Nathan Lee is like no other artist I have met. Nathan Lee takes command of his time on stage with his voice pouring every ounce of his soul into the emotional lyrics. He loses himself in every song; becomes the song and plays the keys on the piano with the same passion. If you listen closely to the words, you will be taken on a journey that sometimes finds you on dark paths and others rejoicing the personal triumph we each travel as we go through our lives. You will not be disappointed when you put this CD in and you will walk away from one of his shows with a smile. Nathan Lee is as real as it gets.

I visited with Nathan before his last show at 12th & Porter after a two month promotion called “Give A Damn Sunday” in which he was helping raise funds World Vision and building water wells in Ethiopia.

Bev: Let’s talk about your new album which I am absolutely in love with; what kind of time frame did this project fall into and describe the process a little.

Nathan: As far as the record, I went into Paul Moak because I trust him, and I know his style and it was easy to just say “I want you to make the record”; he knows what I do as we have written together. We spent 3 weeks in a room just carving on songs, talking about them, messing with them, tearing them apart, doing some rewrites and then went into the studio and tracked it live, because I hate being in the studio, I hate it, we tracked it in a week. And then did overdubs the second week and it was done.

Bev: I would love to talk to about the photography and the art in the booklet and the CD covers. How much control did you have over that because that blew me away.

Nathan: Photography is all Michael Gomez who I’ve known for years. He came and listened to the songs and would come over to the studio where we were tracking. Then we took 5 days and we would drive around and he would take pictures. We wanted to find the right locations, because a lot of them are so tied into the song itself. The original idea, was that we wanted to have a picture for every song; so everybody that buys a song will get a picture that coincides with the song.

Bev: He did a fabulous job, I had photo envy; for instance the one of you lying in the water and the fire, I cannot pick out one favorite, they are all good.

Nathan: We had to climb to the top of a mountain one day. It was the sixth and last day and he made me climb all the way up. He knew this pond where he hikes and it was like 30 degrees and I was purple; I could only stand it for 30 seconds and had to get out, they had to put blankets around me, it was rough. Michael did his thing and you know, when it was done, I knew that the record and the art, the photography, was so branding. So was the record, I wasn’t out to try to make it all work for 2009 top forty. I just wanted to make something we loved.

Bev: You either wrote or co-wrote all of the songs on “Risk Everything” correct?

Nathan: Yes

Bev: What kind of time period did this encompass?

Nathan: The oldest song on the record is 10 yrs old. We went back and dug it out of the catalog. So we had about 150 songs to go through for the record, that’s a lot of songs to dig through. We had probably the top three going in that we knew. We knew we had one missing and we wrote it specifically for this project. We then narrowed it down and we were down to around 8 or 9. We were still missing something and we played through all of it as we continued to go over the play list. We would drive around listing to and we wrote “Open Road” and then “Bleeding Black” came four days before we went into the studio. I called them up in the morning and said hey, I think I have another song and we made it. Everything else was pulled from back catalogs.

Bev: Most of them are songs you have lived through, right?

Nathan: Yes

Bev: A lot of them? Most of them? All of them?

Nathan: Yes, I think all of them. It’s hard. I had a publishing deal for five years in Nashville that was an awesome experience just to teach me to get up and write every day. It really was something I appreciate and which I think is important; even if you have nothing, just write crap…write, write, and write. Write every day. I remember one time,(and just know I am not the top 40 machine kind of songwriter that can pop out hits, that’s not my goal). I read an article one time in Rolling stone with Don Henley, and they asked him why he takes so long between records and he said because he had to go live his life. I identified with that. I am not saying there is anything wrong with publishing deals and spinning them out and getting in the machine and going for it and being crazy, nothing wrong with it, I am just not that type. And it is not like I have to go to hell and back to get every song or go on a drinking binge for 90 days. It is not that either.

Bev: Let’s talk about a little bit of your history because you have had your highs and you had your lows. Give me a time line of how things happened.

Nathan: I grew up in the Northeast making music, playing bars from the time I was 14 and I got a management deal when I was 19, moved down here and I’ve been playing bars for 14 ½ yrs. Same thing I am doing now is the same thing I have been doing for 14 ½ yrs. I’ve played bars that don’t exist anymore. So there is your highs and your lows. If you figure out in your head what that means, you are probably right. Some nights I got paid, some nights I didn’t. Some nights there were a lot of people, sometimes there were none. There are a lot of stories that go there about making mistakes and getting angry and flipping out.

Bev: So what is one of the deepest, darkest, ugliest times?

Nathan: Homeless the first time, it sucked…being homeless really sucked.

Bev: So how did it happen? Tell me a little about what got you there.

Nathan: The first time it happened, I was…

Bev: The first time, only time, how many times were you homeless?

Nathan: Three, I know, it sucked. I just couldn’t quit, that was the biggest part of it.
The first time I went out and did a run on the west coast and did some shows and lost all my money, came back, eviction notice, car got repo’d. But whatever. So I lived out of my minivan for a while, I was painting houses to survive. And then a buddy of mine called me one night, I was so ghetto rich. I’m in my minivan in the Wal-Mart parking lot with my cell phone. Right?

Bev: I like the term ghetto rich.

Nathan: Anyway this buddy of mine came over to the Wal-Mart parking lot and said “Come on, I want you to come stay with me”. That ended up being a year and a half for free. He is a hit songwriter and the condition was I would write every week and show him my songs. I would write all night and he would come downstairs and yell at me “that was a horrible bridge”. We would get in fights and but it was awesome, because he believed in me. I quit when I was 30, I was done.

