19 Pursuing the muse and overcoming perfectionism… with Dean Nelson
On this episode of Alone with Peter we talk about pursuing the muse and overcoming perfectionism… with Dean Nelson.
We’re back for part two of our interview with Dean Nelson. Dean opens up about childhood trauma, the loss of friends, and finding ways to collaborate with people you love.
Please enjoy this transcript of my interview with singer and songwriter Dean Nelson (@DeanNelsonMusic)
Transcripts may contain a few typos. With interviews ranging from 1-2 hours, it can be difficult to catch minor errors. Enjoy!
Previously on Alone with Peter
Perfectionism and Your Private Voice
How do you talk to yourself? Would you be comfortable speaking the same way to someone else, or would you never even dream of doing so?
Take a moment to listen to your private voice. Is it being overly negative? Often times, if we stop and listen to the way we speak to ourselves we will find it’s incredibly unhelpful and unfair. There’s a solution to the problem but it requires retraining your brain.
If you struggle with perfectionism or negative self-talk this episode is definitely for you!
Dean Nelson: … One of the first songs I heard off of that was Smells Like Teen Spirit. And then it was P.I.M.P. by 50 Cent. And I was just like, what? [crosstalk 00:00:22]
Peter Kersting: … Like a 12-year-old, who’s never listened to popular music [crosstalk 00:00:27]
Dean Nelson: Blown away, especially [crosstalk 00:00:29] both of those. They’re kind of like [crosstalk 00:00:32] I remember She Hates Me by Puddle Of Mudd.
Peter Kersting: Nice. Puddle Of Mudd.
Dean Nelson: Yeah. I’m trying to remember some other ones. Evanescence’s Going Under. [crosstalk 00:00:40] I’m going under. Yeah. A lot of that stuff. It was more like post-grunge kind of stuff and all rock, and All-American Rejects was another big one. I remember going to some, I think it was a church thing and they played Swing, Swing, and I was just like, I didn’t… Do you remember when it was like you listen to a song so many times as a kid? I haven’t been that passionate about. I do that now with my music, because you have to make sure it’s great. [crosstalk 00:01:18]
Dean Nelson: Just because you’re editing. But, no. [crosstalk 00:01:21]
Peter Kersting: I’m just imagining you like, do you play it in your car?
Dean Nelson: Sometimes I play my music in my car. Because I’ll be like, “I wonder how this one sounds or something like that.” And a lot, if you don’t like the music you make, then kind of, what’s the point? [crosstalk 00:01:36]
Peter Kersting: … I’ve heard several musicians say something [crosstalk 00:01:39]
Dean Nelson: I will definitely catch myself being, “This is so pretentious” I won’t listen to it with anybody else in the car [crosstalk 00:01:45] I won’t listen to it. Like Echo, my girlfriend will play it in the car and I’ll be like [inaudible 00:01:53]
Peter Kersting: You won’t stop her, though. Or you will?
Dean Nelson: If she really wants to listen to it, which it’s very sweet of her to say that. Then I will listen to it. I like my songs.
Peter Kersting: When Echo plays one of your songs, what are you thinking? Do you register that as like she’s a fan? Or you think she’s just like trying to be nice to you? Like what goes through your head?
Dean Nelson: I think she’s a fan. I like thinking it that way. Sometimes I will catch myself being like, “Oh, she’s just being nice.” But then, I don’t like thinking that way. [crosstalk 00:02:27] There’s no point.
Peter Kersting: … I’m just curious.
Dean Nelson: You said something like self… I think a lot of myself. I don’t think I’m better than everybody else, but I think I like myself a lot. Some days I don’t, but most of the days I try to like me.
Peter Kersting: That’s a good thing, man.
Dean Nelson: Some people are so down… We were talking about that the other day. If you talk to somebody else the way you talk to yourself you wouldn’t dare to say that. Or to hear what I think about myself sometimes is disgusting. I genuinely caught myself the other day thinking something really negative. I don’t remember exactly what it was. And I was like, who? I thought to myself. I think even said out loud, I made myself say out loud. “I don’t know who said that. I don’t know who.” That sounds crazy. But like, “I don’t know who thought that.” It’s quite scary.
Peter Kersting: That happen a lot to me, but the funny thing is I can be an external processor pretty often. So I’ll be talking to myself out loud. So you could probably hear what I’m saying to myself.
Dean Nelson: That’s funny.
Peter Kersting: Yeah. So it can be pretty negative, but I think everybody struggles with that to some degree.
