What do you think of when you hear the name Nelson? If you're thinking about the blond-haired, blue-eyed twins, you're correct. If you think of the word Ahot,' you're also correct. These twins are steadily making their way up the charts with their songs, "Love and Affection" (which hit number 1 on the boys' birthday), and "After the Rain," their second number 1 hit.
In an interview in January, Matthew and I talked about many things, including the war, which was still to come. Matthew said, "A lot of times, when I've been traveling, doing promos and stuff, I've met soldiers who are getting sent there, and I'm really interested to see how they feel about what's going on there. And a lot of them are very salty, very ready to go and fight. But I can tell that they are a little scared. The only thing I can say, from my point of view, is that I'm just upset as an American citizen. It was obvious from the first day when he [Bush] sent all those people down there, I mean a huge amount of people, down to the Middle East, that he didn't want peace. President Bush did not want peace. It's obvious we were going to war right from the start.... I don't understand why this country's leaders have such a big thing about poking their noses where they don't belong. I just pray to God.
"And hopefully I can do something with the music. You know, that's really what I'm playing for, just on a human level; to help people feel for each other.... But, at least I really feel I have a responsibility to a lot of people at once, just like you do with writing. But I get to see people, like on this tour that's coming up, face to face.
"And I get to talk to them because it's not going to be just the songs. I mean, I'll get to talk to them between the songs, and stuff like that, and when you see the show, it's going to be an experience. I'm very committed to that and I really think that I've been blessed to at least have a voice. Just to be able to talk to people. Hopefully I'll make a difference."
Now that Nelson has become so popular with the huge success of their album, the band is forced to hire body guards. There are fans toting scissors in order to cut samples of their hair! But they still keep their outgoing, friendly and positive attitudes. As I talked to Matthew, he was extremely sweet and patient despite my call waiting interrupting us twice, which he dismissed with a "You must be a popular girl!" Through all this, Matthew kept his easy-going disposition.
But Matthew's life hasn't always been a bed of roses. In the beginning of their video, "After the Rain," the father bellows to his son, "You'll never amount to anything." These are the same words Matthew and Gunnar heard from their mother when they were 18. (Just about the same age as the boy in the video.) The next day, the boys moved in with their father, Ricky Nelson. A year later, he died in a fire on board a small plane. Ricky, Ricky's girlfriend and his five band members all died in the aircraft. Although the fire was caused by a faulty heater on the plane, false allegations flew about the fire being caused by Nelson free basing cocaine, despite government investigators confirming the band was asleep when the fire occurred.
"When my pop died, it really hit home. When I was growing up, I used to say to Gunnar, AWhat would happen if Pop went away one time and didn't come back,' and it happened. So it took us all by surprise and it made me think we're only human. I think if you lose a parent, it hits everyone the same way. For us, it was the first in a long series of personal setbacks.
When our sister Tracy got sick, that was a tough one too. She got cancer. Maybe it happened for a reason. I don't know. Tracy, she's such a wonderful person. Every day is precious and it really helped me see that my life here is not indefinite. I can't count on waking up every morning. I have a certain amount of time and Gunnar does as well. We really see that if we've got something to say, we need to say it.
"And that you shouldn't be afraid of saying how you feel and of feeling, in general. It's so easy to just numb yourself out and not care about anything, because it hurts less that way. But it doesn't feel good either, because you're not feeling anything.... Like when Pop died, it wasn't only that my pop died, but the press crucified him. When he was gone, it was kinda like,ALook at these cowards.' I can't believe it, he gave his entire life to his public, to his art and what he did. As a matter of fact, he died on his way to a show and they want to talk about rumors. The rumors were proven to be untrue, but we still have people coming up and talking about drugs and my dad. Somebody's writing an unauthorized biography on us and we had to send them letters from our lawyers saying we want to review the book before they let it out and they said, AWell, since it's an unauthorized biography, we're going to write it anyway. We don't have to have you approve it, but we promise that there's not going to be anything slanderous in there.' It's just amazing you know. It's like AGod, people are writing books about me?' You know, is it just that big of a deal?
"People lately have been making a big deal out of the girls who I date and stuff like that. Does anybody really care? Really? It's really weird, but when that whole thing happened, we became very spiteful. I became very angry and I had that feeling that everybody owed me something. It became the kind of thing where I really had to make a decision about what kind of person I wanted to turn out to be. I think there are two types of people in this world: there are givers and there are takers and all my life I was really giving, and it really made me feel good to make other people happy, and to give. When all the guys I knew were treating girls like garbage, when I dated, I treated them like queens and I just thought that it put me a step ahead. But when all that happened, I figured, ALook where that got me,' and it was a very, very destructive outlook. Emotionally self-destructive.
"I've never done a drug in my life. So, if there's ever a time where I could work with kids or something like that and I can come from the point of view, AWell, look, you don't need that crap, because I haven't done it,' at least I know what I'm talking about. The whole idea of trying everything doesn't make any sense, because what if you like it? Think about that. Say if you do cocaine. What if you really dig it? You're screwed. ASee you on the other end in about twenty years in rehab, if you're not dead already.' It's that kind of thing. So we didn't mess with any of that.
"But we just started going to nightclubs and hanging out with the wrong people. I had a band at the time and I couldn't understand that when I went out of town, they stole all my gear. I figured, AWell, what is it with everybody?' By doing a little soul searching and getting around the right people, you kind of realize, well, you know, it's not their problem, the problem is with me and what I was putting out. Because you get back what you give. You truly do. And what I was putting out was garbage. I was only out for me and it took me some time, and going right back to ground zero and right back down to earth to see that we're all human beings and we're here. We all feel the same things and that's where it begins and ends.
"And that's why I feel people relate to Nelson, because it's real and that's what we're really striving for. Everything that you get from the music, and everything that you get from seeing us play or even in interviews, is us. We're not hiding behind costumes and I think that's something that everybody really needs. The cool thing is that I can wake up every day knowing that no one's going to find out any secrets that I haven't told anybody. It is what it is. With family questions, it's great because it really doesn't matter where we're from. It's not that we have a famous heritage, because who cares? What it comes down to is either you like the music or you don't like the music, and either you like us or you don't and that's O.K., either way.
"It's okay with me because I'm here to really make people feel. That's what I'm committed to doing. Whether they love me or hate me, I hope it's one or the other because I don't want them to say AIt's okay,' because that's when you're not doing your job. I want people to be passionate about what I'm doing. I think it's very important that people have an outlet and I think it is important that people have entertainers who are believable. In two years you're not going to find out that Nelson proved to be a fraud. The real ghost singers come out of hiding. It's not going to be that way. It's very real and it's going to get better." n
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.