Shawn Lee: "Computers are amazing, powerful machines, but they are kind of soulless"
Shawn Lee's music can be heard in everything from snowboard films and video games to documentaries and TV series. Over the course of his career, the Wichita, Kansas, native has released dozens of albums, both on his own and with Ping Pong Orchestra. Tonight, he stops by the Marquis with AM in support of their latest effort, La Musique Numerique. We recently spoke with Lee about his new music, how he balances fatherhood with being a touring musician and how he got into soundtracking.
Westword: You're in Dallas right now. How do you feel about touring?
Shawn Lee: I'm always glad, to be honest, that touring is over and I get to go home, but I'm also sad that it's over. It's good to go home and see my family, but I also miss playing out.
What's one of the things you do to unwind from touring when you get home?
I go straight into my family. I have two kids, you know. It's just straight back into the realities of my life -- taking care of business at home, getting back into the studio and just taking care of life. That sometimes means taking the kids to school and being around the house. It also means getting back in the studio and writing.
How old are your kids?
I have two. One is nine and the other is three.
Do you struggle with balancing family life with music life?
At home, when I'm home, it's fine. I have a very good balance. I am usually only in the studio a couple days out of the week, so I spend a lot of time around. When I'm out on the road, which is exactly three weeks, my oldest daughter is used to it, but my youngest is really missing me at the moment. She'll be glad when I get back.
Sometimes it's good to get away and come back and be focused... kind of have a different perspective on it. I've taken time to be caught up. Before you go on tour, there is a lot to sort out. When I come back, it's all about getting readjusted.
Do you schedule tours to balance your family life?
There are certain times of year that we like to tour. We like the spring and summer tour, and we like a fall tour. Every now and again, we do a winter thing, but mostly it's around the festival season. The best is when the album is out and supporting that.
Are you working on another album right now?
I have two albums coming out soon. One is called the Electric Peanut Butter Company. There is another I did for a video game coming out called Zombie Playground, and it's like a kind of early '80s style, Italian horror score. There are a lot of drum machines. Me and AM are working on another album, and I've got some other stuff going. I'm keeping up with the serious pace of making music. There are new things coming out in the same way I've been doing it over the years.
How did you get into crossing over into soundtracking video games? Your work can be found in such a broad spectrum, so I'm curious to know how you can make 29 albums and still manage to keep it going -- do you jump at every opportunity you encounter?
I've always been into soundtracking music because I've always been into TV music, and instrumental music. A lot of my stuff is mood music, very cinematic. I like making music like that. From doing early stuff that was more atmospheric, and it being used in TV and ads, various people would get in touch with me and ask me to compose stuff, whether it be a documentary film, or a video game, etc.
Getting into composing was something that I always wanted to do; so my head was always there. It came from people being a fan of my music to use it in TV and ads. They could be DJs, editors or whatever, but it was the vibe that really brought it together.
What would you say is the contrast to your musical creation? What is that one thing that you truly enjoy that may not have anything to do with music.
Sleeping. I really enjoy sleeping. That's a good question. I really enjoy watching films, and I feel like TV has gotten so good because it's almost cinematic now. I like to watch things like Breaking Bad, Walking Dead, Sopranos... anything on AMC and HBO. I really enjoy House of Cards.
What about musically? I don't want to ask what inspires you, but what do you search for in terms of music?
I listen to a lot of music all the time, and I listen to very diverse eclectic music. I find a lot of inspiration from '70s and '80s, a lot of European stuff. When I was doing Celestial [Electric] with AM, I was listening to a lot of psychedelic Turkish music. I really like digging and finding stuff. There is so much music out there. I enjoy the hunt. It's an endless quest. It's such an endless body to enjoy and be inspired by. It's easy to stay inspired.
How do you think the albums you put out, whether with Ping Pong Orchestra or AM or solo, reflect the personal changes in your life at that time?
Totally. They directly reflect what I'm listening to at the time and what I'm feeling in life. I think it reflects what gear I'm using, like if I bought some new gear and I'm using it a lot. If I got some new synth gear, I might be using it on that project. It could be a guitar or an effect, but it gets used in whatever I'm making.
What are you currently working with?
I record on Logic, but I use tape. I don't record multitrack on tape; it's more running things on tape and dumping. But it's always on the computer. It's always in the box, and I'm using analog hardware stuff to put it through as I'm recording, so it's kind of a hybrid of it all. Computers are amazing, powerful machines, but they are kind of soulless.
You have to put your soul into it. That's where all the hardware and analog come into play. It's great for editing and storage and archiving and mixing, but I think you have to use it intelligently and balance out the hardware and software. It has to have the human touch.
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