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Behind the Band: Alexandria songwriter shares musical journey

Josie Seela, stage name Josie Nelson, has performed musically more times than she can estimate. It started with doing what scared her.

Josie Nelson
Josie Seela's musical journey began when she got her first guitar at 8. During her evolution, she experienced unique and unexpected opportunities.
Thalen Zimmerman / Alexandria Echo Press
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Editor's note: The following story is part of an occasional series, Behind the Band, which spotlights musical acts that perform in the Douglas County area.

ALEXANDRIA — Do the things that scare you.

Josie Seela, formerly known as Josie Nelson before her wedding last July, has lived by those words since her first musical performance at just 9 years old.

Seela says, “Music is universal. It brings people together. There's something about it that is so special, it can make you feel so many different ways."

That's why she loves music, especially, sharing music. She says she would be sad if she wasn't performing. That it'd be a waste not to bring people together.

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Seela's musical journey began when she was 8. Since then, she has performed for numerous audiences, released an album at 13, wrote over 100 songs, and gained a following of nearly 40,000 on her YouTube channel — a documentation of her musical evolution.

Music gained her connections and introduced her to friends. It gave her the courage to break out of her shell and develop life skills.

The urge to perform

She always loved music. Especially singing. As a child, she would perform renditions of songs by Taylor Swift and Colbie Caillat. But her shyness kept her voice behind closed doors.

At 8 years old, she got her first guitar. It kick-started her exploration of music and became a companion for her voice, boosting her confidence.

“Once I was able to sing and play guitar and write my own music, that was sort of the trifecta that made me realize how special music was,” Seela said.

She learned a few songs and would perform them for her parents. Eventually, she wanted to share music with whoever would listen.

"I was starting to get more confident. And I just felt this urge, like I had to, I had to play for a few more people,” Seela said.

At nearly 9 years old, she gave her first performance to a sizable crowd at the Polk County Fair talent show in Fertile.

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The crowd was a little bigger than Seela expected. But, she faced her fears and won, which landed her a spot at the Minnesota State Fair Talent Show. She kept advancing through the qualifying rounds and made it to the finals at the fair's grand stand.

Backstage before the performance, her nerves put her in tears. It would be her fourth ever performance and the crowd was significantly bigger than the county fair's.

“But I just really wanted to prove to myself that I could do it. It was something I would have never imagined myself to be capable of,” she said.

Seela faced her fears over and over that week and knew she could do it again. She put one foot in front of the other and walked out to face the grand stand audience. She sang "Bubbly" by Colbie Caillat. In the video posted on Youtube, cheers from the crowd ring out as she is introduced. She adjusts her mic, eyes her guitar up and down and begins. When she hits the chorus, the crowd begins to cheer and applaud, just 10 seconds or so into the song.

“It was really an accomplishment that kind of launched me into my performing era…I liked that feeling of doing something that scared me,” Seela said.

The performing era

The news of her fair performances traveled and she was offered a paid gig at Carlos Creek Winery. Today, she can't even estimate how many times she has performed.

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Josie Nelson performs at the Carlos Creek Winery north of Alexandria.
Contributed photo

"I've always wanted to share what I create and that's why I started doing it (performing) and that's why I still do it," said Seela. "I just enjoy sharing music with the community rather than keeping it to myself."

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One of her most memorable performances was through the Make-A-Wish Foundation when she surprised a young girl from the Twin Cities diagnosed with leukemia. Her main wish was to see Taylor Swift but she was also a fan of Seela’s Youtube channel, so she got the best of both worlds.

Seela surprised the girl at her school with a song dedicate to her, "Isabel's Song." Afterward, she surprised the girl yet again by letting her know that she would also be seeing Swift in concert.

Songwriting daydreamer

Seela began writing her own music around the same time she picked up the guitar. Her wandering mind and vivid imagination guided her to dreamily jot down “different rhymes and interesting lines" when she should have been focused on school.

“I get inspiration from life events, for sure,” she said. “ But I am such a daydreamer. I've always been a daydreamer, I got in trouble for it in elementary school, because I could never pay attention.”

Seela said once she began singing and playing guitar, the transition to songwriter came naturally.

“I started writing because I had so many ideas,” said Seela. “ People would laugh when I was younger because I wrote songs at 12 years old about really deep emotional breakups.”

People would ask how she was able to write about complex topics she obviously didn’t go through at such a young age.

“I would say, ‘Oh, I just imagined.’”

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Josie Nelson performs at a wedding in Minneapolis in July of 2018.
Contributed photo

Seela has been posting her originals and covers songs to YouTube since she was 9.

”I have songs from every time period. Songs that document special times or hard times and the emotions that you go through at those ages,” she said.”It's fun to look back and see not only how far my songwriting has come, but also how far I have come.”

After collaborating with another YouTuber, she received some recognition which led her to have a Los Angeles-based manager and a publishing deal with SQE.

At 13, Seela released her first album, “Josie Nelson — EP."

After a few years, the company dissolved and so did her contract. While she said she wouldn’t change anything and is thankful for the opportunity, she was relieved to be free from the music industry.

“At that point, I was about to graduate from high school and I was kind of at a fork in the road,” Seela said.

She knew she either had to pursue music full-time or commit to going to college.

A fork in the road

“I wanted to go to school. I knew I wanted to be a doctor and I wanted to keep music as a passion and not force it to be a career,” Seela added.

Seela has never wavered from wanting to be a doctor. She has always wanted to do something meaningful. To make a positive difference. But music will always be there.

"I am so happy with where I am right now with music. I am so grateful for all of the experiences that I had because they really gave me a sneak peek into the music industry, and how amazing it is, but also how demanding and hard it is to be a musician," she said. "People don't realize how much goes into that and how draining it can be. How uncertain it can be. That's why I really liked the certainty and the straighter path that medicine provided for me."

“(Music) is so special to me. That's why I still do so many performances and that's why I'm making this album," she said. "I don't want music to get lost in the busyness of life.”

Her new album, “All in Due Time,” is a collection of songs from the last 10 years. She spent her first year of med school working on the album with producer Danny O'Brien of Minneapolis. She said the creative release gave her a break from the strains of studying.

One of the songs on the album, “Season of Not Knowing," Seela wrote during her junior year at Concordia College in Moorhead. It illustrates the nerves people in their late teens and early twenties feel when they are on the cusp of adulthood. She says lyrically, it is one of her favorite songs she has written because it articulated her feelings at the time exactly.

“There are so many expectations about young adulthood and how it's supposed to be amazing," Seela said. "You're supposed to be wild and have a great time. But you're also supposed to plan your whole life and make sure you figure everything out perfectly. I was feeling a little overwhelmed. I looked around at all my friends, and they were in similar positions, so that song was born out of those emotions and experiences. “

10 years from now

“Music has done so much for me…It has given me so many unique opportunities,” Seela said. "I 100% believe that I would not have the same personality that I have today if it wasn't for music, because music pushed me out of my shell and taught me how to talk to people, how to entertain a crowd, how to not be afraid to be my true self and show who I am."

Ten years from now, Seela hopes to be practicing medicine with her husband — also a med student — raising their children and still sharing her music.

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Josie Nelson plays a guitar at home this past May.
Contributed photo
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Josie Nelson plays guitar at the 22 Northmen Brewing Company north of Alexandria.
Contributed photo

Thalen Zimmerman of Alexandria joined the Echo Press team as a full-time reporter in Aug. 2021, after graduating from Bemidji State University with a bachelor of science degree in mass communication in May of 2021.
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