Singer songwriter Amos Lee’s music has been described as everything from folk to country to rock to soul.He’s toured with the likes of Norah Jones, Bob Dylan, Elvis Costello and Paul Simon. His latest record is called Mountains of Sorrow, Rivers of Song. He’ll be performing at Ovens Auditorium Saturday night and he joined us this morning.
Norah Jones was in the Blue Note offices when she first heard you, and asked that you open for her on tour. And her bassist, Lee Alexander, ended up producing your first album. How significant was that for you?
It was pretty huge. At the time I was really just playing clubs. My normal week would go something like open mic on Monday night. We would have this little gig earlier in the night on Tuesday, and then we would go to one of our favorite bars and play in the corner for free drinks Tuesday night late until two or three. Wednesday was another open mic, Thursday was work. It just sort of went like that. So I was playing for free almost every night of the week. So when Norah took me out, it was just a huge change for me because all of a sudden I’m going from playing in the corner of bars in Philly to some of the most pristine theaters in Europe and playing in front of like 3,000 people. So it was a pretty big deal for me.
Your most recent album is called Mountains of Sorrow, Rivers of Song. This album to me comes across as very heartfelt and personal. Is this your most personal work so far?
I hope they all come across that way. I don’t want to be the singer/songwriter dude that puts out disingenuous records. You know it is a record that I loved making. I made it with my touring band so it was extremely personal on that level.
Well, let’s talk about that. You brought your touring band into record, versus using a studio band. Why was this important to you?
Well, you just develop a relationship with people. You want to further these relationships. These are friends and compadres. We came up together in Philly, you know? We’ve all sort of been playing around the same scene and working hard, and it feels good to be able to bring your friends along with you when you have fun opportunities.
The title track, Mountains of Sorrow was inspired by the late Levon Helm. Would you mind talking about that?
We got a chance to play the Ramble with Levon and his band. The Midnight Ramble was sort of a thing that Levon started up in the Woodstock area in a barn on his property, and he was just bringing musicians in and we would play with his band. We would basically open up with him. I was kind of going through this time where I might have not been seeing things right. My views and visions were kind of distorted. And Levon, man, he was sick and he was just giving it his all. His songs were beautiful and his performance was beautiful and his energy was amazing. It really kind of change the way I was going to approach my work, from more of a place of gratitude. It really changed a lot for me. The song is based around that experience but it’s as much about people that I love. As a songwriter and somebody who really cares about the craft, those are the people that inspire me.
Many musicians are thankful to have their fans, but I’ve read in multiple interviews that you feel incredibly indebted to those who show up to your shows.
A big part of that comes from the people I was raised by. My parents and my family are all working class people. Watching my dad put in 50 hours of work in his seventies, and watching my mom slave away – my whole family, they are all working people. So when I take the stage every night, the way I take it, I’m giving everything I got because A) it’s fleeting, and you never know how long your going to have here on this planet, but also just because I’m grateful for the opportunity to have work people interested in what I’m doing. There are no guarantees. Nobody owes me anything. I’m just going up there on my own with these songs that I sing and these people that I surround myself with that are my good friends. We’re just trying to give back some of the goodness we’ve been given.
Amos Lee. His latest album is called Mountains of Sorrow, Rivers of Song and he’s performing at Ovens Auditorium on Saturday.