Raised in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, Ian Nelson began his acting career at a young age. He is best known for his screen debut in the blockbuster film THE HUNGER GAMES, his arc on the hit MTV series TEEN WOLF, and his leading turn on Peacock’s THERE’S JOHNNY. Over the last 11 years, he has had the privilege of starring alongside actors like ROBERT DOWNEY JR, JENNIFER LOPEZ, BETTE MIDLER, JAMES MARSDEN, and LAVERNE COX to name a few.
All throughout his life, Nelson has been passionate about music. He always travels with his guitar, and a few years ago while on location, he started writing his own songs. When Nelson returned to Los Angeles, he shared a demo with one of his vocal coaches, DAVE STROUD, and Dave introduced him to up-and-coming music producer JACOB MCCASLIN. Together the two began collaborating on what would become Nelson’s debut single: “21st Century Love.”
Nelson got the idea for the song when he was on a dating app and matched with a beautiful red headed girl, whom he knew nothing about, yet couldn’t get out of his mind. Perplexed by how real his attraction felt, Nelson wanted to write a song that explored the changing landscape of loneliness, intimacy, and the desire for connection in our technology-dependent modern age.
The music video was shot in April of 2020 at the beginning of the Pandemic, as the deserted streets of Los Angeles provided the ideal setting to express the themes of the song. At the crack of dawn, Nelson and Co-Director, LA celebrity photographer, COLLIN STARK, embarked on a socially distanced shoot to capture the one-take video that also features one of Nelson’s passions: tap dancing. In addition to his directing and producing, Nelson also served as the video’s editor.
We chatted with Nelson about his debut song and video and much more!
You originally got started in the industry as an actor talk about crossing over because I know like a lot of actors kind of do acting first with their music later. So, kind of like talk about wanting to cross over into the music world.
I’ve been taking voice lessons since I was a little kid because I started acting in musical theater when I was probably 10 or 11. And I’d done plays before that too but they were just like school plays but I started taking a voice with a new teacher in LA probably about two years ago and his name is Dave Shroud. And one day after one of our second lessons he’s like you know you can’t keep singing covers for the rest of your life he’s like, “You have to start writing your own songs” and that was the first time anyone ever told me that. I wrote poetry and stuff before but I never really wrote a song. But Dave planted that seed and then I was writing a musical probably around four or five months after I started talking with Dave. So, in order to write that musical, I had to learn how to write songs um and then from that stemmed pop songs learning how to write like learning pop structure and because I was like, “Oh if I can write a song like musical theater song like this with no structure because musical theater has a very um kind of like fluid structure to the songs from my understanding.” So, I learned how to write pop songs and then I was on the set of this film in upstate New York called paper spiders and this is about a year and a half ago and I wrote my first pop song just in the hotel room. And then I sent the demo to my voice teacher and he introduced me to a producer, Jacob McCaslin, who I made 21st century love with. So, it was a very organic process. It just felt very natural and accessible.
I was reading the bio and everything so it’s about this girl that you matched with? What app was this?
Hahaha I’m not going to say the app. So, I matched with this girl and I was like I just there’s some there’s like this feeling like you know I don’t know I feel like most people you know our age around dating apps and stuff especially with the pandemic which has made the song all the more relevant it’s kind of like the only way to really meet people because you know you can’t really go up to someone with a mask on it’s weird. So, I matched with this girl and then I remember just sitting at my desk and it was kind of late at night and I was just like, “This is a weird experience.” And the first lyric that was written was I fell in love with you on a screen. Then the song started off as a very strange structure like it was a verse first verse kind of like a bluesy song and then I just that’s what I played for Jacob and we took it from there.
Obviously don’t like saying her name or anything but what about her kind of inspired you to like to write the song?
