Amos Lee interview, Supply and Demand

Interview with Amos Lee

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Amos Lee’s self-titled debut took the music industry by storm in 2004. With a soulful, bluesy voice that tabbed him as a male version of Norah Jones, Lee broke out in a big way when he was invited to tour with Jones herself. He’s been touring ever since and is back with his sophomore effort on Blue Note Records, Supply and Demand. We at love this kind of music, because it’s the kind of album that scores points with our wives and girlfriends, but cool enough to turn our buddies onto as well. Of course, it helps that we got to talk to Amos about the new album and life on the road, and he’s one heck of a nice guy who appreciates everything that’s happened to him in the last few years.

Bullz-Eye: Amos, LOVE the record.

Amos Lee: Thanks, man.

BE: I don’t know if you saw my review on for the last one, but I think this one’s even better.

AL: Thanks, man.

BE: Yeah, it will get a lot of stars.

AL: Right on.

BE: So you are from Philly, correct?

AL: Yes, sir.

BE: Do you still live there?

AL: Yes…well, I kind of live there. I don’t really live anywhere at the moment. I’m sort of back and forth.

BE: Just touring a lot?

AL: Yeah, I mean I’m touring a lot, plus I need to… (pauses). Are you allowed to talk on the phone in New Jersey, like if you’re in the passenger’s seat?

BE: In the car? In the passenger’s seat, I would think so.

AL: In the passenger’s seat. Yeah, I had a dream I got arrested last night.

BE: (laughs) Oh, that’s not good.

AL: (laughs) Trying to make sure I don’t get arrested.

BE: Okay. I think as long as you’re not driving you should be OK.

AL: Cool. So between the traveling and things sort of just popping up, I’ve got to be in New York a lot. But when I go to Philly, I definitely feel like I’m home.

BE: That’s cool. So how do you feel about the new record?

AL: You know what? That’s a very good question. I’m glad you asked it. Nobody ever asks you that anymore. They never say, “What do you think of the record?” “Do you like it?” Yeah! I think that we did a good job on the album. I know that we worked hard on it and we put our best intentions behind playing and everything like that. So yeah, I feel pretty good about it. As an artist you always question yourself to the end. But I can live with it. And I think I can listen to it, which is important. If I couldn’t listen to it then I’d probably be pretty upset with myself.

BE: Absolutely. Do you like it better then the first one?

AL: You know what, I can’t really compare the two, to be honest with you. I haven’t listened to the first one in a while either. But I don’t really want to compare the two. If I do that I’m going to start putting my head in knots.

BE: Okay, no problem! I saw on your bio that you’ve only been playing guitar since 1995. At what point did you realize you had a special talent?

AL: (laughs) I don’t know, man. I definitely wasn’t then, I can tell you that. It wasn’t when I first started, because there was nothing special about (my playing). I kind of worked through writing songs for a long time before I even let anybody else hear them. I was playing guitar and writing songs for probably a good five or six years before anybody really got to hear anything I was doing. But when I first started to play the open mics in Philadelphia, I started to get some really good feedback and was considering if I wanted to actually further this. Like not necessarily make a career out of it, because with music you can never tell if it’s going to happen or not. I knew I wasn’t embarrassed doing it and I knew that when I played in front of other people there was a good response, and that made me feel good.

"Opening up for Norah (Jones) got me in front of people; a lot of different kinds of people from a lot of different places.... That’s a great gift that she bestowed upon me."

BE: And you got a break when Norah Jones asked you to open for her on a tour. How did that help launch your career?

AL: Opening up for Norah got me in front of people; a lot of different kinds of people from a lot of different places. Like, if I played in Minneapolis or something opening for her; I’d sell some CDs and then I could go back through the town again and play. And that’s a great gift that she bestowed upon me. To open up a tour that big that big with an artist who’s got a music loving audience is a great thing.

BE: Very cool. And you’re a former schoolteacher?

AL: Yes.

BE: At what point did you know you were going to become a full-time musical artist?

AL: I wasn’t really a full-time music artist until I started probably doing that tour with Norah. I’d been working night jobs and stuff like that. I was a bartender at a little folk club in Philly while I was playing gigs up and down the east coast and in Philly and whatever for about a year before I hit the road with Norah. But once I hit the road there, it never stopped. I haven’t really stopped since.

BE: And that’s been how long? Two years?

AL: It’s been a little more, about two and a half years.

