The Nielsen Family Trust's Kelly Steward on the cover of Maximum Ink's 24 Year Anniversary Issue
She is a mom, sister, wife, and talented singer-songwriter all on her own. But Kelly Steward is also the daughter-in-law to one of the wildest rock-and-roll guitar players to ever come out of the Midwest, Rick Nielsen of Cheap Trick. Kelly is married to Rick’s son, Miles Nielsen, who has a few of his own music projects including The Rusted Hearts, an internationally touring band. Rick’s other son, Daxx Nielsen, is her brother-in-law, and plays drums in Cheap Trick. Now, all of them—Rick, Miles, Daxx, and Kelly—are forming a new group described as a rockin’ family band, The Nielsen Trust.
“It was definitely Mile’s mom, Karen, that had the idea to get this moving and have us do something during Cheap Trick’s downtime in March,” Kelly says. “Once we all decided this was a great idea, it really became about choosing a name, picking songs, creating a logo, getting social media setup, merchandise ordered, rehearsal after rehearsal, all the things that go into building a brand new band.” Talking with Kelly after a recent rehearsal in Rockford where they all still live, gave me the opportunity to ask her about the preparation for the shows. Does Rick really have to rehearse anymore? “It goes like this—everyone is rehearsing the hell out of the songs together, and Rick will roll in for the last two to make sure we are all on point. He’ll throw some picks, slay a few guitar solos,” Kelly says, laughing. “We really are making sure the band is solid because we have big shoes to fill. Daxx has been acting as the band leader because he knows the songs left, right, and upside down. He’s also a guitar and piano player, so he can translate all the parts for us.” And Kelly admits to just learning to appreciate Rick’s great songwriting. “Rick is excited to play with his kids, and for us to learn songs that he wrote. And what an incredible songwriter he is,” Kelly says. “I truly had no idea until diving into these tunes! There have been some chuckles about a few of the lyrics too, like ‘Come six with my nine.’” You can tell what era some of these songs were written in, and that they actually got away with lyrics like this is pretty funny.”
There may be one thing Rick is serious about, and it is his family. “I think if you attend a show or two, you’ll see that Rick is pretty proud of not only his accomplishments in music, but he is also proud of his kids and their talent,” Kelly says. “I am looking forward to being on the road, and on stage with my Father-in-law. He’s a bit of a wild card so I’m not sure what we will get, but I do know, it is going to be pretty damn good!”
Kelly always wanted to be a musician, and would sing all the time as a little kid, saying, “It constantly annoyed my older sister, which only made me sing even more.” She wanted a piano so she could start writing her own songs, but reveals her blue-collar family couldn’t afford one. She was 11-years-old when her mother’s boss sold her an acoustic guitar, and taught her a few chords to get started. To this day, Kelly will tell you she is still learning to play guitar, but finally has a piano of her own. She uses both to write her songs, alone, and with others, including her husband. “Writing with Miles has been like a hand in a glove. We guide each other well, we are honest about what we like and don’t like, and don’t take it personally,” Kelly says. “We really want the best out of each other. Getting to write and perform songs with the love of your life is a gift.” Kelly and Miles have a duo, Weep and Willow, and are working on a second album, while Kelly and her band, The Restless Kind, are pondering a European tour. “I see a lot more shows in my future for my band, and have had some positive reviews from overseas along with a ton of airplay, so I think it’s time to go to Europe,” Kelly says. “My heart, mind, and soul are all in the right place. And with that mindset, I’m just looking forward to this continuing adventure.”
The Nielsen Trust’s first tour kicks off on Friday and Saturday, March 6 and 7 at Monk’s in Lake Delton. Later in the month, on Saturday, March 28, the band returns to the area for a show at Majestic Theatre in Madison. And that may be it. “We have no idea if this will be a one-time deal or if we will continue to take advantage of this downtime, and get out on the road again when it’s an option,” Kelly says. “But, Rick told us when we started this band, The Nielsen Trust will promise an intimate look at the life and songs of a family that isn’t completely f##ked up. It is a uniquely colorful world growing up as a Nielsen.” Kelly tells me there are some really good ones which will be shared during the upcoming shows, and she cannot wait. “I’m honored to be included with such talented musicians that I can also call family. I get to rock out, too! I’ve been playing Americana music for so long, this opportunity is a welcomed change,” Kelly says. “I also had absolutely no idea how large the Cheap Trick song catalog is, and how incredible the songs are, and I get it now. I get why there are so many life-long fans, and musicians in the industry that look up to them and say they’ve been a major influence. I’m so ready to hit the road with these guys, and sing these songs!”
