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Moving Forward but More Gently...and Genuinely

When I released my album 100 Summers in September of 2020, we were right in the beginning of what we thought was the heart of the COVID-19 pandemic. Like all of us, I soon would find out that the journey into this difficult and challenging time was only just beginning.

I pulled a few Tarot cards since I had nothing left to lose (or do) in my curiosity and studio apartment and the overall message that emerged was "you will go through this whether you want to or not so you might as well lean into it".

I'd like to think that existence is a really fascinating, complex, and ineffable thing and, despite all the ups-and-downs, it really is far more meaningful and perfect than we know. How wild it was that the whole planet was on lockdown and now, two years later, every single person I can think of has gone through some other life change. I'm not kidding. Everyone I know has either had a baby, got married, got divorced, bought a house, lost a job, started a new one, got pregnant, had a loved one pass, or something else. It's as if we all are going through some collective transformational process. It's as if this whole process is bigger than just a virus.

What I Went Through

In the months I was forced to distance myself from friends and family, adapt to a full-time remote professional life, and make crucial decisions about what to do with all of the free time that I found myself with, I fell in love with a magnificent person.

I've been in love before and I've had my heart broken before. I've reflected back on the past and I've kicked myself for what I could have done differently and all of that was absolutely necessary to prepare me to meet Morgan. It was as if all of my past was a composite of test failures to ready me for someone with a heart of gold, a backbone that's real, and a set of values that are educated, ethical, and genuine. She showed me what it means to serve something higher than myself. So, in the pandemic, we moved in together, nestled into our little home, installed garden beds, slept-in, wrote poetry, meditated, and prepared for a summer wedding. In that solitude, I wrote this:

I'd rather be standing barefoot

in the grass of my own backyard

wishing upon a shooting star

than searching for constellations

in the popcorn ceilings

of motel rooms i'll never sleep in again

It was during this time that I retreated from the world, from the tug of social media, the anxiety of seeking some sense of limelight or purpose, and from the expectations of teetering the line between "I'm a professional musician" and "I have a day job". The duality of the world seems so reductive sometimes and, as I nurtured the software engineering career i've spent 15 years and six figures of debt building, I realized that being a "full-time musician" wasn't mutually inclusive with being a "professional musician". These last two years have shown me so much about what it means to live by my authenticity, my own vision for the craft. I am a professional musician and I also have a day job. I'd like to think my employer of 8 years is the record label paying for these dreams to come to fruition (even though they don't know that).

In that space of not posting on social media, not playing shows, not streaming performances, not selling merchandise, not promoting myself, and not writing music, I found a sense of calm, a sense of normalcy, a sense of health. I re-invested that time into small things, dabbled in shamanism, explored light therapy, read books on Buddhism and Taoism, put my phone away, and took tongue baths from my dog. I slept in late, took time off of work, and went to the gym. I tracked my blood sugar for experimentation, went on a mostly vegetarian diet, attended an Ayurvedic retreat, and event tried to learn Ashtanga Yoga. I was finding me and exploring in hopes of finding more of myself, unabashedly and authentically.

Always Back to the Music

In that stillness, I recognized that I would never stop creating. Like everything in nature, I am a creator. I move forward, I brainstorm, I daydream, I pine, I hope, I let the serotonin flow and the courage dance. This. This is the root of what I want my art to be, not likes, comments, and shares.

In 2019, when I first tracked sessions for 100 Summers at Blue Rock Studios in Wimberley, Texas, I recorded more songs than I needed because I was paying for a day rate with engineers and players. What emerged from that project was 15 songs and only 10 made the cut, as we wanted to focus more on delivering this new Folk fingerprint sound as original tunes, not covers. After the album concluded, I was left with 5 excellent songs – five pieces of incredible artwork and a pondering for what I would eventually do with them.

Four of those five songs were written by friends of mine. A couple of these friends I found along the path of songwriting retreats and another was a dear friend and mentor from my childhood. Not many people had heard these songs and I was inspired to jump into a good studio, work with some exceptional players and engineers, and bring the songs my own character because the world needed to hear them and know what exceptional songwriters they are. What ensued were some fantastic tracks that have since gathered dust.

It was in the bootstrapping of the rebooting of myself, a wild hair emerged – why not record five more songs from various artists that have strongly influenced me as an artist? Why not pick bold songs? Sure, I might fuck these up but I might not and it could be worth the run. So, I flew down to Austin, just beyond the concrescence of COVID-19 variants, and spent two days crafting some incredible recordings with some kick-ass people.

It felt so good to get back into some kind of groove and I realized that I loved the studio far more than I loved sitting in front of my phone or a laptop or traveling on the road. I was finding me but authentically.

What the Future Looks Like

Well, as you can see, i've started a newsletter least one! My hope is to keep this up. The truth is – I love writing and I have a lot I want to share. My hope is to send this out to you and attach it to my blog so it can become part of this whole art thing.

In 2022, I'll be releasing a book of poetry that I am really excited for. I love the spontaneity of poetry and it is such a freer form of art than the meticulous nature of forming and polishing songs. I'm seeking how to publish these poems and would like to have a physical book that is bespoke and weighty, even at 75 pages. More to come soon! Here's an art piece from the book.

Musically, the new album Impressions, will be a 10-track LP and should arrive mid-spring to early-summer. We have just finished mastering the tracks and the album, front-to-back, is an exceptional recording masterpiece. Tracked at Blue Rock Studios by Chris Bell (The Eagles, Paul Simon) using the latest Neve pre-amps with incredible session players and mastered at Lurssen Mastering (Jackson Browne, Disney, Eric Clapton), the album quality is the best i've had the chance to be a part of.

This is where the authenticity kicks in. It might mean that I keep pressing along in my thriving technology career so I can afford to collaborate with the best in the business and create these bespoke experiences for you and for those I love dearly. In some ways, I think that sounds so much fun. There will be a time when my teenagers are adults, when the child support is finally paid off, and when I have the bandwidth the play the game but for now, i'm going to create and just see where it goes.

I hope to hit the road next summer, if COVID-19 improves. I do love being on stage and weaving tall tales about my life and the origins of my songs. It will happen when the time is right. In the meantime, I hope to continue to connect with you all through these ramblings and through the songs and poems that come alive.

Happy New Year,

James Lee

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Brian Theoret
Brian Theoret
Jan 20, 2022

I love everything about this James!

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