Archive for the Singing Guitarists Category

Larger Than The Sum of Its Parts: The Multi-Faceted Artistry of Christie Lenee

Posted in Interviews, Singing Guitarists with tags , on January 15, 2013 by Héctor Rodríguez

Christie Lenee’s musical self is like a prism.  We’ve all seen that glass triangle (think of the cover art on Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon  album)  which transforms a white beam of light into a rainbow of colors. Of course, we’re dealing with a rainbow of sounds here. When you experience her live show, or listen to several of her recordings, you are in for a colorful ride. But all the different  elements you’re hearing come from a single source: Her unwavering commitment to baring her soul with the aim of bringing joy to others. Whether that takes the form of a classically-inspired solo guitar piece, or a danceable tune with uplifting lyrics, what you’re witnessing is simply different hues of the same bright light that comes from her soul as it passes through her musical prism.

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Christie Lenee is a 27-year-old guitarist, singer and composer from Tampa, Florida who moved to Philadelphia a few years ago. By age four she was receiving performance coaching, but later on, a few musical epiphanies shaped her artistic path.

I had the pleasure of witnessing a performance at an outdoor courtyard by Lenee and her band, in which the weather seemed determined to ruin the proceedings. But Ms. Lenee and her band soldiered on, moving all their gear to another spot, while the heavy rain threatened to cause irreparable damage to it. You wouldn’t have known that by watching the performance that ensued, though. Neither Ms. Lenee nor her bandmates showed any signs of distress or disappointment. They played with the same positive attitude they had when the skies were clear. I don’t think there’s anything that could make Ms. Lenee hit a sour note.

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Who inspired you to become a musician?

I heard an incredible guitar composition called “Sunburst” by Andrew York in my freshman year of high school and experienced a transforming moment.  Hearing this composition brought about a profound emotional experience that struck a chord in my soul. I exploded with tears and knew immediately that’s what I wanted to do.  Right after the show I ran to John Michael Parris, the guitar teacher at Blake High School.  I told him that I had to play and dedicate my life to music.  And I have.

Were you already into classical guitar music, or was that piece more or less your introduction to that field?

I grew up listening to classical music- Bach, Beethoven, etc.  Though, this was my first introduction to modern classical guitar.  It certainly opened up a new world of possibilities.

Who or what was your inspiration for your “unorthodox” techniques on the guitar?

Michael Pukac, one of  my favorite painters today, hired me to compose a piece for a multi-media project.  I had already started composing the piece, then saw Sean Frenette perform Bach inventions on a three-string guitar using all finger tapping.  I was so inspired by this two-handed technique that this sound ended up permeating my composition for Michael Pukac.  So, Sean Frenette was the first musician I heard use those techniques. Many others have since inspired new ways of using this sound, such as Andrew Gorny, Michael Hedges, and Kaki King.

Hearing Andrew Gorny was when I got inspired to tune my guitar to a low C. It quickly led me to start writing my piece “Evolution” which is about 17 minutes long.

You mentioned bassist Victor Wooten’s book The Music Lesson on one of your websites. I see some parallels between his work and yours. Another one that comes to mind is Michael Manring.  Were you influenced by them?

Oh, definitely. Victor Wooten is one of my favorite musicians. Béla Fleck and the Flecktones is my favorite band, along with the Dave Matthews band. It’s music at another level. I learned a lot listening to them, and I definitely see my instrumental music going in that direction.

 There’s very few proper record stores left.  But, if a store like Borders had ever stocked your music, what section would it be filed under?

That’s a really good question. I’d say my instrumental music would fall somewhere between New Age and Folk. It’s hard to categorize.  For my full-band music, I’d say rock. Or “acoustic rock” if they had it.

Your piece “Evolution” has three movements, which is a concept usually associated with symphonic music. Do you expect the piece to be taken as a classical guitar composition?

Absolutely. It can be interpreted as a modern classical piece. I intend to orchestrate it, and have it performed as a symphony.

As far as the line-up in your band is concerned, would you rather stick with a steady group, changing members only if you have to, or do you prefer playing with different people intentionally to keep it fresh?

Good question. Since I travel a lot, I end up doing a lot more solo stuff than band stuff.

Every musician adds their own little touches to the music, and that kind of keeps it fresh.  I am fascinated by what different people bring to the table. But, at some point I’d like to have a more consistent band.

 What qualities do you look for in your musical partners?

I look for people that are dedicated to their instrument and craft- people who have character to their musical voice and can react in a live setting.  I choose musicians who are enjoyable to work with, will spend individual time with the music, and bring a good vibe to the band setting.

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How often do you play solo shows versus with a full band, or is it always a mixture of the two on every show?

