I met acoustic singer/songwriter RJ Nordlund at Ambassador, downtown Appleton, at 5:45 p.m. on Thursday, January 4. He would be playing a show later that night there. Once he and his girlfriend arrived with his equipment, they ordered drinks and the three of us sat down on some cushy chairs and couches near the back of the bar. They were both sipping drinks called “The Community Garden” from Ambassador’s secret menu.
“It’s a really beautiful cocktail,” Nordlund says.
Nordlund, who turned 27 the day before, has been living in the Fox Cities since March 2016. He’s been singing and playing guitar since his sophomore year of high school.
He has a wide variety of musical influences, ranging from country to folk to bluegrass, but also expanding to pop music, rock and roll and even some rap.
“Whatever I’m feeling at the moment. Lately, it’s been really raw. I mean in the past my recordings are really raw and you just get it and do it and it hasn’t been really polished or anything. I like that raw musicality but my next album I’m working on is going to be a pop album…because I’ve been listening to a lot of pop music lately,” Nordlund says.
Nordlund enjoys some hip hop as well. The first band he played in, The Carboys — a folk group — was actually signed to a hip hop label in Michigan. They played for three to four years there, starting as a three-piece band and growing to a six-piece band.
His musical influences include a wide range of musicians. Lately, he’s been listening to the new Noah Gundersen album, but he also likes Bob Dylan a lot. He admitted that although he doesn’t like the old Killers music, he’s been really invested in their newest album lately. Jason Isbell was the final musician he mentioned influencing him.
“Influences are hard because it’s from everywhere, like I could get influences from everything,” Nordlund says.
Nordlund has a unique approach to making music. He explains how once he starts creating a song, he has to finish it that day or it simply will not get finished.
“So usually a tune will either pop into my head and I’ll just hum it and I’ll keep humming that and if I forget it, I’m not going to turn it into a song, but if I remember it I’ll go home and it usually happens at work, and I’ll turn it into a song,” Nordlund says. “Or, I’ll think of the lyrics first and I’ll write music around that, but it’s all spontaneous and if I start writing a song I have to finish it that day or it’s not going to get finished, so I guess I have to really go at it. I get on that train of thought and just go with it.”
Speaking of his work outside music, Nordlund is the brewmaster at Bare Bones Brewery in Oshkosh, so he makes beer for a living and has been doing so for almost six years now.
“It’s a way to still keep the creative juices flowing, like I love coming up with recipes and brewing beer and doing something new. It works because I think beer and music go hand in hand, obviously drinking and music go hand in hand, but it allows me the freedom to just think creatively rather than monotonously doing the same thing over and over,” Nordlund says. “You don’t want to do that in work; you don’t want to do that in music; you don’t want to be doing the same thing over and over because then it gets stale and it gets boring.”
Not only does Nordlund have a solo singing career and a day job making beer, he is also apart of the band Nordlund. The band consists of drummer Taylor Greenwood, bass player Brian Jacobs, lead guitarist Max Jones, and occasionally fiddle player Timmy Mac. Mac also plays in the band Feed the Dog.
“The second night when I moved to Oshkosh I met Taylor my drummer and he told me he plays the drums so I told him ‘You’re going to be my drummer’ and about four months later it actually happened,” Nordlund says.
Nordlund enjoys both his solo work and his work with the band alike.
“I like playing solo a lot actually, I’ve been doing it a lot more lately. [The] freedom’s great — you can try [stuff] that you don’t have to worry about the band not knowing. It’s fun and I try to do it in only more intimate settings,” Nordlund says. “I like playing both ways, with the band I get to really be a rock star and with solo I get to be more free and try stuff and go for stuff I’ve never done before.”
Being apart of the local music scene, Nordlund has a firm perspective on what it’s really like.
“Underappreciated. I think people like local music, but they take it for granted and I don’t think that’s just here, I think it’s in all music scenes. I mean, you have Mile of Music here and they talk about promoting music, but they bring all these acts in from out of town and push them more than the locals…but there’s a lot of really talented musicians here that I think could be doing better if they got the right push behind them,” Nordlund says.
So what does he think can be done to change things around the Fox Valley? Earlier shows and writing workshops. He believes if clubs started shows around six or seven at night, after dinner time, that more people would come out to hear live music. Nordlund says writing workshops could also be a really helpful tool in making the Fox Valley more advantageous for music makers.
Nordlund has an unusual taste when it comes to favorite local venues to perform in or watch others perform.
“I really enjoy the weird spaces, the cool spaces, the unique spaces. I think unique locations are more fun to play in than your typical bar, especially when you get a listening crowd — the listening audience is more important than anything,” Nordlund says.
One of Nordlund’s favorite local show memories involves the rewatching of a Rock Garden live show he played. He rewatched the performance with his producer Mark Golde at Golde’s favorite bar in Menasha, Dick’s Wheel Inn. Golde’s show is played at the bar every Sunday night and Nordlund thought it was cool to rewatch and relive the experience of the show.
“It was kind of cool to relive that experience again, hear everything; it was a great time,” Nordlund says.
Nordlund has a pop album in the works, but has no set time table for when it will be completed or released.
“It’s gonna be a completely overdone studio album. It’s gonna be crazy,” Nordlund says.
Because he is busy writing and recording right now, the next time to check Nordlund out is May 5 at The Source Public House in Menasha.
To listen to some of Nordlund’s music at home or buy some of his songs, visit nordlund.bandcamp.com.