We Talked With Musician Amos Lee Ahead Of His Concert At Uptown

Amos Lee. Photo by Denise Guerin.

Philadelphia native singer-songwriter Amos Lee has been on the scene for two decades, opening for Bob Dylan and Norah Jones early in his career. 

His self-titled debut in 2005 solidified his place as a bonafide rockstar (the album itself is certified Gold) with hits “Colors” and “Arms Of A Woman” Blending influences from folk, rock and soul, Lee has a folksy, heartfelt sound that has been compared to John Prine with a soulful edge a la Bill Withers.

Nearly 20 years after his wildly successful debut album, Lee is releasing his most recent, Transmissions, August 9th. The whole album was recorded by Lee and his band over a week in a secluded cabin—an intimate gathering to honor his friend’s passing—and the album is indicative of that idea of reconvening with the ones you love during hard times. 

Ahead of his performance at Uptown Theater on June 25th, we talked to Lee about his upcoming album, recording processes and what we can expect from the KC show.

Tell us about the process of recording Transmissions.

We lost a friend of ours named Jesse, who was the husband of the guitar player in the band, Zach. Jesse was a really important person to all of us. His loss and his spirit were really resonant in me. He was the kind of person that just loved you in all the ways you wanna be loved—he saw you in the light. There are two songs about Jesse on the record. One is “Baby Pictures,” the other is “When You Go.” His spirit and the resonance of his spirit made me want to go to upstate New York, where he and Zach lived—record there and kind of honor his soul. The guy who plays drums on the record, Lee Falco, it’s his studio that he and his dad built and his dad had passed away the year before. So, I really wanted to go up there and be with these folks and honor the folks who they lost. But also at the same time, have some fun and play some music together and heal—heal in a space that was made sacred by this family, by their journey of building this beautiful studio together with their own hands out of reclaimed churchwood. It’s really just a communion—you’re putting yourself in a room full of people who you believe in and recording these songs.

What does the title of the album, Transmissions, mean to you?

The song is sort of just about being present and that’s so hard today, we’re living in this age of furious anxiety and we all feel it. Transmissions to me means a couple things. It’s about the idea of illness, like transmitting to each other. But it’s also the idea of transmissions as in this compulsive obsessiveness with posting, feedback and with data—the idea that an experience doesn’t have meaning unless it’s online. It’s not that I think that there’s anything fundamentally wrong with promoting yourself and connecting with people—but I do think long term it’s damaging to not just be fully present without recording it and sharing it. Ultimately, it’s just a song about being present as much as you can. I’m not preaching here, I struggle with that too. I’d rather be watching a show or listening to a podcast rather than just walking in nature and connecting with the environment that you’re in, rather than constantly trying to block it out. 

Tell us about some of the themes of the album.

My recording and my writing is about honoring people. It is finding these spaces where we can be together and align ourselves with the humanity and the connection, while not dismissing the hard stuff—being together, in the intense good and in the intense tough. Music is always, and remains to be, this uniting force. I can invite my whole family together and we’re together and we heal when we come together. That’s the whole point. Whether it’s celebrating, whether it’s mourning. We heal when we come together. We suffer alone, but we heal together. We understood how things felt during the pandemic when we couldn’t be together in these sort of shared spaces. So it’s a beautiful thing to come back and say ‘I’m happy to breathe the air with you. I’m happy to be next to you and to hold you and to touch you and to smell you and to be with you.’ There is a highway between isolation and reconnection and that’s sort of where I’m driving on this record.

What can people expect at the show at Uptown?

It’s a mix—I mean, I think I have like 10 or 11 albums at this point. So there’s a bunch of tunes, I really try to represent every record [in] at least a song or two. We’ll probably play four or five songs from the new record. The band is great—they’re just deeply playful, soulful people who are just again, I’ll bring the word up, incredibly present while they play. I don’t consider myself a jam band per se, but the spirit of improvisation and the spirit of being present and allowing the moment to dictate the connection, rather than having some sort of set, in place structure that we do every night and we never deviate from. Ultimately, we’re there—I’m there—to connect with people through songs, playing and trying to serve people through the music.

GO: Amos Lee, June 25. 7:30 pm. Uptown Theater.

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