Joe Nelson is the vocalist for southern California bands TRIGGERMAN and WINDS OF PROMISE. TRIGGERMAN (Joe Nelson, Gavin Oglesby, Derek O’Brien, Brett Rasmussen) have just released their new record “A Place In The Sun”, an amazing hardcore concept album featuring guest vocalists Matt Caughthran (THE BRONX) and Peter Cortner (FIELD DAY). WINDS OF PROMISE (Joe Nelson, Joe Foster, Michael James Kenyon, Patrick Longrie) released their stunning second album “Cut. Heal. Scar.” mid last year. You can preorder TRIGGERMANs “A Place In The Sun” now at CoreTex (https://coretexrecords.com/Triggerman-A-Place-In-The-Sun_1). This interview was done with Joe Nelson in May, 2021 via e-mail.
TRIGGERMAN has just released a new record called “A Place in The Sun”. After nine years, what compelled you to write a new album?
I just really wanted to write songs again. I was missing that outlet. This was pre-joining WINDS OF PROMISE by about 2 years, so I was bandless at the time. So, in the Spring of 2016 I approached Gavin Oglesby about it, and doing it as a brand-new TRIGGERMAN album. The album you reference from 9 years ago “Learning to Lie” was constructed from old demos and practice tapes. We reworked some parts, but those songs were mainly written between 1992-1995. Gavin was not that interested in the idea though. He had worked pretty hard on his last band BLOOD DAYS, and it didn’t seem like that ended well. I think he probably didn’t feel like tapping back into his creative side at the time, which I understood. We still talked about it a little throughout the year, but I figured it wasn’t probably going to happen. Then sometime at the end of the year he emailed me a few rough ideas he had been working on. Those ideas eventually became the songs “Long Way Down”, “We’re Just Spectators Now” and “Dissolve”. I thought they were really, really cool, and right in my wheelhouse vocally. We started to have deep philosophical discussions almost weekly about what a new TRIGGERMAN album should look like. We both were not interested in just writing songs. We wanted to try and do something that was really big in scope. We talked about trying to jam out parts and mess with arrangements that were out way of our comfort zone. The project started getting some momentum and by early 2018 we had about 10 songs musically. We both agreed it was worthy to try and make an album of it, so I started working on the lyrics and vocals.
The record feels like the magnum opus of West Coast hardcore. Was it your intention to create something extraordinary? What was the creative process?
It actually was. As I was just saying we had pretty deep discussions on how the songs should be before we really started writing them. I took the approach that this might be the last album I ever make so every little idea I ever had musically but hadn’t seen the light of day, yet I threw out there. I remember telling Gavin early on to check out later day WIRE albums such as “Nocturnal Koreans” and “Silver/Lead” as well as the late 80s TALK TALK album “Spirit of Eden”. That stuff is really out there, and you can tell the bands were just being extremely creative without any regard to writing the typical pop formulaic stuff. Another thing we both agreed to early on was not settling on songs – to keep tinkering with the music until it was where we wanted it, even if that meant it took a while to complete. Besides maybe 1 or 2 every song on that album went through multiple rewrites. Then once Gavin started layering some of the synth stuff into the music it really pulled it even further out there. It caused me to completely change vocal melodies in some parts to fit around the keyboard stuff. At some point in 2018 Derek O’Brien and Brett Rasmussen started jamming with us. Their input and music sensibilities pushed the songs as well. They have fingerprints on this stuff. Plus, I always knew Brett would bring his Peter Hook vibe to the music and just make it that much cooler and darker. He’s such a fun bass player to work with. In every song on the album there is a little part here or there that is 100% Brett and makes the song way better. We recorded all of this at Derek studio DOB sound. That was a real luxury since allowed us to work on the album for 2 weeks straight and then take a 2-month break to critically listen back to what we had and tweak it. Derek who engineered everything and has real musical chops kept us sort of in line, so the stuff didn’t get too weird. I remember telling him early on that Gavin and I wanted to get David Byrne and push boundaries, so it was his responsibility to try and keep some sort of pop sensibility to what we were doing. To keep us on the road more or less. It’s kind of funny talking about it with you now because it sounds as if we were trying to make like the U2 “Joshua Tree” album or some grand body of work in the style of how say a Brian Eno would approach a project. In a way we really were though. I summed it up once to Dan O’Mahoney when he asked early on how the recoding was going by saying “we trying to make an album that’s a combo of all the early 90’s Dischord plus GIRLS AGAINST BOYS playing the main stage at Coachella during sunset. I don’t think he got the reference, but I did.
The lyrics are not written from a first-person perspective, it is more like reading a novel. What is the story are you telling here and was it difficult to write?