I mean it was just a feeling. It wasn’t like I had met the love of my life or anything it was more just like there. There’s this added importance to the moment. Do you ever have those like they’re not they’re not remarkable moments but they’re like very ordinary experiences that have an added layer of meaning and you’re very aware that it’s an important moment in your life? There’s something like an aura like around it. It’s like this little portal opens up and you kind of are like going to let it in or you’re going to step into it. So, I don’t know.
Then obviously you shot the video for the song back in April. I watched the whole music video very simple. I love tap dancing at the beginning. When did you get started in tap dancing? What kind of like started your passion for that?
I honestly, I don’t remember what specifically but I started when I was like 11 or 12. And tap is the really the only dance form that’s just been a part of me since then like I did ballet and jazz and like hip hop when I was a little kid, but tap dancing was like always the thing that um I just did all the time. There were slabs of wood all over my house in North Carolina where I grew up and like you know I just tap dance and funny thing is like the tap dancing you know it’s just something I do. If I’m just standing somewhere like in line at a grocery store chances are, I’m doing something with my feet. If I’m listening to a song, I’m just like I’m trying to hear the rhythm in it and it’s like you know I love tap dancing.
Typically, videos are filmed like multiple shots at a time but this was like one long video, so did you have to do a lot of restarts?
The weird thing is we didn’t have to restart. The hardest part about doing a one take music video is the is really the light um so we had to there was like an hour period for two days where we shot so it was almost like we could only get about five or six takes each day if we were lucky. It’s simple in observation, but like it was a lot of preparation getting to that moment and then just being like all right we just got to let it rip until we lose the light. Then we finally got a take that was good. But it’s fun it’s like one take are very similar to like you know the cuts are really fun. Like the last music video, I shot um is has a lot more cutting in it so it was a whole different structure shooting it was a bit of a relief in a weird way. It’s like all right, “We can cut if the shot doesn’t work”, it’s fine.
I was going to ask like what because you do a lot of tv shows what was it like filming a video for your own song compared to like you know filming on a tv show but like are they both the same level of pressure?
Same level of pressure I don’t know. It’s all acting at the end of the day you’re really just trying to communicate a story I had done long takes in in projects I’ve done. But I had never done you know four-and-a-half-minute take before that was the longest, I’d ever done. So, in that regard it’s a little harder. But in terms of doing a music video for you for your own song it’s kind of like you know um it feels like a very like whole experience like you’re creating a visual for you know this this like you know this this this song you put into the world this sound or whatever. And then on top of that I handled essentially most of the post-production. The co-director helped me along the way, but like I edited the prologue and stuff. So, it was a total all-encompassing kind of experience where I like you know saw through from start to finish.
The co-director is amazing. His name is Colin Stark. He’s a photographer based in LA, he’s so much more and his photography is like one aspect of him. He’s been like an amazing creative partner with me throughout all this so I’ve been very grateful to have his guidance and you know friendship.
How would you say in a way your acting complements your music and then like vice versa?
I see songs as like vessels for emotion honestly, it’s like just an arena you know just to express something. And it’s kind of like you know as an actor you walk into a scene and the scene is an opportunity to tell a specific kind of story a different kind of emotional um experience to have that. And then songs are the same way like you know it’s kind of like you step into the arena when you’re in the recording studio and you’re kind of just like how am I going to tell this story today with my voice and acting is no different. I mean, you look at the greatest actors and they all have terrific voices. I think of cool voices like Al Pacino, Brad Pitt, Sam Rockwell, and Mark Ruffalo like all these people have you know great sounds. Acting and music weirdly they feel so similar to me. I feel like it’s very natural. It’s not a surprise I think why actors end up making music because music is a relatively more solitary experience than acting, it’s something you can do with less people on your own and it’s also just like a lot of actors start off in musical theater and love to sing.
I think everyone should write songs. I think writing songs is a really accessible form of healing getting something off your chest that you might have never known was there.
So, since you’re both acting and now music this year’s been kind of crazy but would you say from your own point of view music is like taking such a toll by this pandemic as acting has or I think both industries are kind of like bouncing back in a good way?
