Music

Justin Wade Tam Goes Outside His Humming House to Reveal "Colors of My Mind" (premiere + interview)

Photo courtesy of Justin Wade Tam

After forming and fronting his own Americana band eight years ago, Humming House's Justin Wade Tam breaks away — if only for a moment — to see the light as a solo artist with a new music video and an upcoming EP.

Justin Wade Tam has taken his first major step toward a solo music career but that doesn't mean he is moving out of Humming House, the Nashville-based Americana group the lead singer-songwriter-frontman-guitarist founded in 2011.

He will release his gracefully tranquil four-song EP called A Place to Land on 25 October, and to give fans a sneak peek, is presenting the music video premiere of "Colors of My Mind" today at PopMatters.

"I've had these four songs swimming around in my head for the past year or two," Tam said in response to a series of email questions for this article. "They feel more personal and reflective, and so it seemed appropriate to put them out on my own.

"It's strange. There's a level of permanence to putting my given name on a batch of songs that is simultaneously terrifying and thrilling. But I figure, if something scares me creatively, I might as well give it a whirl."

So the music video, directed and produced by Jacq Justice and shot in the living room of Tam's East Nashville house by director of cinematography Cody Duncum, fits nicely with the theme of "Colors of My Mind", the EP's opening song that premiered on 30 August.

"'Colors of My Mind' was written about the cycles of light and life in my living room," offered Tam, who said he has written four albums there. "It's the space that has housed the creation of the majority of my songs, and probably helped shape them. … The light shifting through the windows each day is a constant that I find calming. I wanted to capture that calming space in this song."

After first hearing the song, Justice related the cycle of light during the day to the cycle of aging, and Tam liked that interpretation so much that it was incorporated into the video. The characters, from small children, a young artist and a content couple to an elderly gentleman and even the Tam's family dog Ginny, fade in and out, representing "the cycle of aging and impermanence like the shifting light in the room," Tam said.

The video, he added, was shot on vintage Lomo anamorphic lenses, "capturing the light as it changed throughout the day. The vintage lenses brought out the melancholy reflective color I was hoping they would."

While his friends Tim and Lisa Beckner, playing apparent life partners establishing their roots, appear in the video, along with their kids Abby and Ben, Tam (as "sort of a transparent narrator that comes and goes") will probably understand if "one of my four-legged furry children" steals the show from everyone, including himself.

"She spends even more time in our living room than I do," Tam said of Ginny. "My wife (Kacie) thinks we should rename the tune 'Ginny's Song' … perhaps she is right."

So check out the elegant presentation of "Colors of My Mind", (or maybe "Ginny's Song"?), then read on to learn more about the upcoming EP, along with Tam's plans for Humming House and his solo career.

Justin Wade Tam performs with Humming House in 2014 at AmericanaFest in Nashville. (Photo: Michael Bialas)

A Place to Land was produced and engineered by Jordan Lehning, who previously worked with Tam on Humming House's third and most recent studio album, 2017's Companion.

"He's turned into one of my favorite collaborators," Tam said. "He really bought these songs to life with his production choices. I feel fortunate to have worked with him. We kept the production minimal intentionally, and I'm really happy with the result."

It all took place in Lehning's East Nashville studio called The Duck, fleshing out the arrangements "in real time," as opposed to when Humming House arranges songs as a group before they enter the studio.

"The Duck is an inspiring place to work with a great sounding tracking room," Tam said. "You can really hear the live room on the EP, which I like very much."

Tam wrote all four songs on the EP and supplies the stirringly smooth lead vocals and a soothing acoustic guitar, but is ably assisted by close friends Quentin Flowers (upright bass), Kristen Rogers (background vocals) and Humming House's Bobby Chase (violin and background vocals), along with Lehning (multiple instruments, background vocals) and Leif Shires (flugelhorn, trumpet).

All four accomplished members of Humming House — also including Joshua Wolak (mandolin) and Benjamin Jones (upright bass) — have been involved in other projects or are focusing on everyday life. Yet this versatile band of brothers that straddles numerous genres is still being heard, and certainly knows how to roll out the rock.

Photo courtesy of Justin Wade Tam

Tam said they put out two previously unreleased B-sides ("Today Is My Day", "Anywhere") and made some festival appearances this summer, and are "working toward a new Humming House project in 2020. I don't have specific details yet, but I'm pretty thrilled about it."

In the meantime, Tam has plans to tour as a solo artist for shows with Angel Snow in November and December, then consider his options.

"As far as my solo plans are concerned, I'm open," Tam said. "I hope to continue to release work that is honest, meaningful, and that brings people joy. My songwriting has always helped me make sense of the world, and so having this new solo outlet to connect with other humans is exciting."

Tam also recorded a song with an unnamed artist from Los Angeles that they want to co-release in early 2020 ("More on that soon!" he promised), and has compiled a list of other future collaborators that he kept to himself.

"The collaborative spirit of Nashville is at the heart of what's kept me here," Tam acknowledged. "I've had the privilege of co-writing with incredible people, and I feel like I learn something new every time. It's one of my favorite things about this city."

Only Tam knows which place he'll land next as a recording artist — but you can bet it will be with feet first, firmly planted and grounded.

Photo courtesy of Justin Wade Tam

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