Micah Nelson: COVID-19 Could Be 'Opportunity for Rapid Evolution' - Rolling Stone
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Micah Nelson: Crisis Could Be an ‘Opportunity for Rapid Evolution’

Ahead of the Luck Reunion broadcast, the musician talks about the “positive silver linings” that may come out of the coronavirus

Micah NelsonFarm Aid Festival, Alpine Valley Music Theatre, East Troy, Wisconsin, USA - 21 Sep 2019

Micah Nelson

Suzanne Cordeiro/Shutterstock

Today, 4,000 people were supposed to descend on Willie Nelson’s Texas ranch for the Luck Reunion, one of the most intimate and thrilling music festivals of the year. That plan had be put on hold due to the coronavirus, but instead performers — including Nelson, Lucinda Williams, Jewel, Paul Simon and Edie Brickell, Margo Price, and others  — will be performing via livestream.

Micah Nelson, who performs as Particle Kid, will also perform. Micah has put out a series of loose, wild psychedelic albums in the past few years that includes the excellent just-released ‘Live! Underground,’ recorded in Ojai, California, late last year. Ahead of tonight’s Luck broadcast (and after we spoke to his brother Lukas) Micah talks about his family’s time in self-quarantine, just outside of Austin.

What are you doing with your unexpected time at home?
Trying to get some food growing and building the topsoil here at Luck, giving back to the soil. I’m applying mycorrhizal fungi, planting carrots, turnips, peas, cabbage, lettuce, kale, hemp, etc., getting a beekeeping and worm-composting situation going as well. I’ve been wanting to spend time on that for years now — finally have an opportunity! However unfortunate the reasons…

I’m also working on a new Particle Kid album. I had a few days in the studio out here with my trio before I had to send them home before the shit hit the fan. We got some great stuff, though, so I’ve just been mostly mixing those new songs. My dad played and sang on one yesterday. J. Mascis from Dinosaur Jr. played some guitar on another new one from afar. Fortunately, today’s technology allows artists to collaborate long-distance, at least if they’ve got home studios. I’m working on the TRANS 2020 animation project with Neil [Young], knitting weird hats, [my wife] Alex is making sock puppets. We are gonna do a dumb little livestream variety show called “A Quarantine Home Companion.” I think humor is very important in all this and will save us. I got plenty to keep me busy. Funny how pre-matrix shutdown we never seemed to have the time, so it’s pretty weird to actually have the time now. They’ve canceled the world!

I mostly empathize with folks who either don’t have a home or are struggling to keep the lights on during this fucked-up Twilight Zone episode. Many positive silver-lining things are happening, however, like precious ecosystems finally getting some time to regenerate. It’s like the Earth is getting a few days off from being raped and pillaged for a change. This whole thing is a wake-up call to the reality that humans are not actually running the show and never really have been. Maybe it’s the slap in the face we need to finally snap out of our collective ignorance that we are one and the same with the ecosystem, and not superior … I dunno.

“Many positive silver-lining things are happening, like precious ecosystems finally getting some time to regenerate. It’s like the Earth is getting a few days off from being pillaged for a change.”

What music do you turn to in times of crisis like now?
Alex and I are currently self-quarantined in the old schoolhouse on the ranch that used to be the Montessori school my mom started, Tierra Vista, which I attended as a kid. It feels like a time capsule. There’s a record player here. I’m looking at our stack of records: Broadcast’s Tender Buttons; Nina Simone’s At the Village Gate; the Womenfolk’s At the Hungry I; Jay Reatard’s Blood Visions; Willie, Kris, Brenda & Dolly’s The Winning Hand; Kid Ory’s Creole Jazz Band; Saunders King What’s Your Story, Morning Glory; David Crosby If I Could Only Remember My Name; Aphex Twin Collapse; the Claypool Lennon Delirium’s South of Reality, Selda; Brian Eno’s Another Green World; and Neil Young’s Comes a Time. That’s what we’ve got right now. Good company.

What have you taken away from all the family time?
The fact that we can play a live show in our living room, just the three of us, with my mom shooting on an iPhone, and broadcast it to the world is pretty neat.

Is there anything else you want to say to your fans right now?
Yes, something my friend John reminded me of: “During the plague in Isaac Newton’s time, he had just completed study at Oxford. He was slotted to join faculty. The epidemic caused the university to shut down for two years, for the same reasons we are. He went to a private cabin and, instead of regurgitating the words and ideas of others, created the foundation of what would evolve into quantum physics. Who knows what people will create when they are faced with four walls and the sudden contrast to an assumed freedom? When the beast gives chase, even the most numb of minds remember that they are alive.”

I believe that stressing our bodies and minds beyond our comfort zones can unlock genetic potential we didn’t even realize we had. So, although this is a hard time for many, it is also an opportunity for rapid evolution, not further away from the source, but toward it. These collective challenges may be a catalyst to push us into some higher state of awareness. Food for thought!

What can we expect from the Luck broadcast tonight?
I’m not entirely sure! I guess we will find out. We weren’t confident with our internet up here, honestly, so even though we played everything live in the moment, one take with no rehearsal, we prerecorded our little set; however, we are gonna try to do a live FaceTime call at the end of the actual broadcast so we can have a real, live long-distance social moment with everyone. I know many of the videos will actually be fully livestreamed, though! It’s gonna be a cool experiment! Hopefully it can be a more regular thing, but not too regular.

Can you tell me about your new album, Live! Underground, and how you plan on continuing to work throughout the emergency?
We recorded that last December, at Bernie Larson’s Underground Exchange up in Ojai, California. It was one of bassist Aroyn Davis’ first shows with us. It had a great raw energy and sound. Niko Bolas did a great mix on it, and then I put it through my Teac 144 cassette machine and did all kinds of stupid shit to it. Bob Rice did a great mastering job, recovering some quality after I ran it through my tabletop glo-fi treatment.

The album has a mix of different songs from different Particle Kid records, but captures the raw live sound with all the weird accidental magic anomalies you can’t rehearse. It’s a fun record, doesn’t take itself too seriously. There weren’t a ton of people at the show, but I sampled a bunch of giant crowds from football stadiums and arena concerts, so it sounds like we are “live at Budokan,” or something. Total bullshit! I really had a blast making this one; it all happened pretty fast. I decided one day long ago I would rather be super-prolific than a super-perfectionist, so I’m always trying to ride that line and keep writing and putting new material out. If there’s a new version of a song that happens later, I can just record that one and put that out at that time. I don’t like to overthink things too much, that’s where I get in trouble and things can get stuck.

It’s not a perfect album by any means, but just the fact that the album is out there and people can hear it helps my sanity. This English-teacher guy who is stuck quarantined in China randomly emailed me this long letter about how Particle Kid music has been keeping him sane through all this madness. That was nice to hear. I hope it helps keep people inspired, laughing, feeling purposeful, feeling human.

I think music keeps people from losing their shit. It definitely helps me. I am living proof! Now is a great time for people to discover new music. Also, if they want to support independent musicians at this time who are getting hit hard, Bandcamp is currently giving 100 percent of profits from sales through their site to the artists! So please visit www.particlekid.bandcamp.com, buy all my stuff, and then go on a rabbit-hole adventure of discovering all the great independent music showcased there, and buy their stuff too! Thanks, folks.

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