For Nels Cline, home is where the guitars are. "I have about a billion guitars here," he says of his Brooklyn home, where he's relaxing for a day in between gigs. And not just any gigs—Nels just returned from the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival and will soon be on a plane to Tokyo.
He will be back in Brooklyn soon enough, headlining a show at the BRIC Celebrate Brooklyn! Festival on August 5. Unpredictable folk revivalist Sam Amidon will open the show and Nels will perform songs from his 2016 album Lovers, an instrumental double-disc of originals and re-arranged versions of "Great American Songbook" standards.
"It's been years of sitting and making song lists and developing arrangement ideas," he said, describing Lovers as "25 years percolating." He credits conductor and arranger Michael Leonhart and producer David Breskin with pushing him to actually tackle the project, which features top-notch performers including Steven Bernstein, Nels' twin brother Alex Cline, Julian Lage, Devin Hoff, Taylor Haskins, and many more.
"This darker, more thorough mood music record addresses the idea of romance, but not just the sugary aspects," Nels explained. "Also, a large part of this record ended up having a lot more to do with my love of Jim Hall than I thought it would."
Hall, who was an American jazz guitarist, composer and arranger, passed away on the last day of tracking on Lovers and "his presence spilled over in a lot of the album," according to Nels. "Chord clusters, polyrhythmic heartbeats…I thought [these elements] would really entertain him."
Beyond Jim Hall, many other musicians have inspired Nels over the years.
"I got into music in the mid-to-late '60s and that was all about rock & roll for me, psychedelic rock, and blues," he said. "My first musical fascination was The Byrds' Turn! Turn! Turn! But it was hearing Jimi Hendrix doing 'Manic Depression' on the radio that electrified and galvanized me."
Nels rattled off a list of fellow guitarists and musicians who have inspired him to this day, including The Allman Brothers Band, Jan Akkerman, Sonic Youth, Peter Frampton, Rory Gallagher, John Abercrombie, Weather Report, George Benson, and Herbie Hancock. "John Coltrane's Africa/Brass was my second big epiphany," he said. "I thought, 'what have I been missing?'"
Many Festival fans will know Nels as the guitarist for Bandshell favorite Wilco, but with a background in the experimental jazz scene starting in the 1980s, Nels has been performing with a wide range of fellow artists for decades. "I've been striving to balance many elements of music for 20 years, and I'll continue to investigate that balance," he explained. "My solution was to start my own band and just do what I wanted."
A newer Brooklyn resident, Nels was living with his wife Yuka Honda (of Cibo Matto) in Manhattan for several years before the two moved to Brooklyn. "Besides the considerable depth and breadth of cultural history, I enjoy being in proximity to many of my favorite collaborators," Nels said of living in Brooklyn.
He's visited the Bandshell before—with Wilco in 2012 and with Jenny Scheinman in 2007—but this year, as a Brooklyn resident, Nels is honored to be headlining a Festival performance and showcasing Lovers, especially because many of the original musicians on the album will be able to come join in the fun. Plus, he said, "I have a bunch of friends who will be able to walk to come see the show!"
Give Nels a big BRIC Celebrate Brooklyn! Festival welcome to the borough on Saturday, August 5, at 7:30pm!