LIVING ON THEIR TERMS

 

 

Interview with Dr. Lisa Christiansen and Gunnar Nelson

Hello, my name is Berniece, I am with Vogue Magazine, and I am here with Dr. Lisa Christiansen and Gunnar Nelson.  We are in the beautiful historic Gillioz Theater in Springfield, MO right on historic route 66.  Gunnar is here with his brother Matt at the theater for The Nelson Brothers Christmas Concert.   Unfortunately, this is the last night of the tour, but the Nelson brothers will be back in January with a brand-new show.  Be sure to check out their website to catch a show near you. 

Thank you both for taking time to sit down with me.  I know that both of you have very busy schedules, especially you Gunnar as you are about the do the show.  As you know, we are doing this interview for Vogue Magazine, so let’s get started.

 

 

Vogue Magazine:  Tell me where you both are living

 

Lisa:

I am currently living in Tahlequah Oklahoma back in the house where I grew up, more specifically Briggs, and it makes me feel more grounded to be back.

I was born and raised in Tahlequah, Oklahoma I moved to Los Angeles California when I was 18 years old where I modeled for Ford Modeling Agency before going to Wilhelmina Models where I modeled for Cosmopolitan, Vogue, and many others. It was absolutely beautiful, culturally different from where I grew up and per our previous conversation Gunnar is absolutely correct in that as magnificent as the tropical environment was with their stunning Bird Of Paradise the people on average are materialistic and superficial. I have traveled the world over, lived in places dreams are made of and yet I feel so much more in alignment with my authentic self in Oklahoma. They say everyone finds their way home and I most certainly feel more connected to God here on solid ground in my hometown, more specifically on sacred ground of my ancestors.

Gunnar:

I am from Franklin Tennessee and have been for 27 years. I was born and raised in California, Studio City specifically but I was born in Burbank California. About 27 years ago I just thought California was going crazy and I decided to move. It just wasn't my place anymore which is a drag because there the weather's amazing and the people are beautiful and the flora and fauna is gorgeous but philosophically just wasn't home for me anymore. It wasn't my place so I decided to move.

 

Vogue Magazine:  So, after all the traveling that you both do, how does it feel to be home.

Gunnar:

I picked Franklin Tenn. for a very specific reason, coming from CA. it was all about stuff, physical things, and the pursuit of more and better physical things and status and all the stuff that I realized didn’t matter at all.  And, in contrast, when the people in Franklin ask you how you are doing, they really mean how are you doing.  Whereas when people in CA ask you how you are doing, they really mean what do you do for a living and what can you do for me.  It is very different out in Tenn.  So going home is being spontaneous, and you cannot do that in LA.  You must have plan and a backup plan in LA, you could be in traffic all day.  It is literally a one meeting a day.  I used to have a change of clothes in my trunk for anything that I could possibly need in a day.  And in Franklin, even Nashville you can be spontaneous and have more that one meeting in a day, and business is better that way and you can be a lot more productive. It's really hard to cultivate relationships if you're constantly going back and forth and doing your meetings and blowing out all your days. In Nashville you can like pick up the phone and say I'm throwing a steak on the grill you want to come over and people can be there and that's something that was lost in Los Angeles.

I had a blessing in that I grew up traveling quite a bit. I realized this after I spent a lot of time meeting people all over the world especially in this country, like my family in general. My family's been in entertainment for over 100 years and all that I have learned from the values of my grandparents are we are supposed to represent a certain something, God, family, country, and all of that. Ozzie and Harriett my grandparents were really about 50’s values whatever that means but what I have come to know is that it's really about people. Sometimes, it is about people and what is really important I think this whole covid thing that everybody had been going thru the last three years has forced people to reappraise their priorities again.  God strips us all and makes us humble and breaks us down to the Bare Essentials. (

Lisa:

It is almost like God is clearing off the table and saying can you see me now.) That's when you realize that it really is about your family, friends, and loved ones and not about the Bentley, you're driving and not about the big house that you need to pay someone to clean.