Dean Nelson: Yeah. I think we were saying I just got super into a lot of music, very fast.
Peter Kersting: You got sucked in. I’m just trying to picture young Dean. I can see it with you discovering music and saying, “This is something I want more of.” But it’s hard for me to picture you going out and getting a guitar. If you’re not allowed to listen to music, how did you start playing?
Dean Nelson: I begged my parents. I was like, “I really want to.” And they’re smart, so they knew something was going on. This girl down the street that, I really was head over heels in love with, was like, “I went to this party and this guy had a guitar, and oh my God, he’s so hot.” And I was like, “Oh, I got to get a guitar.” I really wanted a skateboard as well. And my parents were like, “Oh, you’re going to hurt yourself on skateboard. So we’ll get you a guitar.” And I swear, I walked around the house with guitar for like, I think I slept with it. I just could not put that thing out. I didn’t know how to play basically anything.
Dean Nelson: I learned C and I just played a C song and it’s just the C over and over again. I had no aspirations to do anything. I mean, every kid, when they get one of those is like “I’m going to be a rock star.” But it wasn’t like, “I want to do anything else.” I’ve played football. My dad played football growing up and I really wanted to be really good at that and be like him as much as I possibly could. I kind of put that as a standard for like, our dads are our standard for God, kind of thing. And at least I was that way. I know everybody else didn’t feel that way. I really was just like, “This is it. I got to be like this.” And I still think he’s a great guy. So I think the world of him.
Dean Nelson: I really wanted to be a quarterback. I just sit outside in the backyard. He got me a net and I just would go like one of those, they have Space Jam, what do they have? Michael Jordan shooting the basketball. I was doing the same thing. I just sat out there and take a ball and just throw it into a net about a million times. I would take weights and I’d pick up everything. I read books on it. And then I turned, until I was about 16, I was like, “Oh, I’m going to play football.” You can’t see me because it’s a podcast. I’m not the biggest guy. I’m about a buck 45. And I’m about just under six feet tall. So I’m not that big. I was not going to do it.
Peter Kersting: So at 16 you realized you weren’t going to be 6 foot 3, 220?
Childhood trauma and the impact on art
Dean Nelson: No. I had a friend from back in Virginia, we weren’t super close, but she passed away. She was in a car accident and I had this really weird dream and I looked way too much into dreams and stuff like that when I was a kid, but I had this dream and she was in it, and she was just like, which is weird for her to say to me, I think I was processing this stuff. And my subconscious was just like, “This is what you’re supposed to do or not supposed to do.” But, if you’re thinking more about this and that, you should be doing this. And I had this dream where it was just like, there’s a scene in Superman, Christopher Reeve where he goes, you meant for more than football. I think that’s almost exactly what happened. [crosstalk 00:07:20] And it’s something like that, which I think I was really just processing that information.
Peter Kersting: Then she told you that you’re meant for more than football? Was music, something that came.
Dean Nelson: That was it. Yeah. It was more like that. It was just a form of expression. And that was not to say that day I was like, “I’m going to be a songwriter and going to want to do all this stuff. And I’m going to dedicate all this time and burn some relationships from this.”
Peter Kersting: But that was the first time that you thought yourself, that’s something you want to pursue?
Dean Nelson: Yeah.
Peter Kersting: Seriously?
Dean Nelson: I was still playing a decent amount of guitar. I wasn’t very great. I was pretty good. I could play chords.
Peter Kersting: This is fascinating to me though, because I feel like most people don’t, I can’t say what most people do or do not do, actually. But I think that your core motivations now are heavily impacted by your past experiences. I think we all are heavily impacted by past experiences. And so to see this trajectory change, if you will, from star quarterback, Dean Nelson coming in about 45 on the field, fast as lightning, quick.
Dean Nelson: Grumbling, tumbling, stumbling, fumbling.
Peter Kersting: And broken in half on the top, on the floor, on the 30 yard line. Really? His top half is gone, folks.
Dean Nelson: They ripped it clean off.
Peter Kersting: Going from that as the dream to “I’m going to be guitarist, I’m going to be a singer?”
Dean Nelson: A lot of it was guitar. Mostly. I really, I had a pretty bad experience when I was a kid singing in church where I sang, I would be super loud. I still am super loud when I sing. And this kid next to me is like “Please stop singing.” I’m must have been like 10 and the guy was like, “Please stop singing.” You got a great voice. I didn’t want to move past that. I don’t know if you guys have heard Pete. Oh you did. Because the end of season one, long time fan of the show, man.
