Singer-songwriter Kenny Eng is a self-taught guitarist. “I took piano early on,” he says, “but basically picked up the guitar by ear. When I discovered that I could figure out songs on the radio by ear very quickly, I thought I might try my luck as a guitar player.” He moved from San Francisco to San Diego in 2007. “I don’t have family here, and I didn’t have a job. I’d just graduated from college, and I had my heart set on making music and being successful on my own.”
He describes his music as “an attempt to combine the complexity of Jeff Buckley into the pop-song format of John Mayer. The tunes range from sweetly tinged jazz to dark, ominous soundscapes. My songs are hard to listen to at times, but art is like that. You have to pay attention to what is happening in order to understand what the songs are doing. My lyrics focus on personal feelings and internal struggles.”
In 2005, Eng’s only sister — eight years younger — was diagnosed with cancer, greatly affecting his songwriting. “It was tough on my family. I called every day to check up on her, and I would drive from Davis to Oakland almost every week to visit her when she went in for chemotherapy. In those moments, I became more self-reflective and began writing songs about life.”
Eng usually performs solo, though he’s been toying with auxiliary players. “Playing with a band is always fun for the side of me that wants to entertain people, but the acoustic solo side really allows me to explore my own music and my own capabilities.”
TOP FIVE CDs?
1. D’Angelo, Voodoo: “This album makes you feel cool when you listen to it.”
2. Prince, Purple Rain: “I was never a big fan of the ’80s, or even Prince for that matter, until I heard ‘Darling Nikki’ on this album and realized just how good the Purple One was.”
3. Marvin Gaye, Every Great Motown Hit: “With tracks like ‘What’s Going On,’ ‘I Heard It Through the Grapevine,’ and ‘Inner City Blues,’ how can this not be top five?”
4. Jeff Buckley, Grace: “This album is the ultimate palate cleanser. If I ever accidentally listen to some really bad music, I put on Grace to get the bad taste out of my mouth.”
5. Michael Jackson, Thriller: “Nine hits on this album, though the music video for ‘Thriller’ gave me nightmares as a child.”
FOUR MUST-HAVE DVDs?
1. “Lord of the Rings trilogy, with nine-plus hours of mindless entertainment.”
2. “Zoolander: Orange mocha frappuccino!”
3. “Arrested Development, the Complete Series: I’ve seen every show at least 20 times, and they still get funnier every time. Seriously.”
4. “Fight Club, though I’m not supposed to talk about it.”
THREE THINGS IMPOSSIBLE TO DO WITHOUT?
1. “Google, because then I couldn’t say things in public like ‘I just Googled myself’ and get away with it.”
2. “Dating advice columns, because common sense never hurts.”
3. “California burritos, with carne asada, cheese, french fries, and pico de gallo. It sounded stupid when I moved here, but then I tried one, and now I refuse to eat any other kind of burrito.”
TWO FAVORITE WEBSITES?
1. “Failblog.org, which contains examples of people being people. Badly.”
2. “craiglist.org. Sometimes I’ll buy things, but mostly I read the ‘Best of craigslist.’ The postings range from mildly erotic to disgusting-yet-hilarious.”
FIRST BOOK YOU REMEMBER READING?
“D’aulaire’s Book of Greek Myths.”
BRUSH WITH FAME?
“I met B.B. King when he came to the Open Air Theatre in 2007. Well, meeting would actually entail an exchange of names, a handshake, and a brief semi-private conversation, and what we did was more akin to shouting back and forth
respectfully. The fact that he spoke five words to me validated my existence as a musician. I was so emboldened by this that my roommate and I
followed his tour bus to the hotel he was staying at. Unfortunately, we didn’t get to talk to him any further because his rather large and intimidating tour handlers were very protective of him.”
SEXIEST LOCAL PERFORMER?
“Nathan Welden could charm the pants off of anyone, and any audience. When that man starts singing, I see people either snuggle up closer to their loved one or contemplate ditching their date for Nathan. He’s the kind of guy that makes a lonely woman lower her standards, just to have someone to listen to his songs with. But, sorry ladies, Nathan is already taken. As for females, they’re all sexy on the inside.”
“I can’t afford subscriptions. And my apartment complex doesn’t have a recycling bin.”
SOMETHING ABOUT YOU FEW WOULD KNOW OR GUESS?
“I used to be next in line to run a martial arts school in Alameda, California.”