Before gracing CMJ charts with his solo record and composing for a Lynn Shelton film. Before Grand Hallway become one of Seattle’s most beloved bands. Before gigs at Bumbershoot and write-ups on NPR, Tomo Nakayama first got started playing open mics at a divey little place called Coffee Messiah.
The former café on Capitol Hill’s E Olive Way (where In the Bowl Vegetarian Noodle Bistro now stands) was an adored haven for misfits and counterculture, now gone. Says Nakayama, “I started playing open mics at Coffee Messiah during my freshman year at UW. I’d spent all my years before that living a pretty sheltered life across the lake on the east side. It was eye-opening to meet all these crusty punks and anarchists, homeless guys playing chess, vegans and poets and bakers—all outsiders who found a home in this crazy cafe with a disco ball in the bathroom.”
Tomo played a snippet of Grand Hallway’s “Raindrops” to remember a place where he felt a sense of community before he’d found his footing in the music scene. “We were all supportive of each other, because we were just people looking for a place to be heard,” he says wistfully. “I miss that place.”
This film is the fifth in a series produced in collaboration with the Northwest Film Forum’s #CitizenMinutes project, featuring Ghosts of Seattle Past contributors sharing the lost Seattle spaces they miss. Be sure to also check out Chris Porter waxing nostalgic about Sit & Spin, as well as Sarah Galvin performing poetry in front of Malden Ave and E Mercer, Hollis Wong-Wear remembering The Capitol Club, and Paul Constant paying homage to On 15th Video.
Tomo Nakayama is a singer/instrumentalist/songwriter/producer from Seattle, Washington. Known for his crystalline high-tenor voice and intricate chamber folk compositions, Tomo’s music has been praised by NPR, the New York Times, and KEXP. Fog On The Lens is his first solo album, made after nearly a decade fronting beloved Seattle band Grand Hallway and composing for and acting opposite Ellen Page in Lynn Shelton’s Sundance Grand Jury nominated film Touchy Feely. Fog On The Lens spent 8 weeks on the CMJ Top 200. Tomo has also composed music for movies and TV, and collaborated with numerous bands and composers including Sera Cahoone, Gold Leaves, The Moondoggies, The Maldives, Jesse Sykes, Portland Cello Project, and Jherek Bischoff.