In Session: Todd Nelson of Nelson Esposito Quintana

CATSKILL – Last month, on January 3rd, Nelson Esposito Quintana (NEQ) released their album, Nevertheless. Packed to the brim with a vast conglomeration of Latin-stylings, progressive rock sensibilities, and the rigor and structure known throughout classical music, the trio has crafted an album that will give one’s ears quite the enjoyable workout.

NEQ, left-to-right: Todd Nelson, Kyle Esposito, Manuel Quintana.

Starting off with “Dune Buggy,” a song that featured a nice bossa groove highlighted by acoustic guitar and keys, NEQ played to their strengths straight away. As the song opened up, a tight bass groove entered under a compelling electric lead. About halfway through, a drum interlude was featured, a fact that acknowledged each musician found their space within the song quite well.

To get a feel for their progressive-rock influence, one need to look no further than the following track, “Afternoon Map.” This song consisted of a meter mainly in 6/4, however the time signature appeared to change as the sections of the song progressed. At about the halfway mark, a nylon-stringed guitar played the intro motif, which, for this listener, was an effective arrangement choice.  

While no one can question their technical prowess, it is worth mentioning that NEQ, also successfully got across a certain amount of levity to its audience; both in terms of instrumentation and in song title choices. Take for example, track three, “Prime Time is Over.” A funky groove through-and-through, the composition had a piercing melodic lead played on guitar that emerged from the intro. It was very reminiscent of Peter Gabriel’s work in the mid-eighties. There was also a lot of nice synth and slap bass leads on this track.

During the title track, “Nevertheless,” listeners were greeted with a nice snarling single coil heard in the background, which was soon met by an expanded, much louder, and tremolo-effected guitar. This listener was heavily reminded of Marc Ribot’s work, while the solo work sounded like akin to some of Steely Dan’s repertoire. Towards the latter half of the song, a rich, fuzzy bass lead was introduced, complementing the established instrumentation.

It’s extremely hard for a lot of artists to write a compelling album front-to-back, and this challenge is only further elevated in instrumental music, due to a lack of words or lyrical melodies to fall back onto. Seemingly of no challenge for NEQ, this was exemplified by the next three tracks, “Blind Cat Blues,” “Threshold,” and “Block Party.” Each of these tracks dripped with loads of swagger and an air of cockiness in terms of instrumentation, though never stepping over the dreadful line of self-indulgence – a daunting line to toe, to say the least. Though the album was centered around the guitar, bass, and drums, “Blind Cat Blues,” had an organ part that really stuck out.

Everyone had their chance to stick out on this record. Just as “Block Party” featured more drums, “Camoplaid” and “Springland” accentuated the role of the bass on this album, while “At Peace” and “Albatross” brought in more keyboard flavorings, ranging from acoustic and electric pianos to organs.

For their closing track, NEQ called back to track seven with, “Block Party [Street Mix].” What stuck out most was that this tune was the only one in which words were heard on the album. Seemingly pulled from a live show, as there was an audience track heard within the song, it served as a nice way to re-introduce past ideas before closing the album.

With a release show for the record planned for February 18th at the Hollow Bar + Kitchen in Albany, NEQ will surely deliver a show packed with musical virtuosity, and a vast number of exciting twists and turns. I had the chance to sit down with Todd Nelson of NEQ over the weekend to discuss the band, their new album, and upcoming plans. Continue reading below to catch our conversation.

NEQ’s album, Nevertheless, cover art.

Lucas Garrett: Thanks, Todd, for sitting down with me today. Tell us a bit about the band!

Todd Nelson: Well, we’ve actually been together for about 10 or 11 years. Kyle and Manuel both live in the Hudson Valley-Catskill-Woodstock area. They’re tied in to the mid-Hudson scene. I did a solo recording in 2010 and I asked them to play on it with me. It was a “live-in-the-studio” session and we released that in 2011. Everybody continued doing other things, like musicians do, you know?

LG: Mhm.

TN: We kind of kept playing for a while; we played a lot at 9 Maple Avenue in Saratoga Springs. We played there every couple of months for quite a while, along with a few private gigs here and there. Then, we released a recording in 2015 under the name NEQ because…in this case I wasn’t in the position to pay for a recording like I had been before. So, the idea was for it to be more of a collective approach to the recording and all that sort of thing. We’re a band, but we’re also more of a collaborative production type of thing.

LG: I heard the new album you made, and I have to say – especially as a musician – I was blown away by what I heard.

TN: Thank you!

LG: There’s a lot of amazing stuff on that record. Did you all write that together; or how did that work?

