Two impressions of Humming House immediately come to mind after taking one look at their "Great Divide" video, which premieres today (March 10) at The Huffington Post.
The Nashville-based folk-rock-roots band founded and fronted by Justin Wade Tam not only digs the open road but absolutely loves to throw a Humming House party -- no matter the setting.
During a March 2 phone interview, Tam and effervescent singer/snare drummer Leslie Rodriguez shared inside stories about the song, the video, a marathon tour (including supporting Kacey Musgraves) and their second full-length studio album. The revelatory Revelries that drops March 24 reaches its peak with the anthemic "Great Divide."
Showing passion and compassion in their work, these Humming Housemates were ecstatic about the possibilities that lie ahead for this quintessential quintet that I labeled a Must-See Act of 2015 after seeing them perform at AmericanaFest in September.
Having just completed some warm-up shows in Alabama, the lively group will head to SXSW, work their way to the East Coast, reverse directions until reaching California, then finish this leg on May 2 at the Queen of the Prairie Festival in Guthrie, Okla.
Tam and Rodriguez (right) laughed heartily when asked if "Great Divide" can be considered the band's mission statement, punctuated by the "We're on your way" chorus.
"We hope so," said Tam, the charismatic lead vocalist and guitarist who started this band in 2011 after leaving a career in production management and playing in a Nashville folk duo.
"It's more of an appeal. ... We've been signed to a record label (Rock Ridge Music) since we recorded the album, and that's been kind of a big step up for us. That song has been in regular rotation on a bunch of radio stations and we've never had a whole bunch of radio airplay before, so that's a big step up for us, too. We called it Revelries for a reason because it sort of encapsulates a lot of moments of us on the road."
That goes for the video, too. Rodriguez, a gifted photographer when she's not belting out some of Humming House's most inspiring numbers or naming her snare (Freddie is "a new star on the stage," she reports), used her Nikkon D90 to do most of the B-roll filming for the "Great Divide," a scenic travelogue showing a band on its way up.
"Travel is kind of a theme throughout the whole record," Tam said. "I think it has a lot to do with the transition of our first record to our second record because we were on the road so much throughout that process and we were able to road-test these songs a lot before getting into the studio. ... So, I don't know, it's sort of a coming-of-age record for the band in a way."
As the video captures glimpses of memorable stops over six months of Humming House's 2013 Fall Forward Tour, its costars with Tam and Rodriguez are resourceful band members Josh Wolak (mandolin), Ben Jones (upright bass) and Bobby Chase (fiddle and occasional beat-boxing).
Humming House, from left: Bobby Chase, Leslie Rodriguez, Justin Wade Tam,
Josh Wolak and Ben Jones (Photo by Melissa Madison Fuller).
"We really wanted it to feature our personalities," said Rodriguez, who came aboard with Chase in 2013. "We wanted it to kind of be an introduction to everyone in the band. So that people could see how we act around each other and how we are on the road."
Mission accomplished. So without further delay, check out the video premiere of "Great Divide," then go behind the scenes with Tam and Rodriguez as they dig deeper into the making of the song, the video and Revelries before revealing the surprising subjects of their album cover.
• Major details: After Wolak compiled a shot list, the band co-produced the montage of footage with Kerry Henderson, a friend and musician who plays lead guitar in the Columbus, Ohio-based Nick D and the Believers and also runs a video company called Stage Left Creative. Said Tam: "We liked his work and we just needed somebody that could really put it together and bring it to life. He stepped in ... and did an amazing job."
• Picture this: New York City, the Allegheny Mountains in Pennsylvania, the corn fields of Ohio, Philadelphia's World Cafe Live, the Pearl Street Mall in Boulder, Lake Dillon and the Rocky Mountains of Colorado were among the Instagram moments.
• Uncommon knowledge: Along the way, according to Rodriguez, the band also stayed with a friend of a friend whose 1780s farmhouse in east Tennessee had "enormous fireplaces" and, under the kitchen table covered by a rug, was a trapdoor that was once used for the Underground Railroad. Despite spending the night in a house without a working toilet, the experience "was definitely an unexpected pleasure for us on the road," added Rodriguez, who noted that a quick clip of Wolak on his birthday getting a celebratory hug from Chase made the video.
