BY DEBBIE TUMA
May 11, 2018
Understand something about performer Nancy Atlas. She keeps it real by embracing so much more than fans in Montauk. Raising her family here, nurturing and respecting the land, and living, every day, the spirit of the End make her a uniquely devoted and respectable Montauker that any town would be fortunate to have.
When Nancy Atlas is not performing on stages throughout the Hamptons, this rockin,’ guitar-playing singer and songwriter seeks refuge in the natural wonders of the East End. She’s as happy on her surfboard tackling the waves at Ditch Plains as she is playing for crowds at bars, restaurants, and events here and around the country.
“I’m a big water person,” said Atlas, 47, who lives in Montauk with her musician husband, Thomas Muse, of the band Jettykoon, and their three children. “I swim, surf, clam, forage, go out on my paddle board, and find things along the ocean edge.”
“…a sort of pirate lifestyle”
Atlas said the reason she lives in Montauk is that she enjoys nature, hiking the trails two to three times a week with her husband, a landscape designer and fellow surfer. Along the way, she finds and picks beach plums, which she makes into jelly for the winter. She makes it in half-pints and gives it to about 20 to 30 of her “closest friends.” “The thing I love about beach plums is that it’s a specific bush that grows by the sea,” she said. “I go to the beach and bring a big bucket and cover up so I don’t get poison ivy or ticks. The beach plums are not an easy find–you have to fight for them.”
Jelly aside, she also loves to make a creation with the plums that she calls “Bonac Beach Bounce.” She insists on its simplicity and says it was a recipe handed down to her from olden times. It consists of beach plums and a liquor of choice, like rum or vodka, which she pours into attractive decanters to give as gifts. “It’s sort of a tradition to open the jelly on the first snowfall of winter and the Beach Bounce on Christmas,” said Nancy. “The beach plum is ripe at the height of summer, so when you drink this concoction in the winter or spread it over your toast, it reminds you of that taste of summer when all was in a heady bloom.”
Nancy jokingly refers to herself as “Diana the Huntress,” because she loves to forage for food and even fish. “My friends and I have a sort of pirate lifestyle—we live off the land and sea, and we love it,” she said. “We share the bounty of the East End with each other—the beach plum jelly, the lobsters, clams and fish, the home-grown vegetables—we swap things and barter with each other all the time.”
Atlas, who took her name from one of her favorite books, “Atlas Shrugged,” also loves to cook and entertain in her home. She used to be a short order cook at the Clam Bar on Napeague, which she ran for 10 years, and she was also a waitress at the Corner Bar in Sag Harbor.
“I left the Corner Bar because I wanted to gig,” she says, of her venture into performing on stage. She was playing in bars three months after learning the guitar, and she performed her own original songs for five years before she played covers. She put her band, “Nancy Atlas Project,” together when she was just 25. Today, it consists of four other members, besides herself—Johnny Blood, lead guitarist; Brett King, bass; Neil Surreal, keys; and Richard Rosch, on the drums.
Nancy, who grew up in Commack, Long Island and spent summers at her parents’ house in Lazy Point for many years, trained first in art abroad. She started her college years at Cambridge University in England and eventually ran off to Italy to complete her degree in Fine Art from Richmond College with a base school in London. “I didn’t really have the passion to pursue painting as a career–I thought more of going into advertising,” she said. Growing up, she always played music, playing piano and viola from 1st through 12th grade.
“I really believe you have to fight for your art”
“I wrote songs from age 12 and sang in talent shows,” she recalled. “I bought my first (used) guitar at 21, and at that point I knew this was what I was going to do.” Since then, she and her band have played around the country and in Europe for concerts, private and corporate events, weddings and parties. “The best part of the job is that we get to bring love, joy and happiness into the world… along with helping make a few babies and sweating out some blood, sweat and tears. It’s a righteous mixture,” she said. “The hardest part is that you’re never off, especially as a bandleader. It’s a full-time mental commitment that goes well beyond clocking out at 5pm.”
As a busy wife and mother, Nancy admits that “it’s not easy juggling three kids, a super creative husband, trying to find time to write, producing show after show and then actually playing them… but I really believe you have to fight for your art, no matter what you have on your plate. My kids know me as Mom, but they also see me do what I love and that is important, or at least I think it is. We all have that fight though…whether you have kids or not. I am very lucky to have the support system of my family, specifically my mom and sister, and also my husband who plays… so he get’s it, too, but it is definitely something that requires a mental sword on a daily basis.”
All of her three children are into their own creative pursuits. Cashus, 12, is an actor, singer and drummer, who has acted with Alec Baldwin and Laurie Metcalf in “All My Sons” at Guild Hall in East Hampton. Her other son, Levon, 6, loves drawing and singing “It’s like giving birth to a wood nymph with that one.” Her daughter, Tallulah, 4, is a bit too young to know what she wants to do, but Nancy says “she has fire in her belly to dance and sing. She is a joy to watch and a good litmus test for songs I am working on. If Tallulah shakes it then I know it will work on the dancefloor.”
Nancy says that despite her hectic, on-the-road schedule, “It’s been good for my spirit to write, sing and play. I’m a much happier person when I am creating.” And of her busy life as a professional, wife and mother, she says, “I’ve always had seven sticks in the fire at all times…I’d be writing and singing songs if I had 12 kids–it’s just the way I am.”