Grand Hallway
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Grand Hallway

Seattle, Washington, United States

Seattle, Washington, United States
Band Pop Folk

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"Seattle Sound"

Wednesday was a night of firsts for Grand Hallway: It was the band’s first time headlining Neumos, its first time performing some new material it recorded over the winter, and its first time playing with new member Shenandoah Davis. Fortunately, unlike some other first-times we can think of, Grand Hallway’s night of debuts was neither awkward nor bumbling. Instead, the now-eight member orchestral pop group proved its headliner chops, delivering a stirring performance and capping off a solid local bill that also featured Johanna Kunin and Carrie Biell.

All I can say about Grand Hallway that I haven’t said before is that this band continues to impress me. Its albums are lush, gorgeous affairs, filled with tender lulls and rousing, heart-wrenching climaxes. Live, Grand Hallway loses none of the delightful subtleties and intricate arrangements found on its recordings, bringing together piano, violins, and pedal steel, among other instruments in impressive harmony. Wednesday night the band elevated this already-potent live show by adding another talented musician to the mix. Singer-songwriter Shenandoah Davis made her first appearance as an official member of the band, lending vocals, piano, and accordion to Grand Hallway’s panoply of instruments. It was a seemingly predestined move; as frontman Tomo Nakayama pointed out, Davis’ boyfriend is named Grant Holloway.

Grand Hallway’s new songs also did not disappoint. After playing some highlights from its past releases, including “Darling, Wife” and “Seward Park”, Grand Hallway played five or so new songs from a yet-to-be-released album the band recorded and mixed over the winter. The new tracks included “Under the Roof,” a song, as Nakayama described, “about living in a tiny apartment in the U-District”; “Happy New Year,” which Nakayama preceded by leading the crowd in a New Year’s Eve-style countdown; and the jubilant “Honey Bee” (currently streaming on Grand Hallway’s MySpace. The night ended on a tender note, with Nakayama crooning solo, “I spend most every night / wondering how you are.” - Seattle Sound Magazine


"Album/Live Review"

"Grand Hallway's debut album, Yes Is the Answer, glows brightly with warm, delicate orchestration and thoughtful song structures. Smooth piano and swooning strings only slightly take the spotlight over Tomo Nakayama's tender crooning. The songs are sometimes sad ("Seward Park"), sometimes loving, and at times even playful ("Piano Room"). Slide guitar gives a light country flare to the otherwise poppy "Minimum Wage," while wind instruments and layers of plunking piano, violin, and guitar bring a slight Japanese folk sound to "Darling, Wife." On record the band successfully maintain a mesmerizing beauty, and with their cresting instrumentation and dynamic mood shifts, Grand Hallway's greatness can only flourish when delivered live." - MEGAN SELING - The Stranger


"WC Performer Review"

"Grand Hallway joins the departed Seldom and The Prom in the area's pantheon of talented, young, piano-based pop bands. Led by singer and songwriter Tomo Nakayama, the group has created an album of orchestrated chamber pop that manages to be simultaneously lush and delicate, all while maintaining Nakayama's personal and idiosyncratic vision.

Nakayama's songwriting builds on a classic pop foundation with complex, sophisticated structures and arrangements for strings and other instruments, like "bottle flute" and pedal steel (one of the most beautiful instruments when used judiciously, as it is in "Waltz (On a Headache)" and "Minimum Wage"). Befitting the exquisite Beatles' Revolver-meets-origami cover illustration, there's a distinct inflection of traditional Japanese music in the crescendoing "Darling, Wife" and McCartney-esque flourishes elsewhere. Nakayama also does well by Neil Young with a delicate cover of Young's "Philadelphia," one of the most indelible and moving moments on the album.

