Matthew & Gunnar Nelson
Matthew & Gunnar Nelson

As the sons of teen idol Ricky Nelson and actress Kristin Harmon and the grandsons of actor and bandleader Ozzie Nelson and actress Harriet Hilliard, Matthew and Gunnar Nelson are the third generation of famous Nelsons. Their debut studio album After The Rain, as released under the Nelson moniker, hit stores in 1990. It sold more than three million copies, its first single went to #1 and it yielded another three hit singles. The Nelsons released another album through Geffen Records, 1995’s Because They Can before going independent. And simply put, Matthew and Gunnar have never stopped touring or recording.

A one-off follow-up to 2015’s Peace Out, 2016 brought a new single from The Nelsons, “This Christmas.” A holiday-themed original, “This Christmas” was recorded along with Wendy and Carnie Wilson, two-thirds of Wilson Phillips. While The Nelsons did not bring their touring holiday show to our area, Matthew and Gunnar will return to New York with a pair of gigs in February. On Feb. 3, they can be seen at Cafe Carlyle, while Feb. 4 has The Nelsons playing at the NYCB Theatre at Westbury.

Downtown spoke to Gunnar Nelson prior to the release of “This Christmas.” More info on all things Nelson can be found at www.matthewandgunnarnelson.com; the brothers can be followed via @NelsonBrothers_ on Twitter.

What do you remember about the first gig you ever played live in New York? Where was it?

Gunnar Nelson: It was actually as the first and only unsigned band to ever play as the musical guests on Saturday Night Live in 1986!

Any idea when you will be performing live in New York next?

GN: I love playing at The Cutting Room. I think we’re putting together a play for Nelson there this winter.

Do you have a favorite restaurant in New York City?

GN: I’m a total foodie and there are of course wonderful restaurants in New York City. But my current favorite is Patsy’s — best Italian restaurant ever!

Have you ever encountered any other third generation celebrities?

GN: Third? Honestly, not to my knowledge. But second generation celebs? Funny that you ask. My twin and I just premiered a new original Christmas single called “This Christmas” that we’ve recorded with Carnie and Wendy Wilson of Wilson Phillips that we’re really excited about. I have nothing but respect for the girls — yes, I said girls, Matt and I will always be known as “the boys,” even though we’re 49! I admire the fact that they sold millions of records and had number ones of their own when they came from such legendary stock. For some strange reason that strikes a chord with me; please excuse the pun.

How did your collaboration with the Wilson sisters come about? How did you first meet them?

GN: We first met Carnie and Wendy before we were fully conscious humans. Apparently our folks socialized with their folks when we were all toddlers. We saw them next when we were handing them their very first Billboard Award, and stayed in touch with them ever since. Carnie’s been a great friend of mine for the past 25 years — mostly over the phone because of our busy schedule…This is our first opportunity to actually sing together. How cool.

Do you have a favorite song on your This Christmas album?

GN: Of course I do! It’s the single “This Christmas” featuring Carnie and Wendy Wilson! (laughs)

Beyond promoting your new album, what’s coming up for you?

GN: Well, this album is a big one for us. We always tour about 100 gigs a year, so that’s going to be a given for 2017. But I’m looking forward to doing more TV work. Who knows? Maybe a show with Carnie and Wendy too.

You were part of a very memorable episode of Celebrity Wife Swap and an interesting arc on Celebrity Fit Club. Do you feel that those reality shows represented you accurately?

GN: Different facets of my personality, yes. I don’t quit. I give 100%. And I’m a devoted husband and father. Family comes first for me.

Matthew & Gunnar Nelson with Wendy & Carnie Wilson
Matthew & Gunnar Nelson with Wendy & Carnie Wilson

Overall, is there something you wish more people knew about Gunnar Nelson?

GN: I’m a chef, too! For me, life has “The Big Three,” the trifecta that makes life wonderful, puts the color in between the lines: great food, great music, and great love. I strive daily to make my life a living testament to all three.

So altogether, when not busy with your career, how do you like to spend your free time?

GN: Well, as I mentioned, I cook a lot. But I’m also a dedicated “car guy.” I locate, acquire, restore, sell, and sometimes collect classic muscle cars.

This Christmas aside, what was your favorite album of 2016?

GN: I’m a huge fan of Blackberry Smoke. Their album The Whippoorwill is my absolute fave!

Finally, Gunnar, any last words for the kids?

GN: These are crazy times we find ourselves in. When our choice in our next president is between a criminal and a clown — frankly, I like to laugh, but that’s just me. But in times like these, it’s now more than ever that you have to rely on the only things that matter: your family, friends, and loved ones. Your family is what YOU make!