Shawn Lee & The Soul Surfers

From Russia with funk – London-based American artist, multi-instrumentalist, producer and composer Shawn Lee has collaborated with the Russian funk band The Soul Surfers. The result is an album full of boundless soul and psychedelic funk sounds from the future. I spoke with Shawn Lee about their new album “Shawn Lee and The Soul Surfers”, his unbroken passion to make records and the contribution of music to international understanding.

Of all the places in the world, Nizhniy Novgorod in Russia really isn’t at the top of the list of places where modern funk bands are expected. When and how did you discover The Soul Surfers?

I first discovered The Soul Surfers online from a posted link of their Sputnik 1 project. I thought – “who in hell are these guys?!” I loved what they were doing and reached out to Enrique Estrella at Ubiquity Records who originally posted the link.

For the first time you collaborated with the band for a song on their sublime debut album “Soul Rock!” in 2015. How did the further cooperation come about?

Following on from that, when The Soul Surfers were making Soul Rock for Ubiquity Records, I was asked if I would like to collaborate on one song. Without hesitation, I said “HELL YES!” So they sent me a rhythm track and I added my own instrumental overdubs: solo guitar, percussion and a few other additional bits. I then wrote a song over the top and sang it. We then mixed it at my studio with my engineer Pierre Duplan, and the rest is history!

In the first track “Introduction” you say: “Jay Z sample this. . . .” When you listen to the album, you think that Clyde Stubblefield has resurrected to build a Mount Rushmore of funky beats and breaks to make generations of Hip-Hop artists happy. Did you have this aim in mind when you recorded the album? And how would you describe the style of the album?

Igor Zhukovsky the drummer really has a charming funky style and his drum kit and cymbals belonged to an old Soviet drummer They sound really vintage! The magic definitely rubbed off. Igor had the idea to say “Jay Z sample this” in the intro. Truth be told we love it if he did!

Tell us about the recording process. How was the cooperation with the band?

The first song we did “Milky Way” was written and recorded in Moscow with all of us in the room playing together and recorded to tape. They later transferred it into the digital domain and sent me the files. At that point I overdubbed some more instruments and then wrote the song and vocalled it. For the rest of the album, the guys would record the basic tracks in Russia and then send over to me to add all my bits and then mix.

Your collaboration with the Soul Surfers was also filmed for a documentary that had its premiere in Moscow in early June. How did this happen?

When I arrived in Moscow I was met by cameras! Before I knew it I was wired for sound and being followed and filmed everywhere I went! I honestly didn’t know what I was getting in to when I originally agreed to come over. I knew I would be playing a festival in Moscow with The Soul Surfers as my backing band but the whole film thing was an amazing surprise! Not sure how they hooked up with Levi’s to be honest, but I’m really glad they did! The film premiere in Gorky Park recently was pretty magical. I’m proud of it.

Are there plans for concerts or a short Europe tour in the near future?

We played in Moscow and it was great fun. There is talk of playing another gig in LA at the moment, but we’ll see… at any rate, I really hope we can play some more shows as I really enjoy it.

Shawn, you’ve released 42 (!) albums as an artist so far. What is your motivation to continue recording new music?

I discovered I had released 42 albums to date when I was adding the album onto the discography section of my website! I’m proud of that on one hand, but I am very much forward thinking. It’s always about making new albums that I find inspiring. In all honestly I feel like the best is yet to come … I live to make records!

Time and again you’ve been a team player during your career – whether with Andy Platts, AM or Bei Bei. What do you like about working with other artists?

I work a lot on my own making my one man band records but I also love collaborating. I’ve worked with so many talented and inspiring people. A combination of bouncing back between all these different projects really keeps things fresh. I’m always learning and getting better and I’ve gotta say it’s a beautiful process.

The new album was released on your label “Silver Fox Records”. Tell us about the label. Can we expect more releases even from other artists in the future?

Silver Fox Records is a new thing for me and just seems like a really clean straight forward way of putting out some music in the future. It will continue to be a fluid thing in the years to come.

Overloading music with politics is rarely a good idea. Nevertheless, especially in politically turbulent times, the focus is always on cross-border cooperation. Do you think music can contribute to international understanding?

Music is beyond politics but is inherently political regardless. Music is truly the universal language and crosses both – borders and generations. This album is a good example of what I’m saying. Music brings us together and man that’s a wonderful thing!

This interview was first published on June 23, 2018

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