San Francisco musician Goh Nakamura has been writing and crooning intimate, witty, melancholic pop songs for more than a decade, and is an impossible to miss fixture of the Bay Area music scene. The Berklee College of Music-trained guitar player has an innate ability to craft perfectly-pitched songs but it is his voice, equal parts Elliot Smith, Elvis Costello and Goh Nakamura, that defines him.
This month sees the release of the independent feature “Daylight Savings”, which features Nakamura in the leading role; no longer on-stage, but in front of the camera. The follow-up to 2011’s SXSW hit “Surrogate Valentine” (also starring Nakamura), “Daylight” is the second collaboration between director Dave Boyle and Nakamura.
In “Daylight” San Francisco musician Goh Nakamura (playing himself) is at the height of his career. With a national tour on the horizon and one of his songs being featured in a widely-seen TV commercial, Goh has the life he always wanted. But when an unexpected breakup occurs, a lost and devastated Goh forces himself to leave it all behind and hit the road with his irresponsible cousin to pursue a promising rebound with fellow musician Yea-Ming Chen (playing herself).
Nakamura sat down to answer a few questions about the making of “Daylight Savings”, his own musical projects, and making the transition from stage to screen.
You’ve been a performer for years, but primarily on stage as a musician. Was transitioning to film and the camera a challenging one for you? There is a naturalness and confidence to your performance, which perhaps might be shaped from playing live to large audiences for a long time – or are there other secrets to your acting chops?
GN: It was definitely challenging, performing music live on stage has some similar elements, but I’d say it’s much more like recording. Luckily, I had some time to rehearse with some of the actors, and Dave filmed some of it to coach us towards what he wanted. We prepared for the scenes by practicing them in different tempos, keys, dynamics. Like little songs.
You play yourself in David’s films, or at least, you play a character named Goh Nakamura, who seems to resemble you. Or does he? Can you talk about the experience of writing for and playing a fictional character inspired by yourself? Is the line clear or blurry?
GN: I think the fictional Goh Nakamura is an avatar. A manifestation of parts of myself, Dave, and some alternate reality “Goh” who got trapped in this film. Writing for, and playing this guy blurs the lines a bit. Like remembering myself in a dream or nightmare, wondering why something happened, and why the fictional “me” acted or reacted a certain way. As the writers, we’re the dreamers.
David’s films with you are both named for songs you’ve written, “Surrogate Valentine” and “Daylight Savings” – how closely do these films match up tonally and emotionally with what inspired you to write these songs originally?
GN: Now that I think of it, there is a pretty close match tonally and emotionally. I’d say Surrogate Valentine, the song is much more light-hearted and a little goofy with the wordplay. It’s about unrequited love, and has a lot of longing in it. Daylight Savings is a sad song, a farewell song about death and change. I don’t think of the film, “Daylight” as a comedy, though there are some funny elements to it, but it’s really a break up movie and the things one might go through when you’re shell shocked out of a relationship. Both songs sound black and white to me, in that they’re recorded very simply with just voice and guitar. No frills.
In addition to being an actor and solo musician, you also score and write music for films (which is hilariously parodied in “Daylight Savings”). These include Ridley Scott’s “A Good Year”, “American Gangster” and “Body of Lies.” Is interpreting someone else’s emotions and intentions musically a very different process than from working from your own?
GN: It’s not much different. It’s definitely more technical stuff when writing for someone else. It really depends on the level of communication, and aesthetics of who you’re writing for. If someone says “I need something kind of melancholy, but upbeat, and stays out of the way of the dialogue” it can be a bit of a guessing game since it’s so hard to describe music in words. I just write a whole lot of stuff and see what direction they like.
Where can we hear/buy more of your music?
What is next for you?
GN: I’m putting together a video series I shot last year called “The Dream Session” where I recorded at different studios across the US (and one in Canada) and documented how other musicians record a song in a day or two. That should be done in the fall.
Also, writing songs for a new album and the third “Surrogate Valentine” film!