Last updated on February 18th, 2022 at 09:27 pm
John Mark Nelson was born and raised in Excelsior, Minnesota. Homeschooled until the 9th grade, Nelson then attended “The Giant” school of Minnetonka High. “I came in from being home schooled so I was sort of a ghost in the hallways to some extent.” says Nelson. He began his music career by playing small shows at a Dunn Brothers Coffee Shop in Excelsior, where they hosted Wednesday night open mic. There, John would experiment with a few cover songs along with testing the waters with his new original material.
As his performance continued to grow stronger, he began reaching out to other coffee shops and smaller venues to perform. Soon enough, Nelson formed a band around him to fill out his sound. While his band grew larger, as did his audience. In just two months after his high school graduation in 2012, John Mark Nelson jumped to the top of Minneapolis’ folk-pop scene with the release of his album, Waiting and Waiting. He began receiving strong support from the local radio station 89.3 The Current, playing songs from his record regularly on air.
Nelson had an opportunity to work with Sofar Sounds, a London-based organization which conducts living room concerts throughout the world. On their website, they give the option of signing up as an artist looking to play an event, or as a host interested in hosting an event at your residence. Nelson played a Sofar Sounds event in Minneapolis, which apparently went very well. After his performance, a member from Sofar reached out to Nelson and asked him if he was interested in having one of his songs featured on their first installment of a compilation album, which would feature select artists around the world who have played a Sofar Sounds event. Of course, Nelson accepted their kind offer. Shortly after, he was then invited to London, where he would perform the song he had written for Sofar’s compilation album. During his brief time in Europe, he headed over to paris for roughly 24 hours where he partook in a few tourist attractions, including having a nice picnic lunch under the Eiffel Tower.
At 19 years of age, Nelson made an even bigger splash with his 2013 album Sings the Moon, a collaborative effort featuring local artists such as indie-pop songwriter Jeremy Messersmith and members of Prince and Andrew Bird’s touring bands, (not to mention contribution from Nelsons ten piece live band). “We recorded in a very unique and experimental way,” says Nelson. “We would drop buckets of bolts for percussion, record guitars through walkie-talkies, and capture my voice through old, boxy guitar amps.”
Nelson played every instrument on his first record Waiting and Waiting in attempt to cut costs. This time around he wanted to go all out. Sings the Moon is a different beast, laced with everything from woodwinds and strings to thick, harmonized bursts of background vocals. The songs were tracked live, and the energy is palpable. You can feel it in the track titled “The Moon and the Stars,” where an accordion and upright piano drive the full band forward. You can hear it in his song “Cigarettes & Postage Stamps,” a slow-burning ballad that builds itself up to a careful crescendo. At the root of the music, though, is Nelson’s acoustic guitar and baritone vocals, which give even the most ornate songs a simple, folky anchor.
Warm and welcoming, Sings the Moon conjures up images of a winter’s night spent inside a cabin, with a fire in the hearth and a soft song on the radio. Autobiographical memories of Nelson’s past and imagined events of his possible future, calls it “the soundtrack to a single human life.” For this folk-pop songwriter, though, the soundtrack is just beginning. There is talk of new music coming very soon, so be sure to keep a close eye on his social media accounts.