Tag Archive | "Why Here?"

Why Here? Musicians on the Influence of the East End: Nancy Atlas

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Nancy Atlas performed with special guest drummer Chad Smith during the first of her Fireside Sessions at the Bay Street Theater on Friday, January 3. Photo by Michael Heller.

Nancy Atlas performed with special guest drummer Chad Smith during the first of her Fireside Sessions at the Bay Street Theater on Friday, January 3. Photo by Michael Heller.

By Michael Heller

Nancy Atlas spent her childhood in Commack. The daughter of an avid fisherman, she began coming out to the East End with her family from the time she can remember. Eventually, her family bought a house at Lazy Point when she was 7. “We spent any day off there we could,” she says, laughing. “It was literally 1970’s jump into the station wagon, pee in the mayo jar and head out east.” At 17, she moved to England to attend Cambridge University, where she studied art and art history, with an eye toward a career as a graphic artist in the advertising business.

 

MH:  So after graduating college in the U.K., how did you end up back in the United States?

NA:  That was a very rough time… It was 1991, and I came back around the time that O.J. Simpson was being followed, so I had a complete and utter nervous breakdown….I couldn’t process moving back into the United States.

 

MH:  Did you move directly here?

Singer-songwriter Nancy Atlas. Photo by Michael Heller.

Singer-songwriter Nancy Atlas. Photo by Michael Heller.

NA:  I did. As soon as the option presented itself for me to choose where I would live, it was a no-brainer. I always knew I’d live out here in some capacity. My brother was renting a house right near the Quiet Clam, and that was the first place, but I’ve lived in almost every town: I’ve lived in Southampton, Amagansett, Sag Harbor—for about  seven years—Springs, for four years, over by Louse Point…

 

MH: So what inspired you to pick up a guitar? Did you have any musical background?

NA:  I wrote songs from a very early age. My musical education is that I did a year of piano when I was 10, and then I studied 10 years of viola—a lot of people don’t know that—but then I wrote on piano from the time that I was about 11 years old. That was around the era of Debbie Gibson—Remember her? I wasn’t trying to be Debbie Gibson; it just came naturally that I would write my own songs, so there are videos out there, lurking somewhere, of an eighth-grade talent show of me singing a song I wrote with seven girls singing three-part harmony. When I look back, of course I would have been a songwriter. So when I got into high school I was still doing the viola, but I started to take graphic art more seriously, and that was the price it paid: the music kind of veered off a little bit. But I was still known for music, like in high school I was Best Musician—Commack High School, 1989. There’s probably a good photo floating around of that too! (laughs) But I think that when my life choice came, in college and when I was becoming a young adult, I really had to stick to it, and once I picked up a guitar, I knew that I could die for this; I knew that there was a commitment to the music that I didn’t have with the art. There was always an insecurity with the art… I always kind of wasn’t sure, and with music I’m very, very confident; I don’t really write for anyone but myself. And I think as an artist you go through periods where you have to learn how to not write for people again.

 

MH:  So at what point did you realize that playing guitar was the thing?

NA:  I was very depressed before I came home—truly depressed, not just sad, but clinically depressed—and I couldn’t find a job, so I decided that I had to do something to get myself out of the funk. So I just went down and bought a used guitar on Portabello Road for 60 quid, and started learning Van Morrison songs and tablature stuff—totally self-taught, and I never looked back. I started going to open mics, and I started writing songs within three weeks of picking up a guitar. It was immediate because I had had that background of the piano from when I was younger. And when I went to the Stephen Talkhouse I think I was playing guitar a total of three months, and a producer said, “Who the hell are you?” (laughs) So I started working with a producer, and got sucked into the many dreams of rock ’n’ roll stardom…and here I am, still going!

 

MH:  So what keeps you here on the East End, when your career may have taken off if you had perhaps moved to a bigger city like L.A. or Nashville?

NA:  That’s a very layered question, because the things that keep me here are starting to disappear… and I might disappear. I’m getting tired of a lot of the crap that’s going on in this town right now.

 

MH:  “Right now” notwithstanding, what continues to keep you here?