In my effort to tour frequently, I do my best to balance solo and full band shows- more solo on the road, and “special event” band shows in Philly and Tampa.  As of now, it’s probably about 75% solo and 25% band. Playing with a band and performing in various acoustic settings keeps things fresh and exciting.  Every show is an experience!

Do you ever perform music by other artists, or is it all original?

My original music is the main source and focus. Of course, I certainly enjoy arranging new versions of popular songs- especially for tribute events, etc.  Learning covers is always interesting when the artist puts a fresh spin to it.  Likewise, I sometimes do it just for fun.

 When you and your bandmates go into solos, I get the feeling that those sections are not entirely pre-planned. How much of it is improvisational?

Certain songs have composed chord progressions and rhythm hits in which a lead instrument (most often a guitar or keyboard) will improvise over it within the structure of the section. For the most part the songs are composed and arranged, but these moments are when the band can let loose a little more.

When working up a song with the band, do you basically tell everyone what to play,  or is it more of a give-and-take?

I always have a vision for the song and do my best to translate it to the musicians. For band arrangements it’s nice to get specific with notated melodies and rhythm parts, but at the least there is usually a chord chart laying out the structure of the tune.

I usually start by recording an acoustic demo of the song, then emailing the band a document explaining the form, vibe and feel I’m hearing on each instrument. At rehearsals I’m known to sing drum parts, bass lines, melodies, and tap out ideas on the keyboard.  Then I allow the musicians to put in their perspectives and see how it feels- add, subtract, experiment.  We’ll rehearse a song until it best fits the initial vision, though of course sometimes it goes beyond what I ever it imagined it could be.  Feeling a composition expand that way is an incredible feeling.

 You play expansive solo guitar compositions, you also play with a full band in which your sound moves into a more familiar rock/funk/folkish pop territory.  I also read you’ve written choral compositions.  To what do you attribute such varied interests? Do you prefer wearing any of those hats more than the other?

I don’t necessarily prefer one over the other, because I feel they’re all integrated. I go through phases in which I focus more on writing instrumentals, and then more on vocal songs, and so on.

What I find really inspiring is composing something that I have a vision for, and then going into the studio and seeing it come to life.

Your online bios indicate that you want to project positivity with your music.  Do you ever see yourself writing an angry song to vent your frustration at some situation or person? We all get frustrated or angry at least once in a while!

A lot of people ask me that. They want to hear that side of me. But music has been a force of transformation in my life, it has been my saving grace. So, whenever I’m feeling upset or whatnot, and I go and play, it comes out more expressive than angry. It’s my way of letting go of it.  That’s why a lot of my lyrics are about moving on, growth, and overcoming obstacles.

Do you ever get any flak for being a female musician? The old  “you play good for a girl” or anything of the sort?

Yeah. When people say stuff like that, I chuckle. I usually say, “There’s a lot of great female artists out there you should check out.”  But people are going to think what they think.

Did you ever take vocal lessons, or do vocal warm-ups before recordings or shows?

When I started performing on guitar,  singing was a sort of secondary thing.  I did have some vocal coaching throughout my childhood in performance and theatre groups. However, that was certainly a different school of thought.  Once I transferred my career focus from acting to guitar, singing and theatre got put on the back burner.  It took years to bring it back and develop it into something that went together.  In fact, during my first attempts to sing and play simultaneously, many people told me I should just play the guitar and have someone else sing.  At the time that really got under my skin and upset me, but it made me even more determined to practice and improve.  So, I took it with a grain of salt and took the necessary steps- started taking lessons and trying to stretch my voice more. I was not going to let anyone discourage me, especially knowing in my heart that I had the music inside of me. The struggle with any person learning could be getting past the elementary stages, but you can really do anything if you want it bad enough.  Especially if you keep your focus on the big picture.

I am still practicing and expanding every day and will never become complacent. As for the vocals, if you listen to the earlier albums you’ll hear how my voice has evolved.  Being a musician is an incredible journey.

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What are your short and long-term goals?

I plan on getting my own studio in the mountains with a broad array of instruments and top-tier recording gear.  The main goal is to compose and record an abundance of music, tour, and collaborate with multi-media (film, television, art, dance).

In conjunction with that,  I want to inspire people to follow their dreams and travel the world: teach workshops, do community outreach, help charities, and educate people. Anything I can do to bring positivity to the world, I will.

