Spotlight features interviews with musicians and industry professionals who contribute to our success.
This week we proudly feature singer-songwriter and Pacific Northwest music staple Tomo Nakayama. Tomo has been a fixture in the Seattle music community for a long time, has released solo records and been a part of many successful bands and tours. We talked about being a professional musician in the digital age, his collaborators, putting art first, and much, much more.
Artists like Tomo are performing for Gigs4U every day in the Seattle area. If you book corporate events, private parties or just need top notch musicians and sound professionals for a one-of-a-kind concert experience, fill out the form at the bottom of this page for more information.
How long have you been playing professionally?
I started writing songs pretty soon after I got my first guitar at 13. I started my first band at 20 and toured for many years, but it’s really only been in the last 5-6 years that I’ve been able to make a living solely off music.
Listening through your catalog, there is a lot of variance stylistically and texturally. Who would you say are some of your biggest influences?
A few of my favorite artists are Bjork, Ron Sexsmith, Paul Simon, Elliott Smith, Cornelius, The Beatles, Arthur Russell, Judee Sill, and Nina Simone. I’d say my biggest influences though are the folks I’ve gotten to play music with over the years, like Jeremy Enigk, Grant Olsen, and Sera Cahoone.
When did you start working with Gigs4U and how did it come about?
I very accidentally got into busking at the airport when I missed a flight in Chicago a few years ago and ended up playing a few songs by my gate just for fun. I’d heard about Seatac’s music program and I reached out to my friend Kate Becker who at the time was at the Seattle Office of Film and Music, and she very kindly put me in touch with Gigs4U. Ramona and Ed and all the folks there have been a joy to work with and I’m really thankful that they’ve created this unique avenue for musicians to make money.
What is the most interesting/weirdest thing that’s happened during one of your performances at the airport?
There are too many to count, and I’d really love to write a book about it one day. It seems like almost every gig I have at least one really intense and surprising interaction with a traveler that reminds me of the power of music. There’s an intimacy and an emotional openness in the environment that’s hard to put a finger on, but it makes it different from any other gig I’ve played.
So you said you do music full-time the last five or six years. How does that work in today’s world? What avenues are you using to generate income?
I’ve been a full time musician for the last few years and I feel very lucky to somehow still be able to make a living. Gigs like the airport are definitely a huge part of it, as are my own shows and touring. I also compose music for licensing and for film/TV and I’ve had some success there. The music industry has changed so much in the last decade. People are no longer buying records like they used to but I quite enjoy the challenge of thinking outside the box and finding new ways to make it interesting and sustainable.
You are hosting a Hygge Party at Fremont Arts Abby on Thursday, January 23rd with ings and Sophia Duccini. I had no idea what a Hygge Party was until I looked it up. Can you tell us more about what a Hygge Party is and what to expect from your show?
Hygge is a Scandinavian word that describes coziness and warmth, and we thought it would be an appropriate theme for this show, being in the darkest days of winter. We are going to have a candle exchange at the show, so audience members are encouraged to bring a candle and trade it with a fellow concert goer. We’ll have hot chocolate and tea and it should be a lot of fun. It’s going to be a very cozy evening of really great music and community, and hopefully some surprises as well.
You’ve toured and released a lot of music. What advice would you give to younger musicians just starting out who want to give a music career a shot?
Just to always focus on the music, first and foremost. There’s so much pressure these days to Instagram everything you do and pay attention to metrics on Spotify or whatever, but none of that matters at the end of the day. If you do what you love and put in the work to be the best musician you can be, the rest will follow. If a song means something to you, and it genuinely moves you, you gotta figure someone somewhere will appreciate it.
What songs of yours are you most proud of, lyrically?
It’s changing constantly, like whatever I’m working on at the moment is usually my favorite song. I do have a song called “Roscoe (What a Gift)” that’s meant a lot to me over the years, and I still play it in my sets. The lyric “Sometimes I do regret, sometimes I just forget/I play music with my old friends/Oh what a gift to be born/What a gift to be alive” has been kind of my motto and I try to remember that whenever I feel down.
Any other shows/new releases/tours/etc. you want to talk about? Where can we find you online?
I’ve got a new album coming out in the spring, with more shows and info coming soon on tomonakayama.com!