In Nick Colunga’s family, all four children were required to learn a musical instrument. Nick, the second of three boys and one girl, remembers when everyone had to take piano lessons at six or seven years old. When they reached middle school and piano lessons stopped, they were still pointed towards music. Nick's father had played football in high school and had suffered an injury. “When my brother and I asked about playing football, he said, ‘No, you’re not going to do that,’ and I thought, ‘Well, I guess I’ll just be in band.’”
Nick played trumpet in band, his older brother picked trombone and the younger brother chose trumpet too. During high school all the Colunga brothers marched—no garage rock to be found. Nick even considered continuing trumpet in college after enrolling at A&M to study finance. But, playing in the band required becoming a member of the Aggie Corps, not a direction that interested him.
After graduating from A&M in 2005, he went to work at LyondellBasell Industries in Audit and after three years he moved to Gulf States Toyota, also working in the audit department. His passion for music resurfaced during that period. "I was pretty big into the Beatles growing up, especially in college, and in about 2007, I bought a guitar," he recalls. "It was a bass guitar, just like Paul McCartney's, a Höfner bass."
He played it for about a year, then bought a more traditional electric guitar and took lessons. He also toyed with joining a band. However, he eventually fell in love with the acoustic guitar and being a solo artist. His first acoustic was a basic Yamaha. In 2013, he dove into the deep end and got a Taylor 114ce.
Nick has played at a variety of venues. His first gig was at Bean's Cafe, located close to his job at Gulf States Toyota. He played for free to get practice and gain exposure. He did a lot of open-mic nights at various tearooms, coffee shops, JP's Hop House and even the storied McGonigel's Mucky Duck in the Upper Kirby District. One of his favorite memories is an open mic competition at A Second Cup, a popular Heights coffee shop.
"I went there and played a couple originals, and there was one song that I have that’s called Sit and Wonder," he says. "Second Cup is a real hipster, poetic place to hang out. Nobody is clapping; they’re just doing the snapping kind of thing that poets do. When I tell them this song was inspired by Walt Whitman's Song of Myself, I say, 'Thank you Walt.' I waited for a second and I said, 'Is he here?' And everybody laughed because it was just a collection of poets."
By 2016, Nick had changed jobs again, this time landing in Freeport LNG’s auditing department. His music venue had also evolved from the coffee shops. One of his friends from Gulf States Toyota, Herb Garcia, opened a brewery in midtown Houston called Under the Radar, and Nick played the grand opening event. The venue is an inviting neighborhood beer garden, very kid- and pet-friendly. Since the opening, he has played an hour-long set every third Friday of the month.
Nick's sessions are comprised of 70 percent covers— George Harrison, John Lennon, Bob Dylan and Cat Stevens—and 30 percent originals. “I’ve been told that I sound a lot like him (Cat Stevens) when I sing,” observes Nick. “Even though I never really listened to him growing up. I try to stick with songs (14 to 15 during a gig) that work with my vocal range, and make it as like perfect as I can with having my own twist on it.” Concerning his original songs, Nick notes, "I’ll get a tune in my head and I’ll work it out, and then I try to make sure, one, that I haven’t really heard it before somewhere else... It’s usually the chorus part that I come up with first, and then I’ll come up with the words for the chorus, and then I’ll come up with the verses that’ll lead into the chorus and then the words subsequently thereafter."
He continues to play at Under the Radar, and is comfortable there. Recently, he put some of his originals up on Apple Music. "It’s rewarding at times to go and see that somebody listened to it,” he smiles. "I can see which countries are streaming my music and it’s like, 'wow, somebody in Britain listened to this song or Germany or Turkey or Chile.' So, that’s good enough for me."
Find Nick Colunga's music via FaceBook, Apple iTunes, or Spotify.
For upcoming local performances, please check FaceBook.