Beaver Nelson Reflects on a Career Spent Painting Houses and Making Records

November 22, 2016

Tell us about your tour vehicle.

On this tour I am renting a Hyundai Elantra. I used to tour in a giant Chevy 2500 Van. The Elantra gets 4 times better gas mileage. I’ll pay less to drive someone else’s car than my own.

How do you eat cheaply and/or healthy while on tour?

Mainly by eating infrequently and whatever venues give me to eat. I keep massive amounts of Diet Cokes and granola bars in the trunk.

How many strings do you break in a typical year? How much does it cost to replace them?

I bought 6 sets of acoustic strings for the month tour I’m on. They cost $24- or would have except Billy at South Austin Music gave me a deal since I gave him a cd the week before.

Where do you rehearse?

Sunny at Space rehearsal complex in Austin runs a class operation. They keep crazy to a minimum.

What was the title and a sample lyric from the first song that you wrote?

I started writing pretty early. I can’t remember which song was first. I’m sure it was earnest and painful.

Describe your first gig.

My first paid gig was in the Fall of 1990 at a place called EL Chino in Austin. It served Chinese and Mexican food. I had met Troy Campbell and Jud Newcomb at an open mic at The Chicago House and they asked me to play it. That night I met Rich Brotherton, Jimmie Dale Gilmore, Jo Carol Pierce, Kris McKay, Robbie Jacks, and a few others. Troy gave me $15-20 and I couldn’t believe it. I had driven 2 hours from San Saba to play it.

What was your last day job? What was your favorite day job?

I have painted houses for over 20 years. I twice painted a house in exchange for making a record.

How has your music-related income changed over the past 5-10 years? What do you expect it to look like 5-10 years from now?

My income from music fluctuates wildly. Sometimes I have taken long periods off from playing.

What one thing do you know now that you had wished you knew when you started your career in music?

I’m not quite as special as I suspected I was.


Thoughtful, philosophical singer/songwriter Beaver Nelson has long sought to locate deeper truths, to shape order from the puzzles life puts forward, both past and present. He explained to Rolling Stone: “I’m pretty obsessed with the notion of time,” he says. “It’s the basic human problem. What time means and its effect on us and the fact that you can’t own it. It’s here, then it’s gone—you screw up and you don’t get it back.” On his new album Positive, Nelson continues to reflect in a collection of songs written over the span of his career, brimming with intelligence, humor and his trademark pop hooks. Produced by his longtime cohort, Scrappy Jud Newcomb (Patty Griffin, Slaid Cleaves, Ian McLagan’s Bump Band) in Marfa and Austin, there are new songs (“Positive”, “It Ain’t Yours”) and some written as early as ’94 (“Willing and Able”) and ’95 (“Bad Movie”).

Hailed as a prodigy by Rolling Stone at the tender age of 19, Beaver has released 7 albums since then, but not before getting churned through the major label blender first. By the age of 22 he had two failed record deals and had seen enough of that world to back away. He fronted a rock band for years before returning to solo performance and focusing on songwriting in the wake of the passing of his idol, Townes Van Zandt.

Nelson’s latest album, Positive, was recently released.  Connect with him online and on the road.