Like Young, there's an expressive fragility to Nakayama's voice. He sings in a fluid, soaring tenor and falsetto that ranges between a less over-the-top Jeff Buckley and a less-strident Sean Nelson of Harvey Danger. It's well suited to his lyrics, which combine unforced sentimental romanticism ("I want a place to go when it's dark and cold / I want someone to hold even when I'm old / And I want to settle down, settle down with you," from "Brooklyn") and storytelling with gentle brushes of surreal imagery ("Mushroom cloud over your bed / After it has crawled into your head / Forms a giant novel to be read," from "Giant Novels"). "Napoleon's Left Shoe" even indulges in some Lewis Carroll-style wordplay. This kind of eccentricity that Nakayama brings to Grand Hallway's music is ultimately even more seductive than its polished surface." -Mike Baehr - West Coast Performer Magazine


"CDBaby Review"

"With lilting melodies that are quietly spellbinding, Grand Hallway puts forth this record of lovely, roomy, and melancholic piano pop. Just when you think you've settled into the gaunt beauty of drums and piano, a profusion of strings, pedal steel, and vibraphone slide, and then burst out of the seams of this recording, leaving their colorful trails over the tape until they disappear from earshot again. The perfectly delicate and restrained, but dreamy nature of Tomo Nakayama's lead vocals puts a sobering face of reality on these songs; while many of the instruments are often enough running riot behind the melodies, Nakayama's fine-drawn vocal themes are padding through the reigned-in ruckus. Beyond the actual instrumentation, these are songs that never become predictable as time signature and tempo changes take you from gauzy, ride-heavy 4/4 verses to frenetically waltzing bridges and choruses. It's a nostalgia-inducing tearjerker of a record that makes you feel a little better for having heard it… and felt it." - CDBaby.com


"Lineout Show Review"

"Here's the setup: one piano for lead vocalist/band mastermind Tomo Nakayama, two violinists, one cello, bassist (half standup, half electric), and drummer. Hardly your typical band setup, and the sound was equally fresh-sounding. At times Tomo's singing reminded me of Bends-era Thom Yorke, other times it drew more from his Asian heritage, while the orchestral leanings of the band sounded like something right off the Morr Music roster (B. Fleishmann specifically) or a kindred spirit to the new Cinematic Orchestra. It was still indie-pop at the end of the night, but this was indie-pop with ambition. When else do you see a band where half of the members look dressed for a recital (they had sheet music!), the other half ready for a night of beer-drinkin' at Linda's? My only annoyance with the performance was that I'd never heard of Grand Hallway before to share the gospel. Now that I have, I am. They've found a spot on my must-see list. They belong on yours as well." - Lineout/The Stranger


"Threeimaginarygirls.com"

"I know of no singer that has a better voice than Tomo Nakayama. I also don't know of a more gorgeous record to be released in 2007, locally or otherwise." - Threeimaginarygirls Blog


"Promenade Record Review"

It’s practically a cliché in these days of Twitter and Facebook to peg a rising musical phenomenon as being poised for a breakthrough in the mainstream, or to assign them the title of “the next big thing.” While Myspace and Youtube will occasionly lead you to a group that is indeed worthy of the “buzz band” tag, it also seems inevitable that you’ll encounter a barrage of sonically inept hacks who think that access to a laptop and a microphone reserves them the right to unleash their musical visions on the rest of the planet.

I’m not sure if the folks that make up Seattle’s Grand Hallway are even considered a buzz band as of yet, but such a label would only help to reinforce the idea that they are mere novices, trying to compete with everyone else in cyberspace for just a bit of your time and money. They certainly don’t sound like it. Leader Tomo Nakayama and his rotating cast of ensemble musicians play with a confidence uncommon to most burgeoning indie acts. As it happens, the songs on their second album, Promenade, also happen to make good on the implications of majesty and beauty in its title. With extraordinarily varied instrumentation that includes violin, vibraphone, banjo, mandolin, as well as the omnipresent guitars and drums, Grand Hallway specializes in fragile and achingly gorgeous chamber pop that is just as transcendent as anything the Arcade Fire can pull off. But unlike Win Butler’s crew, the music of Grand Hallway is rarely, if ever, theatrical; never has vulnerability seem so coolly assured.

Making a nod to his Asian heritage, Nakayama has peppered the LP with oriental flavor. Whether it’s the occasional pentatonic scale or lyrics sung in Japanese, images of the Far East factor prominently into the music, even as the vaguely country-ish tones of a banjo and pedal steel float by.