NA:  Well, I don’t mean to be existential, but that depends on your definition of “making it.” Because I feel like I’ve “made it.” I’m a successful songwriter who has a gorgeous house a block from the ocean, a beautiful vintage car and three great kids, and am still doing it. I really don’t mean to nitpick, but people say that to me a lot, like, “Geez, do you ever get upset that you haven’t ‘made it?’” And I’m like, “Well, what’s ‘making it’?” Because is ‘making it’ playing Jones Beach, or having a song on the radio? Would I like that? Sure! Would I love to play Red Rocks and be on tour? Sure! But it’s all relative. I really, truly believe that, and if I really wanted to do that, I’m the type of person that would move to Nashville and see my kids on the weekends—I’m an A-type; I don’t talk about stuff, I get it done. But the raw beauty, the quiet… as an artist I’ve always felt that the East End calls to a certain type of artist, in that it delivers, and I draw off of the raw beauty—that’s the short answer.

Why Here? Musicians on the Influence of the East End: Jim Turner

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East End musician Jim Turner plays at a local benefit for Haiti. Photo by Michael Heller.

East End musician Jim Turner plays at a local benefit for Haiti. Photo by Michael Heller.

By Michael Heller

Born in New York City and raised in Northport, Jim Turner is the product of musical family: His mother, brother, and sister were all musically oriented, and his father was a trumpet player in college, so it was only natural that at age 14 he picked up the guitar. His brother showed him a riff called “John Henry,” and then a friend in school showed him how to play “What I Say” by Ray Charles. “And from there it kind of just grew,” he says. “I wasn’t going to be a musician. It was just a side thing.” He moved back to New York City at age 21 to study acting, and before long found himself being cast in major roles in Broadway musicals, including Joseph Papp’s Public Theater production of “Blood” and opposite Nell Carter in a production called “Dude” with the cast members from “Hair,” while all the while continuing to play gigs in restaurants and coffeehouses. In 1978, he moved out to the East End.

 

MH:  So what was it that made you decide to come to live in Sag Harbor?

 

JT:  I was really in the guts of the New York professional world. I look back at that now, and I realize that I was around the big time. I wasn’t the big time, but I was around it, so I saw what the high level of competition and the high talent, and how disciplined and how professional you had to be in that world—you had to go out for a lot of auditions on Broadway stages, and it was terrifying. I got cast and I was around these people. There I was in this Broadway show with top talent like Nell Carter and a lot of other famous people, and it was like the big time, it was shocking, I was really honored. But I continued playing music, and you know, I was in that New York world and here I had been in that Manhattan jungle for so long, that I finally got to the point where I—and it’s really kind of mundane, what I’m going to say—I just got a longing to live in the country. I wanted to switch gears…. Suddenly I just did not want to do the urban thing. I look back and I had spent almost 12 years, including college, in New York, and I just got this longing to be in nature—almost like a Thoreau—and I was looking to go a hundred miles away, because I didn’t want to cut the cord. I didn’t want to leave New York, because New York is a universe. But I met a woman, and she lived out here and I visited out here, around 1978. She was going away the following summer, so I rented her house out in Sag Harbor for the summer, and I was smitten by this area. I had this huge, romantic thing: I wanted to be with clean water…. my life was a concrete jungle, and the city was so challenging to live in, so bang I rented her house and later on I moved out here.

When I came out here what happened was I was able to get the music going, playing music out here, right away. Playing music out here was suddenly so much easier than in New York. In New York you finish playing a gig and you’re on the subway, or on the street. Here, I came home to my cottage I rented and I’m out here with the crickets and the night and I’m thinking, “This is relaxing! This is healthy!” Since I’ve been out here I took off and formed my own band in 1988…. I backed up a lot of people for years and played solo, and it took off pretty much in the late ’80s. I did concerts at Guild Hall, I got a role for Time-Warner doing an ad for Optimum, and since then I’ve just been out here doing hundreds of gigs.

 

MH:  So what keeps you out here, seeing that this is not the music capital of the world?

