🎧 Local Music Lowdown: Tomo Nakayama

Welcome to a brand new weekly occurrence that I’m introducing. In light of the pandemic and all live music being canceled, I wanted to take the opportunity to spotlight some local artists, their music and how to support them.

In this new section, I’ll be highlighting some of my favorite local artists—with a focus on BIPOC musicians—and asking them some questions about their work and the Seattle music scene.

Name: Tomo Nakayama
Neighborhood: West Seattle
Bands/Musical affiliation: Asahi, Grand Hallway, guitar/keyboards for Sera Cahoone, Jeremy Enigk, Gold Leaves
Website: tomonakayama.com
Song to know: Get to know you

Tomo Nakayama moved to Seattle from Japan when he was 8 years old and has been here ever since. Tomo released his third solo record back in April, which departed from his the folk/rock sound he’s become known for. You may have heard Tomo on KEXP or might have recognized his music and his face from the late and great Seattle filmmaker Lynn Shelton’s Touchy Feely.

The following interview has been edited for length and clarity.

What has kept you in Seattle?
I think above all the music and arts community. I’ve been lucky to meet and work with so many inspiring people over the years, and we have some of the best venues, record stores, and radio stations in the country. It’s really an ideal place to make a living as a musician. I also love our proximity to nature, how we’re surrounded by mountains and lakes and islands on the Puget Sound. I draw a lot of inspiration from nature.

Why do you think Seattle’s music scene has always been so vibrant?There’s something definitely in the water, or the weather, that produces a lot of great bands. It’s a really inspiring environment. I think because it’s a smaller market, the music scene in Seattle has historically been less commercially-motivated than a bigger city like New York or LA.

Favorite local venue you’ve played? Favorite local venue to see a show at?
It’s hard to pick a favorite right now. I truly love every single venue I’ve played here in Seattle and I hope they can get back on their feet someday soon. Some of my favorite memories have been at places like Fremont Abbey, the Triple Door, and the Tractor Tavern, as well as our many underground DIY venues and houses.

You just released the album Melonday, can you briefly describe this album and how it compares to previous albums?
It was a really fun challenge to make these pop songs with my friend Yuuki Matthews. It’s been a secret dream of mine for a long time and I’m very happy and excited with how it turned out. So far the response has been amazing. KEXP has been playing it a ton, which I’m really grateful for, and people have been telling me it’s helped them keep their spirits up during the pandemic. Making this album opened a lot of doors for me creatively and I’m excited to see what happens next.

What was it like to release an album right in the middle of a pandemic? In what ways was it difficult? Were there any unexpected pluses?
It was not ideal, obviously, and it was hard pretty much losing all of the gigs I had scheduled to promote the album. The bright side, I suppose, is that it forced me to be creative with the release. My label Porchlight Records was incredibly supportive during this time and helped me pivot pretty quickly to doing everything on our own from home. I made a couple videos while locked down at my home, and I also performed a record release live stream. The support from my fans has been incredible, and I think because of the slowed-down pace of life it actually gave people more time to sit with the record, which is really nice. Still, I can’t wait till I can play these songs on stage with my band in front of an actual audience!

Where can people find your music? How can they support you and other local musicians during this pandemic?
People can find my music on my website tomonakayama.com, and also at local record stores like PorchlightEasy StreetSonic Boom, and Light in the Attic.

The best way for folks to support music, besides buying records and watching live streams and donating money, is simply to share the music with your friends. Talk about your favorite records on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, etc and help get the word out. It makes a huge difference!

Favorite song from a Seattle area artist OR about Seattle/the PNW?
“Transatlanticism” by Death Cab for Cutie

Anything else you’d like to add/promote?