Dylan Nelson ’15 readily admits that he’s visible on campus because of his ’70s vibe—he’s got the flowing hair, slightly flared jeans, and funky jewelry that would make him look at home in Black Sabbath—but his style might be the least interesting thing about him. The history major hails from a small island off the coast of Washington state, has played with eight bands, knows how to bale hay, and loves building houses. The Argus sat down with Nelson in SciLi to discuss the Philippine-American War, John Frieda blonde shampoo, and what makes for a good band name.
The Argus: Why do you think you’re a WesCeleb?
Dylan Nelson: That’s kind of a funny question to start off with. It puts you on the spot. I mean, I suppose since freshman year, people were like, “Oh, there’s that ’70s kid,” or whatever, because of how I dress and how I have my hair and everything. Visibility on campus, I suppose. That’s not a very good answer.
A: Do you identify as a ’70s kid?
DN: No, not so much. I mean, I obviously understand how people make that connection and everything. That is predominantly the type of music I listen to, but no, not really. People are like, “There’s that hippie looking guy,” but it’s not peace and love and that sort of thing. It’s mostly that growing up, that was the music I listened to. And I saw the artists, and [thought], “Oh, what are they wearing?” I kind of went with that. It’s what I was comfortable wearing.
A: Who are your favorite artists from that period?
DN: I suppose what I’ve been listening to right now is that I’ve gotten back into a lot of Cream and I’m listening to a lot of live Hendrix bootlegs at the moment. And Robin Trower, and Mountain. Those are probably the big ones of what I’m listening to right now, but that’s liable to change.
A: Do you play music?
DN: Yes! I play bass and harmonica and sing. I started playing bass around 14. I started playing in bars around 15. So I got into doing that because my dad had friends who played in bars and everything, and they were like, “We need a bass player!” So they start sneaking me into bars being like, “Oh, no, he’s 18, he’s 21,” or whatever. Because in Washington you’re not allowed in a bar unless you’re, I think it’s 18, technically. So, yeah, from about 15 onwards, I spent the weekends sneaking into bars to play music.
A: So you’re from Washington state?
DN: Yeah. I’m from a town called Friday Harbor. It’s easier to start off giving you a visual of where it is. [Opens map on phone] It’s an island off the coast of Washington state. Let’s see…San Juan Island. It’s about an hour across the water to Canada, and it’s about an hour and a half to two hours on the ferry to mainland Washington. So it’s easier to get to Canada.
A: Did you fit in when you were in school there?
DN: Maybe not so much through elementary and middle school, because that’s when—it was early 2000s—the first album my parents got me was, like, a Chuck Berry album, and Elvis. So I was always listening to that. I paid a lot of attention to my grades in school, and I didn’t do a lot of sports, so I certainly had friends, but not a huge group. It’s a pretty small island. The graduating class in my high school—I went from the public school over to a private high school in 10th grade—was seven. Seven guys….To put that in perspective, even in the public high school the graduating class was 63. There’s not a lot to do. People play a lot of sports. Me and my friends in high school and middle school, there wasn’t a lot to do, so all we did was play music. We just sat around and practiced and practiced. For hours. And then work. It’s mostly farming or construction or working on docks and stuff. It’s very touristy. Or you work in a restaurant.
A: What were your jobs?
DN: I worked on farms for the most part. I guess that’s 9th and 10th grade. I was baling hay, driving a tractor, raking the hay. And then the baler would come along and do it, and then we’d wait a couple of weeks and then pack it in. And maintaining equipment as well, so, like, washing trucks and doing service on them. After that, I switched over in the summer to doing a lot of lawn care stuff, running a lawn care business. And then through 11th and 12th grade, my main job was construction. Carpentry. And that’s what I still do during the summer.
A: Do you enjoy it?
