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Rick Nelson

Rick Nelson

Producer, Multi-Instrumentalist
Rick Nelson

Producer and multi-instrumentalist Rick Nelson has taken his considerable talents as a classical musician into the world of rock’n’roll and has played violin, viola, cello and upright bass with The Polyphonic Spree, the Twilight Singers and his current band Afghan Whigs. He owns Marigny Studios in New Orleans and is much in demand as a record producer, and string section composer, arranger and performer.

Afghan Whigs, The Polyphonic Spree, The Twilight Singers, St. Vincent
Aston gear Rick is using:
Catching the bug

Rick’s earliest memories were of his father playing Beatles and Zeppelin records.

 “That was where I first started getting into music. He had this amazing record collection, unfortunately it was all lost. The 1,000’s of records he had were destroyed in Hurricane Katrina which sucked because they were how I got into music originally.”

Struck by the musician bug, at age six, Rick told his parents he wanted to play the violin

“They looked at me like I was crazy. There were no other musicians in my family, I’m the only one. I’ve known for as long as I can remember that I wanted to be a musician. It was easy for me and it set me on my path, I knew exactly what I wanted to do.”

As a Senior at High School he decided he wanted to play bass, and whie he initially found it a difficult transition going from an instrument he was knowledagable on to one of which he had less experience, he persevered and got his music degree from the university of North Texas.

Although he focussed on classical and jazz music in his studies, Rick's heart was in rock and roll. His interest in mixing the genres led to him joining choral symphonic pop rock band Polyphonic Spree.

Queen and Sir George

“That was the next ten years of my life. Joining Polyphonic Spree to me was like the graduate school masters programme. It was great. I was playing in a rock band but with orchestral instruments, it was exactly what I was looking for. I got the best of all worlds.”

From Polyphonic Spree he went on to join indie band Twilight Singers, with Afghan Whigs leader Greg Dulli, and then eventually with the reformed cult band Afghan Whigs itself. Rick has also played with some huge artists outside of those bands, including Joss Stone, Tony Bennett, Cyndi Lauper and others at the Noble Peace prize convention who came together to perform John Lennon’s Imagine. He has played two tours opening for David Bowie, and arranged tracks for Liam Gallagher, Peter Gabriel and many more.

He recalls momentarily freezing on another star-studded occasion:

“I played with Polyphonic Spree at the UK Hall of Fame induction where Queen were performing for one of Paul Rogers’ first live performances. We sat in with them for We Are The Champions! It was a strange one. At the same event we were playing Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band with Sir George Martin in the front row. I completely forgot how to play the violin, the minute I saw him I forgot how to even hold my bow, but after a while muscle memory clicked in and it was all good.”

Full suite

It was in a classical environment that Rick first encountered Aston mics:

“I had used Aston mics before at other studios and had fallen in love with them. I did a string session and they had the Spirit and the Origin. The Spirit sounded great on the Cello as it had that really great high-end boost at 5k, and the Origin rocked on the violin as it is a little bit flatter and works really well on the high strings. Just yesterday I was using the Spirit on the outside of a kick drum and it was huge and monstrous and fat and just sounded unbelievable.”

Now Rick uses a full suite of Aston mics, with a stereo pair of Starlight pencil condensers also on his gear list. A favourite technique, he told us, is to use the Starlights inside of a piano, with an Origin underneath. Completing the Aston collection, a Halo reflection filter is also on hand to smooth out vocal takes.

“I try to capture as many things live as possible to get the live band sound. Everybody sets up in the live room.”

Marigny Studios

The live room in question is at Rick’s Marigny Studios which he has owned since 2011. It used to be an old Jazz club in the 50’s and 60’s and a punk rock club in the 80’s where REM, among others, played.

“During the renovations we wanted to stay true to the jazz club vibe so we kept the bar and the stage, where the drums are always setup. We want to keep as much of that live sound as possible, then go back and do the vocals after the fact as an overdub, however some days we’ll keep the live vocals.”

The studio utilises Lynx Aurora converters, AI and Neve mic pres and UAD plug-ins

“We use a couple of original and rare Neve 33114 pres which I absolutely love. I used to have a giant 32 channel Soundcraft board that didn’t really provide the sound that we wanted to we decided to sell that and invest in some really killer pre amps, compressors and eq’s that I really like, so I pretty much created my own board. I use Pro Tools but I don’t exclusively mix in the box, I use a lot of great outboard gear when I’m mixing, although I do have some great plug ins.”

Artists including Sweet Crude, Greg Dulli, John Oates, Preservation Hall Jazz Band,  The Revivalists, Twilight SIngers and Afghan Whigs are now clients of the studio, and its multi-talented owner, ‘one man symphony’ Rick Nelson.


Q. Who are your favourite artists?
A. Willie Nelson, Morphine are a huge influence of mine, I also love Led Zepplin that’s a huge one for me

Q. If you weren’t working in the music industry what would you be doing?
A. I would be a Chef

Q. What would your fantasy mic be?
A. I would love something much in the way of a U47 that has an extremely tight pattern. Like if you put the mic into a room with a drummer you wouldn’t be able to hear the drums at all, you would only be able to hear the vocalist. Obviously if the vocalist moved their head you’d lose some of those vocals but I’d just love a really tight patterned condenser microphone.

Q. What are the four words you would use to describe Aston
A. Versatile, Smooth, Extremely-detailed, Not-hyped

Q. What was the first song that made you cry?
A. Always on my mind – Willie Nelson

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