Justin Wade Tam is a busy fellow. Since arriving from his San Diego hometown and studying at Belmont University, he’s helped found Harmony Republic, which evolved into Music City Unsigned, a splendid support organization for musicians and community-minded folks. He’s managed events and become a director at Musicians Corner, the wonderful outdoor concert series at Centennial Park. And, little surprise, he’s a musician. But what is surprising is that his new band, Humming House, has taken off like one of the 1930s speedsters pictured inside the debut album.
This week’s lineup features talent from all three stages of artist life. A veteran rocker/writer/philosopher in David Olney. A new duo in The Roys. And an established, evolving soulgrass band in The Steeldrivers. But the band we think you might be seeing in some pretty prominent places over the next few years is Humming House. They turned my head first when they were featured in a WPLN story about the evolution of music videos, and the video of the song in question, “Gypsy Django” featured a joyful house party and a song that mixed the raucous with the refined. And anybody who celebrates the great Django Reinhartd is a mensch in my book.
So I looked up Justin and asked him about the band. He got serious about music at the ripe old age of 22 and founded the duo “quote,” which played 150 dates in its first year. Then: “we started this Irish jam at my house with traditional pub songs. That’s what got our mandolin player involved,” he said. “I was going to do a (solo) record with a guy named Mitch Dane (the Grammy-winning Jars of Clay producer). I basically put a band together for the sessions. And out of that it was clear we were all good friends and it went so well it birthed the band.”
Key to the sound are the vocals of soul singer Kristen Rogers. She in turn recommended bassist Ben Jones, who has a composing/classical background, always lovely in a bass player. Rounding out the tam is mandolinist Joshua Wolak whose key influence was bluegrass. And then there’s Mike Butera, an electric guitarist with a PhD in something called sound studies, so I’ll be picking his brain like a nerd fanboy.
So, the band was ready to go, but then, a twist of fate. Dane had a family emergency on the eve of the sessions and called in as his replacement Vance Powell, a remarkable producer and engineer who’s worked most recently with The Raconteurs and other Jack White projects. They feverishly worked out arrangements right up to tracking time and popped off a record that Tam thinks sounds more spontaneous and vivid for it. “We went from zero to sixty pretty fast,” he says. The video did well and launched a buzz, and the band’s exploratory trip to LA to seek TV and film connections has already paid off. Humming House is getting great reviews and they landed management and a booking agency, which is something most bands struggle to line up for years.
Their sound is fresh but fits what’s going on right now in the Mumford/Avett Bros. part of the mainstream. The folk revolution is on baby, and these guys look to be valiant, entertaining troopers.
I hope our other guests will not object to my zeroing in on this exciting group, for we do have an awesome lineup this week. David Olney, whose long history in Nashville’s music scene and Americana is a book unto itself, is in the middle of a sort of trilogy of mini-LPs. The newest, coming in late March, is The Stone, a concept piece that tells the story of the death and resurrection of Jesus from a non-partisan, you-were-there kind of approach. Should be truly interesting. We’ll also hear from The Roys, a bro and sis team that make original bluegrass just this side of country. And we get a return visit by The Steeldrivers, a supergroup that’s settling into a key personnel change, adding mandolinist Brent Truitt in place of founding member Mike Henderson.
That sounds like chemistry to me. Come over to our house on Wednesday. It’ll be humming.