Nuclear Nectar: Spicing up the beats

Musician and hot sauce peddler Rob Gilbert brings his brand of heat to Minneapolis.

Nuclear Nectar owner Rob Gilbert sells his salsa on Sunday at the Farmers Market Annex. Gilbert creates his own product and sells them at farmers markets and restaurants such as Pyscho Suzi's and the Sea Salt Eatery.  Along with marketing his own salsa, Gilbert owns a record label under the same name.

Amanda Snyder

Nuclear Nectar owner Rob Gilbert sells his salsa on Sunday at the Farmers Market Annex. Gilbert creates his own product and sells them at farmers markets and restaurants such as Pyscho Suzi’s and the Sea Salt Eatery. Along with marketing his own salsa, Gilbert owns a record label under the same name.

Jackie Renzetti

Rob Gilbert’s drive to succeed spices up the lives of those around him.

This past spring, the 25-year-old go-getter founded his own hot sauce line and record label under the same name of Nuclear Nectar, a unique concoction that found some positive results.

 “We can’t run out. My 9-year-old son loves it,” Nicole Stewart said Saturday at the Minneapolis Farmer’s Market.

Stewart runs her own stand, Comfort Candy, and is a regular customer of the Nuclear Nectar ’Nero Red hot sauce. Brian Cooper, a longtime Arizona resident visiting home in Minnesota, found the sauce to meet his Southwestern standards.

“Some stuff is over-the-top hot. This stuff keeps the flavor,” Cooper said.

Cooper’s response illustrates Gilbert’s ultimate goal: to create a sauce zesty enough to satisfy the spice lovers, but mild enough to act as a gateway for those still new to the game.

“It’s about capturing the fruit out of the chili pepper,” Gilbert said over the phone while blending his product.

The entrepreneur estimates that he spends 40 hours a week making his sauce.

“Whether it’s increasing your metabolism or clearing your sinuses or just elevating your sense to the moment …it’s all about the moment; it’s just kind of one of the simple pleasures in life,” he said.

Recently, Gilbert organized the now-canceled food truck celebration “Heat Up Your Life,” which was meant to celebrate local spicy cuisine by bringing hot sauce vendors and food trucks together for zingy combinations. Gilbert canceled the event with the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board after finding that they required 20 percent of the proceeds. Still, he plans to host the event at a taproom in the near future.

Additional future goals for Gilbert include selling the hot sauce in supermarkets and releasing Nuclear Nectar salsa, curries and barbecue rubs.

“I’m kind of taking the Sriracha approach and just driving the brand home with one product. You don’t want premature releases,” he said.

He currently vends his hot sauce at four farmers markets and various taprooms. Local restaurants Psycho Suzi’s and the Sea Salt Eatery buy his product as well. Next week, Gilbert will work with a manufacturing company to begin cooking his first batch of hot sauce for large-scale production.

Additionally, he’ll have more time for his independent record label, Nuclear Nectar Records.

Gilbert has been making music for years, honing his skills in composition at Portland State University for two years and at the University of Minnesota for another two, but he left the college path in 2012 without graduating.

“For me, it was really all about the learning experience. I’m not even that concerned with the degree itself … but the education is priceless,” he said.

Gilbert primarily made the label official so that he could produce his own work, but he hopes for other bands to sign in the distant future.  

Under the name of Mr. Fuzz, Gilbert composes electronic music zanier than his hot sauce.

Breaking away from the often-repetitive structures of electronic pieces, Gilbert focuses on harmony, melody and consistent rhythmic shifts as his tenets. His lyrics often fall on the existential side, and each track feels musically complete with careful variety.

In the fall, Mr. Fuzz will release two EPs — one with Brianna Arneson and another with Justin Spenner. Both bring soulful voices to complement Gilbert’s trippy tunes.

Arneson spoke of his makeshift recording booth — three mattresses standing upright, lined with foam.

“One time, he made hot sauce right before I came over to record, and I couldn’t do it. It was affecting my throat,” Arneson said with a laugh.

Watching the 1990s disco film “Boogie Nights” inspired Gilbert to create a backstory for his untitled EP with Spenner.

“The whole story line is that Eddie Grandelo is a retired German porn star, and he has just received a lifetime achievement award … and realizes that every single moment of his life was for absolutely nothing,” Spenner said.

To combat this fate, Eddie decides to become a disco star instead, and the songs he would have written make up the EP.

Both Arneson and Spenner referenced Gilbert’s distinct creative stubbornness. They both agreed that whenever Gilbert insists on using a specific note or rearranging an entire melody, it’s with careful reasoning.

“Not only does he know how to make a song sound good, but also he knows the musical basis behind it,” Spenner said.

Citing Walt Whitman, Gilbert said he would rather keep it simple and leave his work as art than analyze the relationship between his two different professions.

“It’s kind of natural to me,” Gilbert said. “That’s what I have to offer to the world, is the spice, I guess … to get people to live a hotter life.”