One week after his first daughter was born in October last year, singer/songwriter Jeffrey Philip Nelson began recording his sixth album, “Pen.” Not only is the album of original songs named after Penelope, it refers to the instrument used to write those tunes.
“I started writing the songs three years ago, but I included the songs on the album that best represented my new life with her,” he said. “I knew I needed to find something to spend my time on while I was becoming a dad. I took three months off construction and went to the studio.”
Nelson, who is a general contractor and a worship leader at the River Church South Bay in Palos Verdes, saved $6,000 to buy some new equipment and found an empty Redondo Beach condo owned by friends, Taylor Engen and Kevin Dean, to build a makeshift recording studio.
“The last album I did, 'The Rider's Song,' was done with the world's cheapest gear,” said Nelson, who lives in Redondo Beach with his family. “I achieved a sound that I liked on it. I was like, 'All I got to do is buy some new gear and I know that I'm going to have a product that's superior sonically.”
Nelson put the new equipment in old briefcases he bought at a swamp meet and called it Jeff's Mobile Studio. With his last album, he took a minimalist approach, recruiting the help of a few musician friends and mixing, engineering and recording 'This Rider's Song” himself. Most of the album was recorded in a van on the shores of Santa Barbara. With “Pen,” he had better equipment and the additional help of more than 10 musicians and singers. It took more than four months to finish “Pen” while spending two to three hours a day in the studio.
“It was so cool because I had my pipe set up with my tobacco, a small batch of whiskey … It felt like my place,” Nelson said. “I had really nice carpets laid out. I decorated the whole room. I made it dark when I recorded. It had the ambiance feel of a studio … this studio became this place of solitude and creativity while being a dad for the first time.”
The resulting album, which includes songs that run the emotional gambit, “sounds so much better than anything I've ever produced.”
“You can still hear the imperfections of the room sound and the echos but I love that. There's such life to it,” Nelson said.
Nelson wanted the album to be an experience.
“I wanted to make sure people were doing something … going on a long drive along the coast … or listening while they're on their porch smoking a pipe or while they're having a cocktail at home with an appetizer in front of them just relaxing at the end of the day. It's not fast, it's not rushed, it's slow, but to me it's moving,” he said.
His songs are available free through his website, jeffreyphilipnelson.com.
“I'm doing it now without any profit in mind,” Nelson said. “The first album I created I thought I was going to be this big musician. By this album I am the world's smallest musician and I'm still excited about writing music.”