Owen Nelson – Jazz Performance, U4
McGill Tribune: Has it been at all difficult to balance your time between a performance major and a business minor, given how different they are?
Owen Nelson: For sure. Music takes a lot, a lot, a lot of time in your schedule. You have to do rehearsals that are two to three hours; a lot of times, students are in two or three combos in a semester, and they’re in a big band or a choir. So you have to budget your time really well. Being in business, it’s definitely been a challenge making time for music and academic courses. Because a lot of times, music students, they don’t spend time in the library, you know? They’re focused on that one degree. So for me, I’ve focused a lot of time on business.
MT: In arts courses, the standard set up is: midterm, paper, final. Is there any sort of standard format for most of your music courses?
ON: It really depends on the class. For jazz performance, we have to do music theory, and that’s more written. We have to do composition classes, where we learn how to write music, so that’s more ‘you have to write basically a song every week, and then you have to perform it in front of the class.’ And then there’s an improvisation course, where you learn how to improvise over songs. So that’s really performance-based; you basically create your own melody on the spot, over a song.
MT: Do you have a favourite course or professor that you’ve worked with?
ON: I think so far, my favourite professor has been Gary Whittaker, in the business school. He taught an entrepreneurship course, and it was really cool because he’s not an academic; he’s a real businessman—a successful businessman. It was really cool to learn from someone who has actually been successful in business. He taught us how to write a business plan, and how to make business deals and how to negotiate. That was by far the best course I’ve taken.
MT: Can you tell me about the music competition you recently won?
ON: Yeah, I’m in a band called Static Gold, and we just played a battle of the bands at Le National, and the winner of the competition gets—I think—35 hours in a recording studio, a free music video, a show in Toronto, and promotion or something. We get to play a show at Club Soda on May 19, so we won, and we’re going to be playing there.
MT: And what about your plans to play in Ibiza this summer? Can you elaborate on those?
ON: I met a DJ when I went travelling to Spain, two summers ago. My heart was broken, and I just bought a ticket to Madrid. I was playing my saxophone in the streets for money, and having an adventure, and I met a DJ who invited me to a party on top of an apartment building. So we played all night, until like 5 a.m. on top of this building, and we’ve stayed in touch ever since. So we’ve been recording together, and he got a residency at a club on the island of Ibiza, and he asked me to come play with him.
MT: So how long are you planning on staying there?
ON: I’m planning on being there for a couple of months, and then I got a job [lined up] in Palm Beach, Florida, after, so I’m moving [there].
MT: How did it come about that you are going Atlanta to record with Pastor Troy?
ON: Pastor Troy is one of my childhood idols. I was bullied pretty badly in high school, and I would listen to his music for inspiration. A couple of months ago he was on the radio, and I called the radio station and asked them if I could talk to him. So I did, and he asked me to send him my music. Now I’m talking to his manager about…. going down there. It’s in the works, I’m crossing my fingers, and really hoping it works out.
MT: What did you guys talk about when you first called the radio station?
ON: I basically told him that his music helped me get through a lot of things in my life, and how much I appreciated him. We talked about martial arts, and he told me that he wanted me to teach him some kickboxing, and that I should send him my music.
MT: What’s been your favourite event or activity that you’ve taken part in at McGill this year?
ON: Probably when my band played at Open Air Pub [OAP]. It’s always awesome to do that.
MT: What’s your lucky charm?
ON: I guess when I play the saxophone, I have a power stance, and I feel invincible. Actually, I have two. It’s like my turbo-mode.