DN: To a degree. It’s not the most fun work, but what I liked about driving the tractor was that you could just zone out, driving around in a circle all day. With construction, it’s enjoyable. I get to be outside every day, and it’s not standing around doing nothing all day. I get to put on all my own music. It’s pretty much, “Here’s the job, do it, and then come report back when you’re done with that.” You know, it’s nice.
A: What did you build?
DN: This last summer, I was working for my stepdad, who has a construction business, and we were building a house from the ground up.
A: Going back to music, do you play in a band on campus?
DN: I just started again playing in a band on campus, yeah. The name we settled on was Electric Company. I was actually just working on mixes—doing a recording—because we have to submit to the Battle of the Bands, coming up. And then I think we’re playing Zonker Harris day as well.
A: What’s the secret to a really good band name?
DN: I don’t know. It’s just kind of like, “Oh, that’ll work.” My band back in high school was called the Sonic Vandals, and that came from something my mom said. We had the tendency to play very loudly. At one point she had friends over at her house, and my dad’s house was about two miles away. She thought the radio next door was on, and it was actually us practicing about two miles away. So she said something about how we didn’t want to get arrested for sonic vandalism. So we thought, “Well, now we have a name.”
A: You mentioned that people know you by your ’70s look. Are you attached to that image?
DN: I mean, since I’ve been at Wesleyan, I’ve grown my hair out, but my dad always had long hair when I was growing up. The bands and the genres of music I listen to are that aesthetic, so as long as long as I’m playing music, I’ll continue with the same variations on the theme. There’s certainly clothes that I wore freshman year that I’m not wearing anymore. It progresses, but it’s all in the realm of what people might label as ’60s or ’70s inspired. It’s not like I’m out there wearing huge bell bottoms all the time. It’s not direct imitation; it’s riffing off the idea.
A: Do you seek out those styles? Where do you shop?
DN: I spend more time than I care to admit online, looking for clothing, yeah. I’ve got locations that I know online. I’ll go through them once or twice at the beginning of each new clothing season to see what they have out, see what their new line is.
A: I like your jewelry. Where’s that from?
DN: These were actually my grandfather’s. I got these last New Years. My uncle had had them for a couple of decades, since my grandfather died, and he brought them, and my dad said, “I bet Dylan would like those.”
A: What’s your hair care regimen?
DN: It’s definitely become more lax. It used to be every six weeks, and it was much more layered, but since then I’ve gone longer and longer between haircuts and had it all one layer. Now it’s about six months in between a haircut. As far as washing it, I shower once a day but wash it every other day. Shampoo and conditioner.
A: If you wash it every day, it gets dry.
DN: Yeah, so it’s about every other day. My housemates always get a kick out of this. It’s some blond-specific shampoo. John Frieda. If they read that, they’ll get a kick out of me saying that.
A: But the color’s natural.
DN: Yes. The color is natural. If it was ever sunny around here, it would probably be lighter. It gets lighter during the summer. My mom, dad, and brothers all have white-blond hair.
A: Are you Scandinavian?
DN: I suppose some ways back. My dad’s family is German-Norwegian, or somewhere in there, and my mom’s English.
A: Are you writing a thesis?
DN: No! If I were, I probably wouldn’t have agreed to an interview this week. I’m writing an essay about the CIA Torture Report and relating that to U.S. war crimes committed during the U.S.-Philippine war in 1900. It’s fun. It’s so cheery….I’m not so much looking at the policy of the war. I’m looking more at what happened on the ground, kind of tacitly. I guess what I’m looking at is the General Orders 100, which was the U.S. Army’s code of operation at the point. It had enough room interpretation to it where it kind of got out of control, because essentially if the enemy didn’t abide by the rules of war, you didn’t necessarily have to. There was a Senate meeting where it was admitted that some people had committed war crimes, but because of the whole racial aspect, imperialism, it didn’t get as much attention as it should have.
A: What’s your favorite city?
DN: Of the ones I’ve been to, probably London. I have family there, so I enjoy going to visit them. But there are other cities. I quite like Seattle, and Vancouver—up in Canada—is really nice.