By Mike Sion
Photo courtesy of Kellie Sasso
“There’s more sides to me than just the cute, Britpop guy,” 22-year-old Reno singer-songwriter-guitarist Nick Eng says, beneath his black, Beatlesque mop top.
“People mean well with that — and it is a self-inflicted style choice — but they also tend to get condescending, acting as if I don’t know anything about the world because I have a boyish face. There’s a lot of complexities underneath the mop top and Chelsea boots.”
The direction of the University of Nevada, Reno senior’s new 10-song album, Long Shot, shows that complexity. Brimming with jangly pop rockers (some that, yes, have that mid-’60s Fab Four vibe), it offers a more mature, introspective and — often — exasperated take on the trials and troubles of winning over the heart and mind of a prospective (and typically fickle) romantic partner than Eng’s previous songs that have garnered local radio play and fan streaming, such as, The One for You Is Me, and Reminiscing.
To be sure, Eng’s familiar sound and tightly structured songwriting (three or four major chords with a minor chord tossed in for moody contrast) continues the pattern he established on his earlier EPs and first full-length album — the self-titled Nick Eng — in 2018. Like his previous material, most of the songs on Long Shot are up-tempo numbers featuring Eng’s boyish tenor influenced by the Beatles and other ’60s bands who relied on catchy top-line melodies and sweet harmonies — all buoyed by chiming guitar strums, hooky riffs and solos. And as with his previous recordings, Eng plays all the instruments — guitars, bass and drums and keyboards — and sings all the lead and background vocals in the studio.)
But unlike his earlier songs, the lyrics on Long Shot are reports from the trenches of early-twentysomething dating campaigns, where miscommunication and deception, exploitation, experimentation . . . and simple poor timing foil even the most earnest attempts of a lover seeking a steady partner, instead of a hormonal hookup.
“It’s really a passive-aggressive album bordering on bitter,” Eng says of Long Shot.
Just how different are these songs from the hopeful, wide-eyed earlier efforts?
Eng cites the contrast of the tag line from the optimistic and plaintive The One for You Is Me — written as a teenager at Galena High School — to the second track on Long Shot: Too Good for Anyone:
“I’ve gone from, ‘Take a look around girl, the one for you is me,’ to, ‘When all is said and done, you’re just too good for anyone.’ I think that sums it up!”
While Eng often plays solo when gigging in local restaurants and bars, he will be joined by his unnamed three-piece backing band at the official release of Long Shot: 7 p.m. April 6 at the Potentialist Workshop, 836 E. Second St. The $10 admission to the all-ages show includes a copy of the CD and a free beverage. Former Reno band the Run Up is slated to open the show at 7:30 p.m. with a 30-minute set. Tickets are available at the door (cash or credit card) or online at https://www.eventbrite.com/e/nick-eng-long-shot-album-release-show-tickets-58260460606?fbclid=IwAR3qUbsUZK7Ui-HM9izoRv9iTF2QhSLGRgwILky96WHbSyd1XBiOp26QGlM.
Long Shot and its individual tracks will be available after the show on major streaming and download platforms, including iTunes and Apple Music, Amazon and CD Baby, Bandcamp, Spotify and Pandora — and on Eng’s official website: www.nickengmusic.com.
The songs on Long Shot are more substantial musically as well as lyrically than the first album, Eng says.
“This album is a lot tighter and fuller, but the content is heavier and so is the instrumentation. Lots more distortion and overlays that play with harmonics and atmosphere,” he says.
“The first (album) has an innocent magic and shine to it, and I owe a lot to those songs. I love them honestly. The first one is very clean and lively, but rough around the edges.”
The new album is “a lot more bitter, and I’ve drawn from more musical influences than the last one,” he says. “I’ve been telling people that this is my college album, and the first one was my high school album.”
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Here is a question-and-answer interview with Eng:
What can attendees expect at the album-release show?
It’s going to be a “really big show,” as Ed Sullivan would put it. We’re doing a 50-50 split of the new ones and the old ones. You have to play the ones that people know you for, so we’ll continue to perform the hits from the first album. Each guest who pays to get in will get a free copy of the new album on CD, and we’ll also have T-shirts and the first album for sale.
