Meet Patrick Lee, a musical loner who loves playing for a crowd

Categories: Tip Sheet

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Patrick Lee has taken a Jekyll and Hyde approach to music. He leads several musical lives that rarely intersect -- so much so that you could see him in one context and not recognize him in the next. There's Patrick Lee, the virtuoso piano/organ/keyboard player, who views live music as "improvisatory madness with friends" and leads a jazz trio bearing his name. Then there's Patrick Lee, the lone wolf composer with a penchant for futuristic, jazz-infused beats, who cherishes "tinkering [with music] more as a scientist."

See also: Backbeat's Tip Sheet archives

It's the latter version of Lee who just completed a new album, Limberlost, this month. Blending influences that range from Flying Lotus and Prefuse 73 to Mike Oldfield and Jon Brion, Lee has created music that is at once lush, cinematic and enthralling.

Over the past ten years or so, Lee has released dozens of projects that include original music, DJ mixes and meta-sourced hip-hop, wherein he takes samples from one of his live bands and repurposes them for solo projects. Along the way, he's licensed tunes to ESPN, Showtime, the Smithsonian and a handful of other notable outlets. The other side of his creative identity has spent that time wowing crowds across the front range and beyond with his dynamic live shows -- albeit performing different music than what you'd find on one of his albums.

We caught up with Lee recently for a chat about his start in music, his new album and whether or not his two musical facets will ever work together on a project.

Westword: What was your introduction to music? What got you playing?

Patrick Lee: I was drawn to it. When I was two, I wanted this Van Halen tape, 1984, right when Van Halen came out. I needed it. As early as two, it was the thing. I started piano lessons at seven, guitar lessons when I was twelve. It was always exactly what I had to be doing. As an only child, I had the time for it. I had hours to play and practice.

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On something like Limberlost, how much is you playing versus you programming?

For Limberlost, I took out actual manuscript paper, and I wrote music for all the songs. I wrote three treble clef lines of music and two bass clef lines of music. When I would sit down in the studio, I would decide which instruments were going to take which lines. I might play a bass line and then add an acoustic guitar or some cheesy synths and a rhythm piano.

Once all those sounds are in the computer, I start the dicing and splicing -- that's really fun, when you take the music you originally wanted and rearrange it into things you never were planning. It's 50 percent performing into a microphone and then 50 percent tinkering more as a scientist.

Is the ability to tinker the biggest difference between a solo project like this and playing with the trio?

Yeah, because with the trio, we go out and it all happens right in that hour that you're hanging out with us. That's what you got. If you wish it went a different way, it's too late for that, but at home, you have unlimited hours. It's total experimentation. You can make a song five ways and see which one you like best.

Having had the experience of both playing live as a musician and then also working on the compositional stuff solo, is that having your cake and eating it to? Do you feel like you're happier keeping them separate, with one style live, and the other is for personal consumption?

Yeah. Live music is improvisatory madness with friends. The stuff I make feels more controlled, like paintings or something that take a lot of time and focus. They're crafted, instead of exploded out of you on stage. They're totally separate ways to get my kicks out. Then I make an album, but there's no live outlet. They've gotta shake hands more. We've got to them together.

Hypothetically speaking, say the opportunity came up to drop everything else and go into the studio and make an album -- what kind of album would you make? Would it sound more like Limberlost, or would it be something with a band?

I've always wondered about that. I got to record with some taiko drummers on this album and a harp player. It's really fun to take their recordings with no other instruments on them and use them. I imagine what would happen with a next step kind of album would be hanging out with great musicians and just having them play raw minutes upon minutes of their instrument. Then you could take that and go be alone.


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