Lisa:

Almost the same answer applies to me, like back in Tahlequah when I was a little girl I had dreams so much bigger than I could ever be, dreams of leaving Tahlequah and traveling the world, dreams of success and things, lots of things, and somehow I just knew I was going to make everything happen. My daddy (Mack Vann) always told me that the greatest riches were sitting right here in front of me, I never really did understand that remark but as I was sitting on the porch one day and people are waiving as they drove by and it brought a smile to my heart. One day I noticed the sunset coming in the door and I remembered the one thing that my dad told me was that everything I ever wanted or needed was right here and I finally understood exactly what he was saying. When I am home sitting with my cup of tea I look around and realize that of all the roads traveled and all the paths I’ve cut, of all the countries are visited, and from East Coast to West Coast and everywhere in between the greatest richest really are right here right in front of me as the birds sing in the trees and the memories of everything daddy and me did here in this tiny little two room house. Building memories, these are the foundation of life, No greater riches are there then those found in the memories with my dad.

When I am home I can be myself, I don’t feel the need to impress others because people in Tahlequah are more genuine and do not judge by your clothes, what brands you wear, what you drive, what you own, or what you have. People in Tahlequah are more impressed by who you are in your heart, your character. I agree with Gunnar, at the time we lived in L.A. it took all day to drive 15 minutes. I drove to the airport an hour early to go 10 miles and still missed my flight due to traffic, it was a fast paced life for a little girl from Tahlequah. That is how our friendship began, two people in a big fast city with small town values even at a young age, we connected on a deeper level through commonalities of our love of God and family values.

Gunnar:

yes, humility is a very good thing for that and there is nothing humble about LA or LA living even more so now, because you feel that what has changed is everybody wanted more, especially when you have a show like the Kardashians, which is nothing like the Nelson family show  in that it is all about stuff and power and fame and money and all of that and my family just finds that gosh we just have different views.

 

 

Vogue Magazine:  So, I hear that you two share a birthday?

Gunnar:

We do?

Lisa:

we do?

Gunnar:

are you September 20?

Lisa:

September 4 (Laughing) We share the same birthday month

 

Vogue Magazine:  what else do you two have in common?

Gunnar:

We love people, God, family, and the simple things. I think the older I'm getting, I'm getting my priorities more and more straight. It does get confusing growing up in LA, not to sound like a refrain but you're really encultured. From the time I was born and raised there, it just never felt like a good place for my soul, I didn't know what that meant when I was a child until I started to kind of learn about it over the years as I was meeting people after shows and having conversations or a meal with them. I go there to work occasionally it's rare now but I get itchy when I actually land in Los Angeles, I feel like I am in the hunger games in district one (

Lisa:

isn’t it awful?) it really is, and it is this world that I cannot connect with, and I just can’t wait to leave.  And so, the glamor of the great weather and the cool things and the pretty people, it doesn’t seduce me.  (

Lisa:

it can suck you in) and even when I was in grade school or high school even when we met, Lisa and I, and I think I was 18 and we were never like other bands out there at the time (

Lisa:

Much better), oh thank you but I think that a lot of people thought that because of our linage a lot of people thought that we grew up with a silver spoon in our mouth.

 

Lisa:

I agree with Gunnar, we share a love of God, Family, and community. Serving others, the simple things in life. I believe when you set the example you do not have to set the rule and while I believe it is great to be a leader it is even greater to be a servant to build great leaders. Neither of us fit the mold, we were both by L.A. standards boring in that neither of us ever drank, smoked, nor did either of us ever do drugs of any kind which seems the stereotype and we were the anomalies of our chosen professions.

Gunnar:

I was 18 when I was going to high school and that’s when we met (looking and pointing at Lisa). We were never like anyone in LA. I think a lot of people because of our lineage felt that my brother and I were trust fund kids. We were just making music because it was something to do and nothing could be further from the truth. It's not anybody's business to know that but being twins and coming in with my brother, who shared my love for entertainment and music and also being a musician really kept me sane during all of those times. I didn't have the distractions that a lot of the other kids did and I was just busy working on my music and learning my instrument. I would even say that I wasn’t truly a Christian. I wanted to be positive and I'm not saying I was down with the whole crystals. It's weird because in LA, loving God was discouraged and you were made to feel somewhat ashamed of it. Especially with the kind of music I was in, heavy rock and roll. I didn't do drugs, didn't drink, and wasn't satanic. I didn't have skulls on my stage. I didn't have pentagrams on my bass drum. I just wanted to make great music and write songs. Having an album called “After the Rain” about getting through tough stuff, was really close to my heart. It wasn't a marketing campaign, it was what I truly believed and I didn't realize until years later, especially with this covid thing. I mean one of the top five days in my life was getting baptized. I got baptized when I was a little baby, and I had no say in it.

