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Music is hard work when you take it seriously. Amidst an endless sea of other young bands, it takes tenacity, charisma and something unique yet relatable to shine. The work is hard, but the reward is sweet. Just ask Nelo. After a few years on the road and in the studio, Nelo finished a brand new album and an authentic American rock band was born.
“Nelo”, the new self-titled L.P. has a target release date of February 4, 2014. It is a big, bold, evocative ensemble of sounds that somehow feels edgy and alluring at the same time. And this record is perhaps truer to the band’s roots than any of the other recordings that Nelo has produced in the last few years. The album is packed with effortless live energy, but the story of how it came to be is not so easy.
The band essentially recorded off and on over a year and a half when not on the road. Matt Ragland, the band’s primary songwriter and rhythm guitarist, produced the album and was adamant that no idea go untested. The result is a very personal record that deserves to be self-titled.
Nelo, named for a strategy in the card game Spades where one loses every hand in order to win big in the end, is led by the team of Matt Ragland and Reid Umstattd (lead singer). The name of the band draws likeness between the strategy in the game and the experience of songwriting, where one often takes the loss and pain experienced in life and uses it to create something distinctly positive.
Ragland and Umstattd met as kids at a summer camp outside of Austin, TX but did not become friends until years later. Ragland, who had begun writing songs, heard Umstattd sing by chance one day during a camp retreat, a pivotal moment for the duo that soon developed into a deep musical bond and friendship. By the time the two had graduated college, Ragland had already written multiple albums worth of songs and asked some musician friends from high school to join forces and form a new band.
In 2009, Nelo released “Two Years Ago”, an EP produced by Doug Lancio (Patty Griffin, John Hiatt) and recorded over 4 days at Willie Nelson’s Pedernales Studio outside of Austin. The band began touring extensively making stops at Austin City Limits Music Festival, South by Southwest, and CMJ Music Festival. The following year the band released “Ordinary Scene” (2010), a full length LP that Ragland produced himself. The record was mixed by CJ Eiriksson (U2, Steve Lillywhite) and debuted in the top 5 of the ITunes rock charts.
Perhaps the best part about the Ragland/Umstattd dynamic is that crowds can feel that they are a team. Ragland’s songwriting is hard to describe. On the one hand it’s faintly familiar, but on the other you’ve never heard this before. His lyrics are packed with content and meaning, and one gets the impression that his songs need to be written. Whatever he’s searching for, it’s deep and not often found in rock music. Umstattd’s singing is equally as inspired. He sings with an ease and passion that would make the best of singers jealous. He’ll leave you saying to yourself “that guy was just born to do that.”
David Sierra (drums), Matthew Muehling (guitar/bass), and Dave Scher (also guitar/bass) complete the team and their level of musicianship is world class. Nelo has been compared to an array of acts including Kings of Leon, The Killers, Dave Matthews Band and Eddie Vedder due to their positive, powerful live energy coming from tight, cohesive songwriting and a healthy dose of improvisation. This is a deep, honest, and energetic rock band that’s not afraid to smile.