When Brendon David Nielson composes music, it’s usually with a purpose. And more often than not, it’s to give others hope.
Nielson, a 22-year-old Orem resident, has given himself a rather daunting task: to compose music that will convey each of the 12 steps of the addiction recovery program. He’s working on a 12-song album that he calls “the soundtrack to addiction recovery.” Most of the songs are instrumental, and most of them will eventually have videos.
The 12 steps, based on the Alcoholics Anonymous program, have been widely adapted for all types of addiction recovery programs, and are used nationally.
“Even though we live in a dark world, there is hope,” Nielson said. “I want to open the conversation about addiction. As a society, we’ve been really good about overcoming things, but one of the things we haven’t figured out is how to talk about serious issues like addiction. My mother committed suicide because she was so ashamed about the addictions that she had, so I’m carrying this out in her name.”
His mother, Shawna, died in 2005, a result of mental illness and her addiction to prescription drugs. Brendon was 11. After her death, he questioned a lot about himself, about healing and addiction recovery. He wondered really, if anyone could heal from it, could really recover. It took a few years, but today he can passionately say that yes, addicts can recover.
“By all means, I should be a drug addict. I shouldn’t be where I am. But I served an LDS mission and I’m a student at BYU,” Nielson said. “I want to share my experiences, and let people know you don’t have to do this. You don’t have to follow this path (of addiction). I really believe it’s going to be okay.”
This isn’t the first time Nielson has been featured in the Daily Herald. He first made headlines at the age of 7, in 2001. After watching the horror of 9/11, and in partnership with his mother, he composed a song, “A Message for this Land.” The song, even without the viral nature of what the internet is today, made waves throughout the world. Nielson was featured in newspapers and news broadcasts.
When he sang the words “What if this were my family?” at that young age, he didn’t know how true they’d feel only a few years later, after his mother’s suicide.
“I really want to make a difference by being open about my mother. People don’t want to say what’s going on in their families, but if we’re all open, then we could help each other,” Brendon said.
His first song for his new album is already available, and the video is online at his Kickstarter campaign, A Message for This Land: Help Fight Addiction through Music. The song is titled, “Honesty,” after the first step of addiction recovery, which requires the addict to honestly admit that he/she is powerless over their addiction. Nielson’s video also is an honest look into just a few lives that have been shattered through addiction.
“Those are real people in that video. Honestly, people are dying from this. Honestly, we need to do things differently,” Brendon said.
His second song, a soundtrack for the second step, is named, “Hope.” It goes along with the addiction recovery step that belief in a higher power could help restore the addict. Written in Nielson’s own blend of electronic dance music with classical orchestral influences, the song has a decidedly different feel than the first.
“There are no words, but as you listen you can feel the spirit of each step lifting you to a new level of growth and renewal,” said friend Carl Nielsen, in an email. “Brendon feels the reality of these steps in a personal way and that same talent of the 7-year-old now carries a message for our land: connection can help a loved one overcome addiction… and healing is possible!”
Brendon is in the midst of his Kickstarter campaign, with hopes of raising money to fund the production of the full album. He’s been offered multiple recording deals, he said, but has turned them down. While he’s grateful for them, he wanted to keep full creative control over his musical vision. And the only way to do so is through self-funding. Most of the songs are already composed, but he wants to use the best possible recording technology to create a solid product.
“Every chord progression, every stanza has symbolic meaning,” Nielson said. “This entire album has been a journey for me. I’ve been experiencing the principles of the steps as I write the songs about them.”
To pre-order the album and support Brendon’s vision, go to provodh.com/kwllg.