I think both industries are bouncing back. I think acting takes a little bit longer in terms of just the complexity. I haven’t experienced any discussion of touring or anything so that doesn’t really affect me, but I know that’s an effective music industry heavily obviously- it’s a huge source of income. I think things are bouncing back in a really fun way.
The quarantine was like a very growth-filled time for me um I just wrote a lot. I was like all right acting is not going to happen for a while and this is back in you know March/April. I was like, “All right acting’s going to like you know take a backseat for a little bit and I was just grateful that I had an artistic expression to like pursue while the world was falling apart.” It kept me sane. I just practiced my guitar all the time. All I did during the pandemic was practice my guitar and write songs and finish producing the music video and like recording the next one. I’m ready to act again. I’m ready to get back on set and experience that. But I’m very grateful for music right now. It’s been awesome.
Speaking of your guitar and then you talked about covers, what was the first song you played on?
It was society by Eddie Vetter from the movie “Into the Wild”. Oh my god wow! You know what I’m talking about right?
When I heard that song, I was like oh I really want to play that so when I yeah when I first started playing guitar it was that and it was like I think it was father and son by Kat Stevens. Because those are all I think that all the songs he’s like I think it’s just F C A minor e minor or something which is relatively simple to do and those are the first songs I played.
So, if you could set up a fan in a setting for them to listen to your music what setting would that be?
I find if I play my guitar on my beach my hands get kind of like sandy and like everything feels weird. I never bring my guitar to the beach. I bring another one to the beach. Living room man… living room like a big living room not in a pandemic.
What’s one quote you’ve heard in life that you’d want to echo out to fans?
Yeah, for that one that I want to communicate… quote… there’s so many running through my head right now. I mean, I actually have like a giant mood board thing just written with quotes that I made during the pandemic and I framed them all; they’re just like giant kinds of pieces of writing. So, I’m like scanning them right now seeing if there’s anything that I want to… there’s a lot of them on there. In terms of a quote, oh man I don’t know. I don’t know if I have a specific quote that I’d communicate to someone else. But I think the main thing is… I feel like so much about this time for people is realizing that like you got you got what you need like you just got to get quiet.
Probably the greatest quote of all time is I forget what Greek philosopher said. My mom actually had it made this this like wooden panel was made for me when I was a little kid and it was like it was like, “The greatest gift you can give yourself is to know thyself” or like “know thyself it’ll be the greatest gift you give yourself”. I’m paraphrasing it. But the whole point is known thyself and the whole point is like you got to know yourself in a weird way it’s like not know not know all everything about you. But like be aware of your tendencies. Be aware of what you have to say. Because everyone has to say something, everyone’s got something to say in this world and it’s kind of like so I love music and acting. I feel like they’re just there to help me be better at me. They help me understand me better and then through my own you know desire to grow and understand myself, that seems to inspire people which I think is like the greatest gift of all of it.
When people reach out and ask advice and stuff you know if I were to boil it all down it would just be like, know thyself. Spend some time with yourself because there’s a lot there you know.
Last question to wrap it up um you’re planning to release your debut I’m assuming ep in 2021. What kind can we like to expect from it?
Songs are getting better and better. I’m finding my expression. We’ve recorded about three songs total. We just shot the music video for the second one that’s rad and then we’re recording and we’re finishing up recording the third one right now and essentially. It’s just like just finding it when you shoot it it’s like when you shoot a TV show the pilot it’s still good but everyone’s still finding their footing you know everyone’s still figuring out what’s up and by like episode six/seven, you’re just like all right we’re in a groove now. The music is still in the pop rock pop genre and we’re just figuring it out. But it’s exciting I’m super excited man to kick off the first one kick off the first one then we can start releasing release the next one it’s just like you know beginning a whole journey which I’m excited about.
Listen to “21st Century Love” now!