Treya Lam: An Indie Artist on a Mission to Heal Loss Through Music
By Kaju Roberto
Treya Lam is a magnificently gifted eclectic multi-instrumentalist, singer, composer, and activist. Lam’s politically charged songwriting, formidable command on the guitar, piano, and viola, and thought-provoking audiovisual stage show is both ear candy and a joy to watch.
As a passionate activist, Lam is currently developing “otherland”—an interdisciplinary grief ritual and audiovisual chamber protest album that explores grief as a catalyst for radical empathy, intersectional solidarity, and repairing our relationship to the earth.
Currently “flying high,” Lam recently opened for the Wallflowers at the Prospect Park bandshell on July 27 and performs at venues all over the country. Notable past performances have been at Lincoln Center, MASS MoCA, and the American Museum of Natural History.
I’ve been following Lam’s musical career for the past six years, attending several live performances and the show is always evolving. Undoubtedly, it is currently in an upward trajectory.
The Evocative Storyteller
Gifted as a captivating storyteller in a genre called “chamber folk,” Lam’s vocals are deeply contemplative and emotionally evocative, conveying a smoky breathiness to beautifully capture a pathos both euphoric and tragic. Lyrically, many of the songs contain visual imagery often rooted in nature.
At Lam’s live show, several of the songs are accompanied by multimedia performance art, replete with dancers and images of nature on audiovisual screens. Lam’s songs often contain background vocals by select members of the Resistance Revival Chorus (RRC).
Musically the show utilizes both acoustic and electric instruments, interlacing unique arrangements incorporating viola, acoustic guitar, piano, synthesizers, and occasionally electric bass and horns—several of which are played by Lam using a loop station.
In addition to Lam’s solo artist debut, 2018’s “Good News” on Kaki King’s label, Lam is a OneBeat fellow, NYCLU Artist Ambassador and active member of the RRC. Lam’s song Dawn was featured on the RRC’s debut album This Joy—released on Ani Difranco’s Righteous Babe Records.
Recently I had the pleasure to interview Treya Lam to take a deeper dive. Here was our conversation.
K: Can you explain this concept of “otherland?”
T: It’s a project I created that is a multi-disciplinary grief ritual centered around a collection of chamber folk songs I’d written when I was coming out of a three-year long writer’s block following my mother and grandmother’s transition (passing).
The grief set me on a path of learning to love myself and to achieve acceptance in a time and country that never embraced people who had shared experiences of mine. “Otherland” is a project not only for myself to find healing in the wake of loss, but to heal in community with others who also have experienced loss in their own ways. These often are due to systemic failures, i.e., loved ones who were killed by the cops, family deaths due to non-access to healthcare, Covid-19, etc.
K: It’s really impressive how far you’ve come in recent years. Since the pandemic, you’ve been performing higher profile events across the country and opening for bigger acts. What do you think were the two biggest factors that have opened up this career change for you?
T: I don’t think there has been one single cause that created this shift, because I don’t feel I’ve been on a path toward overnight success. In fact, this is something I’ve always feared because I don’t think my mental health could handle it. I’ve been really lucky to have had big opportunities that I’ve had to step into. I often never felt ready for when I did get the call.
K: Are you referring to recently opening for the Wallflowers? How did that gig come about?
T: For me, it’s all about the relationships I’ve built over years. I was contacted by the Artistic Director of the “Celebrate Brooklyn Festival,” Diane Eber. We go way back to when I was a resident at Joe’s Pub. She thought my music would be a great fit as an opening act. Fortunately, we’ve kept in touch. But I’ve never treated “meeting connectors” like a business strategy. It’s always happened organically for me.