Music + Clubs: Youth served

Just 18, singer-songwriter John Mark Nelson is stirring up buzz.

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The conspicuous under-21 "X" marks youngster John Mark Nelson's accordion hand.

Photo: Kyndell Harkness, By Kyndell Harkness

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After a weeklong European tour with the Minnetonka High School Orchestra in April, a deeply inspired John Mark Nelson holed up for a three-day weekend to write and record one song. At 2 a.m. Monday he finished the song and immediately posted it to his Bandcamp Web page. Then he went to sleep for a few hours.

By the time he got to school, 89.3 the Current had picked up the song and slotted it for airplay.

"It was just so surreal that something could be conceived, created and wind up on the radio in that short a time," marveled Nelson, 18. "That's when it hit me: I'd better hurry up and make a record."

The song in question, "What Did I Find?," is on the album Nelson just completed a few weeks ago. High school graduation obviously kept him from finishing it any sooner. So did the amount of care he invested in the project, which is the most impressive Minnesota-made home recording -- or record made in a parent's home -- since Owl City's debut, and the hottest solitary indie-folk album from our neck of the woods since Bon Iver's first.

Titled "Waiting and Waiting," Nelson's coming-out collection lands this week with an album release party Sunday at 7th Street Entry. It's only the third gig ever by Nelson's new band, which will expand to a 10-piece ensemble with strings. The show is looking like a sellout, too.

In person, Nelson comes off as polite and clean-cut as Adam Young (aka Owl City), yet hipper and more gregarious -- and bearded -- like Justin Vernon (aka Bon Iver). On record, he evokes such strings-accompanied, poppy folk bards as Sufjan Stevens and Beirut's Zach Condon. Local maestro Josh Misner, who leads the Laurels String Quartet and works with Jeremy Messersmith, helped Nelson bring his self-written string arrangements to life, lending the album part of its majestic vibe.

Otherwise, Nelson made the record at home all by his lonesome. He has been making music that way ever since his early teens, when he was a home-schooled student.

"I'd finish all my home-school assignments for the day by about 1 p.m., so there was a lot of time for me to learn how to do this," said Nelson, who did not enroll at Minnetonka High until his sophomore year. He went on to graduate magna cum laude, by the way.

Many of the songs on "Waiting and Waiting" are about Nelson trying to get past that lonely-afternoon feeling, and past some romantic heartache that haunted a much rawer and earlier record. "I sort of see this record as a slap in the face to loneliness," Nelson said. Predictably, the album is also about coming of age.

Nelson has a lot of new things to figure out in the coming months. He has long planned on attending McNally Smith College of Music in St. Paul, but he may put that off for a burgeoning career. If he does go to school, he may opt to change his chosen field of study, which was -- surprise! -- percussion, the same thing he played in the high school orchestra.

"Ever since I was a young kid, I've wanted to be a professional drummer," he explained. "This singer-songwriter thing sort of just landed in my lap."

John Mark Nelson

When: 8:30 p.m. Sun. Where: 7th Street Entry. Tickets: $8.

  • JOHN MARK NELSON When: 8:30 p.m. Sun. Where: 7th Street Entry. Tickets: $8.
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