Tomo Nakayama: Busker Do

Tomo Nakayama’s intimate songs of quiet intensity

After 10 years of writing songs and singing in Grand Hallway, one of Seattle’s best chamber-pop bands, Tomo Nakayama decided to change direction. Following a period of soul searching, he started busking at Sea-Tac Airport, with just his guitar in hand.

“People from all over the world come through the airport,” says Nakayama. “When you see people out of context, a bit out of their element, it’s fascinating.”

Playing the songs he wrote for Grand Hallway, as well as his new original material, was a revelation. “Singing my songs in between covers by Sam Cooke, the Velvet Underground and other artists I admire helped refine and simplify my songwriting,” he says. “I found common threads between the songs I loved and incorporated them into my music. I love it when a song feels timeless, familiar, like it’s always existed. That’s the bar I set for myself with Pieces Of Sky.”

The songs on Pieces Of Sky (Ricebelly) have a quiet, intimate intensity. The music is subtle and full of delicate nuances, but they explore a wide dynamic and emotional range. Nakayama’s hushed vocals drift along on waves of mellow synthesizer and twinkling acoustic guitars.

“It’s an introspective record,” says Nakayama. “I think part of that was by design, and partly a result of recording at home. Most of the songs were recorded as they were being written, so they have a certain rawness and immediacy. ‘All Entwined,’ for example, is about the passage of time and all the relationships and experiences that inform who we are. I suppose there is an inherent sadness in that, but overall, it’s an optimistic record. Love to me is joy and sadness in equal measure. It’s all a necessary part of the experience of being alive.”

j. poet