by Jeff Niesel
Austin-based singer-songwriter Beaver Nelson isn’t the first guy that comes to mind when you think of an artist who might employ visuals in his live show. His music has a raw roots rock vibe that doesn’t seem suited to film or any kind of audiovisual accompaniment. And yet the guy is touring with an album-length film that he’ll project during his solo performance as he plays to an instrumental pre-recording of his new album Macro/Micro. He recently talked about the unique tour that brings him to the Beachland Tavern at 8 p.m. on Monday. Jane Dough opens, and tickets are $10.
Explain the concept behind Macro/Micro.
Well, for the album, I can’t pin a moment when I decided why the record would sound like this. It was influenced by a couple of things that were different. One, I wrote most of it on piano, which is not my primary instrument. Writing on piano was a very different experience, especially writing with the intent to play the parts. That influenced the sound and I just wrote a much more complicated record than I had ever made. I produced it completely on my own as opposed to working with Scrappy Jud Newcombe, who produced all my other records. I had this whole thing mapped out in my head and partly because of his demands and life in general, we didn’t have the time for him to do it. No one could produce this record but me. I had it all in my head so only I could produce it. I had to make it translatable to the guys who played on it. I had never worked that way before.
Tell me about the movie that will accompany your performance?
That’s a little more easily identifiable. Once I made the record, the fellows who played on it were asking me about how I was going to play it live. The thought hadn’t occurred to me. It was a rule on my first record and then by inertia, it remained a rule that even though we had full band recordings, all the songs needed to be arranged in such a way that I could play them solo. I had removed that restriction and I wanted to do some different. In my mind, I made an interesting record but it did present a problem. I can’t go out with an acoustic guitar and play it. So we remixed it to get an instrumental version based on taking my vocals and guitars off and then we shot a little bit of film. At one point, this was going to be a play. It was this whole weird thing. I had a little bit of video element in it. I was working with the guy who shot it and he did a bit on speck and I loved it and he liked working on it. He asked what we needed to make it a full-length film rather than parts. I raised enough money to make a full-length film. I’m touring with the instrumental version of the record and performing the entire album from start to finish. It’s a ton of fun. It’s all synced up. I’m singing and playing guitars with the instrumental version of my record playing through the PA off my laptop while the movie is running. It’s quite simpler than it sounds.
How would you describe the theme?
It’s a psychological art as opposed to a linear tale. I think of it in terms of the psychologist M. Scott Peck who had a book called The Road Less Traveled that was a list of delusions that all humans are born with. If you live a normal life span, your psychological development is dependent upon striking down certain delusions from your psyche. This is relative to that. This album is in that world.
I think of delusions as something you acquire.
That’s very funny because Augustine, the theologian from the fourth century, suggested that babies are very selfish. We can see that now when we view it through psychological terms. He wasn’t suggesting they should be punished, but they’re born selfish. As you start looking at these theological rationales or constructs and gauging them against psychology, they’re relatively consistent. A child will scream because it wants. They believe that everything is an extension of themselves. If they’re mad, they’ll hit their head. They think they’re hurting you but they’re not. There’s a long list of delusions. There’s delusion of virility. There’s the delusion of being indestructible. A study came out a year ago that they had discovered that in the male mind, the part of your mind that can gauge risk is not fully developed until the age of 25. The young man cannot properly assess risk. I find that fascinating. You can see that. It’s what the poets have written about for thousands of years.
What are you getting at it in “Natural Man Does Not Exist”?
Oh man. That is a statement that I can’t pin down. That song is a bit of a cipher. It discusses man observing man. When you observe a thing — I can’t remember who said this — acts of modern physics come into play. When a thing is observed, it just doesn’t’ change the observer, but it also changes the observed. Complete naturalness is an impossibility if anyone is observing. We have these different modes and these physical bodies. We have different mindsets and we can aspire to loftier things or operate out of love or anger or fear. When you are just doing something, there is a moment you stop and think about what you are doing. In that moment, you are observing yourself. That’s what the song is about. We aspire to observe other people as complete individuals.
Where’d you get those goggles you wear in the video for the song?
My wife’s uncle gave them to me one Christmas. I don’t remember when, maybe 9 or 10 years ago. I am not exactly certain why. I guess they’re welding goggles, but I don’t weld. I do paint houses but those are super-ineffective for house painting. I just held onto them and I loved them. When I started thinking about that song, it was clear why he had given those to me. I thought, “I have to wear these for the video and brush my teeth with a dirty toothbrush dug out of the garden.”
Was that your stunt double climbing up the pine tree?
That was not my stunt double, sir.
Did you have trouble getting down from the tree?
No. Not at all. The only trouble was that we shot it from a couple of different angles and the flower I was wearing kept falling off. I didn’t pick the biggest tree and when I would get to the top of that thing, there was nothing there and it got a little weak.
Is that you doing the spoken word parts on “Your Subconscious Does the Dirty Work”?
Yeah. I wrote pages and pages over the course of a couple of months of stream-of-consciousness and trying to capture that little soundtrack that is running in my head all the time. It’s a “natural man does not exist” type of deal. You try to catch the flow and as soon as you start thinking about it, you’re trying to create rather than capture. I wrote untold pages and went back and was able to take the sections that best represented what I was trying to do. I sat down and spoke for some period of time going through notebooks and we chopped it up and used sections that were not only well captured but spoken in an interesting way. Mixing was crazy. That was hours. We even tried adding this kazoo army thing and it was too much. Kazoos are hard to play. Seems like it would be the easiest thing in the world but it’s hard to get a pure pitch on a kazoo. You just slide up and down. With one kazoo, maybe you could do it. I was trying to do horn sections with kazoos and it was too insane.
How do you plan to follow up what is undeniably your most ambitious album yet?
I have no idea. I have joked that my next record will be called My Dog Ate My Movie Screen and it will be nothing but me and a cardboard box and a stick on the recording. It depends on how this is received. It’s different and unusual. I would love to work in this mixed medium for a while but it’s not cheap and it’s a tremendous amount of work on the road. I’m driving around the country by myself having to set up this whole operation nightly in different towns. It wears you out and I’m away from the family. I enjoy it. I have a solid hour every night where I get to play and interact with my buddies they’re just not there. Through the development of this thing, I haven’t had anyone come up to say that “this is like this other thing.” Every night I get, “I’ve never seen anything like that.” It’s incredibly gratifying in that sense. I’ve done it in big clubs and in people’s apartments. It’s really fun.