 

JT:  One of the answers to that is that it’s kind of easy living here, in a country-life kind of way. Now, it’s not easy financially because it’s gotten very expensive, but I’ve kind of lucked into something that I wouldn’t have been able to do in New York. I get a lot of work out here, especially May through September, so rather than be on the road as a musician—and it may not be as romantic—I can actually have a life and not be out in motels travelling the country. What I found in New York as a struggling artist was that it was very difficult to make money and to be in the city; out here it’s still hard, but it’s easier: I come home to this home, and I have peace and quiet. I do get hired, and I’ve done well, and gotten paid pretty well. But on the other hand, I agree that in the off-season it’s kind of dead, and that’s the downside to it.

I once heard something in a music seminar, and that was, “Don’t get addicted to the local music scene, because that can shortcut your career.” I might have done that. I might have been someone who went to L.A. or Nashville, or could have had a big career… and yet, at the same time, I’m not sure I was looking to be a star; I think I just wanted to play music and have a relaxed, healthy life—it’s as simple as that.

Why Here? Musicians on the Influence of the East End: Inda Eaton

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Musician Inda Eaton. Photo by Michael Heller.

Musician Inda Eaton. Photo by Michael Heller.

By Michael Heller

Singer/songwriter Inda Eaton found her way to the East End 10 years ago after spending the majority of her life living in southern California, Arizona and Wyoming. She is a child of parents who always wanted her to be a musician — which never seemed to be a question (“I just knew,” she says.)

 

MH:  So, coming from Wyoming and the West, how did you end up here in Amagansett?

IE:  My music manager at the time was in New York, so I would come to New York quite a bit for music, and it was through friends and connections that I would come out here to visit. I went to school in Boston — I went to BU to study journalism — so I wasn’t completely unfamiliar with the east; but I really didn’t know about Amagansett or East Hampton. In fact the first time I came I was completely shocked—I didn’t even tune into my “Great Gatsby” history lesson of the Hamptons; I really didn’t come here with any stars in my eyes at all, I was just coming to visit, and I was really utterly surprised in the most pleasant of ways. Growing up in the West anyway I could never have stereotyped that a place so close to New York City—which is like Gotham City—would have so much beauty.

 

MH:  The Hamptons are not the hotbed of the music industry like Los Angeles, New York or Nashville, yet after 10 years you’ve stayed here. What has kept you here, even though it may have been harder for your career?

IE:  The reason I was able to dig my heels in was because I did some voice-overs and I did some music-computer interactives for the children’s museum when it was being built, so that was the first reason to be here: “This is a project I can do.” I wasn’t even thinking that this would be my final resting spot; I’m here for this project. And then some other opportunities opened up, one after the other, and I thought to myself, “Hmmm, I think I’ll get more involved in the production side.”

There are some really great people out here. You can’t throw a rock out here without running into somebody who writes or makes music. That’s been very stimulating and interesting to me. And not only their work, but the camaraderie of it, the music community. I travel a lot; I go back and forth between the West, I do a lot of education work. I do a lot of playing. But somehow when I come back here, I feel very nurtured. The music scene, the music community…I think the landscape lends itself to some major creativity that’s probably beyond what I can even articulate. I know it’s obvious when we talk about visual art, and how that can happen through color and light and landscape, but I think it’s often overlooked when we talk about music as well. I couldn’t articulate to you right now, at the kitchen table, how I think that’s changed my writing, but I know that it has.

And I think there’s an edge, I think on Long Island, the history of rock and roll on Long Island is huge, and there’s a tremendous contribution to rock and roll in edginess from Long Island. You would think that that wouldn’t be out here because it is so calm, and everything out here is so “chill,” but having said that I think our year-round community… we give that appearance in our flip-flops, but I don’t know of anybody out here who doesn’t have to figure out some way to exist; maybe that’s the edge. We’re in our flip-flops, but we’re all clinging on to our reserves to figure out how to stay in this beauty. This is not a place where you can go work at the plant, or have abundant work, really; you really make your own existence here, and it has to be a very creative existence. And I don’t know of anybody out here—in the arts or not—who doesn’t have to think twice or three times how to pull their act together to put food on the table…maybe that’s the edge. Amidst all this beauty, we’re trying to develop our own situation.

