At 3 p.m. on a Monday, singer-songwriter Silas Nello is sitting at his kitchen table, listening to records and sipping a glass of red wine. He’s jet-lagged after returning from a vacation in Spain but also excited to get back to work.
Nello, 28, is a full-time musician (“for now,” he clarifies) and a rising star in the DFW music scene. Barefoot in black jeans, with blue-tinted sunglasses hanging from the open collar of his red-and-white polka dot dress shirt, Nello is the picture of a 1970s rocker born too late — an image his music reflects.
For many years, Nello worked as a wine steward at Texas, a steakhouse in Richardson. His wife’s family owns the restaurant; it’s also where the couple met, Nello says. But Nello decided to step down last year in an effort to focus on writing, performing and recording new music.
These days, Nello says he mostly writes from home: a funkily decorated, single-story house in Plano that he shares with his wife and their two dogs. The house also was where Nello and director Jordan Michael Sutton filmed the music video for Nello’s song “Holy Ghost Blues,” off Nello’s debut LP, Out of the Light, released last summer.
Although many categorized that record as folk rock, Nello resists the label. To him, Out of the Light is more eclectic, drawing from the artists he listened to growing up and still loves: Harry Nilsson, Tom Petty, Dire Straits, Bruce Springsteen, Elvis Presley and Bob Dylan, among others.
“I hit a point after I put out this record where I wondered, ‘What do I want to be like? What do I want to do?’” Nello says, referring to the anxiety of influence that many developing artists face. “And I was like, ‘I’m a songwriter. That’s what I do.’
"If I decided to put all of my music into one category, genre-wise, that would be absolutely absurd,” Nello continues. “It’s the same thing as telling a writer they’re only allowed a certain amount of words or a painter they’re only allowed a certain palette of colors.”
Raised by pastors in the tiny East Texas town of Daingerfield, Nello hid his secular music from his parents by labeling the blank CDs as his church’s recordings. Fortunately, Nello says, his parents “are cool with it now.” He wrote poetry when he was younger, too, and looks to the Beat poets, particularly Allen Ginsberg, as guiding lights.
On the turntable in his living room, Nello plays Blood on the Tapes, a rare test-pressing of Dylan’s Blood on the Tracks that Nello found on eBay. When that record ends, he replaces it with his favorite Springsteen record, Nebraska.
Nello says he admires these artists and others who’ve pushed the boundaries of their forms even when it causes their popularity to dip in the moment. He cites Springsteen’s struggle to fill stadiums in the early 1990s and Dylan “getting booed" at the Newport Folk Festival in 1965 for going electric.
“If you want to be an artist, you’re constantly having to think outside the box to do something that’s going to make people show up — or you just get lucky, and God bless you either way,” Nello says. “But if you’re too afraid to let your music develop and change, then you restrict yourself.”
Nello typically writes in his home office, a room solely devoted to music that, in many ways, lets his musician brain come to life. His workstation is like the central nervous system, with musical keyboard, computer keyboard and a computer stacked one on top of the other. The walls are where the neurons seem to bounce around; thumbtacked music posters and notebook pages marked with handwritten lyrics and chords float among studio foam triangles, mounted guitars and string lights.
The back of a red jacket, artfully draped across an amplifier, reads “Silas Nello & the Uneasy” — the name under which Silas and his backing band plan to record two albums this year.
The first of these albums, a short EP, is slated for release this fall. The second, a concept LP that Nello describes as “a postapocalyptic love story,” is set for a spring 2019 release and will be followed by a 35-minute film that syncs with the record track by track.
“When writing Out of the Light, I didn’t have a backing band yet, so I focused on writing solo — guitar, harmonica, vocals — knowing I would go into the studio and have a band play on it,” Nello says. “But with the new stuff, I’m producing, writing all the parts, and when I get a rough idea, I send the whole track to the band, and then send another file without drums, bass or lead guitar, and let them work out their ideas and put it on there.”
Nello says his inspiration for the LP and film came from Trent Reznor’s original music for Lost Highway, one of his favorite scores for one of his favorite movies.
“I always wanted to score a film,” he says. “So I thought, ‘Why not just write my own film and score it?’”
He says he’s already begun cutting the LP at Anthem Recording Studio in Plano and is in talks with a local filmmaker to direct the movie. Although he's still working on the script, Nello hints at a David Lynch meets Wes Anderson aesthetic.
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Nello also plans to star as the film’s (and the album’s) protagonist.
“This one’s a story, so I wanted a visual to go with it,” Nello says. “And I acted in high school, so I wanted to scratch that itch again.”
2018 will be an ambitious year for Nello, he admits, but he also seems more than ready for it.
“What’s the Dylan quote?” Nello says. “Oh yeah: ‘A man is a success if he gets up in the morning and gets to bed at night, and in between he does what he wants to do.’”