Amos Lee: Fame is such an abstract thing

Amos Lee: Fame is such an abstract thing
Photo by Harper Lee

Amos Lee doesn't have anything to prove, but he sure does have a lot to say. The Philadelphia performer just released his fifth studio album, and is gearing up for a national tour. Mountains of Sorrow, Rivers of Song sums up Lee and his tunes in six words. The album unveils many layers of stories, revealing a mournful voice that brings to mind a young Neil Young. Amos has toured with many established artists, including Norah Jones and Bob Dylan, but he is eager to hit the road for a headlining tour.

"There's not much of a genre to put me in," Lee says from his home in Philadelphia. "I don't even know how to define country music anymore." Before his show at the State Theatre on Monday, November 4, Lee spoke to Gimme Noise about his past and how that's influenced much of his life and music these days.  

Ten years ago saw Amos working as a second grade school teacher in an elementary school. Initially, he didn't realize how difficult the profession would be. "It was challenging," he shares. "The hours and the system were pretty hard to navigate sometimes."

Around that time, Lee started spending time with some musicians, and one thing led to another, and he left teaching behind to try to make a living as a musician while bartending on the side. He continues, "Between bartending and music, I was able to pay my bills with barely anything left over. We would get $50 here and there, and my rent was $300, and I could eat at the restaurant where I worked. I made about $400 dollars a month and was alright, so it was cool."

Amos saw the change in the music industry early on, allowing him to move with evolving landscape of the industry. Lee says, "It's necessary to be fluid in the scene right now. There's so much fluidity to so many positions that you have to really keep an eye on something you're gonna feel connected to in a way that's gonna make you stick with it through a lot of hardship, because there's a lot of hardship available." With such a saturated industry, his main goal is to connect with people through his music, and have people leave the show feeling a little bit better than when they arrived.

Even in the realm of music, Amos is not used to being in the limelight, perhaps that's why he chose to work in education before veering off into music. The singer is not often recognized when out and about -- something he bashfully admits to being grateful for. He says, "I don't know how I would handle fame, because it's such an abstract thing. For some people, that's their goal and that speaks to them, but I think I would find it pretty invasive. Although, sometimes you can't help if you're just doing what you love doing and fame comes along with it. You shouldn't have to give up something you love for the invasiveness of a lifestyle, but I think it's a choice."

His humility and lack of artifice has allowed him some anonymity, letting go see shows undetected -- the last show being a Portland band that came through the Boot & Saddle in Philadelphia. "There was a band there called Black Prairie that just amazed me. The music took me to another place, and I really just enjoyed the show. They are incredible players." Lee models his live show after the same concept; the singer doesn't buy much into stage production, letting the music take center stage.

"I think production can be a good thing if it's secondary to the music. It should never take the place of the main attraction, which are, hopefully, the songs. I don't want to be putting up too many bells and whistles. It's not like an arena show where the job is to overwhelm you; the connection is lost. We're just taking a stage and trying to play music for people who bought tickets to hear the songs. I tend to do a more understated type of thing."

While many people may have heard of him, but not heard his music, it's not a big concern to the singer. "I feel all I can really do is keep playing, keep writing, and keep the situation organic. I take it as it comes. I don't ever want to force anything on people, and I don't want to build weird bridges that might collapse. I want to build real bridges that people are gonna be able to use for a decade or two to come. Those are the kind of bridges I want people to cross to get to the music."

For those attending the show, Amos has announced an incentive via Facebook:

I appreciate y'all buying tickets so much that I want to offer you something unique for the upcoming show dates. Come backstage before the show or to soundcheck and if you're a songwriter, bring an unfinished song, and we can work on it. If you're a singer, maybe you can sing harmony on a tune with us. If you're just a fan, come spend time with us onstage while we work on arrangements during soundcheck. We want you to know that your support is all we have, and that our house is your house. - Amos

To enter, simply email us at [email protected] with your full name, phone number and the show you're attending. Tickets required.

We'll randomly draw the winners for each show and get in touch with the details. This contest will close next Monday, November 4 at noon EST, so enter now.

Amos Lee will perform at the State Theatre with Kat Edmondson on Monday, November 4, 2013.
AA, $40-$50, 7:30 pm
Purchase tickets here.

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