- - Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Nothing puts you in the mood to celebrate the holidays like Christmas music. Even the stingiest Scrooge is ready for good times once he hears the familiar refrains of holiday classics.

The latest rockin’ CD in my holiday-heavy rotation is “This Christmas,” the first-ever holiday record from Matthew and Gunnar Nelson. The twin sons of Ricky Nelson behind a slew of 1980s rock classics (remember “After the Rain”?) offer up beautiful, country-tinged acoustic renditions of Christmas classics done with solid two-part harmonies and a touch of rock ‘n’ roll.

Matthew Nelson spoke to The Washington Times from his home in Nashville about how the holiday CD came to be, what Christmas was like growing up Nelson and the best gift he ever got.

Question: Why did you guys decide to record a Christmas CD?

Answer: We have always wanted to do a Christmas album. We recorded this over a two-year period. We have a philosophy [that] Christmas albums are one of two things: either a cash grab or an artistic endeavor. We wanted to go for the latter on this one. We wanted to make it timeless. We wanted to do the best work we could on it and do what we do, which is acoustic instruments and vocals. That is really our strength, I think.

Q: How did you pick which songs to cover?

A: We started with a set list from a show we did two years prior to recording. These were the songs we enjoyed playing and enjoyed listening to. I think all a Christmas album needs to be good is to be honest.

Q: What was the recording process like?

A: Making a Christmas album in the middle of summer in Nashville is interesting. The majority of this record was really [us] two brothers facing each other through the control room glass — each of us with a guitar in hand and a mic in front of us. [It was the] same mic our dad used to record “Garden Party.”

If we got a take that we felt really captured the right spirit, that was what we went with.

Q: Why are a couple of the songs instrumentals?

A: We decided to switch it up a little bit [and do] something a little different while you’re listening to the album. We thought that maybe listening to a couple cuts with vocals, then going to an instrumental place and getting into the spirit of this music, was the way to go.

Q: You are also donating a portion of the proceeds of the single “This Christmas” to St. Jude’s Hospital, yes?

A: One hundred percent of the digital [is] all going to St. Jude’s. It’s a wonderful charity. I love the fact that it’s not only these kids, who are taken care of while facing these terrible things, but also their families are taken care of. They never have to worry about getting a bill.

Q: What is your favorite Christmas song ever?

A: Gunnar and I are on tour right now supporting this album with a show called “Christmas with the Nelsons.” There are so many songs in that that I love. We start the show with an “Ozzie and Harriet” episode that is all about the song “Silent Night” and how our grandfather [Ozzie Nelson] felt that when he heard “Silent Night,” everything was OK.

We close the show with “Silent Night.” To hear an entire audience of 900 or a thousand people singing that song, I dare you not to tear up.

Q: What was Christmas like growing up in the Nelson household?

A: We kind of talk about it in the show. The early ‘70s, when we were little kids, the entire family was all together. We would go over to our grandparents’ house. All the cousins would come over. They had a magnificent black-and-white marble floor. All the cousins would take off our shoes and slide all over the floor for an hour.

After eating and watching “A Christmas Carol,” Ozzie would always have these little envelopes for all the kids with a $5 bill in it [and] little notes from him. We would all catch up on things, have some laughs. Maybe a guitar would come out. People would sing a little bit. It was great. That would happen on Christmas Eve.

My mom and dad were pretty great as far as Christmas when we were kids. We would always have a ginormous tree. The house was always decorated — lots of presents.

When Ozzie died in 1975, we still enjoyed Christmas, but it wasn’t the same. Because he was kind of the rudder on the Nelson family ship. It took until 1985, when Gunnar and I turned 18 and moved back in with our dad and had that last Christmas with him [before he died], for everybody to feel like it had all [come] back around full circle.

Here we are all these years later. Thirty years. Gunnar and I have our own families, and now it’s our turn.

Q: What is the greatest gift you ever got a kid?

A: It was my 1974 Schwinn Stingray bike. I wish I still had it. Gunnar got a “Lemon Squeezer” and I got an “Apple Crate.” There was nothing like wanting to be Evel Knievel in the ‘70s on bikes that weren’t designed to go over jumps, that had nothing but sharp edges and chrome. It was glorious living in the ‘70s, man.

Q: Gunnar said earlier this year “Peace Out” would be the last real rock record from Nelson. Is that true?

A: I’m one of those guys that never says never. Unlike a lot of our contemporaries from that era, fortunately, we didn’t get stuck there musically. We’ve always made records that vary. Some of them have been hard rock, some straight country albums.

For me I can’t foresee doing another one of those records that is perfectly styled to sound like a better version on an album from 1990. I can’t imagine doing another album like that.

Q: What are Nelson’s plans for 2016?

A: There are really no plans for Nelson [the band]. We’ve kind of mothballed it. What we are doing now is what I think comes naturally: an acoustic-based, brother harmonies [sound]. Very Americana and country-sounding. That is where our hearts are and where we live now.

Q: Do you have any New Year’s resolutions?

A: I’ve got a little baby at home now. I wanna be around for him and raise him right. I want to sing songs that my child — God forbid I’m not around anymore — is going to listen to and know I’m singing to him.

Mahthew & Gunnar Nelson’s “This Christmas” is out now.


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