Nels Cline (born in Los Angeles in 1956) is an American guitarist and composer. Currently he is the lead guitarist of the rock band Wilco. Nels began to play guitar at age 12 when his twin brother, Alex Cline took up the drums. Cline is not classically trained. This gives him a unique avant-garde style that many other jazz guitarists fail to match, due to their probable conventional training. He is noted for his apt use of effects pedals and looping devices, which enhances his style and gives his approach to guitar and music a distinct sound.
Cline is known for his improvisational work and for the diversity of his musical projects. He has played with jazz musicians Charlie Haden, Gregg Bendian, Wadada Leo Smith, Tim Berne, Vinny Golia and the late bassist Eric Von Essen, a longtime musical companion in the L.A. jazz group Quartet Music.
Cline has also performed and recorded with punk rock hero Mike Watt in his touring bands The Crew of the Flying Saucer and The Black Gang, as well as with members of Sonic Youth and country music legend Willie Nelson, and in the jazz/punk/improv band Banyan with Watt and ex-Jane's Addiction drummer Stephen Perkins. He frequently participates in jazz projects with his twin brother, Alex, however their first actual duo together was in Culver City, California, during their 50th birthday show.
Nels's first appearance on an album was on Vinny Golia's 1978 record, Openhearted, and his first work as a bandleader was 1988's Angelica. In the late 1980s, Cline formed the Nels Cline Trio, which featured his guitar playing complemented by Mark London Sims at bass and Michael Preussner at drums. The trio released several 7 inch demos and one album, before replacing Sims with Bob Mair at bass. This new trio released three albums before splitting up, featuring some of Cline's most melodic works, before he ventured into a freer and more minimalist territory in the decade to come. Shortly before the end of the trio, Nels recorded two albums, In-Store, and Pillow Wand, with Sonic Youth frontman and guitarist, Thurston Moore. In 1999, Cline paired up with jazz drummer Gregg Bendian to record a modern rendition of John Coltrane's 1967 album, Interstellar Space. On Interstellar Space Revisited: The Music of John Coltrane, Bendian and Cline boldly interpret Coltrane's already obscure piece using their musical backgrounds and talents, and create an album whose music is written by Coltrane, but whose sound is distinctly associated with musicians who perform it. Cline's current outfit is the improv/free jazz ensemble The Nels Cline Singers, with which he has recorded two albums, Instumentals and The Giant Pin, his most recent work as a leader. The Nels Cline Singers are currently signed with Cryptogramophone Records.
Cline has performed on over 100 albums in the jazz, pop, rock, country, and experimental music genres. He continues to expand his audience as a member of the Grammy-winning rock band Wilco, which he joined in early 2004. He was later featured in the cover story of Guitar Player Magazine for his newfound collaboration with the band.