Musician Tomo Nakayama. Photo by Sung Park.

A decade ago, local musician Tomo Nakayama recorded his album Fog on the Lens on site at Town Hall Seattle. Now, for the album’s ten-year anniversary, Nakayama returns to Town Hall on June 7 to perform the album for a live audience. 

When he recorded the album in 2014, using a single microphone plugged into his laptop, Nakayama strove to capture the natural acoustics of Town Hall. “I treated the Great Hall and the different rooms of Town Hall as an instrument itself, and I think that really gave the album a unique sound that can’t be replicated with a simple plug-in or technical shortcut,” Nakayama recalled. “I knew so little about home recording techniques at the time that those limitations became an asset of sorts when working on this album.”  

Recording Fog on the Lens in this way was a watershed moment for him. “It marked the point in my life where I decided to dedicate myself full time to music,” he said. “In many ways, it reflects my creative process in its purest form, without the luxury of quantizing or auto-tuning or the various other techniques that can become a little more of a crutch in modern recording.”  

Not long after he finished the recording, Nakayama embarked on a U.S. concert tour and then performed at the Triple Door.  

Then in 2017, he released a new album, Pieces of Sky. “My friend Wier Harman, Town Hall’s Executive Director for many years, was a big fan of Pieces of the Sky and the title track in particular,” Nakayama shared. “We sang the song together at a gala event at Town Hall and I sang the song for him again at his memorial early this year after he passed away from cancer. He was a wonderful supporter of the arts and I owe a lot of my career to him.”  

Later, just after the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, Nakayama released Melonday, which he describes as a series of secret pop songs that he and his collaborator Yuuki Matthews created just for fun. “It came out at a time when everyone was locked inside and needed something joyful and physical to move to,” Nakayama said. “It wasn’t the ideal way to release an album, but I do have fond memories of how people responded to the music.” 

For Nakayama, the pandemic shifted his identity as a musician, and gave him time to reassess his values and priorities. “The months of lockdown and the interest people showed in my livestreams and releases reminded me how much the arts mean to people,” he said. “It showed me that what I do as a musician has a tangible value in the world.” 

This tighter focus has allowed Nakayama to explore some new artistic avenues. “Since the pandemic, I’ve scored my first feature film, Megan Griffith’s I’ll Show You Mine, as well as a soundtrack for an experimental dance performance by local company Malacarne that took place at the Inscape building in the International District,” he said.  “And I also got to compose some music for the KUOW podcast Ten Thousand Things hosted by poet Shin Yu Pai.”  

Nakayama appreciates these broader horizons. “My hope is to keep stretching out and collaborating with different folks within and outside of the music world,” he said. “It’s taught me to put even more of my energy and focus into working on projects that truly interest and inspire me, with people who share similar values, who challenge me and push me in new directions.”   

One of those new directions is a brief tour in Japan this spring. “This trip will be the first time I’ve visited Japan since the pandemic,” he said. “I’m excited to see my friends and relatives, and I’m especially excited that I get to perform in my home town of Kochi.” 

Nakayama is also on the lineup of the Fisherman’s Village Music Festival 2024, alongside seventeen other artists at the Apex Art and Cultural Center in Everett.  

Nakayama’s Town Hall show in June is a tribute to his roots. “The vinyl of Fog on the Lens had been out of print for many years, and being a small independent label, it was not so easy for Porchlight to re-press the album,” he explained. “But it just so happened that the re-press finally happened to coincide with the tenth anniversary of its release, and it seemed like the timing made for a good opportunity to celebrate it and revisit the album in a live setting, in the actual venue where it was recorded.” 

He is very grateful for this unique opportunity. “It’s not very often that you get to look back and take stock of your career like this,” he said. “We’ll also be screening a short documentary that my friend Ryan McMackin filmed during my residency, to give people an idea of what the process looked like.” 

As he approaches ten years of earning a living through music, Nakayama expresses a sense of wonder. “I feel very proud of that and very, very lucky,” he said. “I’m excited to perform these songs with my group, to see how much we’ve grown and how the songs decide to take shape in the present tense.” 

Tomo Nakayama will perform on June 7 at Town Hall Seattle, 1119 Eighth Avenue, Seattle. 

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