INTERVIEW: Douglas Lee

Hi Douglas, welcome to VENTS! How have you been?

Thanks so much for having me! I’ve been good and very fortunate considering this global craziness we’re all experiencing right now.

Can you talk to us more about your latest single “Evening Stars of Cyrangoon”?

Sure. This was the very first song written for the record and kinda set the tone for the rest of it. It felt fitting for it to be the first song on the record and first single. I was trying to capture a vibe of being lost deep inside a wild, euphoric destination, without any sense of time or worry about the world. Stumbling and staggering through a different time and place while looking up at the stars in some imaginary land called “Cyrangoon”

Did any event in particular inspire you to write this song?

Ya know, I was really just trying to tap into a deep feeling of disembodiment, euphoria and maybe a little excess. I might have had some silly evenings in far-off locations that helped influence things, but really I sat at a piano for many days composing it while actively trying channel a drunk piano player in some kind of multidimensional 1930’s Shanghai bar. Closing my eyes and digging in deeper and deeper. I really wanted try and covey a fun, mystical, adventurous place someone could visit in their imagination.

How was the filming process and experience behind the video?

Well, this video was a bit unusual cause it was part of a much longer 6-hour video art piece I made. Also with this idea of channeling disembodiment and euphoria. The song and video were originally separate pieces but seem to work perfectly when I reimagined them together and played with the speed. The filming process was a bit extensive. It’s is a combination of footage from a high-attitude lake in the Sierra Nevada mountains called Rae Lakes and a Hanami festival in Osaka, Japan. I spent weeks backpacking the in wilderness and spent a month in Osaka as well gathering a bunch of different film footage. At the time I was interested in producing video art pieces but that never really materialized in any way publicly until now.

The single comes off your new album Themes For Falling Down Stairs – what’s the story behind the title?

The title came early on in the process. It’s a metaphor for a calamity and losing complete control of a situation. I don’t know how many people have fallen down a full flight of stairs, but I have. Luckily I’m lightweight and can take a beating. That moment when you are falling though…time slows down completely and you can’t tell up from down and you have no idea when it will end. You’re just spinning and tumbling until it’s over and hopefully you’re okay at the end. I think it’s the same feeling you get being completely wiped out by a huge wave at the beach. I wanted to focus on that exact feeling and pinpoint a moment when you have truly lost touch with time, your body and the earth itself. Themes For Falling Down Stairs just seemed like a perfect metaphor for the music.

How was the recording and writing process?

The process was somewhat straight forward, I would sit at a piano for weeks composing three songs in their entirety. Then I’d go into the studio and record the basic rhythm sections with Michael Rozon and some friends. Scott Doherty on piano, Robert Petersen on upright bass, and Deacon Marrquin or Danny Ursetti on drums, depending on the session. I played scratch leads on a cheap organ just to get the idea down. We recorded three songs in one day. Then repeated the entire process all over again a couple more times till I had an album’s worth of material. It took about a year to write and record the foundation of the record. Then I began working on the arrangements. I played all kinds of weird stuff. Musical glasses, Japanese koto, shamisen, jaw-harps, marimba, lots of tuned gongs and chimes, sound sculptures, suikinkutsu, and a lot of electro-acoustically manipulated noise.  Then we recorded more formal arrangements of the melodies with Paul Pate on saxophones, clarinets and flute, Heather Lockie on violins, Sarah Kramer on trumpet, me on glasses and a couple of analog synthesizers. We even recorded some of the horns inside a massive empty industrial silo out in the Owen’s Valley of California thanks to the Metabolic Studio. The trumpet lead on “Evening Stars of Cyrangoon” was played in a silo. We got some wild and wonderful natural reverb in that space! Finally, I finished it off the with some of my weird guitar playing. Then we began mixing and six months later finally finished it right before the pandemic hit here in California in last spring.

What was it like to work with Michael Rozon and how did that relationship develop?

Michael is the absolute best. Obviously, he’s a very accomplished musician as well as a master at mixing and engineering. He gets my music in a way I’m not sure a lot of people would. We met many years ago through mutual friends in North Hollywood. I had heard his work with a number a bands and thought it was phenomenal. We’d worked on various odd-ball projects over the years but this was the first serious endeavor into working solely my own compositions. We’ve become very good friends over the years and that of course helps the creative process. A lot of trust is involved in work like this because there are massive creative leaps you have to make and not everything sounds great right off the bat.

How much did he get to influence the album? 

I think his influence is all over the record. You hear it in the clean musical structures and just overall polish and beauty at he brings. Also, he was critical to developing the sound of those first sessions while working with the rhythm section. He’s an incredible musician and engineer and has a wonderful ability to communicate with musicians and get each individual sounding great. The quality of those first sessions is really what made the rest of the record come together so smoothly even with such bizarre arrangements on top. And he’s game for anything as long as it sounds good. No holds barred. It’s really refreshing and quite rare.

How has Nino Rota and Miklos Rozsa influenced the music on this album?

Well, I’ve been a fan of Nino Rota’s work specifically in Fellini films for many years. I’ve always been attracted to just the joyousness and mischievousness of that work. I could listen to some of those albums forever. It’s definitely seeped into my process. As for Miklos Rozsa, my mom was a huge film buff and her favorite was “Ben Hur”. The soundtrack to that film was written by Rozsa and as a child I saw that film many, many times as well as his other 60’s biblical epics. That wildly dramatic, epic and rich orchestral sound has stuck with me to this day. I love it.

Where else did you find the inspiration for the songs?

You know a lot of inspiration probably comes from my travels and work in sound art and other weird musical endeavors. Publicly, I mostly perform the musical glasses and have been lucky enough to play on television shows all over the world doing it. For sure that influenced my world view of music. Separate from that, I was taking numerous trips to Kyoto, Japan all during the time of recording the album. Working with a teacher on my shamisen and koto abilities as well as field recording gongs, suikinkutu’s and nature sounds at various temples in the hills of Kyoto. So that definitely influenced and directly contributed to the overall vibe. The photo on the record cover was even shot at Yasaka shrine in Gion, Kyoto at midnight.

What else is happening next in Douglas Lee’s world?

Wow…well like a lot of people, things are a bit up in the air in terms of exactly what’s next. Not traveling that’s for sure. But that’s okay for now. Currently I’m working on composing the next record and hopefully begin the recording process soon with all the same personnel.  Also, I’m finishing up the next music video for the record right now and trying to get ready to maybe do some online events to promote the record. Looking forward to playing some more glass concerts soon if I can. I’m currently involved with the Metabolic Studio Sonic Division as well and that is of course a hoot. Lots of experimental instrument making and wild sonic practices. I’ve also been playing in a koto duo called “Dos Kotos” and keeping up on my Shamisen practice for when the gigs come back. Lots of other little things too of course. I’m a very distractible artist.

Website

www.thedouglaslee.com

Bandcamp

https://douglaslee.bandcamp.com/album/themes-for-falling-down-stairs

About RJ Frometa

Head Honcho, Editor in Chief and writer here on VENTS. I don't like walking on the beach, but I love playing the guitar and geeking out about music. I am also a movie maniac and 6 hours sleeper.

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