Members of your band?
Me on lead vocals and rhythm guitar; Chris Monzon, bass guitar; Collin Lucier, lead guitar; Pudge Gervais, drums and backing vocals.
What are your songwriting and recording ethics?
I know what I like and what I want to hear, but I try not to constrict it to rules. I’m a vocalist through and through, and along with the pop and rock stuff, I come from a choir and musical theater background, so it would make sense that the vocals take center stage. I’m very meticulous with melodies, harmonies and chords. It’s all about voicing and how well things blend for me when recording.
Your lyrics on this new album are, maybe, bittersweet. But you didn’t go the Jagger-Richards route (“Stupid Girl”) or Ray Davies’ (“Who’ll Be the Next in Line”). Why did you write these songs that way?
It’s really a passive-aggressive album, bordering on bitter. I’ve gone from, “Take a look around girl, the one for you is me” to, “When all is said and done, you’re just too good for anyone.” I think that sums it up!
Describe your fan base?
From teenagers to baby boomers. Lots of them are college kids, too, my peers. So many of us grew up on the music of our parents’ generation, and we’ve kind of made it our own with independent music, sub-genres, and all that. The relationship topic is big with our age group. Sometimes I see couples at our shows mouthing the words to each other.
What inspired the new album?
I’ve had to put up with a lot of nasty behavior from people these past couple of years. Unresponsive women in my romantic life, so-called friends always putting me down, and all that sludge. C’est la vie, that’s growing pains for you. When you’re a young adult, you’re starting to realize who you are and what you’re all about, but you’re still impatient and bellicose. But that arrogance drives you and keeps the weight of the world at bay. This album is just a culmination of angst and frustration, but it sure created some great material.
What does the album title, Long Shot, refer to?
My mom actually suggested the title, and it just stuck really well with me. I’m also fascinated with double-exposure and long-exposure photography, and I originally wanted the cover to be a “long shot” photo. It didn’t work, but we got an even better cover photo out of our experimenting. The content of the album works in general with the title. Anything worth it in life is a long shot, but you have to at least try and shoot for it.
Could an alternate album title be: “Women I Dated in College”?
Well, the good women I dated in college don’t deserve the bitterness, and the bad women I dated in college don’t deserve the recognition.
What concerns do you have that specific women might recognize themselves in these songs?
I have the right as an artist to say what I want to say about someone or something, and if the person in question has an issue with that, they have the right to not like me or not listen to my music. Let them pound sand.
How was this album recorded?
As always, I play and sing all of the parts on my songs. Parker Hames (of Reno) is still my co-producer and co-engineer. We have our own respective studios, so we jump back and forth between mine and his. We do most of the tracking at my studio, as I’ve got a good drum kit and a piano, and then we get mixing and mastering done at his studio. Parker and I will be working on some new music videos for this summer, as well.
How do you achieve the jangly guitar tone?
There is a 12-string on Between You and Me and Emily. Most of the time though, it’s just my six-string guitars with good EQ-ing and octave doubling. I use a Fender and a Rickenbacker for my rhythm parts, and those guitars are so bright and jangly already, especially going through a Vox amp.
What are your career goals in music?
My big goal professionally is to become a recognized artist of the independent music scene on the West Coast. Be a part of that swirly, psychedelic, Mod culture. Mystic Braves, Lolipop Records, that kind of stuff. I’m friendly with some big indie bands and there’s talks of us booking shows together, hopefully getting on some small festival and theater bills. But that’s all visualization at this point. I’m very satisfied career-wise, at the moment.
What are your biggest coups to date?
It’s taken about a year, but I’m closing in on 10,000 streams on Spotify. I’ve sold a couple hundred album copies, physical and digital. My social media following has grown exponentially in the past year or two, but it’s still hard to get traction these days online. Promote, promote, promote. I call myself the King of Sponsored Content at this point, but it’s necessary. Most importantly, the real live following we have is the thing I’m most proud of and thankful for.