When did you realize you wanted to be a musician?
I don’t know if it was a decision so much. That was just me from before my brother and sister were born. I was always in the front room with my Disney record player doing somersaults, dancing and singing. I think that's why I was into dance lessons, doing talent shows. I have always loved music and I have always been involved in it somehow. For a while it was through musical theatre and I think part of it is I didn't have the confidence to create my own music, and then once I finally got the guts to do it, I was like “Oh I can do this and I like to do this.” That’s the thing that I like about creating my own music, I have so much more control over my success. I don’t have to be cast in the role of the musician and be the right height or weight or hair color. It's up to me. I either put in the work, write the songs or I don't. I have always been making up random songs but it wasn't up until like 10 years ago when I was like I can sit down and actually do this. It's something I was always doing but it was about having the confidence to say I can actually do this on my own.
Can you talk about the first project you made?
It's tough, I’ve been involved in the arts in so many different ways. If we were focusing on singer songwriter stuff, I guess it was when I was back in Oklahoma for a while and I had been in NYC for a while doing musical theater stuff. Some cabarets and cruise ships on a stage, in a costume. When I got to Oklahoma those opportunities were not available to me that I was like I gotta do something. So I started to focus more on my guitar playing. I went to a teacher who I knew from when I was growing up. I tried starting to do singer songwriter gigs. It was weird how much scarier I found that having done decades of performing on stage. It was so different not being in a costume and being just with someone and performing as a person. It took me a while to get past that. It helped being in Oklahoma so by the time I got back to NYC I had time to work through some of that. It used to be a real issue with guitar playing because my hands would be so shaky and it was difficult. In terms of transitioning, it was back in Oklahoma. Everyone was encouraging me to go to an open mic and I found it new and different even though I had been performing forever. After years, I feel much more comfortable doing that. One thing with the shows, I realized I can still be me and put on a hat or a sequin jacket. With the pandemic, I have found a happy medium where I can dress up and be more authentic and not play another role.
What has been the most rewarding aspect of being a musician?
I found it so refreshing to have control over myself. When you spend so long doing Broadway and movies, you are so much at the mercy of other people. I have been in so many commercials that I have never seen because maybe they didn't make it through post production or shown in other regions. It's all up to someone else. In terms of your reviews, they are more than you, they're about the writing, the material, the lighting, the costumes. As I said before, it was scary at first but I realized I like being myself and expressing something more authentic. I was the one showing off all these albums like rock and roll and hip hop. Realizing that I can play rock and roll music myself. If you like it, you can do it. It is exciting that I can be myself like the artists that I admire. I don't know why I felt like I needed permission. It feels good.
Who would you say was your biggest inspiration?
Funnily enough there are a lot of musicians I really admire but the people I love so much are the people who do a lot of different things. There are people I want to emulate like Dolly Parton or Madeline Khan, even someone like Cher. She has her music and she's a great actress and personality. I grew up in the 70’s so I think about watching those silly but awesome weekly review shoes. Carol Burnett or The Osmonds, yeah you play music but you also relate to people and put on a show and the experience is just as important as the music.
Would one of those artists you mentioned be a dream collaboration or someone else?
There are so many people that I would love to perform with. When I think about my dreams, it's more with certain producers like Danger Mouse or Rick Ruben. They seem so fantastical that I hope they hear my songs and ask to spend time together. Over and over there are different works with different sounds and the common denominator is the producer. I feel like I spend more time dreaming of working with someone who produces music because I'm curious about what they would say. He might see something I never even saw or help me take something in a totally different direction.
What advice would you give to someone starting out in the industry?
I'd say you have to see it more like a long game. This would come up during open mics that you meet other musicians and want to work with them or talk with them and network. Every performance can seem like make or break. Sometimes that isn't true. I always tell people to have fun, even when you mess up, play it off and be cool. I have been able to pass off websites or ways to get bookings. Other performers are helpful with social media tips or promotions. My favorite thing is the partnerships you create. From auditioning, I learned the less you desperately want the specific job, the better you do in the audience. It took me a long time to learn that. You also have to know the casters aren't mean and don't take it personal. So I help people step back and see the big picture.
What do you have in store this year?
I am definitely excited about some new releases. Even though it's been a weird time, it just makes me work harder to find ways to make it work. I am going to release some singles as I work my way towards a full album. I feel like the thing I’m most excited about is that I spent this time making myself easier to find and more appealing. I think just being more confident and comfortable in what I do instead of trying to sound like someone else is also something I have been working on. This is me and this is what I do.
Listen to Lee's latest single "Mad at Me" available on all major platforms.