Derek Nelson grew up outside of Chicago with a mom from Ireland and a dad from the Midwest. Even before he got his first guitar at 11 or 12 — a classical acoustic picked up at a flea market — he was writing songs. He’d write them everywhere: when he should have been studying, while painting houses or mowing the lawn, while camping at car races in Wisconsin or staying with family in Kentucky.
His first release was a sparse solo EP called SOMETHING OBSCURE, with immediate response from local press, “proving without a doubt that he had what it takes and quickly generating buzz around the city” (WindyCityRock). His band, simply called The Musicians, joined him at headlining dates in many of Chicago’s biggest clubs. Together, they recorded a second EP, RIDERS OF THE TIDE, released at a sold-out show at Schubas.
He changed course from there, co-founding a 7-piece collective called Martin Van Ruin as an avenue to pursue more musically adventurous songs, ranging from a buzzy take on modern folk (think Neutral Milk Hotel) to “stormier numbers that conjure images of Neil Young shredding alongside Crazy Horse” (Chicago Tribune). Their debut album, EVERY MAN A KING!, was called “one of the best local indie releases of the year” (Jessica Hopper) and introduced the band as a “new folk rock supergroup” with “inescapable Bob Dylan and Neil Young comparisons” (Chicago Sun-Times). After the release, American Songwriter Magazine named the group one of “5 Chicago Songwriters You Need to Hear.”
On the same day, Nelson released MISSOURI, a solo EP that Aarik Danielsen of the Columbia Daily Tribune called “spare and strong, intimate and imminent, it is the sound of Nelson sitting right next to you, sweating blood and dreaming big.”
2018 brings a lot of changes for Nelson. He’s 32, married, and his second son was born last Christmas. But the writing continues. Martin Van Ruin has wrapped up recording CURRENT DAY, their sophomore release. And after decades of writing hundreds of songs in every setting imaginable, Nelson is finally ready for his debut: his first solo full-length album is due out in 2019.