Promenade is a perfectly sequenced listen from start to finish, but the band makes its boldest statements in the first batch of songs. Opener “Raindrops (Matsuri)” features soaring wordless vocals, a catchy trumpet countermelody, and technically demanding acoustic guitar work. The tune is the first of many audacious love songs in which simple statements like “I want to be with you when you’re starting out,” come across with startling gravity. “Blessed Be, Honey Bee” is another example of the band’s tremendous songwriting capabilities, featuring handclaps and joyful lead vocals that seamlessly blend with a chorus of falsetto voices. The track is a musically enrapturing take on being in love, even as Nakayama contemplates dormancy with lyrics like, “When you’re laying next to me / I’m a hibernating grizzly bear.”

Every track on Promenade is a winner, but the album’s most arresting song is easily “In a Cave.” With gauzy vibraphones, feather-light vocals, and ghostly piano harmonies, the song’s lilting groove is perfectly suited to a sunset walk on the beach. You simply can’t help but slacken your pace a bit and take a deep breath as Nakayama sings, “Feel the earth move slowly ‘neath your hurried feet.”

Closer to album’s end is the mini-epic “Sirens,” which features some disarming and dramatic volume swells that show just how well the band understands the concept of tension and release. After hearing such tenuous piano melodies and cynical lyrics deriding the glamorous notion of dating musicians (I’m getting much too old / it’s not funny anymore / you think it’s so romantic / the life of a musician / who is poor”), the song’s outro shakes itself loose with an uninhibited jam that comes at precisely the right moment.

At this point, no extended metaphors or witty non-sequiturs on my part can provide any further justification for making this LP part of your collection. When it’s released to the general public on September 15, I think you’ll find the music speaks for itself. - Delusions of Adequacy


Discography

"Live at the Triple Door" (DVD/DigDownload, 2010) - Performed with 50 piece orchestra and children's choir

"Promenade" (LP, 2009) - added to regular rotation on KEXP, WOXY, WUPX, KAOS, Radio UTD, WKDU, and others.

"Yes Is The Answer" (LP, 2007) - received airplay on KEXP, as well as KDVS and various other college and Japanese stations.

"We Flew Ephemera" (EP, 2008)

Photos

Bio

Grand Hallway is singer/multi-instrumentalist Tomo Nakayama and a cast of some of Seattle's finest musicians. Their lush, melodic chamber pop songs evoke influences such as Andrew Bird, Sigur Ros, and Nina Simone. Since their inception in 2006, they have self-released two full-lengths (2007's "Yes is the Answer" and 2009's "Promenade"), and an EP ("We Flew Ephemera", 2008). "Yes is the Answer" was also released in Japan by Sideout Records (Bright Eyes, Nada Surf, Cursive, The Velvet Teen).

"Promenade", was recorded at Studio Litho in the fall of 2008 with engineer Shawn Simmons. Refining and expanding upon the sounds of their debut album, "Promenade" finds Grand Hallway maturing into a cohesive ensemble with an utterly unique musical vision. Bathed in layers of piano, guitar, violins, banjo and mandolin, "Promenade" is a fractured narrative of the dissolution of one relationship and the beginning of another; each story narrated by Nakayama in an unabashedly romantic and naked lyrical voice. Upon its release, "Promenade" received glowing reviews and heavy airplay on prominent radio stations such as KEXP and WOXY. It made several year-end best-of lists, including NPR's "Top Discoveries of 2009", and the song "Raindrops (Matsuri)" was named on Amazon.com's list of "Best Songs of 2009". Grand Hallway have honed their dynamic live show with multiple tours of the US and Japan (with Arthur and Yu and Shugo Tokumaru), sold-out shows at local venues such as Neumo's, Tractor Tavern, and the Triple Door, and performances at festivals such as Sasquatch, Bumbershoot, SXSW, and CMJ, building a solid and loyal fanbase along the way.

Grand Hallway is currently recording their third full-length in Portland at Scenic Burrows and Type Foundry with contributions from members of the Portland Cello Project, Nick Jaina, and Carcrashlander. The new record is due out early 2011.

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Grand Hallway have shared the stage with: Shearwater, Robin Pecknold (Fleet Foxes), Damien Jurado, The Thermals, Cave Singers, Throw Me The Statue, Helio Sequence, Noah and the Whale, Loney Dear, Headlights, Shugo Tokumaru, Arthur and Yu, Moondoggies, Pica Beats, Laura Gibson, Loch Lomond, and many more.