About six years ago, I stumbled upon a local Philadelphia artist named Amos Lee. At the time, he was pretty undiscovered. After listening to only a few songs from his 2005 self-titled album, I was completely hooked. I did a bit of research and was pleasantly surprised to read that he was a not just a singer, but also a songwriter. Not only were his melodies and vocals completely enchanting, so were his lyrical narratives. Amos’ music is heavily blues influenced, but also combines folk, rock, and soul elements.
Lee began his career as an elementary school teacher (perhaps this is why he is so close to my heart) and bartender in the city of Philadelphia. His manager sent samples of his music to many record labels, and by 2003, Lee was signed to Blue Note Records. In 2004, Norah Jones, signed to the same label, heard Lee’s music and invited him to perform on her tour.
From there Lee soared, and has since toured with incredible acts, including Dave Matthews Band, Adele, Zac Brown Band, Jack Johnson, and Van Morrison. He’s been featured on CNN and PBS, and also has a large European following as a result of his tour with Adele. In February of 2011, Lee’s album Mission Bell became the Billboard Top 100 Chart’s number 1 album, selling 40,000 copies in one week, and ranking above Nicki Minaj’s Pink Friday and Bruno Mars’ Doo-Wops and Hooligans. Lee’s songs “Arms of a Woman” and “Sweet Pea” are now regular plays on radio stations. Lee now donates $1 from each ticket sale to Musicians on Call, a charitable organization that brings live music to the bedsides of hospitalized adults and children in order to aid the recovery process.
Oddly enough, about three years ago, I found that Amos Lee and I have a mutual friend. Having been a fan for a few years, you can imagine my excitement. I jokingly requested that our friend bring him to my high school graduation party. Unfortunately, he was too busy touring and playing some pretty famous music festivals. I was gifted some autographed stuff instead; it was still pretty great. When I began writing this article, it didn’t include an interview. Then it occurred to me – why not shoot Lee an email? He replied to me in less than 24 hours. I like him even more now. Enjoy this super awesome/totally quirky interview I was able to snag.
AK: You’ve now completed and released six albums in the past ten years. Do you think your music style or lyrical content has changed or matured through the course of your career? In what way?
AL: Well, I know my voice has dropped a bunch. If you listen to the first album, I sound like a sweet little twister, but now I have some crust in there. so there’s that. Otherwise, I’m not really sure. I know many of my tastes haven’t matured at all. I just watched Step Brothers for the third time this month, so I’m still pretty juvenile.
AK: What inspires you most to write a song?
AL: What inspires me most? Kinda hard to say. Probably the love of the craft and the mystery of the muse. Musicians deal a lot with the invisible world, so it’s kinda like chasing down Sasquatch, or a wood nymph. People say it’s real, but maybe what happens is, if you ever run into Sasquatch of a faerie, they erase your memory of it. it’s kind of like that.
AL: This past year we had a chance to play with the Colorado Symphony Orchestra at Red Rocks which was pretty staggering. We’ve been really lucky to have a lot of really fun and memorable gigs, but that was surreal and momentous for us.
AK:What should fans expect from Amos Lee in the future?
AL: I’ve always felt like slow and steady was a good way to go. Sticking to developing ideas and doing what felt natural. I hope to continue down that path.
AK: If you could choose any artist or band, alive or dead, to tour with, whom would you choose?
AL: If given the chance to work with dead people, I would always take that. Are they zombies, demons, angels or what? The prospect of working with the undead sounds terrifying and fantastic.
AK: Are there any artists, bands, or songs that you’re really digging right now?
AL: Been listening to a lot of Desert Noises, Washed Out, Magnolia Electric Co., Roberta Flack, Run the Jewels. Pretty all over the place.
AK: Again, thank you! It’s so wonderful to see an artist from a place so close to home become so successful. As a vocalist and pianist myself, I know how difficult it is to launch yourself into the music world. What would you say to a college student musician who would like some advice?
AL: Advice is always such a particular thing. The only thing I know is my path. It can happen a million ways for a million people. I think though it’s important to be patient, to care for your craft and have fun with it. There’s such immediacy in our culture at the moment, it can be overwhelming and make you feel like you’re in quicksand, but it’s really more that it’s a funhouse. Sooner or later the floor evens out and you realize your reflections weren’t as distorted as they seemed. I waited 6 years to play anything for anyone, and I don’t regret that at all. I don’t “advise” anyone to look upon my path and try to assimilate. It’s important to trust your own vision and approach things with your own senses. I see green, you see blue. Who’s right? Who knows.