By Mary Ann Bourbeau
ASBURY PARK – Singer-songwriter Nicole Atkins will take the stage at The Saint on Saturday, Sept. 6, as part of the venue’s 20th anniversary series, which is going on throughout the month.
The timing worked out great for Atkins, since she will have just returned from a national tour. The singer/songwriter has close ties to The Saint and is happy to be part of the celebration.
“I worked the door, did booking and was a bartender there when I was about 18,” she said during a recent telephone call from Los Angeles. “I got my start playing there. It’s a nice little dirty dive bar with a great sound system. It will be kind of like a homecoming.”
Atkins will be performing songs from her 2014 CD “Slow Phaser,” a bit of a departure from her 2007 debut release, “Neptune City,” and 2011’s “Mondo Amore.” With the help of producer Tore Johannson, she devised a new sound, placing more emphasis on electronics than she had in the past.
“I wanted to make something that no one’s ever heard before, including myself,” she said.
“As any artist progresses, they don’t want to keep making the same thing year after year. I’m growing as an artist and a writer. I’m a much different person at 35 than I was at 25.”
Having been through more life experiences in the past decade, Atkins describes her new songs as a little darker and more mature.
“In the past, the lyrics were more flowery,” she said. “With Tore, there is more of a retro ‘70s Euro disco sound. It’s fun to play those songs, and we finally have people dancing at our shows.”
Growing up in Neptune, Atkins had a passion for music but decided to pursue a degree in illustration at the University of North Carolina.
“I didn’t want to screw up my relationship with music by studying it,” she said.
After graduation, she moved to Asbury Park, where she painted murals by day and played gigs at night.
It wasn’t until the age of 27 that she got her first record deal, but she had faith she would make it in the business since some of her favorite artists, such as Tom Waits, Nick Cave and Leonard Cohen, all started their careers later in life.
“I had a blind belief that I was going to make it,” she said.
She has won several Asbury Music Awards, the Sammy Cahn Award for lyrics and was named by Rolling Stone in 2006 as one of the Top 10 Artists to Watch.
“I’m lucky that I’ve managed to make a career out of my hobby,” she said.
Atkins lived in Brooklyn and the East Village, N.Y., for a while but now calls Asbury Park home. “Asbury Park brings a bit of a city vibe to beach living,” she said. “The business owners are very cool and forward thinking, and I’m able to live in a really nice apartment without the New York prices.”
She loves the Jersey Shore so much that she and her husband were married in Neptune City at the well-known pizza joint Pete & Elda’s. Atkins is looking forward to a little down time while back in Jersey.
“It’s great playing shows around the country, but I’m ready to get home for a bit and see friends I haven’t seen in a while,” she said. “There’s a romantic element to touring, but once you get down to brass tacks and your laundry runs out, it wears off.”
Atkins was asked to perform a version of Bruce Springsteen’s “Dancing in the Dark” for the upcoming album, “Dead Man’s Town: A Tribute to Born in the U.S.A.,” which will be released Tuesday, Sept. 16. Her stripped down version is sung with the intensity of a woman who clearly identifies with the lyrics.
“I’ve always been a fan of that song, but I never realized how much it related to me,” she said. “It’s about being stuck in a rut, having writer’s block and feeling like you’re not good enough. A lot of writers go through that.”
After spending a little time home, Atkins will be back on the road in October, headlining her first European tour with stops in Sweden, Italy, Paris, Berlin and London.
“I’m nervous but also excited,” she said.
Low Cut Connie will appear with Atkins at The Saint, along with the Glycerine Queens, a band whose debut EP was recently produced by Atkins and her husband. Tickets are $20.
Additional information is available by visiting www.thesaintnj.com.
Vibe writer Mary Ann Bourbeau can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.