Singer-songwriter on his upcoming album and hometown of Seattle
Sometimes things are at their most beautiful when they are presented simply and honestly, and that’s exactly what you get from Tomo Nakayama. He sings and he writes songs, and he would describe his music as “folk or singer-songwriter” with some “ambient/electronic elements.” His is a refreshing, straightforward outlook that is complemented by lush sounds.
Hailing from Seattle, Tomo has found inspiration from his city and surrounding area’s venues, and he possesses an impressive knowledge of the region’s arts community. He also isn’t the only one in his family with artistic abilities; as you’ll see below, his wife, Frida Clements, is an artist in her own right.
ARTISTdirect caught up with Tomo to find out what he’s working on right now, to learn what has inspired him, and to see what the singer-songwriter expects from the future.
Hello – Please introduce yourself.
My name is Tomo Nakayama. I am a singer and songwriter.
Where are you right now?
I am in the kitchen of my home in Seattle, Washington. I just ate lunch. It was half a chicken burrito left over from El Camion, which is the best Mexican food truck in Seattle. I usually prefer their carnitas but the chicken is also very good.
Tell us about your new project: Who did you work with? Where was it recorded? What’s it about? Is there candy?
My new album is called Pieces of Sky. I wrote and self-produced it in my home studio, with help from my friends Yuuki Matthews (The Shins) and Alex Guy (Led to Sea). Most of the songs are about love and hope and death and life and my wife and my dog and my sanity, things like that, and trying to hold on to those things in a messed up world. If by “candy” you mean “ear candy” then yes, there are several moments of sonic experimentation which you might find pleasing on a nice pair of headphones.
How do you describe your music to new friends?
I would describe it as folk or singer-songwriter, though this new album has more ambient/electronic elements.
Other than grunge, what should Seattle be known for?
Other than the great music community, which has evolved and changed many times over since the Nirvana/Pearl Jam heyday, Seattle also has a brilliant film, literary, and visual arts scene. A few of my favorites at the moment are Clyde Peterson, Lynn Shelton, Megan Griffiths, SJ Chiro, Shin Yu Pai, Elisa Chavez, Sarah Galvin, Mary Anne Carter, and Emily Gherard.
Please look around you right now and please describe the first item or person you see that’s significant to you (and that your relationship with it/them). Can we see a photo?
I’m looking at the cover of Have a Little Pun, which is a book of illustrated puns written by my wife Frida Clements. My favorite is a picture of a penguin that says “Not gonna fly.” She also did the artwork and illustrations for my new album.
What first inspired you to pursue music? If it was a musician or a specific piece of music, please tell us all about why you find it so inspirational…
I think it was probably when I first started going to shows in the suburbs of Seattle. We had a few really amazing all ages venues like the Old Redmond Firehouse, Ground Zero, and Kirkland Teen Center, where a lot of bands and artists like Modest Mouse, Death Cab for Cutie, Blood Brothers, and Fleet Foxes all played and got their start. There was one band in particular called Red Rocket whose singer was Asian American, and seeing someone who looked like me on stage playing guitar and singing in front of people gave me the courage to try it myself.
What’s the best advice anyone has given you about pursuing a life in music?
I’ve played music for almost 20 years, but it’s really only been in the past couple years that I’ve really truly realized, internalized, and accepted the fact that there is no wrong way to make a life in music. No one has THE answer, and so much of it is chance and timing. There are pros and cons of every level of success, and only you get to decide what does and doesn’t work for you. The only thing you can do is to keep making music and to keep doing the things that excite and inspire you.
Not including your current crew, who (alive or dead) would you love to have in your van for an all day drive from gig to gig?
I recently got to do a couple tours with Jeremy Enigk from Sunny Day Real Estate who has been a lifelong musical hero, and it was really a dream to get to know him as a human being and just drive for hours and hours talking about life, music, spirituality, relationships… I guess if I could have that kind of experience with anyone else it would be Bjork or Elliott Smith, or maybe an engineer like Geoff Emerick. His book about working with the Beatles is really fascinating.
What song best sums up your life right now?
“The Waiting” by Tom Petty.
What is the best reaction to your music you have experienced so far?
I perform at the airport in Seattle a few times a month. I play these long, three to four hour busking sets and usually people walk by without noticing or they’ll stop and listen to a couple songs and move on. But this one time this woman stood by me and I noticed she was singing along to all of my songs. It turned out she was from California, and she told me she listened to my album every single day on her drives up Laurel Canyon, and she was so happy and surprised to see me at the airport. That really blew my mind.
Take a moment to dream – Where do hope to be a year from now?
I’d love to tour in Europe (I’ve played a couple shows in Iceland and Denmark, but not a full tour yet) and Australia. I want to travel more and see the world.
What’s your next step towards that dream?
Putting my new album out in September. I’m working on touring in the US and hopefully going back to Japan in the spring!