Lisa:

I was 8 years old when I was baptized

Gunnar:

It was like eight weeks the first time for me but being able to do it when you are an adult, it was really cool. going into it consciously and being able to do that with my family and my children it was one of the most powerful wonderful days ever.  And you know that we don’t proselytize, we don’t do that I don’t want to be a hypo-Christian or anything like that I just want to walk my path and that is really a big part of what we do.

Lisa:

Definitely, me to. You know it is funny that you say that cause when she asked what else do we have in common you mentioned something, both of us seem to be really close to our dad’s, my mom not so much I don’t know if you remember that or not, but she tried to remove me from the planet more than once. (

Gunnar:

No, I don’t even think we talked that deeply about that sort of thing) and um yeah, I probably kept that close to my vest so to speak. And when you say that you were working on your craft that is when I was working on my education to move forward.  So, neither one of us fit the mold so to speak.

 

Vogue MagazineSo, I hear that you both studied under Tony Robbins:

(Lisa and Gunnar:  yes), was that at the same time?

Lisa:

(no)

Gunnar:

No, it was at different times.  Tony was/is a good friend of mine.  That is how I got into it.  I actually read Tony’s first book right before my first musical trip.  That helped me get organized and get focused.  His angle in the beginning was about personal power and eliminating procrastination, (

Lisa:

Guilty) which I am still guilty of to this day.   It is still a struggle, you know.  It is a hard thing to get past.  And he had this really great tape course called 30 days to a completely different life and it was also really pretty.  It was back when we had cassettes and it was rainbow color and you had your journal that went with it.  But it actually really made a difference for me, so much so that when I received my first platinum record, I sent Tony a copy of the plaque and a thank you note and when he received that in his office, he was moved by it and had his secretary reach out and we had lunch down at his place in Delmar and we started a friendship.  And years later I had to go out on the road and spend a lot of time doing that. So, with Tony that is how it started, I’m an OG so they had something called Financial Mastery, (Lisa: Wealth Mastery now) and it was hard core (

Lisa:

Oh yeah, it still is) and it was a lot.  And then, they had marketing and relationships and all kinds of different modules.  And they all really helped me.  (

Lisa:

personally, I think that it was one of the best investments that I made wouldn’t you think so?)   Well, any investment in yourself is the best investments that you can make.  But I needed it at that particular time and my reason why was different than most.  Most of what Tony does now is about wealth and abundance and success.  (

Lisa:

Now it is different) Ok, but success is different for everybody.  When you have already gone number one, made millions of dollars, had the fake friends, lost the fake friends.  You have gone through that routine. I think that success starts to mean something different to you, than it did when we were younger.  (Lisa: It is fulfillment) Yes, and there is a great scene in Jerry McGuire where they talk about the Quan.  The Quan is everything.  It is the love of family, friends, community.  You contribute all of those things in one, and I think that there is more of a balance.  My foundation was in Tony Robbins in Mastery University, and I am very grateful for that.  But I follow Bruce Lee’s philosophy on life, which is all about stripping away the unessential’s.  It is not building up and adding more stuff to what you do.  It is, absorb what is useful to you, eliminate what is useless to you, and make it distinctly your own.  (Lisa:  I like it) That is kind of the way that I approach life, and I have found that there are very few things that I need in my life that make me feel successful.  Doing what you want to do is really important.  On the musical side of things, I’ve learned that if you do music that a record company guy says “hey you can work with this guy that is a hit writer and do their song, that I know you don’t like, but they are owed lots of favors and you can be on the radio and be really successful.”  So, I know a band that shall not be named, but that had many hits on their own, but in the early 80’s they were going thru a rough patch.  The kids were wanting the new thing and these guys had been around since the 70’s.  Fabolous band and the record company said “Hey, you have to do this song” Huge number one hit, and they hate it.  And now they have to play it every night that they are on stage. So you have to weigh that out.  Writing songs is one of my favorite things to do.  I grew up during my father’s second phase of his career.  He reinvented himself as a song writer and really created what we call country rock up to this day.  They Eagles, Linda Ronstadt, and all of these other great bands came from that.  And that is when my brother and I were born, right in the middle of that Southern California music scene.  Writing songs was everything.  Throughout all the years, the irony is, you have people go “oh well, those Nelson guys, trust fund kids, totally fabricated by their label” and nothing could be further from the truth.  We started playing when we were six years old, playing the LA Clubs from the time that we were 12 years old and writing our own songs when anybody that was much older than us were doing cover songs and getting work.  We weren’t getting work, but we were following our own path and writing our own music.  (

