how you experience music. It was actually the recording aspect that took me longer to get a handle on it. This album is the closest we’ve come to capturing how we sound live, but it was cut pretty loosely. It was originally intended to be a quick, live record in between studio records. When I say “live”, I don’t mean cut in front of an audience, but in a studio. 

But the more time we had with it over the course of the pandemic, we started adding overdubs and tweaking it from our respective houses. It’s now a nice blend of those things. Hopefully, coming out of this will be the closest we’ve had to a recording of how we sound live that people can listen to at home and have a similar experience. It’s taken me a while to bridge those two different worlds. 

HMS: When you recorded the album in the studio, did you record some of the main parts together at the same time to get that live feel?

KC-G: We recorded in the same space where we recorded our previous record, which is a barn/studio. We had a Producer help us on our previous record, and it was a big step up for us, sonically. For this one, we used the same space, but decided to do it ourselves, so we did the bulk of it in two weekends. We tracked everything together, and isolated as best we could. Though there’s a little bleed since it was a small space. I’d sing a scratch vocal really quietly. 

But we kept a lot of it. Some tracks had a lot of overdubs that we ended up stripping away afterwards. On one song, “Hell or High Water”, we cut the whole song live, then our guitarist did like 50 takes on it at home, over the pandemic. Then he went back to the original one he cut live after all that. The performance was great. We overdubbed vocals and some guitars. 

HMS: I heard that this album is a little new and different for the band in that it has multiple vocalists and different songwriting perspectives coming in. Had you done that at all before?

KC-G: When the band cut our first record, one of our main members played trombone and keyboard, Henry Jones, and he’s had songs on all three records so far. Then, his younger brother Calloway, joined during our second record. Henry actually did the album artwork for all our albums so far and is a designer, also, but Calloway is a prolific songwriter too. 

My approach has always been like The Band or Little Feat, where you have multiple singers. I think that makes it more interesting to have all the different voices during a show. I love it because we have a chance for Calloway to do a song, or Henry to do a song, and that makes for a more diverse set. We actually have one song by Henry on this album, though he was leaving the band to move to Colorado, “Burn It Down”, a murder ballad. Calloway is more steeped in Blues and Hard Rock and you’ll hear that in his songs. 

I think this is the first album where these different types of songs have worked cohesively together, and part of that was recording them all together, back-to-back. We had also played them on the road a good bit, and only one or two tracks were written in or around the studio. I have always loved the team atmosphere and it was great to have a super-collaborative writing process and recording process. When it came to putting it together, Calloway engineered, Henry did the artwork, and we all got together to mix. That collaboration brought things together in a year where we couldn’t really do shows. 

HMS: It often seems to increase the longevity of the band when multiple members contribute to the songwriting as well as in other areas.

KC-G: For me, it’s really important that everyone takes ownership and feels that they have a voice. Usually I will ultimately guide the ship, but it’s really important to me that everyone has a say in that. We’re a road band with so many ridiculous late drives, close calls, disasters and triumphs. We have all these weird memories and bonds together, so when it comes to studio stuff, that’s the easy part.

HMS: Did you write the song “Tooth and Nail” on this album?

KC-G: Yes, and that’s the only song we recut on the record from the original sessions. The original version was only about half as fast, with a loping gait. We started playing it live and our drummer, who comes from a Pop background, said, “This is more of a Rock song.” We recut that and it was really fun to put together. I also did “Drag Me Down” and one that Calloway and I wrote together is called “Country Desperation”.

HMS: “Tooth and Nail” does feel like more of a Rock song now, but your description of the original version reminds me of the video that you’ve made, actually. It’s about a slower pace to life, so that feeling is still there in a way. 

KC-G: I do freelance video work, though we’ve had very little video content for the band in the past because I’m super-picky. For this one, we had an elaborate plan for a while, but we put this one together during the Delta surge. So quickly, on the fly, we had to adapt. I shot and edited the video, and we featured our favorite dive bar in town. I ended up having a cameo in it by accident because there was no one else there to play the part. It came together super-fast, like the record. 

