Interview: Buckcherry’s Keith Nelson Talks Gibsons, Touring and Confessions
Buckcherry make the kind of rock ‘n’ roll that makes you want to party “All Night Long.” The Los Angeles-based group spits out pure, raw rock with sneering guitars, raspy vocals and swinging rhythms.
Buckcherry recently released their latest full-length, Confessions, and the set debuted at a sky-high No. 20 on the Billboard 200 chart. We caught up with guitarist – and Gibson loyalist – Keith Nelson to talk about his journey into the guitar world, the new album and why he’ll never grow tired of playing shows.
When did you first pick up the guitar, and when did you know you wanted to make a living playing it?
My father had an acoustic guitar leaning in the corner of his bedroom, and I always loved to touch it. When he was at work, I would sneak in there and play with it. I grew up as a drummer, and all the guys in the neighborhood jammed at our place and would leave their gear at my house. There were always guitars around, so I always played with every instrument. When I turned 17, I decided I wanted to switch from the drums to guitar, and it’s been that way ever since. As for making a living playing guitar, it’s a long shot for so many people. It’s a dream for which you strive. I don’t know if decided that what I wanted to do was make a living playing guitar, but I got lucky and was able to write songs and be in a band that could do this as a job.
When it comes to guitars, you have a large collection of Gibsons, especially Les Pauls. What are your go-to Gibsons on the road and in the studio?
My original 1959 Sunburst Les Paul, in the studio, is my go-to guitar. On the road, I have a few of the new historical ‘59 reissues, and those are phenomenal guitars. I have a 1966 Les Paul Jr. on the road, and it’s fantastic. I also have a great Korina Flying V.
I have yet to take an original Sunburst on the road, because of the insurance issue liability. I’m trying to get up the nerve to bring the old stuff on the road. I like the consistency of having the same guitar if something goes wrong mid-song or mid-set, so I can switch to a similar guitar, so I get duplicates for the road. Certain guitars just have a sound and feel. They speak to me. It’s something I want to have in my hands every night.
You’re known as not only a great guitar player, but also a great songwriter. What tips do you have for songwriters out there?
So many great songs have been written before us, so I’m a big fan of doing the homework and taking a history lesson and listening to great songwriters. There are so many. As a guitar player, I always for the song and believe the song has to come first. It’s not about your guitar solo; that’s a really short amount of the song. Everything about the song has to serve the song. All the instrumentation has to serve the song. That becomes the focal point. Listen to what’s going on with the vocal melody and singer and rhythm section, and figure out where the guitar fits.
Let’s switch gears to the new album, Confessions, which is already doing so well. This is your sixth studio release. How does this album differ from past Buckcherry releases?
It was the first time we tried to tackle a theme or concept for a record. Having that did a few things for us. It allowed us to try things outside of our comfort zone and things we wouldn’t normally do, and it gave us a good excuse to try different instrumentation and song arrangements, and it gave Josh the opportunity to write lyrics that he wouldn’t normally have come up with. It was a good opportunity for us to push ourselves beyond what we’ve done in the past. As the album’s producer, I’m happy with fact we didn’t keep making the same record all over again. We took a different approach to writing the songs.
Do you have a favorite song, guitar-wise, on Confessions?
There are so many moments on this record! I love the instrumentation of “Pride,” with keys and acoustic guitars. My Sunburst Les Paul was on 99 percent of every song. There are so many fun songs on the record! I have to say the song, “Sloth,” where Stevie and I do twin guitar solos, is one of my favorites. We wrote it together and mapped it out and came in with complimentary parts and recorded it live in the studio. I was rewarding. I get to play guitar in a band with a guy who’s a great guitar player and soloist, and we won’t get in each others’ way.
Why do you think you and Stevie D. are able to juggle the guitar role so well?
We’re friends, first and foremost. We can put that ego thing aside, and we want to do what’s best for the song. There’s a lot of trust going back and forth. We like each others’ playing. We’re both rock ‘n’ roll guitar players but both have a different style and different approach. It works out really well.
Buckcherry are known as road warriors. How do you handle such long periods of time on tour?
We try to get home as often as we can, so that home isn’t a strange place for us. We’re one of the few bands that went away for a few years and got the opportunity to start over again. When you get that second chance and see how rare an opportunity it is, at least for me, it allowed me to not take any of this for granted and approach this with a whole level of gratitude I didn’t have before. Today, we’re freezing outside of Chicago, and it’s all worth it because we have awesome jobs and cool lives and we’re making music we love. That’s what keeps it all going-- that and our love for music. We remember what it’s like to be a fan and save money for a concert and see your favorite band come to town.