Humming House with Becca Mancari
Saturday, November 4, 2017
21+ $12 ADV // $14 DOS
Turning on the radio, computer, or television can seem like a gamble, at best. Each new tuning offers a deluge of anxieties to greet us. In the face of this 21st century tumult, Humming House is on a quest. They do not want to wish away the pain and fear all too real in our lives, but to put those elements in conversation with the elements that sustain us: hope, partnership, even joy. And so, their newest album begins with Tam’s unmistakable voice intoning, “I want to be your companion.” It’s an appropriate beginning for a band who has built itself on complex musicianship and careful collaboration. They know the value of hard work and compromise. Their music is evidence of the thrill of creativity.
Humming House is Justin Wade Tam, Bobby Chase, Joshua Wolak, and Benjamin Jones. The band formed organically out of jam sessions that Tam held in his living room in East Nashville—evidence that some of the best projects come from spontaneous collaboration and the subsequent seeing it through. Now, three albums and six years later, Humming House continues to embody what is best about the Nashville each transplant chooses to call home.
What Humming House does so well is paint sonic landscapes that are at once compelling and honest, even in the most rollicking of songs. Revelries, Humming House’s second full-length album released in 2015, was largely influenced by the band’s history of touring. Its songs revealed the power and revelations that come from travel. Companion, to be released by Soundly on the 6th of October 2017, continues to pursue that which transforms. In part, it is still movement, movement that comes easily to the body as well as movement driven by the unease we daily brush up against. What’s most powerful about Humming House is their ability to be present with you, to take those moments in life that seem mundane and shift the lens so that they are rendered extraordinary. Theirs is a music of presence.
Humming House maintains that sense of intimacy that derives from making music with friends altogether in the same room. It is fun combined with substance. With Tam’s sincerity, Jones’ groove, and Chase and Wolak’s charm, their live shows extend the invitation to participate. As Dustin Ogdin observes in No Depression, “Humming House exudes restraint and a wily intelligence. They never pander to their crowd, but do respect them. They also seem to understand that the best music comes from an exchange between artist and audience rather than simply one giving and the other receiving.”
These essential traits of Humming House are evident in Companion. The story of the album mirrors the story of the band: it’s one of collaboration, experimentation, and showing up for each other over and again. There are songs of hope and of desperation so that the prevailing mood is one of exchange and balance. In the spirit of experimentation, the band threw out the constraining rule that they would only write with acoustic instruments. While those sounds still center the creative impulses of the songs, the added electric experimentation and expanded instrumentation imbue the new songs with a dynamism that is irresistible. Tam notes that the “extremes of the record in emotion are wider on this album. There’s more desperation, but there’s also fun and an upbeat aspect that’s more joyous.” The first half of the album is infused with Indie Rock, especially in songs such as “Can’t Stay Away,” “Takin’ Over,” and “Make it Through.” The influence of quirky 90s rock, a la Cake, is there too. “Takin’ Over” adheres to the Humming House desire to move you and is emblematic of those moments in our lives where the rhythm of the things that we love: music, friends, family commandeer our bodies until we’re compelled to move in joy.
“Sign Me Up” and “Companion” nod to Paul Simon, while “Silver Lining,” “Find What Waits,” and “London” gesture to Humming House’s long engagement with classical composition and songwriter driven melodies so strong in the realm of Americana. The album isn’t all hip swinging bravado; halfway through, “Silver Lining” will stop and compel you to attend to the broken things that shape us. “Make it Through” and “Hope in My Head” are prisms to transform difficult days into livable ones. “I Want It All” does justice to the nostalgia and influence of a favorite album, while “Sign Me Up” conveys the increasing distance between our digital, urban lives and the ecosystems that sustain us.
“Wishing Well” is a late album gem. It opens with the observation, “Be patient with the ones you love / because we’re not here for long enough / to judge,” and so the song is an invitation to come to terms with our collective humanity, a difficult enough feat in the current torrid climate of politics, environmental concerns, and general unease. Thankfully, Humming House is dedicated to honest songwriting, attending to the complex interactions that shape us, and is committed to being present with us in their albums and live shows. What choice do we have but to respond? Theirs is a music that places us.
This is personal music, performed by a storyteller who’s lived and loved. Born in Staten Island to an Italian-Irish preacher and a Puerto Rican mother, Becca spent her childhood moving around the East Coast. It’s no surprise, then, that she found herself drawn to a group of train hoppers in central Virginia, where she relocated as a teenager to attend college. Surrounded by fellow travelers, Becca began to make music — not the kind of music she made during her earlier years, when she sang in her father’s church — but music for front porches, for bonfires, for slow dances and road trips, and train rides and new romances. The sound was inspired by everything from Bob Dylan’s Highway 61 Revisited to Neil Young’sHarvest Moon, not to mention the Appalachian folk music that her Virginia friends played. It was bold and broad, and it sounded like Becca Mancari.
After college, Becca continued her travels, eventually winding up in the musical hotbed of Nashville, Tennessee. There, she continues writing songs that blur the lines between genres, sharing shows with artists like Hurray For The Riff Raff and Natalie Prass along the way. She jumps from the acoustic desert-rock of “Golden” to the ramshackle root sounds of “Summertime Mama,” showing off the full range of her music. Produced by Adam Landry and Justin Collins (Deer Tick, Middle Brother, Diamond Rugs, Lilly Hiatt) and recorded with members of her touring band, the music is a snapshot from a musician who’s still on the move, constantly writing songs about the people she’s met and the impression they leave.The recordings aren’t perfect, and Becca likes that. Because life isn’t perfect.
“Things that are perfect tend to sound flatlined,” she explains. “There’s no ‘human’ there. I like to hear the person when I listen to songs. And I hope people can hear me.”