Interview with Nelson Bragg (June 2005)
By Kerry Chicoine

Nelson Bragg has been working in and around the Los Angeles melodic pop scene since leaving his native Massachusetts in early 1999. His stints in such stellar Los Angeles-area bands as The Now People, Cosmo Topper, and Cloud Eleven eventually led Bragg to higher-profile gigs with artists such as Stew and, eventually, Brian Wilson (with whom he is currently on tour).

An all around multi-instrumentalist, it’s Bragg’s expert drumming and spot-on vocal abilities that have garnered him the most attention. He’s also a master arranger and an advanced composer in his own right, a natural musician brimming with confidence and chops (he once sat-in – uninvited, no less – with the great Paul Williams, and proceeded to blow the house down).

I recently sat down with Nelson and asked him a few questions.

E.C.: What is your musical background?

Nelson Bragg: After banging and tapping on things since birth, I started playing drums at 17 and before that guitar, mostly for writing songs. Then I went to Bard College and studied composition and art. I became obsessed with songwriting, composition, drumming, bands, rock and roll, and record collecting; it's all been downhill from there. My financial security and ability to commit to anything but music was gone for good!

E.C.: Who were your musical heroes growing up?

Nelson Bragg: Crosby, Stills and Nash (and Young, too); Steely Dan; early 80's avant garde post-punk; power pop and psychedelic stuff. All along, great big vocals have always turned me on.

E.C.: What instruments do you play and which one(s) do you consider your 'main' instrument?

Nelson Bragg: Drums and percussion first, and then acoustic guitar. Of, course singing has always been a big deal to me; I’ve always loved harmony vocals, arranging harmonies, etc.

E.C.: Do you write your own music? If so, are you recording a solo album?

Nelson Bragg: Like everyone and his brother out here, I, too, write my own material. I have written a lot of songs and have been diligently working on a solo album in between touring commitments for the last two years. God willing, it will come out soon -- I think people will really like it.

E.C.: When and why did you move to Los Angeles?

Nelson Bragg: After college I stayed in the band Big Noise (a great dance band) until 1987; then I moved to NYC and stayed there for two years, but that place kicked my ass and I left lonely and defeated. Next, I moved to Western Massachusetts and joined a great band called Farmhouse, which is where I really honed my writing and vocal skills. Farmhouse played for three years until I left; then I was in limbo from 1992-1997, just kicking around the east coast with many various and sundry bands. I got real busy with cover bands, playing weddings, bar mitzvah’s, you name it; I was poised to make a good living forever in and around Gloucester, MA, but as 1999 approached, I realized that I had to make a serious stab at musical success, so I moved to LA to try my luck. It was quite simply, my last chance to do anything important in music.

E.C.: What was your first LA-area gig?

Nelson Bragg: I played the famous Whiskey with this really bad band who shall remain forever unnamed.

E.C.: What has been your most memorable LA-local band gig?

Nelson Bragg: Well, I’ve certainly had my share of great gigs, I’m thankful to say. I'd have to mention the work I did with Stew and The Negro Problem, that was a great experience; also, my band The Quarter After -- opening for Arthur Lee and Love at the Knitting Factory – that was an unbelievable experience. And, of course, the Disney Hall shows with Brian Wilson were incredible.

E.C.: Speaking of Brian Wilson, how did you get the gig in his band?

Nelson Bragg: The Wondermints – a great LA band, in case you didn’t know -- and Jeff Foskett, knew me from years of work with various people. They'd both seen me playing out a lot. When the percussion gig suddenly became available, they called me, and the rest, as they say, is history.

E.C.: What has been your favorite Brian Wilson moment?

Nelson Bragg: Watching him give up trying to quiet down the London audience at the end of the SMiLE premiere back in early 2004. He just gave up and flashed the audience the “OK” sign with his hand. The HBO documentary “Beautiful Dreamer” captured that moment and also caught my reaction to it. I look like bugs bunny: big smile, front teeth sticking out! It was magic, as if as though we were seeing the demons rise out of his body and into the void. I'll never, ever forget it.

E.C.: What's in store in your musical future?

Nelson Bragg: More touring with Brian; my solo album; a spring European tour with The Mockers; the Now People release (“The Last Great Love Affair of the Twentith Century”, due Summer 2005); the Quarter After release (self titled, due Summer 2005); and some additional work with various musicians and songwriters. I'll just keep on playing with whomever, wherever, whenever!