For the ’70s-loving master producer that is Shawn Lee, his AM pop collaboration with Mama’s Gun singer Andy Platts was likely going to be another one-off adventure in a career that’s been full of them. From his notoriously eclectic Ping Pong Orchestra records to his work behind the boards for albums by the likes of Saint Etienne, Lee’s aesthetic has been one where color, melody, and instrumentation become the bright core of every song he crafts. Doing a full album of yacht-rock wonders? It just made sense.
What happened after his band he formed with Platt, Young Gun Silver Fox, was unexpected. The reaction to the record was immediate, with fans championing the throwback sound of their debut record West End Coast. So good it was, it even topped PopMatters’ Best Pop Albums list in 2016.
Now, the duo are at it again, having just recently put out a sought-after sophomore record. Their new effort, AM Waves, very much continues in the vein of ’70s sunshine that made their first album such a breath of fresh air in the modern pop landscape, but this time adding in some new flavors to the mix like giving us the lightest touches of disco. So to celebrate the occasion, Shawn Lee sat down to answer PopMatters 20 Questions, revealing an antipathy towards Pixar for making him cry and how he wishes he could travel back to the 1970s just to get that sweet sweet recording equipment.
1. The latest book or movie that made you cry?
Coco. Fucking Pixar, the tear-jerking bastards! I watched it with my youngest daughter and she was like “Daddy, why are you crying?!” Ha ha! My oldest daughter watched it the next day and she was crying too! Good flick.
2. The fictional character most like you?
I’m like Wonder Woman — I make women wonder! But seriously, I’m stranger than fiction! I mean there isn’t a fictional character with a studio and loads of instruments churning record after record is there! Ya dig?
3. The greatest album, ever?
AM Waves of course! Ha ha! Honestly, couldn’t choose just one. This type of question can never have a satisfactory answer. It’s so subjective and really depends on time, mood, and taste.
4. Star Trek or Star Wars?
Star Trek: are you out of your Vulcan mind?! Star Wars just doesn’t resonate with me. Always found it cheesy, to be honest. Give Me Kirk and Spock any day. “Khan!!”
5. Your ideal brain food?
Music, life, and love — although they are one in the same. I’d also say this is more soul food. Brain can be overrated!
6. You’re proud of this accomplishment, but why?
I’m proud that I’m still enthusiastic about making & playing music and still hungry & learning. So much left to do. All these years later, and I still feel my best work is still ahead of me. Always looking forward.
7. You want to be remembered for …?
I wanna be remembered for my body of work and the love I have put into it. Also, I want people that know me to remember me as some one who liked to laugh out loud and lived a life worth living.
8. Of those who’ve come before, the most inspirational are?
Shuggie Otis, Jimi Hendrix, Ennio Morricone, the Beatles, James Brown, Jeff Porcaro, Steely Dan, Carol Kaye, Alan Parsons, Mike Finnigan, Rudy Love, and so many many more. I could go on and on. I also find inspiration from my kids who keep me grounded and honest. They’re not that impressed with me being a musician! It’s just “normal” to them you know.
9. The creative masterpiece you wish bore your signature?
None. Don’t really think in terms of that honestly. Somebody else’s work is just that. I’m all about trying to reach my potential and do my best work. At the end of the day that’s the name of the game.
10. Your hidden talents . . .?
I’m pretty good at making guacamole! Honestly, I’m not hiding any of my talents: what you see is what you get. Other than music I’m pretty useless sadly!
11. The best piece of advice you actually followed?
“Look both ways before you cross the street.” — Mom. Ha ha! In the real tip, as cheesy as it might seem, the best advice I can personally give to a creative person is always to finish what you start and move forward no matter what… be a finisher!
12. The best thing you ever bought, stole, or borrowed?
My late ’70s Gibson ES 335 guitar that my then girlfriend bought me in 1992. It’s never been far from my hands over the years. A real guitar for life. It’s a thing of beauty!
13. You feel best in Armani or Levis or . . .?
Levi’s fo’ sure! Suits are for “suits”. Comfort is king and denim is my thing!
14. Your dinner guest at the Ritz would be?
I’d invite the Ginger & Mary Ann from Gilligan’s Island for obvious reasons! But seriously having a home-cooked Mexican meal at home with my family beats having dinner with politicians and so-called intellectuals any day!
15. Time travel: where, when and why?
Back to the ’70s to buy up loads of musical equipment! I’d bring it back to my studio and go crazy man! YEAH! The amount of times I’ve had this conversation with other musicians is ridiculous!
16. Stress management: hit man, spa vacation or Prozac?
Studio every time! It’s the one place where everything makes sense, and anything is possible. As Roy Ayers so aptly put: “Music is my sanctuary.”
17. Essential to life: coffee, vodka, cigarettes, chocolate, or . . .?
Morning coffee is survival juice! Don’t like chocolate and I don’t drink or smoke. It’s a fools game!
18. Environ of choice: city or country, and where on the map?
London City, man. Still, my fave place to be after all these years. Also, being in my studio and also hanging out with my kids at home watching a shark program on TV is perfect!
19. What do you want to say to the leader of your country?
You disgust me! Not to mention they are not my leaders. Bloody idiots in charge now. Really depressing. Just thinking about it is upsetting!
20. Last but certainly not least, what are you working on, now?
My studio tan! Actually in addition to all the studio japes I’m traveling a lot playing live gigs. More than ever. On my way back from Germany as we speak where I was playing drums with Jonathan Jeremiah. I’m off to Japan in about 10 days to play some shows with Young Gun Silver Fox which I’m really looking forward to. We’ve got more shows lined up and I’m hoping to start writing some new songs for the third album in September when the whole summer festival season finishes up.
Otherwise, there will be some more upcoming shows with Jonathan and YGSF and the release of the Library Music documentary film that I’ve been working on for the last three years or so in October. So the plan is to stay busy plus I have an upcoming album with Misha Panfilov and productions with Colorama and Diane Birch.