Southern folk/rock band Nelo makes IC début

BY RYAN FOSMARK | JULY 30, 2009 7:11 AM

Musical energy sweeps through Austin band Nelo like rainwater through dry Texas soil. The Southern folk/rock group, whose sound is reminiscent of ’90s pop/rock hits, has been growing over the last three and a half years. As it expands its musical scope, Nelo will make its way to Iowa City for the first time.

The group will play an all-ages show with local artist Minor Thug at 5 p.m. today at the Yacht Club, 13 S. Linn St. Admission is $5.

From writing songs to the band’s sound itself to the assembly of its members, Nelo has glided over the musical hurdles that other bands have taken years to overcome. With all five of its original members still together, songwriter/guitarist Matt Ragland recalled the ease in which the ensemble came together and remained together after he met lead singer Reid Umstattd at summer camp.

“I heard him sing, and I was just sort of blown away by it,” Ragland said. “I really felt like there was a strong connection between his voice and what I wanted to do. So I felt like I had all the pieces of the puzzle there. I called my friends at home, and we all got together and started a band.”

The puzzle pieces consisted of Ragland and his affinity for writing, Umstattd’s voice, and three serious, classically trained musicians with whom Ragland played in high school.

“I feel really lucky because I didn’t have to go out and search for a lot of players or anything,” he said. “It just so happened that my ‘music friends from high school’ were serious musicians. They all went to the University of North Texas, which has a big jazz-studies program.”

Since coming together as a band, Nelo has released one album and, recently, a six-song EP, Two Years Ago. While it seems that the group might be lacking in recorded tracks, the musical arsenal of the band is no less than impressive.

“We have more than 50 songs,” Ragland said. “We have a ton of music, and we’re just now getting started, you know? It’s crazy.”

Ragland, the main songwriter, has been a fervant writer since high school. Nelo’s flow of songs is a result of his obsession.

“I never liked the look of a blank sheet of paper,” he said. “My approach to writing is there’s a blank page in front of me and words need to be put on it.”

His lyrics come from a seemingly gushing source of inspiration.

“It feels like it channels through you,” he said. “When I get something that seems to be somewhat good, I find that sometimes I don’t really want to take responsibility for it — like it wasn’t me who did it. I’m not trying to suggest a higher power or anything, but I just really feel like the messenger sometimes.”

While it may seem to Ragland that he is sometimes merely an instrument of the music, his songs are often directly derived from the dark times in his personal life. The name, Nelo, is a testament to the process.

“The word Nelo, as far as I know, is actually from a card game called Spades,” he said. “Basically the strategy is to lose. If you lose every single hand, then you win really big in the end. I just really like that whole concept, and I think I sort of use that in writing songs. I take all the losses that I’ve experienced in life, all the pain, whatever, the negativity, and use it to make something really good in the end.”

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