Interview: Sam Lee

Hey there music fans! I have another special artist to share with you this fine summer. Earlier last week I was invited to learn more about this fascinating musician who happens to be a wilderness expert and a former burlesque dancer. This artist is the one of a kind Sam Lee. This Mercury Prize nominee with be performing at the end of this week, Thursday, July 30th, with a show at Joe’s Pub. I had a chance to catch up with the man before he unveiled his musical talents to the NYC crowd.

First off, I asked him on what made him attempt this ambitious endeavor in music. “[I had] a deep love of these old songs and the frustration that I wasn’t hearing anyone interpret them with a 21st Century or more global sensibility.” If nobody is doing it, do it yourself. I like that mentality.

His enjoyment in the music space is rather simple. “Without [a] doubt, the song collecting work is the greatest privilege of it all. I’ve been lucky to have some very wonderful experiences and exciting times as a singer, and played some unbelievable places, but when it comes down to what makes me really excited it’s those journeys and meeting some of the most incredible old singers that no one has ever heard sing and to record them for the first time.”

Sam’s most memorable performance actually hits close to home for me. “One of the most intimidating, yet greatest honors was when arriving in New Zealand with the band for Womad, New Zealand’s huge world music festival, and the whole festival lineup shared a full Maori welcome, including a Pōwhiri feast. We started off by each band sharing a song and I got the whole room singing a British folk song. To have musicians from the whole world singing this simple but beautiful [tune] in the setting of such strong and stunning indigenous cultural pride was something else.” I actually studied abroad in New Zealand for a semester in college and had the same traditional Maori welcome. It is a special and unique experience. Plus, Lord of the Rings was filmed there, so even more wonder is available!

Performances are not without some difficulties. “Sometime you get booked and scheduled in places you really shouldn’t be playing as they haven’t listened to your music. Once, when I was just starting out, me and my then band got booked for … an awards ceremony for the best construction workers on the Olympic build in London around 2008/2009. It turned out that crowd didn’t want insightful sentimental folk ballads, demonstrated when one of the women got on stage to ask me directly if I knew any disco songs. That was an interesting experience.”

Sam actually explained his views on modern music quite clearly. “I have complete confidence that musicians around the world will continue to produce the most unbelievably creative and magnificently diverse music and the ‘world’ around it will completely ignore it in favor of saccharine vacuous sounds that rot the musical guts.” C’mon ‘world,’ focus on the good stuff!

Other mediums of art still appeal to Mr. Lee. “Well, music is relatively new to me but I will always have an eye out for the visual art [and] conceptual realm. So when it all goes tits up, I’ve got my back up as an avant-garde dancing spatial … fine artist… I’m going to try and make this music thing work out a bit harder though.”

As an artist, sometimes there are things they wish they could change or work on. For Sam he was very specific. “I’m always going to be critical of my voice … I always feel recording and the experience of trying to capture my singing fails. Live, I somehow get to somewhere that is so much harder in the critical confines of a studio.”

Influences range from all over the place for Sam. “I’m loving the music of Sam Amidon, but also Oliver Swain, who is a Vancouver-based bassist and banjo player. His latest album is rocking my world. I had Moondog in my ears as I arrived off the plane in NYC this week, and that was the most perfect music to have for an arrival.”

I asked what he and the crew were up to currently and what their next big project will be. “[I am] Currently eating mango and raw honey on the first morning of us all together here in NYC … Last night we took all our clothes off (mostly) and danced in our kitchen to Michael Jackson. Today we are deciding how to get to do a five rhythms class and get to see Ghost of the Saber Tooth Tiger at the Brooklyn Bowl… decisions, decisions.”

As for new music, I tried to learn more. “The next big one isn’t actually public yet so I can’t be too specific, but what I will say is it’s curating and coordinating the soundtrack for a massive Hollywood film set in ancient England.” Looking forward to hearing that! There you have it folks, yet another stunning musician that is pushing forward in his own spectacular way. Give him a listen and see where he can take you! Better yet, go see him this Thursday and enjoy some valuable tunes.


Jam On.


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