When Hampton Bays native Nick Moran moved from the East End to Washington Heights almost three years ago, all he knew was that he loved to sing.
But after landing his first gig last July—just him, guitar in hand, standing barefoot on a stage in the basement of a bar on the Lower East Side of Manhattan—Mr. Moran discovered that he had a lot to learn.
“Oh god, I was awkward as hell at that first show,” Mr. Moran said during an interview earlier this month. “Awkward, awkward, very awkward.”
Now 15 shows later—still performing barefoot, but in a trio, and now living in Brooklyn—the 24-year-old, a 2004 graduate of Hampton Bays High School whose parents John and Joan reside in the hamlet, is beginning to carve out a place for himself in the music world. In fact, he recently debuted his first single, “Out Of My Control,” on iTunes. And he’s already gained some visibility for his talent.
“He continually surprises us with his voice and depth, especially coming from an artist who’s so new to the scene,” said Joe Hanley, co-founder of The Vault Productions, which produced the track. “His songs speak for themselves, and we’ve been lucky to provide a vehicle for them to ride on. His voice has a truly unique character that sucks you right in.”
But singing (his sound is an acoustic, bluesy folk style) wasn’t always the original plan. After graduating from the State University of New York at Geneseo with a sociology degree in 2008, Mr. Moran plunged into Manhattan with the intention of pursuing a career in musical theater. Nearly two years—and countless auditions later—he got frustrated and picked up a guitar, instantly bringing him back to memories of his college days—where on top of singing in two choirs, two a capella groups, a barbershop quartet and any musical on campus, Mr. Moran also wrote his own original songs while his friend accompanied on guitar.
After picking the guitar back up, he began bringing it to musical theater auditions. The casting directors would thank him awkwardly, he said, and several even asked whether musical theater was what he wanted to do.
“I decided to cut the cord,” Mr. Moran said. “Now, I feel like I’m in total control over my music and where I want to go with it, instead of being stuck in that trap, waiting to hear you’re good enough to perform. I’m not a guitar prodigy by any means, though. Don’t look at my fingers, just listen.”
When looking for inspiration, Mr. Moran said he draws from Sam Cooke’s voice—his favorite singer—and Bob Dylan and James Taylor for lyrics.
“If the voice isn’t there first, I can’t get into it,” he said. “I listen to Marvin Gaye and Motown, all of those great singers. But when I write, that’s not how it comes out. You can be inspired by somebody and not sound like them.”
Mr. Moran added that he has been likened to Jason Mraz, but doesn’t like that comparison.
“I think his music is great, but I guess you kind of hope your sound is different enough,” he said. “When you write and it’s so personal and exactly what you’re thinking and feeling, you hope that it’s not just a copy of someone else.”
Mr. Moran is still working to find his sound, he said. But instead of performing on his own, he now plays his shows in a trio—alongside Mike Rosengarten on guitar or mandolin and Dennis Michael Keefe on an upright bass. His new single, however, is a solo effort.
So far, the attention and success has seemed kind of surreal to Mr. Moran, though quite rewarding, he said.
“Working with The Vault Productions, it’s the first time I’d ever recorded with people who didn’t just want me to get in and out of the door. This whole process has taught me that if you’re really passionate about something, and you love it a lot, you’ll make it work.”
In the coming months, Mr. Moran is expected to release three more singles on iTunes, all of them produced by the same studio, according to Mr. Hanley.
“We’re currently working with Nick on a few more songs, and can’t wait until everyone can hear them,” he said.
One thing’s for sure: Mr. Moran is now able to flex his creativity and he says that he is having fun with his music, though he added that opening up a part of himself has its challenges, and its rewards.
“A lot of the time, I’m afraid to show my songs to somebody, and I think that’s a good thing,” he said. “Those are the ones that are going to hit the hardest.”