Shawn, the last time we saw each other was at your concert in Amsterdam in February 2020, when you played “Rides Again”, then came Covid and the Lockdown. Looking back, how did you experience that time?
Man Thomas, that is the biggest question! Seems like a lifetime ago doesn’t it. 2020 started off as a really busy year and was looking like it was going to be a real career highpoint. I was on tour with Young Gun Silver Fox in Holland when Covid really kicked off. The tour was quickly cancelled and I went home and transitioned into a full lockdown scenario. We obviously had no idea at that point what was yet to come did we… It was a slow motion descent into what was certainly an historic event for the whole world. Like everyone else, I worried about the future of what my life had been up to that point.
In addition to the effects of the pandemic, you also had to deal with severe health problems. How did you handle this? And how are you today?
What was next was emotional, financial and mentally challenging. It was a mad mad journey to say the least. My health had been faltering towards the end of 2019 and I started to have intense episodes where I was losing the ability to speak and was having uncontrollable bouts of gibberish stammering out of my mouth. I was totally lucid in my mind but trapped inside my head and was experiencing what felt like a living hell to be honest. I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy if I had one! Being locked down at home I was like a proverbial sitting duck…the episodes began to become more frequent and I knew that something was seriously wrong with me. I contacted my doctor and they ordered a brain scan. A few days later I was told that I had suffered a stroke and that I had brain damage.
This was a life changing moment. My mind was blown literally. What followed for the next year or so was in and out of the hospital doing loads tests and scans accompanied by daily episodes of Aphasia. It was an extreme test of patience and strength for both me and my family who were great.
You had actually seen “Rides Again” as a one-off project. When did you decide to write a sequel?
At some point I decided that it was really vital to get back into the studio and use my brain the way that I normally would pre-Covid. Doing a follow up to “Rides Again” was something that I was compelled to do. It was the perfect context to write songs about the lockdown life, my health, family and my new dog Carla. I had to use all of my positivity and inner fortitude to keep moving forward.
Was writing and playing a kind of therapy for you to be able to deal with such a situation?
Writing and recording was both therapeutic and essential. We all had to dig deep during the pandemic to survive. A lot of people I know also had major health problems during this time too. It was a crazy time… I’m still here tho and I’m loads better but I’m not as strong as I used to be. So one day at a time and making it all count.
On “Rides Yet Again” you have expanded the country-soul approach of the predecessor. We hear great string arrangements and brass sections and even the one or other Brazilian element has found its way in. Was this a natural progression for you or a conscious decision?
A lot of influences slipped into “Rides Yet Again”. The whole concept really opened up. It was a real logical progression and a very natural one. Every track takes on whatever it needs. I’m there just to deliver the baby so to speak.
From my point of view, the album has almost cinematic qualities. Take the instrumental “It Felt Like Love”, for example, which impresses with great, atmospheric arrangements and would also cut a good figure on a Blaxploitation soundtrack. How important is it for you to create moods with your music?
I am always aware of the idea of mood and atmospherics in my music. It’s wonderful to conjure up tunes that have a cinematic quality. John Pickup’s orchestral arrangements really delivered on that front. He is a tremendous talent.
I had to smile a bit that you dedicated a song to your dog “Carla”. Your relationship seems to be intimate. What role does Carla play in your life?
We got Carla in December of 2019, so she was a pandemic dog. She was a real game changer for me and my whole family. It was a bit like having a baby again but without all the sleep deprivation! Carla was really attentive when I would have my episodes. She looked after me in her own very special way. Dogs are pretty magical creatures and our daily dog walks were one of the best things during lockdown. They truly are man’s best friend!
Is there a song on “Rides Yet Again“ that is particularly close to your heart?
“Are We Having Fun” is one of my fav’s on the album. It embodies the real freewheeling spirit of the album. I sound totally myself on this song which is harder to achieve than you may think!
Shawn, let’s talk a bit about the recording process. How did the album come about?
The recording process included engineering by my buddies Paul Elliot & David Page. We started working together during the pandemic. Me and Pierre started working only one day a week which became dedicated to mixing only. This new process turned out to being very efficient and fruitful for all of us. One of the blessings of lockdown. We all stay fresh eared and the results speak for themselves.
With which musicians did you work with on “Rides Yet Again”?
I handled the majority of the instruments and the vocals of course. Nichol Thomson, Tom Walsh and Mike Davis man the brass and Andy Ross plays the flute. These guys really are the best. They really add so much to my records. The real game changer on this album tho is the orchestral arrangements of John Pickup. They are really sublime and add elegance to the whole album. Thank you, John!
Once again to the sound. The record sounds fantastic, as if it was recorded in a big studio in LA. How important is the sound of your albums to you?
The sound of my records is really important to me. This is a combination of many elements: the instruments used, the parts etc. Trying to get things to sound as good as possible at the source of recording is one of paramount importance. After that, working with Pierre who is a real engineering genius is a total win and icing on the cake. Mixing gets easier when the music is all sorted in itself. I think me and P just like to make stuff that sounds like classic records.
Shawn, you will present the new album for the first time this Friday at “25 +1 years Lounge Records & Légère Recordings” in Hamburg. Are you looking forward to finally playing the songs in front of an audience? Is it a different feeling for you to perform rather private, personal lyrics live?
Playing these songs for the very first time in a mere few days time is a pretty daunting task. I have to learn all the chords and lyrics and it’s going to be an intense process. I am looking forward to going back to Hamburg and seeing Helmut from Légère. It has been over two years now.
You have had a fruitful collaboration with the Hamburg label Légère Recordings for many years – whether as a solo artist or with Young Gun Silver Fox. What distinguishes this collaboration in particular from your point of view?
The label has become a bit of a home base for a lot of my projects. Helmut is one of the nicest guys in the music business and it is great to be part of the Légère family.
Your next project is already in the starting blocks. A new Young Gun Silver Fox album will be released in the course of the year. Can you already reveal something?
The fourth Young Gun Silver Fox album entitled “Ticket to Shangri-la” is our strongest to date in my opinion. There will a single in June called “Westside Jet” with a wonderful animated video too – so not long to wait! Also there will be a previously unreleased song that Andy wrote with the late great Rod Temperton which sounds amazing by the way.
Looking at your output in the year so far, you seem to be sailing on with your old strength. What’s next, Shawn Lee?
I have written and recorded an incredible amount stuff during the pandemic. I have another collaborative album with Misha Panfilov called “Tempo and Space” out this very week in fact. After that in the autumn the YGSF album will be released which is going to be epic. Can’t wait! So much more to come Thomas.
Shawn, one last question: Can you imagine recording a third “Rides Again” album? As we all know, all good things come in threes…
I do like the idea of a trilogy! Shawn Lee Rides again & again & again!!!! Ha, ha, ha…
Shawn, thank you very much for the interview!
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