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November 7, 2006

Sight Unsound: Amos Lee stirs a melting pot of influences

Amos Lee: HOT FOR TEACHER — Since he retired from teaching, singer-songwriter Amos Lee has made a pretty successful stab at the music industry, at the ripe age of 28.“I am constantly thinking about songs and working out melodies in my head. Some arrive fully formed, but most come in pieces that need to be connected somehow and for me, connecting them is a continual process.” Thus spoke Amos Lee in a recent interview with LEO. Lee is an increasingly popular songwriter who has been winning over audiences worldwide since “retiring” from his teaching career. And it is likely that at the not-so-ripe old age of 28, the musically ambitious Lee has not even begun to hit his creative peak.His work as a composer is informed by myriad influences. “Growing up I listened to R&B, hip hop and the occasional hair-metal band, but it was all pop music,” Lee said. “Then I started working at a record store, which opened me up to people and styles that I wouldn’t have heard of otherwise. Soul, jazz and world music started creeping into my consciousness, as did songwriters like Bill Withers, Townes Van Zandt and John Prine. I have a good frame of reference to work from, but it keeps me aware of the need to get better at what I do.” Though it is difficult to detect any residual hair-metal in Lee’s self-titled debut album, the record does pay homage to and is indeed a mixture of all those influences. Following the success of that record, he shared stages with Prine, Bob Dylan and Merle Haggard.Lee did not, however, hang around their dressing rooms seeking wisdom.“I take guidance from what they do. Those guys are resilient,” Lee said. “They are always on the road connecting with their fan base, and they are still trying to stretch themselves artistically.” Following their example, Lee is touring in support of his lovely sophomore release, Supply and Demand. His traveling road show, which includes a full band, hits Louisville on Saturday, Nov. 11, at Headliners Music Hall (1386 Lexington Road, 584-8088).Lee’s set typically encompasses material from both records, an assortment of non-album tracks and anything else rumbling around in his head. The concert is scheduled to start at 9 p.m. and tickets are going fast.To say the boys in Death Cab For Cutie are avid music fans is an understatement. Bassist Nick Harmer told LEO, “When we are on the road, we buy, buy, buy, and listen, listen, listen. In fact, we are on a half-serious hunt for an old jukebox — I don’t know where we’d put it — but we want to fill it with indie 45s. We also try to catch a lot of live shows just to see how other bands do what they do.” Harmer confides that his own band (which, in case you didn’t notice, is all the rage with the cool kids) functions less like a democracy and more like a “benevolent dictatorship” ruled by principal songwriter Ben Gibbard. But don’t get Harmer wrong: Such an arrangement suits him just fine.“We all bring our own ideas to the table, and then Ben tries to assimilate whatever makes the most sense. But, really, it’s not like things need to sit in committee or anything before we move forward with what feels right.”Himself perfectly satisfied with band politics, overwhelming success and life in general, Harmer is happy to ride the Death Cab as far as it will go, even if that’s not forever.“I’m quite content right now being a bass player,” he said. “But let’s face it: Every band has a shelf life. We all know the shoe will drop some day. If we could keep the momentum going indefinitely, we’d be the luckiest people in the world. But then again, I’m sure Adam Clayton (of U2) never expected to still be playing bass in a rock band at his age, so who knows?”Death Cab For Cutie is planning to issue another run of 45s themselves sometime in 2007 (probably in anticipation of owning their own jukebox), but for now, Harmer hopes fans are sated with the band’s latest offering, Plans. Local devotees can catch them up close and personal at the nearest record shop or at the Palace Theatre (625 S. Fourth St., 583-4555) on Wednesday, Nov. 15. The all-ages event starts at 8 p.m.A steady diet of Beatles, Son House, alternative rock and lots of jazz and bluegrass is how The Black Keys’ frontman Dan Auerbach explains the Akron duo’s crazy-cool sound.Through a weird twist of fate, Auerbach, a juvenile audiophile, eventually transitioned into a fine vocalist/guitarist alongside a non-friend from high school. “Yeah, it was much later and purely by accident that Patrick (Carney, Black Keys’ drummer) and I ended up making music together and realized that we had a lot of the same sensibilities.” The pair’s natural chemistry, shared vision and forceful demos earned these blues-drenched rockers a record deal before they ever played a single note in concert. They now have several stellar albums and countless live outings under their belts that have earned them a rather large following. But Auerbach admits that “it’s kind of a blurred line between having to eat Taco Bell and crash on someone’s floor to opening shows for Radiohead.”If you’re wondering whether two white boys from Ohio can possibly be the real deal, consider this: Robert Plant repeatedly turns up at their performances and has intimated in the music press that he wants to join the band. But don’t take the tall cool one’s word for it. See for yourself at Headliners on Wednesday, Nov. 15, when The Keys will be paired with psychedelic indie favorites The Black Angels. The 18-and-over show starts at 9 p.m.