Lisa:

Which is better) and ultimately it really is, because I learned the hard way that it doesn’t matter what you do, as long as you do your thing, guess what? You are successful.  They don’t want you to know that.  Their whole thing is well unless you start chart at this level, or unless you get that promotion, or whatever it is that you do.  That is the illusion.  That is the carrot that they dangle.  That is a slavery contract, you just have to be very, very careful of making those decisions.  And for me, it is kind of nice being the age that I am and looking back and going, well at least I did things my way, wrote the best songs I could.  Some I was blessed and they hit, some for whatever reason they didn’t, but I am still proud of the work.  So I still feel successful.  And the only time I did one cash grab on one record, and it’s great because I have that as a reminder to me of how unfulfilling it is to try to aim what it is you do for what is successful in the moment according to people. It’s ok being a nerd, it’s ok being somebody that swims against the current, it is ok to be a square peg in a round hole.  It is easier to not be, but people don’t realize by the time you find your notch in the current trend the trend is over and now you’re passe.  So you just have to follow your own path.  And I think you have done that your whole life Lisa.

Lisa:

Thank you and so have you (

Gunnar:

Thank you), I went to tony Robbins Mastery University in 2005 which was at a later time than Gunnar. We did however both finish all of Tony’s intensives. I do agree, Tony has helped us both grow into who we have become as individuals. I do Like what you said Gunnar about Bruce Lee’s advice of absorbing what you do need, shedding what you don’t need, and add what is specifically, uniquely your own because I can see how this serves others as well as yourself.

 

 

Vogue Magazine:  I hear that both of you are into cars

 

Gunnar:

(Oh heck yeah), I know that Lisa is a jeeper, what do you like.

Gunnar:

well, I grew up racing cars.  I started out doing the Long Beach Grand Prix Celebrity Race.  Went to racing school, got my license (which is a lifetime license)

Lisa:

That is cool

Gunnar:

Yeah very cool, I like going fast, so if someone is stupid enough to stick me in a car for free I will race it.  Cause it really is a money game, but in my own private time I actually love old cars. And I love hotrods.  I love history.  I am a big history buff, and I respect things that have gone before me.  I have had about 50 cars in my life.  From modern cars (

Lisa:

Your jeep was my favorite) yeah, right?  I have gotten into the 50’s lately.  My whole thing is really kind of like right now this theater we are actually on Route 66.  Route 66 runs right in front of the Gillioz Theater.  (

Lisa:

I didn’t know that).  Yeah I didn’t know that either, and we were sitting having some food earlier, Lisa and I, and these hotrods are going by, and it’s like man these cars are really cool, yeah it is Route 66.  Currently I only have one hotrod right now.  It is a 1956 Ford F100 pickup.  It was built and designed by a guy named Heath Murry and he is in Fort Worth Texas.  He built all of Billy Gibbons cars for ZZ Top, so all of those iconic cars, Cadzilla and all that stuff.  He is an amazing builder.  So I found the car, it had all the guts in it that I really liked.   Only one year had the really big back window in that truck.  So I got a real 56 with the big back window and the color is gorgeous, it is called meadow mist green and that was the factory color.  I made it look really classy and breath fire at the same time. And that is kind of what I am into.  So like a 57 chevy bel air, that is a dream car. A 58 Cadillac, I am all about that.  I like the fact that they took time to style it you know.  I like the fact that from every angle a team of people coming out of WWII, really thought about every single angle of it and I love that care.