It was all part of the overall plan on this thing. I wanted to completely change how I wrote lyrics and vocal patterns. I didn’t want to use the words “I” or “me” in any songs, and almost pulled it off. I do say the line “I know it’s funny, but true” in “Dissolve” which I believe is the only time I get in the 1st person perspective on the entire album. I just liked that line too much to change it though. Then what happened was about halfway through writing the album I came up with this idea that every song would link together and tell a continuous story. I could tell pretty early on how the sequence was going to go so I started going back into songs and changing a line here or there, so they connected a little. That they would at least have a continuous theme to them. Gavin and I had also talked early on about naming the album “A Place in the Sun”, which was a name we had in mind for our follow up album to “Dead Like Me” years ago. That name was from and old 1951 movie starring Montgomery Cliff and Elizabeth Taylor. We also had talked about splicing in some dialogue from that movie over a few songs. I started watching the movie looking for cool phrases to lift and a light bulb went off. I went back to Gavin and said I wanted to make this a concept album and lay out dialogue from the movie, so it flows in a linear fashion and then tweak lyrics again so that they still worked as individual songs, yet also told this story when mixed with the movie dialogue. I don’t think he was on board with the idea 100%, but the nice part of working with Gavin as a writing partner is we both always want the other to have freedom with their ideas, so he told me to go for it. It probably took me 100-man hours to get that movie dialogue laid out and synced properly with the songs. It was a real chore. We were also working on this part of the album right in the middle of the pandemic. Gavin and I even had about a 6 hour zoom call where we worked on placing the dialogue together. I then went back one last time and changed a few lines in 3 different songs so that it all locked in tighter and made more sense. It actually seems kind of crazy as I’m talking about it, but that’s what we did. The thing I really love about the lyrics is that they each work as individual songs. Every song is talking about something topical for the year 2021. “How Did We Get Here?” is about climate change. “We’ve Got You All Figured Out” is about Donald Trump. “Seed to Grain” is about generational classism in America. I talk about the impact of social media and consumerism in a few songs. So that stuff is all there. It’s a highly political album. However, these songs also tell this story when coupled with the dialogue about George Eastman, who is the main character from the movie. So yes, to your point it is like reading a novel in a way. My lyrics in TRIGGERMAN have always been a bit dark and that movie is also very dark. So, I feel like they really work well together in unison – the movie dialogue and my lyrics that is. Plus, that movie really peels some of the layers off the American myth, especially for that post World War 2 era which is when it came out. In fact, Charlie Chaplin called it at that time “the greatest movie ever made about America”. If you know anything about Chaplin, then you realize that’s not meant as a compliment. So, to actually answer your question – yes it was extremely difficult to write, at least for me anyway.
Matt Caughthran (THE BRONX) and Peter Cortner (FIELD DAY) are also singing on the record. How did they get involved?
Matt is one of my dear friends and I just love his voice. Originally Pat Flynn was going to do the part Matt does. Unfortunately, the pandemic hit, and he wasn’t able to get into a studio out in the Boston area which is where he lives. Matt was gracious enough to take Pat’s spot and recorded it in his home studio, which really helped since everything in California was shut down at the time. He just crushes that song. As for Peter Cortner – when I was writing the song “Dissolve” I kept repeating this melody which was a straight up rip-off of Peters style, at least in my mind. We had recently become friends again after a FIELD DAY and wINDS OF PROMISE show in Los Angeles. FIELD DAY was unreal that night so for about a week after that show I was listening to a lot of DAG NASTY, especially their album “Field Day”. This was also during the time I was working on the vocal melody “Dissolve”. I think you can tell that was a big influence on the song. Also, during the early days of TRIGGERMAN our musical goal was to sound like Peter Cortner era DAG NASTY blended with say JAWBOX. We were trying to write songs that were post-hardcore. That was how we identified ourselves. Anyway, the more I worked on that song the more I just thought Peters vocal style would be a perfect fit for it. On every TRIGGERMAN album we have always had at least one guest vocalist. So, for this one I thought Peter would make perfect sense. He was my first and only choice really. So, I sent him the song. He really loved it and immediately said “yes”. I’m so happy he’s on it. I just think it’s one of the coolest things to do a duet with Peter Cortner.
Are there any plans for TRIGGERMAN to go on the road or is it a studio project only?
At this point it’s just a studio project. We did discuss playing at least one show while we were recording “A Place in the Sun” . The main obstacle really is the way I would want to present the band live is with a lot of visuals and lighting. We would have to really put a lot of work into it. I wouldn’t want to play a show with TRIGGERMAN just for the sake of playing. I would want it to be an experience – something out of the ordinary. We put so much effort into this last album that I don’t think I have enough juice in me right now to do anything TRIGGERMAN. Therefore, we are back on hiatus again.
Your other band, WINDS OF PROMISE, released their second full-length album last year. Was there any hesitation to release the album during the pandemic?
It was mistake putting that out during the pandemic. We couldn’t tour on it. It feels like it is a lost record almost. Looking back, it would have been better to just have waited a year until Fall 2021 to release it. Originally it was to have come out in June 2020, and we were going to tour Europe again in October of the same year. It’s too bad because I really like the album and was looking forward to playing some of the songs from it live.