Peter Kersting: I appreciate that.
Dean Nelson: Dude I mean it, man. I love it-
Peter Kersting: If you’re at all like Dean Nelson, a longtime fan of the show, then don’t forget to rate and review on Apple Podcast or wherever you get your listening fix, and stick around to the end because we’re going to be doing a little highlight sneak peek of the upcoming third and final interview with Dean Nelson on Alone with Peter.
Peter Kersting: All right. Back to our show.
Peter Kersting: It’s exciting to hear because getting back to Steven Pressfield even, he talks about the idea of resistance. Resistance being almost a force of nature. It’s not personal. It’s just like the law of gravity. We all experience resistance, and understanding what that resistance is and what it’s towards is actually a really powerful thing because you can almost use it as your guiding compass for what you’re supposed to do. So for you to say, “I’m thinking a lot about music, but I need to be thinking about football.” That’s the resistance, right? You’re like, “I can’t do that for this reason, this reason or this.” There’s always some reason why.
Peter Kersting: In the case now. Do you still run into it? I’m sure when your songwriting or whatever else, like, “Ah, that song’s not good enough or I’ll do it later or whatever.” There’s always something you’re running into. But the cool thing he talks about in the book is, the more you experience resistance towards something, the more you’re meant to do it. So when I hear you say that there’s a clear, I’m supposed to do music. Did you feel? “Oh, this is it I’m going to go for it.” Or was there a lot of like resistance towards that?
Dean Nelson: It was like a lot of picking [crosstalk 00:11:30] Yeah. About 16. There was a lot of big swings that those both are to be good at those to make money off of those things. That’s ambitious, [crosstalk 00:11:44] I knew that that was ambitious. Part of being homeschooled, I felt like uninhibited by peer pressure to “Oh, you can’t do that.” My parents were very supportive with that towards any of my siblings. And for me, I’m not an exception. They were very supportive for all that. That was a big change. There was a lot of resistance though. I thought, “Okay, well I’m going to be doing this,” but I can’t actually do that. And even if I would gain confidence of being like, “Oh, I’m just going to do that.”
I remember smoking, just getting high as a kite and then crying to my brother… and just being like, “What am I doing with my life at this point?”Dean Nelson
Dean Nelson: A lot of my early twenties was that too. I remember smoking, just getting high as a kite and then crying to my brother at like, I must have been like 22, 23, maybe even 24 and just being like, “What am I doing with my life at this point? I went to school to do, which I still recommend to anybody. If you want to do music well, okay. Let me back up this thing.
Dean Nelson: Right now, we’re having a conversation about doing things. What you do? You read audio books. You got a great voice, Pete, you’re going to do this. I’m going to do this. I do coffee. I do music. I do teach. But there’s so much of that separation between like, “That’s not who I am for those things.” So even at an age, when I was told that there’s something in my brain, there were early things of like, “Oh, I’m a quarterback.” or I want to be a quarterback. Really. It was more like, “I want to be that or I want to be this,” but that’s do. Like when somebody asks you, what do you do? That’s so much like of a loaded thing of like.
Dean Nelson: But that’s who you are. And it’s like, no, no, no. Like this is just something that I like part of it. And if I can achieve that, feel of what we were talking about at the beginning, artists, if I can be an artist and not be that, but the authentically move that way, the way that the world perceives River Phoenix has been like, this guy that just does, oh man, he just excellence or Bob Dylan. Oh man, that guy just moves. Everything he says is just like poetry and everything else.
Dean Nelson: Yeah. But that guy takes shits. You know what I mean? Just like everything else. That guy has terrible anxiety. Just like everybody else. This guy has all these ambitions anyways. So with that in mind at that age, I was like riddled with all this stuff, which just like anxiety of, frozen with [crosstalk 00:14:22] what if I don’t succeed, I got to do that. But I also got to do this. I tried to be an EMT. What if I do? Okay. So I tried that, I was not good at that. And then I tried to do, “Oh, I’ll do something with political science.” I like that stuff, is interesting to me. Or I want to be like an architect at one point. Or I want to be like, I want to go into communications, like a writer who be sick. What’d you say?
Peter Kersting: A whaler?
Dean Nelson: Yes. A whaler.
Peter Kersting: Like a white whaler?
Dean Nelson: Like a white whaler, man. I’m going to chase that Moby Dick around. Oh my God. I get what you’re saying. No. I recently read the book. Moby Dick by Herman Melville. I went on a date with a girl that was related to him. One time.
