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A Fiendish Conversation with 'Treehouse Masters' Host Pete Nelson

The master builder and Animal Planet star discusses his favorite creations and his surprising love of indie rock.

By Seth Sommerfeld February 3, 2015

Treehouse Masters's Pete Nelson stands in front of one of his treetop manors.

Ground level is for suckers. If you need Pete Nelson, you can find him working on an elevated plain amongst the branches. On Animal Planet's Treehouse Masters, Nelson and his Nelson Treehouse and Supply team (based out of nearby Fall City, Washington) travel the world building majestic luxury treehouses. The imaginative creations range from a lighthouse to a country speakeasy to a recording studio at Woodinville's Bear Creek Studio (where CeeLo stopped by to visit). While the structures are impressive enough on their own, Treehouse Masters really succeeds because Nelson is an unique affable combination of crazy architectural mastermind and the kind of overly enthusiastic and goofy dad who's unwittingly ultra embarrassing for their teenage children (think of him as Animal Planet's version of comedian Pete Holmes). New episodes of Treehouse Masters (now in its third season) air every Friday at 8pm on Animal Planet.

For our latest Fiendish Conversation, we chatted with Nelson about the origins of Treehouse Masters, using the show as a teaching tool, his affinity for indie rock.

So how did your treehouse building business become a TV show on Animal Planet?

Well, it was kind of a fun process. At the beginning, I was worried about it because, frankly, I did not want to have anything to do with reality TV. The shows that I had seen were all just the backstabbing-style, where it was just problems and conflicts. I had actually been approached a number of times over the years, but my patented answer was just “No. I’m not interested.” And finally a guy at Stiletto—the production company that’s doing the show—caught me on a Saturday in 2011 and I just ended up talking to him for a few hours. He was very kind and understanding, and as he led me down the road of what this was going to be, I just thought, “Why not?”

My mission is to learn all I possibly can about trees and then pass along that body of knowledge to as many people as I can. Sharing good information on how to connect treehouses to living trees to keep the trees healthy, because that’s the main idea.  Even well before TV, I did a lot of books. I’ve got six treehouse books out there. And it dawned on me that TV was probably the next step to take if I was really going to follow through with the mission. And I’m glad I did it.

Are there any treehouses from the upcoming episodes that you're particularly excited for people to see?

There’s one that just finished in Kentucky. This is for a couple that took a treehouse building class that we hosted at Tree House Point in 2009. They’re big recreational tree climbers, and once they took the class, they decided, “Boy, it’d be better if Pete and his crew built the treehouse for us.” So, they saved up over the last five years, and just last month we went into their homeland, which is about an hour outside of Cincinnati in the Kentucky side.

We built a timber frame treehouse for them. It’s both a hangout spot for the couple, but it’s also a schoolroom where they’re doing their teaching, team-building exercises, and that kind of thing. They just were over the moon with this thing. You’re always in good energy in the woods, no matter what, but when you get around the energy of a client that is just beyond excited, it’s very contagious.

Do you watch any shows akin to your own?

No. Zero. I try, but… I watch TV, for sure. I saw True Detective. Loved it.

Are you still putting on concerts at your Treehouse Point retreat in Fall City?

Yeah. We really cut our schedules down just because I’m out of town and I’m the guy behind them. Judy, my sweet wife, is far more practical, and she noticed that, as you might imagine, they’re not moneymakers. I was doing it selfishly because I love music, but from a business standpoint, I couldn’t quite figure out how to make it work out. I still plan to do a couple every season, but the problem is I don’t know when I’m going to be here. But when this show goes through its life cycle, I will absolutely, positively bring the music back.

I ran into you at the Stephen Malkmus show at the Neptune last year, so I know you’re quite the music fan. What are you currently listening to?

I’ve been going through a lot of CDs lately. I’m a Beck fan, I’ve been listening to Morning Phase a little more lately. You know what I love? The expanded version of Bob Dylan’s The Basement Tapes—not The New Basement Tapes—where they brought out all the stuff that the guy found more recently. I love TV on the Radio. The latest one, Seeds, is great. I’ve got this one Courtney Barnett double EP, A Sea of Split Peas; that's been surprisingly good. And then, kind of more pop, First Aid Kit; they’re a staple.

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

What I’m most pleased with on the production side is that they are showing some good, educational stuff about how to connect to living trees. And we’re doing this correctly. I’m most proud of the fact that we know what we’re doing. It is serious business. The weight of these things can be quite something. We’re talking multiple tons that we’re putting into the tree. There is a body of knowledge there we’re transferring out into the world, and it’s important to do it correctly, and we take it very seriously. I’m just thrilled that the show is showing how we’re doing it, and at the possibilities of more people doing it. We’ve got a great fan base of kids that are mesmerized. There’s a chance that they’re going to grow up and be treehouse builders. It’s just exciting. I say, “Go forth. Get into the trees.”

Treehouse Masters
Fridays at 8pm on Animal Planet

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