“It used to be the most nerve-wracking five minutes of my life,” he said. “Now it’s really the most exciting. That moment never gets old. It’s really, really exciting to go out there and have the lights come up and you hear the band. It’s awesome. I have the best job in the world.”
Nelson has reason to be in good spirits these days. His band’s sixth album, “Confessions,” debuted at number 20 on Billboard’s Top 200 album chart last month, reviews have been positive, and a tour supporting Kid Rock is underway, putting the California band back in their element on the road. But perhaps most importantly, Nelson and company have finally been able to release an album that has sat on the shelf for nearly a year.
“It was such a long, arduous process to actually get the record out, from wrapping up that tour that we were on, to getting into writing, so I don’t think I ever sit back and enjoy the fruits of the labor,” he said. “Me personally, and I can speak for the band as well, everybody worked really hard on this record. We really dug deep for it and it was really important for us to make a full-length record and not make the same record over and over again. All that, combined with all the business stuff we had going on behind the scenes while we were making it, switching managers, and not sure which label it was gonna come out on, it being delayed for nine months because we really wanted to have the record out last June, man, just getting it out was such a huge relief for us.”
So what does a band like Buckcherry do with an album in limbo like that? They hit the road.
“We finished the record and mixed it and didn’t even know how it was gonna come out or how we were gonna figure out some of the business things,” said Nelson. “So we just did what we naturally do, which was say ‘f**k it, we’re gonna hit the road,’ and we did 125 shows from the time the record was done to the time it actually came out.”
Hitting the streets on Century Media Records in February of 2013, the main theme of “Confessions” is the seven deadly sins, and though the rest of the 13 tracks cover other topics, Nelson (who co-produced the album) wanted to make sure that the entire work stood on its own merits whether you were following along with the deadly sins theme or not.
“I always wanted the record to be able to stand alone on its own without knowing any back story,” he said. “It was really important to me that you could put it in as a fan of the band or someone that was checking out the band and enjoy the record. And if you saw the story then it would make even more sense to you. But it was important for it to stand on its own.”
It does, and while there is no mistaking that this is a Buckcherry album, the band does experiment stylistically throughout, especially hitting the mark on tracks like “Sloth” and “Pride.” It was especially important for Nelson to make sure things hit the mark on “Sloth,” as the song tells a very personal tale of the suicide of lead singer Josh Todd’s father.
“I’ve known Josh for 17 years, and I’ve spoken to him at length many, many times about those events in his life,” said Nelson. “And the whole time we’ve been in a band together, all the interviews, he’s never once brought it up, it’s never come out, and he just never spoke about it. I totally respected his privacy with that and when he chose to tackle that, he called me up one day and he said ‘I’ve got this idea for what I want the song ‘Sloth’ to be,’ and he sang me the chorus he had. He didn’t have any music for it, he just had this melody and he said ‘this is what I want it to be.’ And I thought, my challenge is to match the emotion that he was conveying with the lyrics with the music and the arrangement, and just the drama and the depth of what it was. And I don’t mean drama in a bad way, but truly, when you’re a 10-year-old boy and your father commits suicide, that’s life altering stuff that you never shake. So I just wanted to convey that, and it was really important for me to rise to the occasion and I wrote that music for it. And then when we sat down with a guy that was helping us out and playing some keyboard parts, he played a pass of it and then we stopped the tape. I said ‘hey man, I just want to give you some back story,’ because there weren’t any vocals on it. I said ‘this is my singer’s song about his father committing suicide when he was a boy, so keep that in mind.’ And then the next pass is what you hear on the record. It was heavy.”
Heavy probably doesn’t do it justice. The song is far removed from the usual ‘party’ reputation tagged on Buckcherry, and it shows the evolution of a band that is remaining true to its art. As for Nelson, he’s in top form on “Confessions,” and his reputation as one of hard rock’s top axe men is growing, which isn’t surprising when you consider that the second you hear an opening riff from the band, you know it’s Buckcherry. Not too many guitarists can claim that, but Nelson isn’t patting himself on the back either.
“I never think of it that way, honestly,” he said. “I still feel like I’m really just getting started. I’m such a fan of music and I think of my favorite records: AC/DC, Rolling Stones, Aerosmith, ZZ Top, Free, and my favorite guitar players and how signature what they do is, like Jimmy Page, and I don’t think I’m anywhere near on par with that. So I appreciate the compliment, but it’s something that I’m always striving for. I will say that I’m definitely comfortable with my assets and limitations at this point and I know what’s in my wheelhouse and what isn’t in my wheelhouse. I want to make music, I want to make songs, I want to make records, and I want to play guitar riffs and stuff like that that I would want to go buy, and that’s really the guiding philosophy behind the whole thing.”
It’s a philosophy that’s worked so far, with Buckcherry being one of the rare bands that can translate their live energy to their albums. Nelson says this is not by accident and it’s no secret for anyone looking to replicate it.
“I think it goes back to being a fan of music and knowing what it’s like to get your ticket in advance and wait for your favorite band to come to town finally, and they get that one chance to see them for an hour and a half, and that could be the only time you’ll see them for two years,” he said. “That’s always in the back of my mind. When someone comes to see us, I want it to be that moment for them, like the first time I saw AC/DC and the first time I saw Aerosmith and the Black Crowes. It was special to me and memorable, and I still talk about those shows. And I want the records to represent what we do. You can sit there and piece something together on the computer and call it a song, or you can put the band in a room together like we do and play the song, and play it and play it and tweak it and argue about it and get excited about it, all together. That’s when it all starts to make sense, and that vibe doesn’t go away.”
To keep that intact, six albums and plenty of turmoil and ups and downs later, is something to be impressed with. Keith Nelson is just grateful.
“It does make it sweeter,” he said, having survived the perils and pitfalls of the music business, “and I think it’s made us very grateful for it. There’s a gratitude that goes on with us that we probably didn’t have on the first two records, and then there’s also that little thing in the back of your mind that says it could go away at any moment, so enjoy it and buy into it while you’re here, because it’s not going to last forever.”