Peter Kersting: Her name was Herman or?
Dean Nelson: Yeah. Her name was Herman.
Peter Kersting: That’s how she’s related.
Dean Nelson: That’s how she’s related. They’re the same person.
Peter Kersting: No other relation. Yeah.
Dean Nelson: Man, that book. The beginning, the end is so good.
Peter Kersting: I heard that. But I just haven’t read it.
Dean Nelson: But how do you feel about whaling, man?
Peter Kersting: Honestly…
Peter Kersting: It sounds like it could be cool. Sounds like a little lonely.
Dean Nelson: Do you want 600 pages of it? Because I got the book for you, bud.
Peter Kersting: Honestly I would love to learn about that. Yeah. Maybe the abridged version.
Dean Nelson: Definitely pick up the abridged version. God.
Peter Kersting: Oh my God.
Dean Nelson: It’s so funny.
Finding friends you love to create music with
Peter Kersting: Well, it kind of leads us, before I ask you about when you felt you were professional. I think it’s important to ask you about, tell me about Spencer Jones and Danien Martin.
Dean Nelson: The man, the myth, the legend. Both those guys are great guys.
Peter Kersting: Both of those guys. Tell me about [crosstalk 00:16:14] Winchester. That was your first band.
Dean Nelson: It was my first band. Yes. We went through a couple different names. We ended up landing on that one. Spencer and I, pretty close to an edge. I think I’m almost two years older than he is. He has a great singing voice and he’s a great songwriter and a great lyricist and a really good guitarist. He doesn’t give himself enough credit for that.
Dean Nelson: I would go down to North Carolina a lot. I was from Virginia. He’s in North Carolina. So we travel down there and we started around the time, 16, 17. Around that time I started calling him up more and being like, man, we started really, music was interesting to both of us. He had some similarities to his background. Not everything. Mine was different than his and his was different than mine. Some harder, some easier for both on both sides ends. And he got really good at singing, a lot better than when I was. I took me a really long time to feel confident in my voice. And we just started pitching around different things. I think we started talking about before, but like room five was big. Some of that early kind of like alt-
Peter Kersting: You just call each other on the phone and talk?
Dean Nelson: And just talk about, “Man. What do you think about this lyric? Oh man, what do you think? What do you mean by this? Why do you do this?” And that led into me coming back around the time of 18. I would come back. I moved to Utah around that time. My family moved there and then I went back and spent summers in North Carolina and we would just start talking about, well, “What if we wrote some songs? Hey, that’d be kind of cool if we did this.” So we start writing and talking about this. “What about this lyric? Oh, okay. I don’t know about this. Oh, I wrote this chord progression. What about this thing?” We didn’t really have anything to be able to record with. So it was a lot of just us playing stuff over the phone, or he would write, record something over like the apple.
Dean Nelson: We do a video recorded over the phone or something like that, not phone, but a video. And then we’d upload it and, sitting back and forth and he wrote some songs. I wrote some songs and then eventually we went back around that time, 18, 19. And we played a show at some kind of church thing. And we played, we opened with a Nickelback. I think it was one song we did. Oh crap. We did a Lionel Richie song. Hello. We did one of our songs. We had one that was really slow. And I think we had a fast one too. So we just came back and forth and it was not great, but it was what we needed. And there’s some parts that now we see like, “Oh man, that song sucks.”
Dean Nelson: And “Oh, man. That song was great.” And we went through and it was fun. I think we were too hard on ourselves, but now looking back, I was like, “Man, that was a good time.” And eventually we kept doing stuff like that year after year. A couple years went by and I started playing, I think I played with a couple other people or I really did a lot of stuff by myself and tried to find people to play with me without a lot of success. And then he moved out to Utah at one point.
Peter Kersting: You guys were in the same area?
Dean Nelson: So we were in the same area and that was the first time we were like, let’s record some stuff. So we found this guy that he knew. There’s like I said, a couple years had passed since we’ve been doing this, we hadn’t recorded anything yet. But we were writing a lot. I wrote a ton of songs, like really bad songs. But you got to do that.
Peter Kersting: I was just about to say that.
Dean Nelson: I think I had over 20 something songs, but that were just like start to finish. I knew what they were going to be. It was very much like a bedroom, like sing a song, rest stuff. Which is fun. It was great. And then he came out, we recorded these songs. It was just, the guy that we were working with was pretty good. We were still recording out of his closet basically. And it was hard. It was really hard. That was the first time we were like, “Oh, I might not be as tight and as good at this. As I thought I was.” Like, I wrote some songs, but I was like, “Oh, you can’t do that.”
