In “Neptune City,” the title track from her debut album, Nicole Atkins pays homage to her hometown (not far from Bruce Springsteen’s old stomping ground) with the same level of bittersweet nostalgia as the Boss’s “Glory Days,” singing “I’m sitting over Neptune City/I used to love it/It used to be pretty/I’ll come down, walk around a while/Until I’m sure I can never go home again.”
Atkins is tuned into her childhood along the Jersey Shore, even as she reaches out to a worldwide audience. Re-cently signed by Columbia Records, the 29-year-old is spending the summer touring the U.S.—including a per-formance August 9 at All Points West Music Festival in Jersey City. Her unique sound as been described as folk, alternative, retro rock, vaudevillian, and even psychedelic.
“I grew up in Neptune in a mostly Sicilian family,” she says. “Everyone listened to a lot of oldies rock-n-roll like Frankie Valli and the Everly Brothers. My parents took me to shows…almost every weekend in Atlantic City.”
Atkins also visited the Stone Pony in Asbury Park whenever she could. “Music was everywhere on the Shore and it was the only thing where I really found my ‘place’ to fit in around here.”
During her childhood, Atkins learned piano and guitar, and while a student at St. Rose High School in Belmar she began performing in pick-up bands. As far as her musical style went, she was always a big fan of old country music and 1960s-psychedelic garage rock. “When I first started writing my own songs they were very simple alternative country songs very influenced by bands like Big Star,” she says. “I was glad I was writing them, but I wanted the sound to marry a more ‘60s sense. Through years of trial and error, I finally came up with my sound.”
Atkins’ sound began to reflect other musical influences and her love of films by the likes of David Lynch, John Waters, and Tim Burton. She also started incorporating sounds from nature and man-made sounds, like a lightbulb breaking. “Anything around the house, really,” she says.
When asked if she ever expected to make it this big, Atkins says she doesn’t really know if she is “big.”
“But I do get to do some things that are pretty mindblowing, like playing on Letterman, [at] Lollapalooza, and tour-ing Europe,” she says. “So I guess a lot of this has surpassed my expectations for sure.”
Her home base is still Asbury Park, and she says she’s regularly back with the family in Neptune “doing lots of laundry.” After the touring calms down, she will start recording a new album this winter. “What I’m most looking forward to right now is, well, right now.”
For more, go to nicoleatkins.com.
If you enjoyed this article, you also might like this story about another Jersey Shore singer/songstress. Click here to read: New Faces NJ: Charlotte Sometimes.