Sean Nelson celebrated his 30th birthday feeling comfortably smug. Standing on stage at a club in New York, performing with Seattle’s The Long Winters, he remembers thinking: “This is a cultural archetype that I can really get behind. I’m a touring musician in a band that’s good. Not a lot of people know about it necessarily. But the choices I’ve made to get here feel like they were worth it.”
Ten years later, just weeks after his 40th birthday, Nelson celebrates the release of his solo debut, “Make Good Choices,” Wednesday at Neumos.
Times have changed, he said recently — and for the better.
Chatting over a burger at Collins Pub in Pioneer Square, the singer-songwriter says it wouldn’t even occur to him now to consider himself a cultural archetype.
“It’s been a lot more about how I feel about myself,” he says, “and less about what I think I might seem like.”
Nelson says his perception of himself — and the fear that his record wasn’t good enough — is to blame for the nine years it took to release his first proper solo album, which features assists from the likes of Death Cab for Cutie’s Chris Walla and R.E.M.’s Peter Buck.
When Nelson started making the album he was closer to his 30th birthday than his 40th. As the frontman for the now-defunct Harvey Danger — purveyors of the alt-rock classic “Flagpole Sitta” (“I’m not sick, but I’m not wel-l-l-l-l-l-l-l”) — Nelson knows what it’s like to have people jump out of their seats when they hear his songs. So when he played friends his demos and they didn’t react the way he wanted them to, he got frustrated and put the record back on the proverbial shelf.
“The thing that had to change was not any of the recordings,” he says. “It was me, pretty obviously.”
It’s not that he was inactive during those nine years. He played with bands, regrouped with Harvey Danger for the album “Little By Little …,” and, on occasion, tinkered around with his solo project.
A turning point came when he recorded a covers album, “Nelson Sings Nilsson,” dedicated to the music of the saccharine-sweet songwriter-crooner Harry Nilsson, whose pop melodic influences can be heard on “Make Good Choices” standouts such as “Hey, Millicent.”
Working on the covers inspired Nelson to regroup with Harvey Danger and “then that in turn made me feel like I could go back to my record and sort of sharpen it up,” he says.
The biggest change in Nelson’s life between the start and finish of “Choices” was his introduction to singer-songwriter Shenandoah Davis, whom he met after falling in love with one of her songs, “Oh Way Oh.” Davis plays in Nelson’s band, and Nelson often sings harmonies with her. They married in December.
Now that he has “Choices” out of the way, Nelson doesn’t plan to wait until he’s 50 to put out another record. In fact, his next is already “mostly written.”
“I didn’t like saying, ‘I used to make records,’ or ‘I used to be a musician,’ ” he says. “The fact that [the record is] out now is really gratifying.”
Chris Kornelis: firstname.lastname@example.org