In the fall of 2015, Kai Anders, Kyle O’Brien, and Josh Parlanti brought together their passion for Harry Nilsson and desire to create together and formed a Nilsson tribute band, Dream On Nilsson. Originally planning to record just a single tribute album, Dream on Nilsson quickly blossomed into a full-fledged band. Putting their own modern twist on Nilsson’s music while still maintaining its authenticity, Dream on Nilsson will dazzle audiences with their live performance that includes an orchestral ensemble accompaniment. They bring to life the music of an artist who never performed a live show in his career. Celebrating their debut project and Harry Nilsson’s 75th birthday, Dream on Nilsson will perform at The Cedar on June 15th with opener Paul Fonfara.
We spoke with Kai Anders to learn more about the origins and inspirations of Dream on Nilsson.
How did the three of you meet?
Kyle, Josh and I (Kai) all grew up in Northern MN, Grand Rapids. Kyle and I have been playing on and off in different bands and projects over the years since high school and always had a very intuitive relationship with music and creativity which has grown a lot over the years. Josh and I, though we knew of each other in high school, never really connected until finding that we were in the same freshman class at Mcnally Smith’s Production and Engineering program. We immediately connected and he joined the group we were in at the time Hawks & Oxen. Since then Josh and I have been writing, performing, recording and producing with one another on multiple projects ranging from Bluegrass to Jazz and Rock & Roll.
What inspired you to start a Harry Nilsson tribute band?
I was living in a farm house back in Grand Rapids about a year ago. At the time I was recording some folk songs of a friend of mine and playing a lot on an old piano someone gave us. I’ve been a long time Harry Nilsson fan and was learning a few of his songs, playing them for friends and family. I was playing around with the spark of an idea to do some kind of Harry Nilsson tribute album for fun but it wasn’t until I moved back to Minneapolis and began building a new home studio in Josh’s basement that the thought began to manifest. We wanted to do a recording project over the winter and the idea of doing a Nilsson tribute record came almost naturally. After the process began and we started hearing the kind of quality we were getting it was clear to us all that the project would quickly become greater than what we had originally thought.
You’ve talked about putting a modern twist on many of Nilsson’s classic songs. What are some techniques you all used to do this?
When we talk about putting a “modern twist” on our favorites of Nilsson’s music we are really saying that we wanted to utilize and continue to hone our skills and creativity to bring a new breath to the songs we love. Reinvigorating old Harry fans and drawing in new ones with a fresh and new sound. Even though we do take some production and creative liberties with Harry’s music on the Dream On Nilsson album, we also made it a point to try and maintain the real soul of his work and pay respect to his amazing arrangements and originality.
One thing you note in your bio on Facebook is that Harry Nilsson never played a live show. What can fans expect of your upcoming live show at The Cedar?
Fans should expect a night of celebration. Paul Fonfara will open the night for us by playing some of his original compositions as well as one or two of his favorite Harry Nilsson songs. Then the focus of the program will be directed more towards Harry, his life, his influence on music culture and of course his music. Dream On Nilsson will be taking over the night with 15 Harry Nilsson originals accompanied with video and short commentary’s by members of the ensemble. The entire DON group will be 14 people 7 of which are a small orchestral ensemble that include, violins, cello, bassoon, trumpet, trombone, and clarinet. The arrangements are going to really blow people away as they hear some of their favorite Nilsson songs being played by a group dedicated and and talented Minneapolis musicians.
Where do you see this project going in the future?
When we started Dream On Nilsson we knew that it would be a project that we would be involved with for a limited amount of time. Each member of DON and the Schmilsson Ensemble is in at least one or two different local Minneapolis bands and projects and after the show at The Cedar many of us will be moving on to continue our work bringing original music to the Minneapolis scene. This is also a large point we would like to relay to the people considering coming to the show on June 15th, this could very well be the last show we play in the Twin Cities! However, we have recently been signed to SRI Records out of California and with them there are plans to continue to promote and market the Dream On Nilsson album. Once and if that takes off like we hope, who knows what will come of this project next!