My friend Yusef Kerl is in it, who’s my neighbor out here in the country and works at the bar. We did everything in one take, filming him at his house getting ready to work at the bar, then doing karaoke night. He’s a really sweet, kind soul, so we thought, “What if you had a person like that and dumb, bad stuff keeps happening to them?” We simplified it down to that essence. We’re happy with how it came out without too much overthinking. 

HMS: The texture of a real place is there, by using the bar and his house. It feels really relevant to our current experience to take things down to a really small geographical space. You get a sense in the video that his environment is part of what’s helpful in getting him past these negative moments. 

KC-G: We all want and crave community, now more than ever, so at the core of this concept is a guy whos’ having a really bad day, then gets to see some friends, sing some songs, have a drink. We’ve all been craving that and that, at its core, is hopefully what our music is about. It wasn’t the original intent of the video, but it’s what it became. In the video, very little was staged. Yusef is just such a lovable guy that everyone was just giving him hugs and jumping on stage with him. That love and appreciation shone through.

HMS: Great fashion sense, too! That phrase “tooth and nail” is usually a very strong phrase and it gives a little bit of an edge to the softer elements of the song, too. 

KC-G: The different verses are vignettes about people from my life that I took some liberty with, but it’s based on events where you see people keep screwing up and you have to say, “Okay, I love you, but here’s a situation that we have to deal with.” It’s recognizing unconditional love but also making sure that you hold onto accountability. 

HMS: Those are hard things to talk about, and especially in music. Relationship songs tend to be very upbeat or very downbeat. But “Drag Me Down” doesn’t fit that pattern, either. I’m really surprised where it goes by then end, where it seems like the speaker really can have some empathy for this other person. Or at least they don’t actively wish them harm!

KC-G: I think, as a writer, I lean towards darker things, but I always try to have some clarity in there, or some hope. That song, particularly, comes from a period where a couple of folks close to me were having hard times in life, and a lot of it seemed self-inflicted from my perspective. They thought the whole world was against them. 

Related to “Tooth and Nail”, it’s someone the protagonist is close to, and wants to be supportive of, but does not need to bring all that into their life. There’s the “The venom on your breath”, and all those things that can really be damaging if someone is self-destructive. You may care about them, but you can’t go down that path with them completely.

HMS: It does seem like those two songs stand in a really interesting opposition, because “Tooth and Nail” is like the salvageable situation and “Drag Me Down” takes several steps back. But it is unusual in music to get these in-between states in relationships. 

KC-G: I feel like, more and more, whether you blow this out politically or not, the extremes of the binary positions are easy to go to. But that’s boring to me because the middle is where most of us live emotionally, and that’s the harder challenge to speak to and to write from that place. I don’t tend to write clear-cut love songs or breakup songs. I aim to bring some nuance to it because we all come from that place of common ground, and that’s where it’s interesting.

HMS: Can you tell me about making the video for “Drag Me Down”?

KC-G: We did a show around Thanksgiving in 2019 where we played most of this record live, and we did a multi-cam video of it because we thought we’d have it out in Spring of 2020. We’ve been sitting on the videos for a while. When I wanted to put together the video for “Drag Me Down”, I had all these great live cuts, and then our friend, Alanna Mahon, is a fantastic dancer. 

She had actually choreographed a routine to another song of ours with a very similar beat, so I was able to put those two things together to a point where, editorially, I felt like it didn’t seem like an afterthought. It felt fresh and motivated. It was one of those things where I wasn’t sure it would work until I sat back from the edit, and I enjoyed making that one.

HMS: That’s amazing, working with two sets of footage to create that relationship. I think it was cool that there are also two settings for her, the broken parking lot where everything feels chaotic, and then it moves to a higher-level garage with the sinking evening light. 

KC-G: I really appreciate that perspective on the video. That is sort of what we were going for. I remember racing to the top of the parking garage to get the footage before sundown. 

Photo credit: Sanjay Suchak

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3 Responses

  1. ? Kai you remind me of days long ago chatting with your father on the topic of life. Looking behind what we don’t see in front of us..

  2. I think, like a lot of bands who have been playing together for a while, there’s non-verbal stuff. You just have your own weird language.

  3. We did a show around Thanksgiving in 2019 where we played most of this record live, and we did a multi-cam video of it because we thought we’d have it out in Spring of 2020

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