It took some persuading from Joe Foster to get you to join the band. Why were you hesitant at first and what changed your mind?
I just didn’t know if I would be able to commit to something like that. I was working a ton of hours at the time. I also was working in secret with Gavin on a new TRIGGERMAN album. I didn’t think I had enough hours in the day to even commit to that fully let alone joining another band. Plus, I also live in Los Angeles while the rest of those guys live down in Orange County where I’m originally from. That’s about a 2 hour drive getting to band rehearsal. Once I heard the songs Joe Foster had written though I was in. He played me the music to the song which ended up being “Grab a Little, take a lot” and I just thought it was great. Plus, the idea of being in a band with Pat Longrie after all these years was appealing. I’m really glad I joined. WINDS OF PROMISE has been one of the easiest and most enjoyable bands I’ve ever been a part of.
In 2019 WINDS OF PROMISE toured in Europe for the first time. What were the highlights for you and are you looking forward to come back?
The whole thing was great. I had a blast. Our first show was in Western Germany at some biker club, and we were a little rough. However, by the time we wrapped it up in Immenhausen I thought the band was really tight. I have been to Europe many times over the years but had never played a show there. Obviously playing the CoreTex stage during “May Day” was a highlight. Being able to play with BOLD in Wiesbaden was a real treat. I’ve been friends with the BOLD guys since I was a teenager. To be sharing a stage together 30 years later was special for me. Also, anytime you’re touring the best part is getting to meet other people and discover knew bands. I really fell in love with SAFE who played several shows with us. I was also thankful to see ONCE I CRY play their final show, which was with us in Maastricht. They were so great that night.
Is it strange to be in two bands with Joe Foster (WINDS OF PROMISE) and Brett Rasmussen (TRIGGERMAN) who founded IGNITE with you over 27 years ago?
Not at all. I’ve been friends with both of them for years. You have to understand that when I quit IGNITE it wasn’t because of any drama. At the time I was too busy with college and work to commit to it the way they needed me too. IGNITE had real ambition to be a professional band. They wanted to tour 24/7 and I just couldn’t do that. I actually recruited Randy Johnson to replace me and even helped write a few songs after I’d left the band. Gavin Oglesby, who was in IGNITE during those early years as well, was also the guy who found Zoli Teglas to sing eventually. So, there is a real connection between TRIGGERMAN and IGNITE.
What are your plans for WINDS OF PROMISE for the rest of the year and going into 2022?
We haven’t really talked about much as a band since the pandemic started. I personally would love to get back to Europe in Fall 2022. That’s definitely a goal I have. However, I haven’t discussed it with the band yet. At some point this Summer I plan on getting in a room with those guys to start writing again. I don’t know if we’ll ever get another album out. I can see us writing a few 7”s over the next 12 months though.
Besides singing in two bands you also run the record label Trust Records with Matt Pincus. What is Trust Records about and what is your mission?
Trust Records is a non-profit music label dedicating to preserving the American punk rock and hardcore scene from the late 70s into the early 90s. Our soul mission is to make sure this music that we all love is properly placed into the marketplace so that when we are all dead and gone kids can still easily discover a CIRCLE JERKS album. In order to achieve this, we’re going to have to purchase quite a few catalogs and individual masters over the next 10-15 years. Our deals are partnerships with either the label or band depending on who owns the copyright. From there we are trying to do our best to repackage the physical albums with a white glove treatment. Remastering from the tapes if possible. Adding these bonus full color booklets with a ton of extra stuff packed inside. Providing bonus tracks when applicable. The hope is that by presenting the physical albums in this fashion it will help the music in the digital space to have a little more traction – to find a few more ears out there. We all have to understand that like it or not all music is going digital. We are trying to not only embrace that change but try and help this genre of music to not just survive in a digital world but have a proper space carved out within it. We have a pretty solid team already built with some the best in this industry when it comes to either art design or digital marketing, and so on. Because of the spirit in what we’re doing so many people have reached out to help us. That’s the thing about this music – it’s touched, influenced and shaped so many people within so many different walks of life. People such as Matt and I that owe a lot to these artists and their albums. It’s a real feel-good mission we’re on. Plus, it’s a ton of fun.
So far your have re-released CIRCLE JERKS “Group Sex” and 7SECONDS “The Crew”. Are there any other releases planned in the near future?
Hopefully there will be multiple releases over the next 10-15 years of some really classic stuff. That’s the plan anyway. The next six we have lined up are CIRCLE JERKS “Wild in the Streets”, AGRESSION “Don’t Be Mistaken”, DFL “My Crazy Life”, YOUTH BRIGADE “Sound & Fury”, 7SECONDS “Walk Together, Rock Together”, and STALAG 13 “In Control”. In 2023 we plan on getting to the SNFU albums that are in BYO out as well, plus 7SECONDS “New Wind”. However, we have a bunch of stuff in the works that I can’t really talk publicly about yet. It’s going to be really fun though so make sure you follow Trust Records on social media to stay informed.