***Bonus Q & A with Kelly Steward
Maximum ink: You have quite a few projects underway. Tell us more about each one.
Kelly Steward: “My band consists of 5 members including myself. Greg Whitson on lead guitar, and my producing partner, Jesse Carmona (drums), Andy Scarpaci (bass) and Jim Westin (keys). Greg and I have been working together for 11 years and have produced the last two releases together. He’s an incredible musician and we bounce ideas off each other so easily and really just have the same vision musically for this band. When we all play together I like to call the band The Restless Kind. The name stems from a song from my latest album based on being a traveling musician. My band allows me to write and produce songs that speak to me. I have complete creative freedom and I absolutely love that.
My duo band with Miles Nielsen, my husband, is called Weep & Willow. He also has complete creative freedom with his band and with writing his songs. We like to write a lot together and sometimes those songs end up with his band The Rusted Hearts but sometimes we write songs that don’t fit either my band or his band stylistically so we decided to start the side project Weep & Willow to have another avenue to express our creativity together. There is an undeniable connection between us and it’s really fun to be able to share that connection with our audience through songs that we’ve created together.”
MI: How did you and Miles get together?
KS: “In 2008, my husband at the time approached Miles about recording an EP for me. We recorded a 4 song EP called “Long Long Road”, which Miles produced and was the writer on one of the tunes “Lost My Mind” which he also released on his self titled album. We began a working relationship there after and well, as life happens unexpectedly at times, the connection between us was very apparent. It was a very long difficult road to get where we are but it has made our lives, connection, writing and performances that much stronger. I don’t think we take each other for granted because we know what we’ve been through. I feel fortunate everyday that he stepped untimely into my life.”
MI: So, what’s like to be part of the Nielsen family? How do you describe it, if you can..??
KS: “DAMN I’m lucky! Rick and Karen have four kids and twelve grandkids, this is one tight knit family. Not to mention Rick and Karen just celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary. If that doesn’t say something….
Being at the Nielsen house for holidays isn’t much different than at my house growing up. Dad pops his head in once in a while to make sure all is good, sits down for dinner then disappears again, usually to take a nap…hahaha. Ok but seriously, they would hate it if I said they were normal, so I’m not going there!”
MI: Funny! Is there something funny about you, too? Something we don’t yet know about you?
KS: “If there are any Park and Rec TV show fans out there….they will appreciate this. When I was in my early 20’s modeling in Chicago I did a test shoot with a New York photographer where we did a bunch of stock photo shots. He had me do all these random weird scenarios for pictures. Some shots of me weighing myself, cooking, brushing my teeth, rolling in money and last but to least, holding a plate of breakfast food whilst wearing a robe. Several years back a friend of mine from high school wrote to me and said “I’m watching this show Park and Recreation and swear there is a picture of you on the wall in Ron Swanson’s office”. So I did a little research and sure enough the picture of me holding a plate of breakfast food wearing a robe was hanging in Ron Swanson’s (aka Nick Offerman) office and became part of one of Ron Swanson’s famous sayings “I’m a simple man, I like pretty dark haired women and breakfast food”. I was like HOLY SHIT. I immediately called my agent and said “you have to get me on this show, pitch an idea to the network”…..needless to say they didn’t bite, but a few years later I heard from the same friend who told me that when the show ended all the cast members were able to take home some memorabilia from the set and Nick Offerman chose to take my picture. To make a long story short I reached out to him on twitter….we had some great banter back and forth, he told me he hung my picture in this woodworking shop in LA and recently this past fall I met him in Milwaukee at one of his comedy shows, had dinner with him (he of course had them make me a plate of breakfast food) and I saw the show in which he told the entire audience I was there. Very surreal!”