Photography // Ian Nelson by Collin Stark.
Ian Nelson has been a well known creative on the acting scene for a while, with roles in the highly successful Hunger Games film from 2012 and the Teen Wolf series the following year on his resume. While being supported by an engaged fanbase, Nelson announced his debut single release leaving his fans in anticipation. With the release of “21st Century Love” his fans get a taste of how Ian Nelson’s musical identity can sound.
We sat down with Nelson to learn about his journey into the world of music, his influences, and how the singer and actor navigates the different creative fields.
How did the creation of your debut single “21st Century Love” go about?
» I have been taking voice lessons since I was 11 or 12. About two years ago, I began studying with a teacher in Los Angeles named Dave Stroud. After our first session, he told me that I should write my own songs. Typically as an actor, you have “audition songs”—which are essentially covers. But Dave told me that I should write my own. Not too long after that, I found myself in upstate New York on location for a film, and I had recently begun writing the book for an original musical. One day, at the hotel, I was researching musical theatre song structure, when I became curious about how they differed from the structure of pop music. So I began studying the songs of artists like George Harrison, Eric Clapton, John Denver, Taylor Swift, etc. It was in that hotel room about a week later, where I completed my first song .
After I wrapped filming, I returned to LA and made a demo of that song with a friend. I then shared it with Dave, and he really dug it, so he connected me with a young producer named Jacob McCaslin. I went to meet Jacob to make a demo for another song I had written, but during our session, I decided to play him a totally different song than planned—it wasn’t even finished yet, but after a few verses, Jacob got really excited, and he like jumped up, grabbed his guitar, and we began collaborating on what would become “21st Century Love.” «.
What’s behind your decision to start a music career?
» I have been singing since I was a little kid. My Dad plays the piano, and my Mom was always singing around the house and playing Broadway soundtracks in the car—I got my start in musical theatre, and my first professional job was actually singing boy soprano in an operetta. I bought my first guitar as a present for myself before I went on location for the first time by myself for a movie called “The Judge.” So, all of this to say, that when I began writing my own songs, it made sense—like in retrospect, it was a very natural progression of my artistic expression.
My number one goal as an artist is to grow and mature in my voice, and I fell in love with songwriting and music because it was another avenue for me to explore and refine my craft. It is the perfect confluence of curiosity, introspection, journaling, melody, and performance. I think music has made me a better actor. And my acting experience makes me a more emotionally available and expressive musician. Not to mention, I love making music videos because it is literally everything I love to do all at once. Haha «.
Which artists or creatives are you influenced by?
» As a musician: Gary Clark, Jr. George Harrison. John Mayer. Ben Folds. Jason Isbell/Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit. Lately, I’ve been listening a lot to Prince. I am enthralled by his acoustic performance of “Cream.” I literally can’t stop watching it.
As an actor, my greatest inspirations are Marlon Brando, Mark Ruffalo, Joaquin Phoenix, and the films of John Cassavetes «.
In your own words, how would you hope the listener interprets Ian Nelson, the musician?
» I sat here for a moment thinking about how to give you a more profound answer, but I have zero expectations to be honest. Music and acting are about expression. So I simply have no control over how it is received. My job is to create it with all my heart and to do the art justice with proper promotion. Beyond that, it’s not up to me «.
Is your creative process when working on an acting role any different than from when you’re creating music? And how so?
» The forms are different, but not the intent. It all comes down to telling a story. “How can I best communicate this idea?” When I am acting, that “idea” is the writer’s/the director’s, etc. When I am singing, that “idea” comes from me. But still you are playing a character. You are telling a story—communicating an emotion—remembering an experience—but none of those things can ever encompass who I truly am at my core. So very similar to a role in a film—yes it is technically “me” writing and singing the song—But it’s a sliver of the true me and more like the emphasis of a specific energy within me—the proper energy needed to tell the story in the most productive and effective manner. In essence, my job is to tell the story. And that will never change whether I am acting or singing «.
What have you learned from this process of moving into the world of music?
» I have grown so much as myself, Ian, but also as myself as an artist. It has been truly empowering to write my own songs and dedicate myself to getting better at the guitar. In less than a year, I have co-directed/produced/edited two music videos and written countless songs. It’s like music opened up the floodgates to all of this untapped energy I was storing within.
I feel so grateful that I found music and that I am surrounded by people who can help me grow. Shoutout to my dear friend and collaborator, Collin Stark. Collin co-directed and shot the music video for “21st Century Love,” and he has truly helped me mature my approach to my art and business. He also co-directed and shot my second video as well—and at this very moment, we are refining the concept for the third.) «.
In relation to the above, what can your fans expect from you in this transition from not only being known as an actor, but now also as a musician?
» I have more fun stuff to share with everyone now. Haha. That’s all, really. Before, I was only posting about my films, tv shows, and photoshoots. But now, I can share songs, music videos, live performances, etc.
So many of the people who interact with me on my social pages have been following me since I was like 17. They are all so kind and genuine, and we have had some really wonderful conversations. I love doing Instagram live’s and forming personal relationships with many of them. They are all so lovely, and have been incredibly supportive and excited about my music, which feels amazing «.
And at last, what’s next for you?
» I just shot the music video for what will be my second song. And a film of mine—the one I was shooting when I wrote my first song—is screening at festivals right now. It’s called Paper Spiders, and it is really such a heartfelt and terrific movie. Aside from that, I am currently producing a movie, recording more music, and continuing to write scripts and more songs. Not to mention, my family just got a new puppy. So I am FaceTiming with my parents often and looking forward to playing with her over the holidays «.