At my first Dave Matthews concert during my senior year of high school, I had another transforming experience.  This was before I started writing music, when my main focus was classical and jazz guitar.  Acoustic music and singer/songwriters were just starting to come into my life… then this took it over the top.  I was front and center at at a beautiful Amphitheater in West Palm Beach.  Dave Matthews looked out into the audience while singing and an expression of radiance was captured by the stage lights. I imagined what it must feel like to write something so beautiful that such a crowd of people would come together to experience it live- such a community, such joy brought to these people through the music.  I felt the most pure essence of happiness and the gift of giving to the point of tears… just as hearing “Sunburst” for the first time.  Dave then looked directly at me: eyes connected, and something happened. Everything I’d done in my entire life came together– guitar, poetry, singing, acting, dancing – it all became one.  It was then it hit me that I wanted to write music. This intense desire came to light and I began exploding with compositions.  Really, it has continued to evolve ever since.

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Christie Lenee on the web:

Josh Lamkin: Electrifying Both On and Off The Stage

Posted in Guitarists, Interviews, Singing Guitarists with tags , , on December 8, 2012 by Héctor Rodríguez

Josh Lamkin is a powerhouse performer.  He’s a 24 year old guitarist, singer, and songwriter that’s been delighting audiences in Florida since his high school years.  I caught up with him at a venue called Ukulele Brand’s. He was playing there with his band, Automatic Heat, which is a trio.  But tonight, the trio became a quartet, adding special guest Rob Stoney on keyboards.  The set was electrifying, as usual.  Mr. Lamkin cued the band masterfully to soaring heights,  quiet whispers, and that sweet terrain in between.

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Lamkin is a bundle of energy outside of the stage as well. This makes it clear that his onstage presence is very far from being a put-on.  He’s the real deal.  Sometimes he spoke so fast that my Hispanic ears didn’t have time to decipher every single word he said.  Luckily, the conversation was recorded…

The first time I met you, I saw you waltzing into the venue in your snazzy outfit. Almost everyone went to you, it was like they were idolizing you. My first thought was, “What’s with this guy? He seems pretty arrogant.”  Moments later I was introduced to you, and two minutes into our conversation I felt like a complete idiot for ever thinking that. Then I saw you killing it on stage, and I thought, “Yikes. He’s got every right to feel cocky, yet he’s humble as pie.”  Thoughts?

No, man, it’s just sometimes you walk into a jam like that, dude, there’s a lot of hacks in there. I’m not going to name any names or say anything bad about people, but people have attitude with me sometimes. So, I go in there with the attitude of, “Yo, I’m here to play.”  And I was hosting that night, and there’s people you may or may not wanna play with. So, they’d get up, and I’d just go, “Alright, man, let’s get it on, let’s jam.”

How did you get so good on the guitar? Did you have any formal lessons?

I had a couple of formal lessons between when I was 11 to 15.  I wasn’t really going every week. I’d just take a lesson, and I’d work on it. I started playing when I was six. My dad kinda showed me how to play. He raised me on all that country stuff, and he kinda introduced me to the blues. He took me to see Johnny Winter…I forget how old I was. And I saw him, and I thought, “This is what I wanna do.” And I went from there. I started playing gigs when I was in high school. I had a band, I think all through high school. Trying to get gigs and get out as much as I can. Took me about eight years to meet Matt and Sam – the people I made the record with. I’d been in the studio a couple of times, and I went, “Man, I’m not ready.” I recorded it, but it does not sound good, you know? I had to work on it. But, I finally got something I could be proud of.  It was a  good thing for me to finally get a record out.


Do you consider Elmore James, Johnny Winter and Ry Cooder to be your major influences, as indicated in your bio? Who else has influenced you?

Aw, man! I listened to a lot of Roy Buchanan, Danny Gatton – the Telecaster masters! That stuff’s cool, man. The Band and Little Feat, bro – that’s…uh! We did [Little Feat’s] “Sailin’ Shoes” on our record.  We had some extra time [in the studio], so I was just like, “Dude, let’s just run through it.”  It’s one of my favorite songs on the record. It just came out great.

How would you describe your guitar style?

Man, I don’t know!  These are hard questions!!  [laughs]

Well, I like to hit hard.

[Laughs] How would I describe it?  I’d like to think that…a lot of people in blues bands spend a lot of time listening to Freddie King. Stuff like that. Freddie King, Albert King.  All those people, like Johnny Copeland – they all play a certain way. Stevie Ray Vaughn was an influence on me. I’d be lying if I said that he’s not. Now, do I think I play the same way [as Vaughn]? I don’t wanna do that. There’s so many people out that are doing it, man. Some of the Johnny Winter-ness…it’s Johnny Winter meets Roy Buchanan. That’s what I’d be going for. Rock…country…I like funk a whole lot, too. I like to dance, man!

You just played “Cissy Strut” by The Meters.

