Funk on the Promenade: A Bumbershoot Interview With AM & Shawn Lee (And a Few Other Sunday Observations)"/>
What began as a fantastically polished oddity--and a treat reserved for those in the know--has grown to become the 2012 AM & Shawn Lee experience: a well-attended, well-sung-along-to, well-danced-at production. Luckily, their loung-y disco-funk still hasn't been hyped into oblivion--aside from some local jerks--though they're good enough to stack up to it. As a duo, and individually, they are exceptionally talented, though they refuse to slot themselves above "semi-pro."
AM (center) & Shawn Lee (right)
"I think we're pro music fans, but as musicians, we're semi-pro," Lee tells me after the show. "I think it keeps you from getting up your own ass as well, thinking you're the fucking master. It's okay if other people think that, but I think when you think that, you're in trouble...You get too cocky, you fuck your shit up."
Whether he admits it or not, the London-based multi-instrumentalist/producer is extremely good at what he does, and has released music at a prolific clip. He's already two solo records deep this year (Synthesizers in Space, and Reel to Reel), and, having been away from his home studio for six weeks at this point, says he has the itch to record more. A lot more. "I want to make like twenty more before the end of the year," he laughs. He's quirky, and pleasantly strange. Whereas the rest of the band (they pick up keyboardist Brett Bixby and drummer Sam Altiman (sp?) for tours) is decked out in groovy concert-style menswear, Lee looks like a grunge-era rockstar: dark jeans over boots, black long-sleeve shirt and jacket with aviator shades. His long, shiny white hair is all over his face during solos.
The Los Angeles via New Orleans vocalist AM is an accomplished solo artist as well, and his experience shows through on stage. Over-animated arm swings while he strums his guitar, and delightfully sarcastic stage banter complete his show. In his shades and a baby blue Members Only windbreaker, he looks like the Sunset Strip in purple jeans (or at least what the movies tell me the Sunset Strip looks like). His style is A-grade. He led the crowd in an a'capella sing-along of "Dark Into Light" so they could be ready for the song's chorus, and made fun of us for a few minutes for not singing loud enough.
They mixed two new songs into their Celestial Electric-heavy set at the Promenade Stage Sunday evening (which is, by the way, a great new stage, and a well-utilized space by festival organizers), and said they have a whole new album recorded and ready for release this coming Spring. They both play multiple instruments, and hopped from guitar to bass and drums. They played to the crowd as well or better than they did at the Sunset a year ago, and tacked an exclamation point--or happy ending, given the laid-back nature of their music--onto their tour, as this was their last stop.
"Every time we go out on tour, the crowds get bigger; it's just getting better and better," says AM off-stage. "We're just continuing on because all the signs are pointing to continuing on."
The two arrived at this point through unorthodox (although increasingly common) means. Planted on different continents, the two build songs piecemeal, and stitch them together through the email. Their studio and songwriting aptitude however, completely smoothes over any choppiness one might imagine would arise during this style of recording, and the two actually insist that their distance might have lead to a greater product in the end. "We're not stifling each other," says Lee. "When you're in [the studio] together, you're shooting somebody's ideas down before they've developed it. You're scrutinizing, and the other person can feel that you're listening to every little thing they're doing, like 'Hmm, I'm not sure about that.' You're kind of vibing; getting a vibe off of them."
Whatever they've been doing, it's worked well. Damn well. It should be fun to see what the semi-pros come up with next.
Other Bumbershoot Sunday Observations:
Deep See Diver (who played the Promenade Stage after AM & Shawn Lee) played a fantastic show from what I saw, and are currently one of the best bands in Seattle; Campari and whiskey is a strange mixture; and Taco Bell: still gross, but tasty in a very evil sort of way.