Multi-Instramentalist Owen Nied: Youthful Versatility

CHESTER, VERMONT – Youthful versatility. The first words that popped into this writer’s head after reading a brief online bio about 20-year-old Owen Nied, a multi-instrumentalist well versed on guitar, bass, ukulele, piano, melodica and percussion. Also versatile in his musical tastes, Owen draws influence from rock, pop, blues, funk, jazz and hip-hop, depending on what band, ensemble, or project he is in at any particular time.


Article by Joe Milliken * Photos courtesy of Owen Nied

After moving with his family from Upstate New York (he is originally from New Jersey), Owen seemingly draws artistic inspiration from the natural beauty of Vermont. “I’m not a native Vermonter, but my whole family was attracted to the idea of spending more time outside and living in an area with a more vibrant arts and music scene,” Nied said in a recent interview. “Drawing is also something I’ve enjoyed my whole life, even before music. I’m constantly discovering new outlets for creative energy.”

Currently a student at Hampshire College in Amherst, Ma., Nied studies music, writing and film and this fall, will be an exchange student at Goldsmiths-University in London. Additionally, Owen was recently the recipient of an artistic achievement scholarship, while also being selected as a poetry participant at the New England Young Writers Conference. What’s more, this busy young musician also received a merit scholarship to attend Berklee College of Music's prestigious summer jazz program, where he received honors. He was also selected for a brief summer 2018 residency at the Vermont Jazz Center in Brattleboro, Vermont.

Neid always felt the desire to be artistic, experiencing his first musical performance at the age of nine. “It was in a little 50s-style diner called Rosie’s Café, where my dad and I often went to get breakfast. One morning I asked the owner if I could play at their next ‘cruise in,’ and that was really the first time I felt that music, and art in general, would be something inside of me for the rest of my life.”

A few of Owen’s biggest music influences include Chuck Berry, Stevie Ray Vaughn, The Beach Boys, Wes Montgomery, Jeff Beck, Dick Dale, and Chet Atkins. “My dad played guitar and piano a lot around the house when I was growing up and I naturally wanted to learn some of what he was doing, so I started taking guitar lessons at the local music store. I like Chuck Berry for his willingness to take risks and in doing so, broke into new creative territory. I like Stevie Ray Vaughan because of the sheer power and force he put into his solos. It was like his guitar was just an extension of his body, like an arm or a leg.

“I am also hugely influenced by The Beach Boys and (their iconic album) ‘Pet Sounds’ because the lyrics and music were comforting to me, and ‘Wouldn’t It Be Nice’ was also one of the first songs I knew all the lyrics to. My interest in jazz came later on, mainly through discovering artists such as Django Reinhardt.”

Owen’s first official band, The Onlys, is a horn-driven trio combining elements of jazz, funk and pop. However, I also learned it was not his first band. “The Onlys was my first band to play gigs professionally,” Owen said. “But before that, I was in a band called Owen and the Nepotists, aptly named because my dad played guitar and early on, my mom was the drummer before our neighborhood friend, Ben Kaiser, stepped in.”

Shortly thereafter (2011 and 2012), Neid would become a featured performer at the Ukulele Festival of Great Britain, having been awarded an initial performance slot after winning a YouTube video competition. By the age of 16, Owen had completed a club tour in Paris and while performing in New Mexico, became the youngest musician to ever headline the storied Taos Inn.

Owen has also composed original music for modern dance companies, including the 2015 and 2016 seasons of AirDance New Mexico, in Albuquerque. In 2017, he was commissioned to write the original music for an independent animated film. Owen also works as a session player providing lead guitar, piano and harmony vocals for other recording artists.

The Onlys have been playing music together since 2015 and features Nied’s childhood friends, Zoe Stinson on saxophone and Zack Nickel on drums. Owen and Zoe have actually known each other since they were just six-years-old, and they also played together in their high school’s jazz band. “We started out by just jamming in my music room and eventually Zack’s mom payed for a short studio session as a gift for Zack’s birthday, so we decided to record some more serious music we had written, which turned into our debut EP.”

Some of Nied’s other current projects include the new-grass duo, Owen and Sam, with his friend Sam Shaffery. “Sam is a student at Hampshire College and one day while taking a break from studying and playing my acoustic guitar, Sam came by with his mandolin and started playing along with me. We proceeded to jam for the next three hours and afterwards he said ‘wanna play a show?’ and I said ‘sure, I guess we’re a thing now.’ Our duo was a very spur of the moment thing.”

Owen also records and performs with the jazz-combo Emily and the Big Sound, featuring Emily Woodland. “Emily is a jazz vocalist I met at UMASS, which is near Hampshire College,” Nied added. “We hung out a lot as friends before she showed up at my dorm room one morning with a guitar and we started writing original material together. She has an incredible voice and a gift for lyrics, and most of the time we write and record in Chester.”

Having already recorded multiple solo EPs, Neid will be releasing a new CD as front-man of The Onlys in the fall, and also plans on releasing another solo effort soon. Other future projects include a winter 2018 solo tour, freelance recording session work and the production of a documentary film on the history of French "Ye Ye" music of the early 1960's. To learn more about the many music adventures of Owen Nied, please visit his website at www.owennied.com.