BE: Do you miss teaching school at all? Do you ever have any days where you think I want to go back to that? Or do you just love what you’re doing too much?

AL: No, I love what I do but there’s certainly a part of me that always thinks what my life would be like if I did stay as a teacher. I think it’s a beautiful job, although thankless in many respects. It’s a job that is really vital to society and vital to children, and it’s something that can make you feel really whole and full. Whereas music sometimes feels that way when you’re doing what you love to do, and then there are a lot of times when you’re sitting there, feeling pretty empty. But I think feeling empty is part of being able to write songs.

BE: Absolutely. So what is the songwriting process like for you? Are you always writing?

AL: I’m always considering writing. I’m always thinking about writing. If I’m not actually writing, I’m either thinking about it or…

BE: Are you always jotting ideas down and stuff like that?

AL: I don’t necessarily jot. I’m not a jotter, but for the most part I’m constantly reciting lines in my head and sifting through them in that way. And when I find something I really like, or if something strikes me, then I’ll write it down.

BE: Cool. Do you usually come up with lyric ideas or musical ideas first?

AL: It’s really a situation-by-situation thing. There are times when I’ll start out with a lyrical idea but it won’t go anywhere once I try to put a melody behind it. Usually the melody is what helps to really gel everything together for me. It’s what really makes the song work – the melody and the rhythm of the words. And without those two, the songs really don’t necessarily work.

BE: Absolutely. And who are your biggest influences?

AL: Lately, I still have to say John Prine is a huge influence of mine. Bill Withers is a huge influence of mine. Probably those two guys, as far as songwriters go.

BE: And what are you listening to now?

AL: Let me think about that for a second. I know that I am listening to something. Oh, Live at Carnegie Hall, the Bill Withers album. It’s been the one I’ve been listening to a lot.

BE: What’s your favorite John Prine record?

AL: Probably, my favorite Prine record, if you’re just talking about studio album, would be his debut album. But I like the Great Days Anthology. That’s the one if I were to buy one, I would just probably buy that because it has so much good stuff on it.

BE: We’re actually good friends with somebody that works at his label.

AL: Oh, nice. Yeah, I did some dates with him this summer. It was so much fun. I guess it was this summer? It’s still summer, right?

BE: It still feels like summer here.

AL: Yeah. Actually I think it was in the spring. It was great.

BE: Your music is sort of in that AAA genre. Do you feel this is a difficult genre to break a new artist in?

"If any radio stations play me, I’m really thankful. For me, that is amazing. I feel really grateful that anybody would put my songs on the radio."

AL: I’m not really sure. I don’t really know that side of the game. If any radio stations play me, I’m really thankful. For me, that is amazing. I feel really grateful that anybody would put my songs on the radio.

BE: What kind of tours do you have coming up to support the new record?

AL: I think we have a fall tour planned starting in October. It starts around the 12th, but I’m not sure. And then October and November, and then we’ll probably go into January and after the holidays. If it’s up to me, I’ll stay on the road, I don’t care.

BE: Are you headlining?

AL: Yeah, I hope so. (laughs) Yeah, we’re planning on it. We’ll see if people buy tickets.  

BE: Well, cool. And about touring, what’s your favorite place to eat on the road?

AL: Wow, my favorite place to eat on the road? That’s a good question. Like a chain restaurant? I generally like mom and pop places. If I can get to a place that is privately owned, I’m more into it.

BE: Cool. Like a local flavor kind of thing?

AL: Totally.

BE: And what about least favorite?

AL: (laughs) Least favorite? Oh man. I don’t know because I never eat anywhere I don’t like. Airports are a drag to eat in, though.

BE: Yeah, that’s for sure. And what are some hobbies and interests you have?

AL: I like to play basketball. And I like to watch the Little League World Series tonight. (laughs)

BE: Right on. I was going to ask you about sports, too. Bullz-Eye has a section on sports, too.

AL: Oh, cool, man.

BE: So who are your teams? Are you into the Eagles and stuff like that?

AL: Yeah, man. I’m a Philly guy through and through.

BE: Okay, right on. And what goals do you have for the next five years or so?

AL: I don’t know. I like to take it as it comes. It’s hard to make goals because this business is so unpredictable.

BE: That’s true.

AL: So my goals are just to hopefully be able to keep on making records and touring. That’s pretty much it. To me, that’s a blessing.

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