Tomo Nakayama has been singing for as long as he can remember. He wrote his first song on viola around the age of 11 for an elementary school art contest and says that, since then, songwriting has been the one constant in his life which he frequently uses as “a way of processing and expressing feelings things that I otherwise couldn’t.” He finds the writing process to be, “a pretty simple, intuitive process,” which consists of “just pushing words and notes around until you find something that feels good.” Though he recently wrote about his pets, Nakayama tends to gravitate toward the themes of love, nature, and death. He writes his songs as though each one will be his last because, “I always feel like…I’m gonna run out of things to say…luckily that hasn’t happened yet.” Song ideas often stem during walks with his dog as, “That’s when the best ideas seem to come, when I’m just humming and whistling to myself (and the dog).” Nakayama’s sound is frequently compared to Iron&Wine and Elliott Smith in addition to Paul Simon, a comparison he understands because, “we’re about the same height.”
Nakayama performed as a Busker at SeaTac Airport and still occasionally busks. He enjoys the freedom of singing what he pleases at any given moment “be it an original or a cover, or a work in progress or even a completely made up song on the spot…It’s a lot of… responding in the moment to your surroundings.” Nakayama adds that he enjoys the people watching that comes with busking and that hearing music in an unexpected place is a nice change of pace, “both for myself and for the audience.” The connections he has made with other people while busking have, “been way more intense and personal than the average show, where one comes in with a set of expectations.”
In addition to busking, Nakayama’s previous projects include acting in the 2013 drama Touchy Feely. During production he discovered his interest in the film-making process in addition to acting in front of the camera. He was surprised to discover his interest in acting and hopes to have the opportunity to participate in film again as he loved collaborating and being a part of something bigger than himself.
Nakayama has also been collaborating musically as of late. He previously preferred songwriting as a solitary process for himself, but has been, “branching out,” and collaborating on new music with friend Yuuki Matthews. While he can’t divulge many details, he says that he is currently having more fun making music than he has at any prior point in his life. You can hear Tomo Nakayama’s music on Bandcamp (http://tomomusic.bandcamp.com), Spotify, or by purchasing a record, “the old fashioned way,” at Sonic Boom or at any of his future shows including at the Sunset on April 12. Additionally, on April 13 Nakayama will be playing with Grand Hallway, his “primary creative outlet for eight years or so,” at the Neptune, where Nakayama previously worked during its days as a movie theater. Before Grand Hallway, Nakayama played in Asahi, an indie rock band which is also reuniting in June to play Upstream Music Festival. The singer-songwriter says that his shows consist of, “a lot of crying and hugging and people calling their parents afterwards,” so make sure to catch one of them.
Frida Clements, Nakayama’s wife, as a prominent source of inspiration in life as well as his, “main sounding board during the creative process.” He says that when he gets stuck in his work, he can talk with Frida and work through developing concepts. Frida, too, bounces ideas off of her husband. Their ideas effectively bleed into each other’s art as displayed by Tomo’s 2017 album release, Pieces of Sky, which Frida created the cover for. Her artwork was heavily influenced by trips the couple made to visit their families in Sweden and Japan.
Nakayama loves the sense of community in Ballard and hopes, “that can continue to remain strong amidst all the growth and change.” When in the area, he frequents Hattie’s Hat, Conor Byrne, and Hotel Albatross. He says Seattle is his home and he doesn’t see himself leaving any time soon. His favorite local artists include Sera Cahoone, Tiny Vipers, Whitney Ballen, Heatwarmer, Childbirth, and LAKE.
When asked about a musical end goal, Nakayama explains he does not have one pinpointed because “making music is not so much an end goal, but a process or a state of being.” As a Mariners fan, one goal he does have is playing music at Safeco field. His main challenge as an artist is “balancing making a living and making art just for the sake of making art.” He continues to say, “It’s totally possible, you just have to be adaptable and continue to learn and grow.” His parting words for aspiring musicians are: “Practice your instrument, play lots of shows, drink lots of water, and don’t be an asshole.”