After being discovered by fellow folk-soul-popster Norah Jones, Singer/Songwriter Amos Lee has toured with folk heavyweights like Bob Dylan, Merle Haggard, Norah Jones, and John Prine. His impressively indefinable 2005 self-titled debut was followed up by the long-awaited, and more melodically substantial, beefier Supply and Demand (Blue Note, 2006), followed by a US tour. Amos was nice enough to chat briefly from his hometown of Philadelphia.
Are you off the road now?
No, not really off the road. We just got off a 2-week run, and then we're about to head off to Europe and Japan soon for another couple of weeks.
How do you feel about folk music? Do you identify with that label? A friend of mine was saying she thinks of you as more soul/r&b ...
I identify with it, but what is folk music? I don't really know what folk music means anymore. I definitely hope [my music] means something to people ... I can relate to soul, r&b ... whatever people want to call me is fine. I just hope it makes them feel something.
So what about the title of your new record, Supply and Demand? How did you come up with that?
Yeah that's a song on the album. Let me think about that ... why is that the title track? Well, the title ... because when you mix music, art, commerce, and business, sometimes you have to deal with things you might not normally want to deal with. Supply and demand ... it's more of a reminder to keep important things close to your heart. For when [you're in this business] ... a reminder to hold on to what's important in your heart.
You've become popular, or so it seems, pretty quickly over the past year or so. Does it feel that fast for you, or is it something you've been working on for longer?
Yeah, I've been working on it for a minute. But I'm pretty fortunate. A lot of people don't really know me yet, so I can still walk around and people kinda leave me alone; so it's still pretty comfortable.
How do you reckon with fame? Because it's something you kind of have to deal with, if you want to make a substantial living in this field, you have to know people are going to know who you are. Does that sort of loss of privacy freak you out, or does it just come with the territory?
I think it's just part of what I do. As far as privacy goes, there's not much I can do about it. I put a record out and I really want people to like it. I think celebrity is something to choose. There's popularity and then there's celebrity. I was around Norah [Jones] for a year, and she's such a mellow person. People would come up to her and say they love what she does, but she's so mellow ...
As opposed to, say, Bob Dylan, whom youve also toured with ...
Yeah well that was great, too. I didn't get a whole lot of time hanging out with him, so I don't really know how he is with [his celebrity], but I did get to be up close with him a bit. His tour runs so smoothly. Everyone's really good at what they do.
Are you tired of the road yet?
[laughs] Am I tired of the road?
Yeah, well, people either love it or they hate it.
I can't really get tired of it it's my job. There's always an up- and down-side to any job. There's always gonna be something you don't like about your job; and there are times when I get tired or whatever, but the up-sides far outweigh the down-sides with this job.
Do you think you'd ever go back to teaching? You know, people love to talk about how you used to be a teacher.
I would go back, I guess. I haven't ruled it out, let's say that. [I'd teach again] if I felt like I could walk into a classroom, and that's where I really wanted to be ... if I felt called back to the profession.
Okay back to your upcoming record. Anything on this record you want to talk about? Any favorite songs?
Oh you know I can't go there. You know how that is: you pick a favorite, and the other songs start yelling at you. Highlights ... well I just tried to put 11 songs together that fit. I know that's kind of a lame answer, but I just tried to do my best. And working with these guys [in the band], we all just tried to do our best.
Did you write specifically for this record? Or was it more like choosing from what you've written recently?
No, we recorded 20 songs, and then I picked 11 of them.
You recorded in Philly and L.A. Was that circumstantial, or was there a different vibe you were going for?
At a point, working in Philly, we were working 15-20 hour days with the band, and I just needed a new perspective. I needed to change my environment to keep the creative energy high, you know. So we went to L.A. and finished up there. We were still working 15-20 hour days in L.A. There was a lot of hard work that went into this album. We really wanted to do our best.