For nearly a decade, Brett Nickel wrote highly personal songs while struggling with depression and addiction. But other than the occasional open mic, it was a private affair. That changed in 2017, when Nickel lost his dad to suicide. The loss was devastating.
“The place I was at in life, I needed a voice at that time,” Nickel says. “My dad was my best friend. He’s who I got the love for music from. He raised me on all the classics: The Stones, Zeppelin, Floyd, Beatles, Tom Petty, Neil Young.”
Previously, Nickel had played drums in several bands (St. Geme, Sugar Sauce, Invoke), but he never fronted a band playing his own music before. That same year he lost his dad, he put together the first version of the band, called Nickel Trio, with his stepbrother Leo MacDonald on bass, and a drummer, who was soon replaced by one and then another. The band later changed its name to Nickel Experience and finally to Wide Eyed. They played their first show as a trio at the Blue Lagoon in September 2017. They later added lead guitarist Paul Chronopolous, which gave the songs a fuller twin guitar sound.
The various elements of mid-tempo classic rock, arena level choruses, emotive guitar solos, and introspective lyrics came together. But it was the intense emotionality of the tunes that were their anchor more than anything. The songs had a spontaneous component to them. The songs in Wide Eyed’s set range across the past decade that Nickel has been writing music, but they all capture a spontaneous moment of emotion in the time they were penned. They were always written in a day or two, as inspiration hit.
As Wide Eyed played live, the songs came together. Since Nickel wrote most of them in the privacy of his home, getting the feedback from audiences—particularly which sections were emotionally impactful—helped immensely.
“I definitely become more comfortable in my voice,” Nickel says. “It really keeps me inspired. It keeps me writing new stuff. There’s a lot of songs you don’t know how they’ll impact people until you play them in front of a crowd. And then a person comes up to you afterwards and says, ‘Hey you know, that one really got me.’”
The group released its debut EP Alternate Reality at Abbott Square in July 2019. (It was released online in early 2020). For this album, Nickel recorded the drums, guitar and vocals himself. MacDonald played bass and Chronopolous added some lead guitar part. It’s a guitar-driven rock record that tells a complete story, beginning to end. The opening song deals with the idea that there are different dimensions, and the possibility that what we perceive as reality may be a dream, just like everything else.
“I look at music as something that comes from a higher place. I am open to letting it flow through me and delivering that light and message to the people who choose to listen and need it to heal. If I can do that, my life is more fulfilling,” Nickel says. “Music had a huge role in saving my life by giving me a way to release pain I couldn’t otherwise.”
Since recording the EP, they’ve added a sax player and have a keyboardist who plays with them on occasion. For future recordings, Nickel wants to capture the full band energy that they’ve fostered at gigs, and definitely get those sweet keyboard and sax parts on there to really broaden the sound.
“I’m actually finding that the more musicians the better. I like the way it sounds. It’s pretty exciting,” Nickel says.