• Major details: "Great Divide" is the second cut but the first single from the album. Tam, who cowrote it with Jones, said, "It's kind of emblematic of our story as a band. The first time we went to Colorado (in 2012), we played in Ouray (along the Million Dollar Highway) in the western range."
• Now hear this: With the sample lyric -- There were ups and downs on those alpine peaks / There was higher ground, there were canyons steep -- setting the tone, the Rocky Mountains are a significant source of inspiration for "Great Divide." Of course, the mountainous region also known as the Continental Divide extends far beyond Colorado. But it was the drive in 2013 on Interstate 70 from Denver to Glenwood Springs before taking a left turn to Carbondale that elicited the most oohs and aahs from the group. "That's when it got ridiculous with the guys telling me, 'Leslie, are you getting this (on camera)?' " Rodriguez said with a laugh. "Because there was just something every five minutes to film. It was so beautiful."
• Uncommon knowledge: Their previous journey in 2012 inspired Jones to write a poem about a tour that mixed pleasure with business, excitement with anxiety as the band shared its musical goals for the first time together on the road over an extended period. "And then we sat down and kind of took some images from the poem and put it into the 'Great Divide' as a song," Tam said. "And it turned out really well. And when we finally cut the song, we decided that it would be appropriate to kind of re-create that experience in a video for people."
• Major details: Recorded in 2014, Revelries was produced by Mitch Dane and mixed by Vance Powell, the dynamic duo behind Sputnik Sound in Nashville who also teamed up to make Humming House's self-titled debut that was released in January 2012. Sneak previews of four of Revelries' 11 songs -- including "Fly On (Forever is Better With You)" and Wolak's "This Hell Where We Belong" -- appear on last year's exhilarating live album, Humming House Party!
• Putting the "hum" in Humming House: "Great Divide" is among a number of infectious tunes from Revelries such as "Nuts, Bolts and Screws" and "Freight Train" that will have you, um, humming to yourself in your sleep. What's the secret? "Justin (who often cowrites with fellow band members) has a knack for putting together some real catchy hooks," Rodriguez said. "We've been writing a bunch of new songs and I woke up singing one of those the other day. I think that a lot of it has to do with the energy, I hope. ... We don't want to sing at the crowd. We would like them to engage with us and enjoy themselves by singing along and dancing along."
• Uncommon knowledge: The album title is taken from a lyric in the album's second-to-last song that Tam said "took like four years and three different versions to come to fruition." Cowritten by Tam and Wolak, "Carry On" starts with a notion as romantically intriguing as any found in a read-it-and-weep novel:
April rode the route from down in Tinsel Town
All the way to southern Maine
Each day her revelries became the memories
That she has carried on until today
• Major details: Developing a reputation as a band that brings audiences to their feet, Humming House thought a "life of the party" concept would be appropriate, especially after they played a house show in St. Louis, where "these people were dancing like nobody was watching," Rodriguez said. "And we loved the image of these people just sort of having a really great time. And that image stuck with us." So Nashville artist Casey Pierce was enlisted to handle the design and capture that feeling during a photo shoot last summer.
• On the dance card: Those silhouetted figures striking a pose might not be who you think they are. Members of Humming House weren't on their first cover, so why start now? According to Tam, Eric and Megan Wilkey, friends of the band who were engaged to be married at the time, had the perfect chemistry and all the right moves to get down to James Brown. They shook it up during a lengthy session in -- of all places -- the Neuroscience department at Vanderbilt, where Eric is a Ph.D. student, and were deemed cover-worthy.
• Uncommon knowledge: "We love dancing, but it's definitely not a hobby for any of us," Rodriguez said, laughing hysterically when asked which band member was born to boogie. "So we just kind of throw our arms around and move." If it was a contest, Rodriguez wins hands down and everyone else is a distant second, Tam admitted. But neither camera-shy nor afraid to strut their stuff, each band member will be featured in dance-off photos on the Humming House website starting five days before the album release, so visitors can judge for themselves. "Justin, back in college, used to throw some epic dance parties at his house," Rodriguez said of Tam, whose themed events included the Scottish Laddie Sugar Daddy Party and the Ninja Ballet. "I guess the idea of dance parties for us goes way back," Tam added.
Visualizing what those scenes must have been like, here's hoping some reenactments show up on Humming House's next video.
Humming House concert photo by Michael Bialas. See more from their AmericanaFest show at the Basement.