Rambling with Humming House


St. Patrick’s Day started early at Callaghan’s Irish Social Club when the Nashville band Humming House brought their soulful, bluegrass, Irish swing songs to Mobile on March 4th for the first time. Before the show, Justin Wade Tam (guitar and vocals), Leslie Rodriguez (percussion and vocals), Joshua Wolak (mandolin and vocals), Bobby Chase (fiddle and vocals), and Ben Jones (bass and vocals) ate tuna dip and Callaghan’s burgers and talked about touring, lives they gave up to be full-time musicians, and their new album Revelries.

“We opened for St. Paul and the Broken Bones last year and Paul told us that Callaghan’s was the favorite show he has played and that people were hanging off the ceiling,” says Josh. “I love it here. We walked in the door and said ‘Hell yes.’ There are a few other markets and venues like this that invest in the band and proclaim that we are great to the entire city. Bands need places like this.”

Photo by Michelle Stancil

TSR: I first heard you play on the Cayamo cruise in January. What has Cayamo done for your career?

Justin: We were all alcoholics with skin cancer after Cayamo.

Josh: Everywhere we go someone has been on the cruise. Cayamoans are at every show.

Leslie: I would love to write a book on the Cayamo family. The people are amazing and they go back home and talk about us to everyone. The numbers at our shows jump around areas where there is a large Cayamo affiliate, like Philadelphia and Chicago.

Josh: Creatively it is an artist summer camp. You bond and collaborate with fellow artists that you don’t see throughout the year. We inspire each other. We met Kacey Musgraves through Cayamo and we are touring this spring with her and Drew Holcomb and the Neighbors. Our first Cayamo in 2014 started a discussion with our record label Rock Ridge.

Humming House on Cayamo (Photo by Jeff Zimmer)

TSR: The new album, Revelries, comes out March 24. When did you record it?

Josh: We were in the studio in January 2014. It took time to get the team right and get it out properly.

Leslie: We put so much into the album that we didn’t want to just let it drop and nothing come out of it. We made sure the core of it reflects what people hear when they come out to see our show and we added the fun stuff on top of that. Being in the studio was like being on a retreat, like a cozy house in Nashville.

Josh: It was the opposite for me. Being in the studio was the most anxiety-causing thing that I have experienced. There was pressure to do it right. We put our heart and soul into a show, everyone is into it, but then it is gone forever. In the studio you are creating a moment that lasts forever. It is a noble endeavor and we have to do it, but I am constantly thinking ‘I hope we can grab that.’  I am more neurotic than the rest of the band.

Josh Wolak and Justin Wade Tam (Photo by Michelle Stancil)

TSR: What does the album title, Revelries, mean to you?

Leslie: It comes from the lyrics in the song “Carry On.”  Each day the revelries became the memories that we have carried until this day.

Justin: That song took us four years to write. It’s about a tour I went on in another project–the moments and vignettes that were exhilarating and life-changing, and the people we met.  It is something we experience all of the time. You meet people who become a part of your life and discover amazing places like the square in Mobile and the historic homes.  I showed the song to Josh a year ago and he took the melody and chorus and rewrote it a bit.

Josh: Justin wrote the song as a diary of amazing experiences he had in the project “Quote.” To me it was a lyrically absurd snapshot of what kind of life this is where you get a weird, crazy image of one place and then pop up somewhere else on earth the next day. Those moments are beautiful. The independent moments are part of the revelry that you want to experience and last forever.  Right now it is 70 degrees and warm and we will have a great party in an Irish bar in Mobile, Alabama, but tomorrow we will be on an icy road in a sleet storm. No two days are ever the same.

Photo by Michelle Stancil

TSR: Where do your songs begin?

Justin: Writing songs together is an evolving process that we are still trying to figure out and learn how to write together. Revelries is a combination of co-writing and songs that I wrote.  It becomes a Humming House song in the arrangement process.

Josh: You have to break it down between the actual writing of the song and the arrangement. In the first album, Justin wrote the songs and pulled us in to make an album. It was a great way for us to play with the idea of Humming House.  Songs from the second album came from all over the place. Some were just Justin, some were Justin and the band, or any number of us working together. The arrangement is putting our heads and opinions together and then fighting each other a little bit to work it out.

Justin: We have to deconstruct and reconstruct and deconstruct and reconstruct and rehearse it to death before we decide if it is good. It can take one rehearsal, months, or years to work out a song.

Bobby: A song never gets to the point where you can turn it off and think this is it, it will never get better. We will always try to find a way to make each song better.

Josh: One of the best things about this band is that we have five opinions but we all respect each other. We always leave room for everyone’s opinion.

Leslie: That is why it takes so long for us to finish a song. We like to try everyone’s ideas and at least give them a shot before we say ‘Hell no.’

Justin: Being a band is constant compromise. Everyone in the band is an amazing songwriter and arranges, but for it to be all of us together, there has to be compromise between all of us. That is the hardest part and best part of it.

Justin Wade Tam (Photo by Michelle Stancil)

TSR: What is the story behind “Fly On”?

Justin: We put “Fly On” out as a single in November 2013. We wrote it as a love song in retrospect. What would it be like if you were 70 years old and you have been with the same person for a long time? The idea that they were going to the top of a hill, a park, or a place they always went and look back at all of the times they went to that place.

TSR: What does the name Humming House Mean

Leslie: The true story is…

Bobby: The true story is Justin’s house has a pipe problem and when they get really cold they rattle.

Leslie: Humming Whistling doesn’t sound as good as Humming House. Justin likes alliteration. He started with Finnigan’s Folly, then came Humming House.

Bobby: For a band that thinks as deeply as we like to think we do, it is nice to have a name that is aesthetically pretty.

Leslie Rodriguez (Photo by Michelle Stancil)

TSR: Leslie was working on a Ph.D. in Sociology, but left school to join Humming House?

Leslie: They stole me away. I took a leave of absence and planned to go back to school, but after two weeks on the road I knew there was no chance I would go back. There is plenty of time to finish my Ph.D. later. The opportunity with Humming House is now.

Justin: I was terrified that she would leave school and I would be responsible.

Josh: It is like introducing a successful friend to heroin.

Leslie: For six months Justin kept asking me, “Are you sure you want to do this? You can do both, we will make it work.”

Josh: We snatched Ben and Bobby out of their music program at Belmont. They were ready to become commercial musicians.

Justin: They compromised completely by joining Humming House.

Josh: To be fair, Justin and I walked away from promising careers to lose a bunch of money as musicians. I designed adventures around the world for team-building purposes and sometimes local charity fund-raisers and public events. I still do a few each year.

Justin: I was a talent buyer and production director for a festival in Nashville and booked 120 bands a year. It was a weird juxtaposition because I was a door-knocker and gate-keeper in Nashville. People wanted to play the festivals I was booking and we were trying to book festivals. It helps to understand the contractual side of business.

Ben Jones (Photo by Michelle Stancil)

TSR: You are playing festivals and opening for some of the best bands in the country this year. Do you feel like you are moving forward?

Josh: Our progress has been baby steps. We haven’t skyrocketed and it is hard to get perspective. We have been together for four years and it when you are in it, it feels like everything moves slow around you.

Justin: We were hopeful that Humming House would work. Sometimes it feels like it moving slow but then you look up and you are playing with Emmylou Harris or you are backstage and standing between Lucinda Williams and Brandi Carlile. We have played in the canyons in the Rockies and beautiful mountain towns.  We have slept on a ton of floors to get here and we have slept in five-star hotels.  Being an independent band is being an entrepreneur. We have done so much of this on our own. It is still self-managed. It is a lot of work branding and marketing.

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