Dean Nelson: We had to really tighten up all this stuff. And then we started writing the lyrics together as well, which was a big difference. It kind of changed a lot of that. And that was the first real collaboration that I’d worked with. Like, oh, I can’t just be like, here’s every part of my song. You sing over the top of that. Or like “Dean, here’s all my lyrics. You can play the guitar. Here’s the guitar part that I wrote or you play lead over the top of this thing.” And that all came to this point where we recorded this album. It was really hard. I remember it was right around the time Channel Orange came out by Frank Ocean and I was just like, “Oh, this is really cool.”
Dean Nelson: I was really getting into stuff that wasn’t rock. And that really opened the door to different songwriting techniques and different things like that. And what you can do, what’s acceptable. Who cares what’s acceptable at that point? Kind of one of those things. Not punk, because that was just like, to me it’s more than that, but screaming into a microphone and loud stuff, but what you would do with the production. Because that was coming out the first time that I had really thought about that. Before that I was just listening to John Mayer, All-American Rejects or Yellowcard or My Chemical Romance and being like, these guys do this thing. Those were like the bands that I really liked growing up. And a lot of that changed that for me.
Dean Nelson: And we came out with, and it was a lot of cool stuff. And then a lot of, I listened back to it kind of recently. And I was like, this is not very good. Not like he did fine. And I did fine, but it was just like, I wouldn’t be like, I’m going to put this out. The recording wasn’t even terrible [crosstalk 00:22:38].
Dean Nelson: Bands come out with stuff like that around here and go like, “Oh, I remember doing…” That feels like a dig towards them. It’s not that. When somebody shows me something like that, I’m like, you’re doing great. Keep doing that, write a hundred more of those. Do that a hundred more times. That’s exactly what you need to do. And that was a big collaboration for me and Spence. We just really like work a lot and I think we worked really well together. We just kind of sat down sometimes with a white board.
Dean Nelson: I remember we’d go to like, and we’d get stuck. We would like Circle K, down the thing. And we have a bunch of funny stories that sometimes I’ll have to tell you about this weird stuff. That’s what you got to do. You got to have somebody that you desperately love. And we didn’t have as much of a, I mean, we, we both have egos now. I mean that in a good way, like, I think you need that. But it was just very much like we didn’t really know what we were doing.
Peter Kersting: You think that if it weren’t for Spencer and vice versa, you guys would still be playing music?
Dean Nelson: If it wasn’t for Spencer. That’s a big question, man. [crosstalk 00:23:46] I don’t think I would be playing music. I mean, cut and dry. Maybe that’s not true, but if it wasn’t for Spencer, I wouldn’t be-
Peter Kersting: You guys learned a lot together. Sounds like.
Dean Nelson: Oh, he influenced me more than probably anybody else. Him and Chase (Given) got me started on a lot of stuff. My cousin Chase got me started.
Peter Kersting: He introduced you.
Dean Nelson: He introduced me to music. If it wasn’t for that, I would not have heard. I probably would’ve heard music in some way.
Peter Kersting: Eventually.
Dean Nelson: Yeah. I had to. But that was the guy that was just like, and he was just very like, it felt like Bob Dylan with The Beatles like, here’s a joint. It was the equivalent of that shelf of life up a step up that feels so dorky that I just said that.
Next on Alone with Peter
Peter Kersting: Thank you for tuning in for part two of our interview with Dean Nelson. On the next episode of Alone with Peter, Dean shares how love, trauma, and life experiences, shape art. How to look at failure in a healthy way? Plus the 15-minute principle and the keys to consistency as a musician.
Peter Kersting: If you’ve ever struggled with consistency in your creative goals, if perfectionism drags you down and stops you in your tracks, you’re not going to want to miss the third and final interview with Dean Nelson next week on Alone with Peter. If you want to stay up to date with the show, or maybe leave me a message, you can follow us on Instagram @AlonewithPeter. You can also check out the show notes on my website peterkersting.com. That’s K-E-R-S-T-I-N-G.
Peter Kersting: Dean Nelson has a new single coming out note November 12th as of the airing of this episode. So don’t forget to check him out on Spotify as Dean Nelson on Instagram and Facebook as DeanNelsonMusic or at his website, crazylegsdean.com. That’s going to do it for this episode of Alone with Peter. Thank you so much for tuning in and we’ll see you guys next time.