Lisa:

You now the reason that I love your jeep is because of my two Jeeps.

Gunnar:

Right, well you don’t just have one Jeep you have Jeeps.  Car people are cool.

 

Lisa:

Definitely, Yes. I absolutely love the older cars. The ’63 split window corvette is a favorite of mine but now I am definitely into Jeeps. I have two beautiful Jeeps, a Rubicon and a 2011 JKU that is just a dream. I love that jeeps come with a community of people filled with character and integrity.

 

Vogue Magazine: both of you have had a very special relationship with your dad.  

(Lisa and Gunnar:  Yes)

I want to know what your favorite memory of your dad is and how is shaped you into the person you are today. 

Gunnar:

Well, I actually tell a story and I will be telling it tonight in the show, we are here doing a Christmas Show. It is something I will always remember.  It was four days before my father died.  He died in a plane crash on the way to a New Year’s Eve Show with his band.  We were living with him at the time, after years of having to live with our mother, who we didn’t get along with, but the court put us with her.  He was on the road a lot, and we spent 6 months catching up before he died. We had a conservation in the kitchen just shortly before he passed.  He had come to see us perform at our first sold out show that we had at a club down in Hollywood.  We had this moment where he said that I have always loved you boys as my son’s of course but today, something shifted.  I not only love you as my son’s, but I admire you as my peers.  And that was a very heavy moment.  That was a moment of Quan.  It had it all, in that I got that vote of confidence from my dad.  That is the one that really sticks with me.  There were a lot of really great moments, but that was the one that meant a lot to me. 

Lisa:

That is good.  That is a beautiful memory.  I think for me, I grew up on dirt floors.  We didn’t have floor, floors until I was older, and we used to go take a bath at the Illinois River and there is this hill that we would have to walk up and down.  There were days that we would walk up it and we would get almost to the top and I would say, carry me.  Not because I didn’t want to walk anymore, but because I liked just that closeness.  The cars would come and I would say put me down cause I didn’t want anybody to see me being carried.  I think this is my favorite cause he liked for me to tell people about it.  He would say oh yeah I carried her and she would whine to be put down every time a car was coming.  And he would say things like tell the story walking home from the river, and I that that is my favorite actual moment. I will always remember how my daddy supported my every dream and how he believed in me implicitly. Every dream, wish, and decision he supported. My daddy was the last monolingual Cherokee. He could only read, speak, and write in Cherokee yet his love circled the world multinomial expansion and his love is still felt and will survive the echoes of the ages. He passed away April 22, 2019 and it feels like yesterday. But because women have more that one story, another favorite memory is the very first time I took him on a plane ride to DC.  I was speaking at the White House, and it was his first plane ride. You and I have lived our life on planes.  It is like every other week we are somewhere.  But to watch him and live that experience through his eyes and to see the wonderment and the curiosity, it was like looking at it through the eyes of a child but it was my dad.  That is the memory that I will never forget. 

Gunnar:

Wow, pretty rare moment, especially hearing about your dad where you were actually one of his mentors.  Very cool.

Lisa:

Thank you

 

Well, we are out of time.  Thank both of you so much for taking the time to speak with me.  I look forward to seeing the show.

 

(After the show.)

I would like to thank Gunnar Nelson and Lisa Christiansen for taking the time to speak with me today.  I really enjoyed the show.  If you missed the show, I must tell you that you really missed out.  It is one of the best that I have ever seen.  They really did a good job reminding everyone that Family is most important, and that the memories you make will last you a lifetime.  When you have passed on and someone finds your memories, hopefully it will bring them joy and inspire them to continue the tradition and make more of their own.

 

 

Photos from Interview: Berniece Gaylor

Skincare: Harmony Medispa

Makeup: Matisse Ercolle`

Hair: Lauren

 


 

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