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“Girls shouldn’t be afraid of failing”: Nelson Can

DSC_3209 Danish girl band Nelson Can played a wild concert at Spot Festival and have a new album on the way. Their songs are playful and were created by jamming in a basement – but the three musicians are also businesswomen and have some clear opinions about being role models to younger people. Tatiana Tilly interviews them after their show. 

Signe’s foot made a strange sound, right before she was supposed to go on stage with Nelson Can, at Spot Festival’s Raa hall venue.

remaining strong, despite her foot
remaining strong, despite her foot

She tells me this when we meet an hour after the concert at the bar of the Radisson Hotel, where the musicians have been staying during the weekend. She just wanted me to know, in case she gets a strange, wet look in her eyes. Then it’s only because she had to take “a bunch of painkillers” before performing. “I broke my foot three months ago, and just before the concert it just said ‘crack’ and started hurting a lot again”, she explains.

She laughs about the fact that she might be a little bit weird because of the pills. Actually, she seems completely clear minded as we talk about what to expect from the band’s new album. “The quality of production will be better. We focused a lot on making vocal harmonies, now that we are two in the band who sing. We might as well make it more delicious to listen to”.

But first of all, the record has to be produced. The new songs have been expected for a while now and it has taken a while to get it out, because the band kept running out of money.

DSC_3243 Breaking down the walls

Somehow the incident with the broken foot says a lot about Nelson Can. The band is all-female and consists of the bassist Signe Tobiassen, the lead singer Selina Gin and the drummer Maria Juntunen. Their sound is very raw, because they only have a bass and no guitar. It could have been on purpose, since it gives them an original sound. But actually, it’s just started as a practical issue, because neither of the girls were able to play a guitar.

“We just make it work. Every time somebody says we can’t do it, or we hit a wall on our way, then we think: ‘they can’t decide that. We will find a way to make it happen’’, Signe says.

The first EP was released in the beginning of 2012, and got some attention in both the industry and among young girls, who became fans of the band. Since then, Nelson Can has been touring a lot around Denmark: both at youth schools and as warm up for Go Go Berlin.

“We really want to tour more abroad, but we need to release some more new music, because you can’t tour on a two-year old EP. So it’s really important for us to communicate, that the new EP is here and the album is on the way”, Signe says.

Reaching something different

Suddenly the two other girls, Selina and Maria, step out of the escalator just by the bar, where we are sitting. They look a bit tired

drummer Maria a 'boost' to the band
drummer Maria a ‘boost’ to the band

after the performance, but happily sit down to join the interview about their work. Maria is the drummer and came into the group a bit later. Her arrival completely boosted the band, says Signe.

“She’s so talented, she’s a God on drums. And it gives us the freedom to push ourselves more musically. And she has a strong personality, so she can challenge Selina and I, because we’re like an old couple together”.

She laughs about the fact that Maria calls them “The old couple from Jutland”, because Signe and Selina have played together and been friends “since God knows when”.

When the three of them create music together, they meet in their basement studio and have marathon jamming sessions, where they just try to let go of the daily thoughts and follow the melodies that come into their minds.

“There’s no phone signal, so we are isolated from the world, it’s just the three of us in the basement. We stand there in hours and hours, which is really tough, but something happens when you get tired and angry. You let go and can reach something different”, Signe says.

'Old married couple' Selina and Signe
‘Old married couple’ Selina and Signe

                  “Remember this face”

When the girls write their music and lyrics, they are quite spontaneous. Inspired by Jefferson Airplane, The Doors, the new Nick Cave album and “everything Jack White ever made”.

“Right now, we have some focus on heartbreaks as well, but it’s very open and widespread”, says Selina, who has taken a chair at the bar.

Sometimes they even jam over a certain theme, which could be a zombie movie they’ve just seen, or the universe of Quentin Tarantino’s movies.

“Actually, Tarantino’s music producer is here at the Festival, and I even met her for four minutes. I just gave her the EP’s and told her a little bit about Nelson Can”, Signe says and jokes: “I said: Remember this face!” and frames her face with her hands. The two others laugh.

But actually, this attitude is what makes Nelson Can happen. Since the beginning, they have been very aware that they had to take charge themselves if they wanted their music out in their own way.

Alternative business strategies

The first EP was released through the project “1000 Records”, which made agreements with sponsors which could support in

fans invest in Nelson Can
fans invest in Nelson Can

specific releases.The coffee chain Baresso gave 10.000 kroner to finance the EP.

Today, they have started their own record company “Like a Can of Beans Records” and found the money for their second EP through crowdfunding at boomerang.dk.

“Our fans support it by giving a small amount of money each. We could have found the money through investors in the industry, but this also gives another connection to our fans. They get some ownership, because they contribute actively”, says Maria.

They all stress the fact, that they are very realistic about their careers and spend a lot of time and energy in planning and working on the practical side of it.

“If we don’t believe in it, then who the hell should? Playing in a band is so much morethan just picking up an instrument and go to the studio. There’s so much more around it”, says Signe.

Making a statement

This attitude seems to be a key concept in Nelson Can. whether it comes to performing with a painful foot, creating your own

young girls look up to the band
young girls look up to the band

record company, crowdfunding the money or just giving shows. The attitude seems to be that they “will make it happen” for themselves. Among the audience at their Spot Festival concert were a lot of young girls nodding their heads to the rhythm and throwing their hair when the music got wild.

Nelson Can  are very aware that they have some younger fans that they can be role models for.

“We hope that we can inspire others to pick up an instrument and just doing it and give it all you have”, says Selina.

She believes that women in general can be more cautious than men in music, because they are afraid of failing or making mistakes. She remembers herself as a teenager and not wanting to play the wrong tune. And then she adds “but who gives a fuck, really?”.

“We also want to show, that you can make music without having to undress. We are really aware of that and the image we have. We stand firmly on stage. It’s our stage, and we’re the ones who decide what we wear and look like”, she says.

Choosing not to care

All three think that there could be more female role models in music. Maria tells how she always lacked other drummers to look up

strong female role models
strong female role models

to than just “the big male rock drummers”. Similarly, Signe says that she can only mention a few female bassists.

“It’s not necessarily a problem that there aren’t more women in music, but it’s a problem if someone feels that they are held back from doing it. We want to show that you can do it, and that you can be a different kind of band”, Signe says.

She and Selina started out with a punk band, which made them care less about the risk of failing.

“We chose not to care. We want to show that this is so much fun. And we’re doing it  because we can’t help it, because we just really want to do this”, she says.

Selina adds that they hope to inspire others by showing how great it can be to create something together with other people. “This is your art, something you made together, and it’s just an extremely cool feeling. So of course we hope that more girls will want to go for it”, Selina says.

The three girls are getting hungry and leave the Radisson Hotel to find some food, as they hadn’t eaten after their show, where despite painful feet, they gave all the energy they had.

The “just do it” attitude seems to work for Nelson Can: after the concert, the music magazine Gaffa wrote in their review that the band has an “plenitude of musical ability and a firm experience onstage, which is admirable. The trio didn’t seem to make an effort, but they had the audience in the palms of their hands from the beginning to the end”.

Photos also by Tatiana Tilly 

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