Interestingly enough, if you ever get invited to a benefit you should go, they’re great shows. They’re great shows because different musicians come together who maybe don’t play together often, and all of a sudden this party happens. But if you looked around and said, “How are these musicians pulling this off?” you really don’t want to ask them that; the reality is that it’s scary. You wouldn’t want to look at their ledger sheets; their ledger sheets don’t balance, really. You want to talk about the leap of faith? I know that’s in every artistic community, but it’s comical, because here we’re doing the benefits, and the truth is we could be having a benefit once a month for all of the brothers and sisters in music. And I think that’s the edge, I really do. That’s the edge.

Why Here? Musicians on the Influence of the East End: Joe Delia

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By Michael Heller

Montauk resident Joe Delia–known for his band, Joe Delia and Thieves – has been a musician for most his life, having studied and performed music ever since he was 12. He was one of 12 children in an Italian family in Rockland County, New York, and at age 15 he and his siblings gained notoriety as they hit the charts in the mid-1960s with a family act called The Brothers.

“We were signed to RCA records,” he says, “Sid Bernstein was my manager when I was 15 years old, so I had a lot going on professionally as a child.” Not long after, because of his proximity to New York City, he met studio musicians in Rockland County who helped him get his foot in the door in the so-called “closed shop” of the New York City clique of studio musicians.

 

MH: So how did all of this lead you out to the East End?

JD: While I was working in the city, I studied arrangement and film scoring with Don Sebeski, who was just a great orchestrator and great educator, and that was really a good part of my training professionally. Sebeski was a real key to my professional work; I worked as an arranger and a pianist in studios. Then I met director Abel Ferrera [“King of New York,” “Bad Lieutenant”] in the late ’70s, early ’80s and scored films for him for 20 years, and that’s what really got me into the business.

In ’92 Abel was out here for a week or two, staying in Hither Hills. I came out and said, “I just want to live here,” and a year or two later bought the property and built a house. I had the house for a few years, then met PJ [his wife], ended up getting married and moving upstate. Sold the house here, and life took on another path. It’s been almost 20 years now; we had a son, Jake, and it became a whole new thing.

After not having the house in Hither Hills, the headquarters became the house in Rockland County, and as PJ and I were getting on with our lives we would come out and rent and spend basically a week or two. But we were out a lot, and maybe five years ago this rental came up for us, and so we said, “We’ve got to do it.” So we’re basically in and out of town commuting to Montauk.

 

MH: So what keeps you here, and why do you keep coming back, even though it might be considered by some to be a detriment to your career?

JD: It’s a great question. I think it has to do with the fact that I’ve had a long career that was New York City and L.A.—mostly New York City—but was really an international career; all of the films I’ve made have played all over the world and I’ve made records, etc.  I’ve had a mainstream career in that sense, so that this is another chapter. It’s not a matter of trying to break into the mainstream, obviously, it’s not about coming out here and getting a major record deal and advancing my career in that sense. I think it’s … well, not a “postscript” to my career, but another chapter.

 

MH: How would you describe that chapter?

JD:  It’s wonderful. I would characterize it as doing something that I haven’t done a lot of for 20 or 25 years, which is writing songs and performing them. I’ve been writing themes and background scenes for years and years in the studio. I’ve done some interesting touring over that period—I was with David Johansson and Buster Poindexter for five or six years, and in between I toured with Dave Edmunds—I toured the United States and Japan with them, and so that was great—So I’ve been around, but it’s been in and out of my basic career as a musician writing themes and film music. So I characterize it as really something new; writing songs and performing them. It’s thrilling, and it keeps me coming back. And I think the fact that there’s been a certain amount of acceptance and that people seem to like what we’re doing and that there are songs that people know is really wonderful too. To play, and have people out there who know the songs is really cool.

 

MH: So what keeps you going? What drives you now, to keep writing and doing this?

JD: It’s that feeling of when it does connect. I’m a terrible golfer, but I think the metaphor is the same: you can be a terrible golfer, but if you hit one good one, you get out on the golf course the next day. And I think that it’s a little bit the same with doing this: If you have a really good show and get that input back that you get from the audience. It’s really about the audience; if there’s an audience, it will really get me there. And Montauk’s a great audience. There’s really a nice, vibrant music community out here, a lot of great musicians and wonderful people.