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.”
After attending UC Davis in 2003 to study Political Science, he says “It wasn't fulfilling, so I began taking classes in music theory and ended up graduating with a degree in Political Science and Music Theory and Composition. The Theory classes taught almost exclusively modern concert music, which is what I wrote for almost two years. But I never ditched pop music.”
In 2005, Eng’s only sister -- eight years younger -- was diagnosed with cancer. “It was tough on my family. I would drive from Davis to Oakland almost every week to visit her when she went in for chemotherapy, I would call every day to check up on her and, in those moments, I became more self-reflective and began writing songs about life.”
“I have yet to write a love song, because I feel like there is more to express than the star-struck love story, which is also why I try to be more harmonically complex than the standard guitar music.”
Eng 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.”
Since arriving in SD, Eng has played with several notable acoustic acts, including Gregory Page, Carlos Olmeda, Aaron Bowen, and Bushwalla. His debut EP Self Centered was released in 2008.
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 2008, he won the 103.7 Radio Sophie Songwriter Competition, and his debut EP Self Centered was released later that year.
He 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.”
A collection of solo-acoustic performances was compiled for the album Live from Lestat’s, released in January 2010 and featuring workshop-version of several songs intended for his subsequent studio album. Edited, mixed, and mastered by Johnny Shoebox, Eng wrote all the songs, except “Call You When I Get There,” by Ruben Quinones.
“I’ve decided to go the opposite direction of most singer-songwriters, favoring complexity over catchiness,” says Eng. “I liken myself to the serious jazz and blues musicians of 40 to 50 years ago like Ornette Coleman, who didn’t care about fame or money but wanted to make music for the sake of making music, even if it is only for a few people in a little coffeehouse somewhere. I am not about pleasing anyone except me, and that -- for me -- is success.”