Amos Lee: Bringing his latest music ‘from the heart’ to the Music Hall July 9

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Amos Lee lands at The Music Hall July 9. Photo/Denise Guerin

If You Go

The Music Hall

28 Chestnut Street
Portsmouth, NH 03801

PORTSMOUTH, NH – He isn’t your typical folk singer, and he isn’t the type to put on an exuberant soul spectacle when he performs, but Amos Lee has been taking some of the qualities of both to create his own musical approach for over 20 years.

Throughout his career, he has shared the stage with the likes of Bob Dylan, B.B. King, Adele and Norah Jones, among many others. He also has numerous records under his belt, including his upcoming full-length release “Transmissions,” that’s due out on August 9 via his own record label at Hoagiemouth Records.

As part of a tour in support of the album, Lee is going to be playing a few songs off of it along with some of his older material at The Music Hall in Portsmouth on July 9. The show starts at 7 p.m. with the Rochester singer-songwriter Mikaela Davis opening the show at 7 p.m. 

We had a chance to talk with Amos ahead of the show about the making of the album, how the name of his record label honors his roots in Philadelphia, performing in old venues and writing music that comes from his heart. 

Rob Duguay: On August 9th, you’re releasing “Transmissions” via your own record label at Hoagiemouth Records. It features a collection of songs that were made over the course of a period that lasted over two years, so what was the creation process like for the album? Was there a lot of scheduling in between tours?

Amos Lee: The process was a long one. It started during the pandemic and I had just started writing a ton of songs. I think a lot of people had started to record from home and it was the first time that I had that kind of ability, so I got a laptop and I got Logic, which is a computer program. I took Logic lessons from Daniel Bailen, who plays in the band Bailen with his brother David and their sister Julia, and he gave me the wherewithal to start recording and make a template. It was a game changer for me because I went from purely doing demos. 

I started writing songs in the ‘90s, so we didn’t even have four tracks back then because those were a big expense. I started out writing songs in books and then I moved to a mini cassette recorder, which I would put in front of me and just play and sing into it. It sounded pretty warbly, but you still got it in if you needed it. Then from there I went to the four-track and since then I’ve really just been in the same mode of going on my phone and recording voice memos, but this was a game changer because now I can record at home to really suss out ideas with harmonies and other kinds of arrangement ideas. This record differs from a lot of the other ones because I had an abundance of songs that I could also record and flesh out on my own before going into the studio. 

In between tours, I was just at home recording a ton of tunes while putting in little parts and little arrangement ideas. I produced this record, which we did at a studio called The Building located in Upstate New York, and I had a much clearer idea of what I wanted for a lot of the songs before we even started to record in the studio. There was a long pre-production with a lot of songwriting and a lot of pre-production at home, and then we spent five days in the studio recording 17 or 18 songs. In that way, a lot of the heavy lifting was done beforehand and we could just go in while being free and more connected. Making a record, especially in a new space with a couple new people, can always be a bit of gauging the territory, but we just jumped right in. 

It was a lot like “Mission Bell” in the sense that we already had a concept of what we were going to do before we even really started it. Sometimes painters underneath the actual paint will draw a rough sketch, so that’s what all the pre-production was. It was a basic sketch beneath all the paint and then we went into the studio to create more color around what was happening in the songs. To answer your question succinctly about tours, I wasn’t really touring that much last year, there was really a lot of writing and figuring life out. 

RD: I like how you related the process to the making of a painting with the layers and everything, that’s really cool. Hoagiemouth could possibly be the most unique name for a record label I’ve ever heard, so what inspired the name when you were starting up your own label? Does it honor your Philadelphia roots in a way or did it come from something else?

AL: Yes, it definitely does. “Hoagiemouth” is what we call the Philly accent. We have a distinct accent in Philadelphia which some people get and some people don’t. I thought Kate Winslet did a pretty good job of it on the show “Mare of Easttown”, she kind of does that but her accent is more Delco, which is Delaware County. I’m certain that in New Hampshire, there are tons of accents, especially regionally within the state and Philly is similar. I love Philly so much, the music here and the people here are so friggin’ great and it’s where I’m from, man. 

It’s my roots, it’s a tough-ass town but there’s such a beautiful community and group of folks here and the diversity is the best. 

RD: That’s awesome. From listening to the album, I find the sequencing to be interesting with the first couple of songs being acoustic based with the next few having a lot of amplified elements coming into play and then returning to that stripped down foundation. Was there any sort of purpose behind this or was it more spontaneous?

AL: It was definitely going with the flow, there was nothing but flow happening. I think it was really a song-to-song kind of vibe and there wasn’t really much of an idea for it, we just sort of went down a list. I just had a list of tunes that I had fleshed out along with others that needed a little bit more work and we really huddled up. It was a huge team effort, I “produced” it but all the people who were with me are so creative and awesome. I would just play them a song to see if they were feeling it and if they were then we’d do it. 

There wasn’t some kind of regimental thing. It was very free-flying, very open and very connected & collaborative. 

RD: It sounds like you had a very organic experience. What are your thoughts on coming to the Music Hall in Portsmouth next month? The building has been around since the late 1800s, so do you ever get a different feeling before a show when you know that you’re going to play at an historic venue like this one?

AL: A lot of my thoughts center on what the load-in is going to be like and what the backstage is like. Those older venues are funky, they’re really wild, but on a spiritual level, there’s been a lot of artists in that building and you sort of open yourself up to it. If I can communicate with everyone in the room with what energy is in the room, that’s sort of the job and it can be an overwhelming thing. It’s a very different experience than just playing whatever outdoor place with just a bunch of seats. These rooms are very specific, there’s been a lot of energy in and out of them and they’ve existed for a long time.

Those are some of my favorite venues to play because they have such unique and interesting stories. A lot of these venues, especially the older ones, used to be things like an army hospital or a porn theater or a refuge for disco goers or something. They’re all over the place and they’ve changed so many times and they’ve been through so many different experiences of humanity. It’s pretty head-trippy to step inside these buildings and being from Philly I’m used to old buildings, but it’s head-trippy to just sit still and think about what’s happened there. What’s gone down in this building? How much love has been here? How much loss has been here? How many people have felt things that we’ve longed to feel?

RD: That’s a great perspective to have and I totally get what you mean. What do you hope to connect with the listener on when they check “Transmissions” out after it’s released?

AL: That’s a big question for me to answer because I don’t really know what to expect or to want. I’m writing this stuff from my heart, I want other people to feel it in their heart and that’s about it. I don’t know what else I can ask for or hope for, it’s just to connect on a human level, on an emotional level and bring some of whatever it is because there’s a lot of different feelings on this album. My objective musically in my life these days is to express from an honest place and to want to be as generous as I possibly can so I can hopefully make other people feel something and maybe feel better or maybe feel release. Maybe there’s some cathartic energy, maybe there’s some joyful energy or maybe there’s some chill, relaxing energy, whatever it is. 

The short answer is that I write from my heart and I hope whoever listens feels it in their heart.