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Amos Lee Returns to BellyUp Aspen

Jamie Lynn Miller's picture

Amos LeeMusician Amos Lee Aspen, CO - “It’s snowing today in Philadelphia,” says singer-songwriter Amos Lee, while playing catch-up around the house. “Yeah, it’s an interesting walk to wherever – you have all these fun things to do with the snow in Aspen but here, we just shovel it!” I hear some water running in the background and, as though reading my mind, Lee reassures me it’s not what I think. “I’m doing the dishes and multi-tasking; hope you don’t mind. It’s not like I’m peeing or anything...”

He’s funny and low-key and easy to talk to, as I’d sort of imagined he might be: you can tell a lot from a person by the music makes. Lee’s fourth album, Mission Bell, was released on January 25, 2011 and features sound cameos from some of Lee’s dedicated fans, including Willie Nelson, Pieta Brown, Lucinda Williams and Calexico. His February 4th performance at BellyUp Aspen will celebrate his growing body of work, introducing both die-hards and new converts to Amos’ latest musings.

“If you’re satisfied artistically, things get stagnant. If I hear something that inspires me, I want to be a part of it,” he says, on the process of making music with others. “I’m not an anthropologist or anything, but I think it’s as much a cultural topic as an artistic one. There’s a tradition and spirit in music that’s one of celebration and collaboration – we can get lost in the world of measurement, and capitalism, but the true spirit of music isn’t one of competition; it’s more inspirational. It’s about growing and challenging yourself as an artist.”

While music always played into what mattered in life, initially, Amos Lee’s professional path pointed elsewhere. Growing up in Philadelphia and New Jersey, he was curious about other parts of the country and headed to University of South Carolina, where he studied to become a teacher. “I wanted to live in a different part of the country and get out; I wanted to be around different people, who had a different take on things…it was really eye-opening to see how diverse we are in the United States.”

His step-father gave him a guitar for the college years and he worked at a record store in Columbia, South Carolina as well as at the college radio station. For his five year stint in the sunnier south, Lee was exposed to music around the clock and recalls “being so inspired by the musicians in my life. I was around music and musicians all the time. It was great.”

“But I didn’t know I’d be dedicating my entire life to it,” he shares; “I’ve always felt a lot of love in my life and I knew I wanted to give back and thought I wanted to teach…but when I got back to the classroom in Philadelphia, I felt like I wasn’t making such an impact. It didn’t feel like it was the best way for me to serve them.”

He’d been writing songs and playing that guitar all the while and after two years of teaching in Philly’s public schools, he decided to give back through making music. “I like my new job,” says Lee; “People always say it takes a leap of faith to follow this dream but for me, it was more like opening the door and walking into another room. The door is still open if I want to walk back.”

Songwriter at WorkSongwriter at Work

So far, he’s fully inhabited that room, on the room- which he’s called home - for the past six years, touring with Bob Dylan, Merle Haggard, Norah Jones and Elvis Costello, and developing a cult following through a solo tour or two of his own. “When this all started, I was bouncing around a lot; I didn’t really have a reason to be staying in any one place. In the beginning, being on the road was awesome. We played a bunch of shows with Norah in Europe, the nicest theaters in the world, eating great food, jumping around on trains – it was great,” he says, with a laugh. “With my own Supply and Demand tour, in 2006, it was a lot more responsibility. It takes a lot more energy, there’s more logistics and travel – sleeping in random vehicles, in airports…on the one hand, I get to do something I love and be with people I care about; but on the other hand, it can wear you down.”

Lasting relationships, a familiar coffee shop, a sense of place; such are the professional hazards of life on the road, and not just for musicians, according to Lee. “There are these challenges for anyone who travels, which seems to be so many people in this day and age; I’m super grateful for the people I’ve chosen to have in my life and while I haven’t particularly made a relationship work with all this yet, I think the key is to find someone who can respect what you care about, and vice versa. The whole key is to find balance.”

When not on the road, Lee can be found back in Philadelphia: shoveling snow, doing dishes and getting his work done, just like any other hard-working creative. “I’m not real structured, but you gotta keep going to the hive, every day,” he reflects, on the process of creativity and waiting for the muse to strike. “Music is a constant companion and it’s never gone; but it’s not always falling into your lap, either. There’s a lot of staring at the wall!” he shares, laughing again. “But it’s always there. Sometimes I need the guitar, and sometimes it needs me.”