It’s been a year since Lee Mac Dougall made his American debut in small pubs and venues across the country. We were fortunate enough to meet up with Lee at Club Passim in Cambridge, Massachusetts at his second stop on his first American tour. We chatted with him prior to his performance. After our interview, he was generous enough to do an impromptu photo shoot with our photographer Dan Cutrona.
This weekend, Lee begins his third tour in the United States. He will be traveling the country with both private and public shows. It is no surprise to us that Lee is finding a steady growth in crowds and sales. We thoroughly enjoyed our evening with him. Here’s our interview with Lee from February 28, 2011. Following the interview, you’ll find follow-up questions that Lee answered for us before he started his tour at SXSW this week.
What are your impressions of the United States so far?
This is my first trip musically- I’ve always loved the US. I came here a lot as a kid. Once I started performing, it became my intention to perform in the US. It’s very clean and everyone’s so friendly. (Lee had only been to NYC and Cambridge at this point).
Are there any American foods or lagers you can’t wait to try?
I heard the clam chowder in Boston was supposed to be excellent, so I’m going to try to have that. I pretty much will try any American beer that will fit in my mouth.
What bands influenced you when you were younger and learning how to play your guitar ?
When I was a teenager, I really got into Kurt Cobain and Nirvana. Then, Tom Petty and his great storytelling ability appealed to me. And of course, the Beatles; my dad was heavily into the Beatles, and also, Alice Cooper and David Bowie. Who your parents listen to effects who you’re listening to.
I actually studied music engineering. I couldn’t study music composition, because I don’t read music. I’m self-taught. I was hoping I could study the engineering and then, sneak into the recording studio to record. I was able to do that and I used those songs to get me down to London.
You had a fascinating start as a member in a heavy metal band. That is a far cry from your current style? What was that about?
I was in this band and we were invited as guests (to China) and headlined a musical festival. It was great with all the people there and with 50 million people watching on television. But, nobody buys music in China so we made no money. But, we were famous there! (laughing) I left the band when I was 20 years old and trying to find my feet. I was really into lyrics and when you’re in a heavy rock band the lyrics get lost behind the drums and guitars. I just started playing open mic night at pubs. The reaction I was getting doing that was better than the response I was getting with the (heavy metal) band. With the band, there are too many cooks in the kitchen and it spoils the broth. I like the freedom to be my own boss. When you’re singing by yourself, you are able to connect with people in the audience. I can cry my eyes out when my girlfriend dumps me and gain sympathy. My mum groans and wonders why I’m sharing all that. (chuckling) When I write, I don’t like to make things up. I write observational songs and songs about real things happening to me or to my friends. I like to have a message in what I’m doing.
You released some of your songs on your MySpace page. What effect has social media had on your career?
I released my music on MySpace without expectations. It was received very well. Facebook and Twitter have gone really well. I haven’t had an official release, so all of my attention has been through word of mouth. It’s so real. You can’t make people like you, but if they do through these then it’s real. Tweets speak directly to you. There are so many rules that come with the record deals. There is a great freedom to be able to tweet with friends or fans. In New York City, people would say, “Oh, you tweeted me two months ago” and I’d remember that interaction. I hope (it progresses to the point that) if I get the big label behind me then, the sky’s the limit.
Questions submitted by Lee MacDougall’s fans:
I really like doing ‘Falling in Love for the Last Time’. I just really like singing that one. Then, there’s a new song called, “Hindsight” that I’m really enjoying performing.
What musician would you love to collaborate with?
I don’t really have any male singers I want to sing with, but if I could do a duet with a female singer, Laura Marling. I’d really enjoy that.
What singer influences you the most now?
I really like a guy named Paolo Nutini. He’s an acoustic guitar player and I really enjoy his stuff.
What’s the craziest thing a fan has ever done?
I was given an iPod filled with music for my birthday. Then, once I had a fan wearing a t-shirt of my face that said, “I Am Lee MacDougall” and that was pretty strange. I also got a harmonica given to me which was great, because I wanted one.
You have a song called ‘How to Be’ that is the same name as the movie Robert Pattinson starred in. How did writing ‘How to Be’ come about?
I was speaking to my friend, Rob and he’d just been through an audition for a movie. He was telling me about the movie and telling me about this guy (his character) who was a complete loser and a failure. He wants to be a good musician, but he was rubbish. Rob thought the character was quite funny. I thought he seemed like a cool character. The film starts with the guy in a queue at a job center and ends with a guy in a queue at the job center; most of the actors and musicians in London are similar to that. I told him I was going to write the theme to the movie. I spent two days on my bed writing this song- I initially had a bit of writer’s block, but then it came to me. I took it back and played it to him and his family in his kitchen. I gave him the CD and said to play it to the producer and director. Then, Rob came back and told me that they had already picked out the soundtrack for it, but that it was a really good song. I thought to myself- ‘not to worry’, so I kept it and started playing it and it’s worked out really well. It’s not supposed to be about me, but everyone always assumes it’s about me. And, I think…. really?! Am I that much of a loser? (laughing)
We caught up with Lee this past weekend and he graciously answered a few follow-up questions for us.
This is your third tour in the US in just over a year. Do you approach your tours any differently now that you’ve had the experience of performing here?
I don’t really approach the tours differently.. I guess I am just better prepared now as how to survive on the road. I mean, Denny’s every day is not a good idea- haha. I have learned to pace myself now.
What is the one venue that you have not performed at that you’re looking forward to on this trip?
I have played most venues before, but I have quite a lot of private events that are new that I am really excited about. They are always a lot of fun and a great way to get to meet everyone that has been so supportive of my career so far.
Is there a favorite US venue for you?
The Bitter End in New York has a really special atmosphere and so, too does the Hotel Cafe in LA. And, SxSW is going to be awesome again!
Do you have a new cd coming out with this tour?
I released two 10-track CDs last year, “If Walls Could Talk” and “For a Few Tales More”, which is 20 songs and quite a lot to put out in one year. So I decided to leave it a little while before promoting another new release. This tour I’m pushing t-shirts and homemade guitar string bracelets- haha!
We highly recommend you go see Lee MacDougall when he comes to a venue near you. Here again is his list of tour dates- Lee MacDougall Tour Dates
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