Yeah, that’s cool. That’s where it’s at, that’s where the funk is. But “funky” don’t mean “faster,” and it doesn’t mean more notes. There’s gotta be space.

On your shows, how much original material vs. covers do you play? Does that vary a lot according to the venue?

I would change according to the venue. When you play a bar, people aren’t interested. But I do my original stuff. Anywhere I go, I shove my original stuff down people’s throats whether they like it or not! [laughs]

Songs like “Pride and Joy” and “Red House” I get [asked to play] all the time. And I’m like, “Those are great songs, man, [whispers] but I don’t want to.”

Sometimes we get asked to play AC/DC stuff. I’m like, “Man you… you got a jukebox, play that on the [set] breaks. Do you wanna hear the ‘radio rock’ you hear all day long? You don’t wanna hear us, man?”  I wanna do something different.

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What are your current listening habits? Are you into a lot of the current pop music, or do you lean more old school?

Definitely old school.  Actually, I’m into Tom Waits a lot. Tom Waits is the man, dude! I mean, just for the writing. The dude’s a wordsmith.

He’s very quirky. Which leads me to ask: Is there anything in your album collection that would completely shock your fans?

Aw, man!  [long pause] [sighs]

Any death metal?

[Loud laughter] No, no…nothing too scary there.

Well, Tom Waits is pretty obscure. You mention his name to people and they go, “Oh, he was in Bram Stoker’s Dracula…you mean he sings!???”  [Laughter]

It would have to be him and Ry Cooder. He’s obscure but he’s not really surprising.

I like the blues, I like soul, I like funk.

Tonight you have keyboardist Rob Stoney playing with you, but that seems to be a bit of an exception. You seem to favor the trio format. Any particular reasons why?

I like to play all the notes, dude. It’s just me. Nobody else gets to solo, it’s just me.

So, it all comes down to selfishness, huh?  [I asked with a smirk]

Well, in a way. It’s also a monetary thing. It’s easier to book shows. It’s hard to keep a band together, and hard to pay them. I’d rather have three guys that I could pay well, than have that fourth guy…

 Have there been any personnel changes in the history of your band, Automatic Heat?

I’ve been through like, fifty drummers. And, I do pick-up gigs with different bass players and stuff. I think I have a group of guys now that I can really rely on. Rob Stoney, the keyboard player, he’s the guy that played on our record. He was on tour with the Warren Brothers from Nashville. He’s played with everybody. I’m very fortunate to have him.

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What do you look for in a musical partner?

Just compatibility. Somebody who listens, and doesn’t suck. Someone who’s not afraid to “go there” with me. I don’t like timid players.  When it’s go time, it’s time to rock n’ roll, man!

How much touring have you done?

I went to Memphis. That’s about as far as I’ve been. We go to the [Florida] Keys, every now and then, but it’s all mainly in Florida. I’m wanting to branch out and do more. Hopefully next summer we get out to New Orleans. I got a couple friends down there.

What’s your favorite setup when it comes to guitar, amps, and effects?

No effects, man. I play a Mesa Lone Star [amp] special, 30 watts. I don’t think I’ll ever buy another amplifier. I love it, it’s my pride and joy.

I got the Les Paul with P90s [pickups] in it. I was a Tele guy for a long time, because of Roy Buchanan and Danny Gatton. I like a solid Tele, man! Yeah, anything with P90s in it, anything old.


Do you practice guitar by yourself often,  do you prefer to practice with the band, or do you mostly just go in there and let it out with no prior planning?

We don’t rehearse very much. If  I’m bringing in a new guy, we have one or two rehearsals. Once we got it, we play a lot. It’s like a baseball team. You practice during the off season, and then you play games. And, a lot of it is off the cuff, free for all kind of thing.

At home I don’t really practice, I just play. There’s things that I work on, of course. I do a lot of writing, and a lot of exploratory stuff. I don’t really sit down with an agenda. It’s just, “Ok, I’m playing.”

What’s your take on the musical scene in the central Florida area?

It’s horrible. Well, music scenes everywhere suck. The country’s in recession…sad times for everybody. But you just gotta keep plugging away. You can tell the size of a man by what it takes to stop him. There’s no stopping me, I’m gonna do this. I know what I wanna do.

What are your short and long-range plans or goals for the future?

I’d like to do another record in the summer. Hopefully it will be out by July [2013]. I’d like to do that, and be rich and famous, drive Lamborghinis. [smirk]  Naw, man, I’m just trying to make a living. I’m happy just getting to play music with my friends. That’s all I can ask for. Just to play with a really tight band.  Good people.

Thank you very much, Josh. I wish you much success in all your endeavors.

Thank you, man!

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