TN: In the previous one, None of the Above,I wrote some of the material myself, but other songs were collaborations between me, Kyle, and Manuel. This time, circumstantially, it turned out I wrote everything basically myself. But, the other guys were involved in the arrangements for a lot of it. Part of that was because of COVID, you know? I’d just gotten recording equipment at home; that kind of inspired me. I wrote six of the songs in a six-month period, which is prolific for me. I usually don’t write at that pace. And, a couple of the songs had been around for a little while – we had started recording two years ago and it kind of fell by the wayside.

It was actually Manuel (Quintana), the drummer, who is also the engineer, that got us back into it and keep working at it. I’m very grateful for that.

LG: Throughout the album is a pervasive Latin-based feel, but it also has its own flavor going on. I noticed a lot of bossa rhythms in there. What are some of your favorite styles of music that you listen to?

TN: I’m not a huge listener of music – I only have a certain amount of time for music in my life. I’d rather come up in my studio and play music or work on something, you know what I mean?

LG: Yes.

TN: As a listener, I’m interested in stuff that can hold my attention. I listened to jazz a lot, but I’m doing less of that and delving into classical music; orchestral stuff. I feel that it’s very rich – there’s so much there.

LG: One of the great things about your album is: while it all felt very mapped out, it also felt very natural to me. I definitely picked up a classical influence. A lot of instrumental music – for me – sometimes sounds a bit contrived. This album wasn’t like that at all. It always kept me guessing.

TN: Thank you! I played classical guitar for quite a while; a long time ago, now. In high school and college, I studied classical guitar. It did two things: it opened up different avenues for writing that I’m rediscovering now, but it also introduced chord voicings that you’re just not going to find in rock music, typically.

LG: Right, I was hearing a lot of that when I was listening to your record.

TN: For this record, I really got back into playing classical guitar. I wrote some of the songs on it. We ended up recording some as mostly rhythm instrumentation. It’s featured in a couple of places.

LG: One song that really grabbed my ear, and that of which I got a super classical feeling, was “Afternoon Map.” There’s a nylon guitar that seemingly comes out of nowhere. It was a very cool interlude.

TN: Right, we basically brought out the melody, stripped down. There’s also a steel-stringed acoustic guitar on there. I used a tuning called “African High Strung” tuning. That’s where three strings are pitched normally, and three, the lower strings, are pitched an octave higher. That guitar and tuning style is also in “Afternoon Map.”

LG: That explains a lot of what I was hearing. I was trying to figure out what you were doing! That makes sense now. So, you have a show coming up, correct?

TN: Yes!

LG: Why don’t you tell us about that?

TN: We’re booked at the Hollow Bar + Kitchen in Albany on Friday, February 18th. It will be a debut show of our new material. In addition to the three of us: myself, Manuel, and Kyle (Esposito), we have three other musicians joining us. On keyboards, Ross Rice. Then, we have another guitarist, Danny Blume, who mastered the recording. He’s well known and he’s actually won a Grammy. A producer and engineer from Woodstock.

Opening for us that night is my good friend, Marc Delgado. He’ll be doing an acoustic set.

In order to play this music, we need all this instrumentation. We made a conscious decision when recording to not worry about it and just go with what we hear. We figured we’d take it from there after the fact.

LG: That makes sense, because I was wondering how you were going to pull that off in a live setting.

TN: Yeah, we really couldn’t do justice to it if we tried to do it as a three-piece.

LG: The record came out on January 3rd, right? Prior to the show, where can folks hear the record?

TN: You can hear it on our Bandcamp, along with any major streaming platforms, such as Spotify, and Apple Music. We also have physical CD’s as well and will be selling those at the show for anyone who has a player that works. I don’t think we’re going to have an opening act, we’ll just play for an hour and fifteen minutes, to an hour-and-a-half and that’ll be it.

LG: After that show, what is in store for NEQ?

TN: I’m working on getting more live gigs. I’ve written some new material and maybe we’ll just start right in with recording some more. Working around people’s schedules.

LG: Like I said, Todd, I was completely blown away by that record.

TN: Well, I appreciate that! I hope others are as well. You know the hard part is getting people to hear it in the first place.

LG: Before we wrap this up, is there anything else you’d like to discuss with me?

TN: I’m a huge advocate of instrumental rock music. There’s a lot of different information, genre-wise, on this record, stylistically. It was a lot of fun to make. We’re having fun doing it, and we’re hoping that people can get into it, and enjoy it.

LG: When people see the music live, the genre will be the last thing on their mind, you know?

TN: Right. We want that direct connection of a live show. It’s not music to put on and just chill. It’s music to be immersed in and really engaged with.

LG: I think it’s the kind of music best enjoyed in a live setting. This will be a very fun concert to go to and see.

TN: Thank you! We wanted to make a record that people can enjoy and really dig into.

LG: You certainly did that.

TN: Thanks!

LG: Good luck with your release show!

TN: Thanks, we’ll be in touch!       


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