Bev: Quit the music business?

Nathan: Quit! I was done, I put my keyboard in the closet and I was done. I had played all my life making music to survive and I was over it.

Bev: And what were you going to do?

Nathan: This is funny, after I had gone on the road and lost all my money, it seemed all I knew what to do was ruin everything. I mastered that, go on the road, and lose it all. I was exhausted and one of my part time jobs when I was in my twenties, was working for this non-profit called World Vision. They did these big corporate events and I would go out for $100 bucks a day and help build the stage or something. They called one day and said they were going to build a new music division in Nashville and they were going to build these boutique tour models and they wanted to know if would help with the advance, and design these tours from the ground up. You’re going out on the road, you got a little record deal, you’re going to go out and give an appeal every night for World Vision. And in turn, they’re going to back you and put this tour out with two buses and so it was this big machine. And all I knew how to do is everything wrong. So in my mind I went GREAT, let’s not do that.

And it worked. And I started taking on clients and when I was 29 my year’s income was $7400 bucks. When I was 30, I went straight to a $60 grand cut after all my bills were paid, so that was a shift. I had this great house, cars and I’ll never play a gig again. The problem was I was out on all these tours every night standing on the side of the stage. Not jealous, but going “the only thing I could do now is make more money and be better at this” and I didn’t know if I wanted to own a production company. So I did that for 2 ½ yrs, went to Africa with World Vision, got real sick, came home and was in bed for a month.

When you are in bed for a month; you’re thinking, you’re probably going to pray. I prayed, prayed and prayed what the hell’s happened with my life. And after a month of praying and lying in bed, I wasn’t sure what I wanted anymore. I was pretty sure I didn’t want to keep building what I had started. And within one week, I started getting back on my feet, I went to these crazy doctors and I started getting better and I knew, not to over spiritualize, but after praying and being that sick, “okay, I have to figure out what I am going to do”. You know the fork in the road, we all get there numerous times. I lost all my clients in a week. Every client called me with legitimate reasons. Like their fiscal year was up, money’s tight, we can’t renew our contracts, we have to cut back, we’re not doing these events anymore, literally, within a week, it was just the funniest thing, and I just knew.

That was the end of ’06, it was New Year’s Eve, and I packed up my house and put everything in a storage unit . 2007 and 2008, I lived out of my car, the whole two years. I lived around Nashville in my car, stayed on friend’s couches. I had a girlfriend the whole time and I am still with her. She would come find me in the morning, bring me coffee and tell me to get up and go to work. I didn’t know what that meant. Write a song? I’m homeless. I was asleep with the piano in the back and a suitcase. We started booking shows and I went to the Rutledge. That was the first club I played in Nashville when I got here 14 yrs ago, the Blue Sky Court. So I went back and they were just about to open, they had only been open about a week and I asked them if I could come do a show and if it worked would they give me residency. We made a deal, you have about a hundred people, it works and I played there every week for 2007 and 2008 I started at 12th & Porter. I played all year and at the end of the year, we had played 18 months without a break and never made a dime on one show. We rehearsed every week for 4 hrs and play a show for 4 hrs and the way I would pay the band is I started giving my furniture out of my old house. I paid out all of my own belongings and when I ran out of belongings I would trade them hour for hour so if you were my bass player, you gave 4 hours to rehearse, 4 hours show, means I owed 8 hours, so it started being where I was giving days back. I just had to do sweat equity.

Last year, still living in my car, somebody came and saw me play at 12th & Porter who was an alumni from a college in Martha’s Vineyard. This boutique college called Contemporary Music Center, I had never heard of it. They take 35 students a semester and they are all seniors, students from abroad and basically for one semester are locked down on the island and work on your art. There is a discussion panel every day, they bring in special guest speakers, but all you do is write songs every day, playing shows, they have a stage, and you do critique classes. You talk about every emotional thing an artist goes through, you talk about drug addiction, how to do pills, how to go to a doctor, everything in an artist life. All your addictions, your creative processes, you peel back all your layers and you go if you’re going to be an artist, this is what we look at.

This is four months of your life. Off I go, because my car broke down the day they called me and I’m homeless; and my car doesn’t run. They said to me “hey, we need a songwriting teacher”. They put me up and fed me and I taught a songwriting class.

Bev: Wow

Nathan: And the day before I was going to come back, One Revolution called , well it was more like a week before they flew up, said here’s more money come on back and get a place and we’ll make a record. So I made a record, I’m still playing here every week and I leave in September to go on the road.

Bev: That’s the kind of story people just shake their heads at in amazement…most people would have given up, nobody lives in their car for that long. What has been the best part of all this experience?

Nathan: Having a place to live and just enough money to eat every day. I am the kind of person who asks myself “Do I go on the dream bet or go on the “yeah, my parents will be happy bet”. I always stay on the dream

Bev: I believe in you, I think you’re going to go somewhere with this album… What do you classify it as, what kind of music do you categorize it to be?

Nathan: I think its rock pop, it is not the Guns and Roses records that I love and not the bubblegum pop that I like. I love both of those,

Bev: But it also has a Christian feel to it….it is very soulful; it has got so many different aspects to it and it is full of messages about faith.

Nathan: I’m the worst Christian you have ever met, but I love God and I seek him every day. I am about as much a Christian artist as God is a Satanist. You know what I mean? That is the hard part for me, I am in the south, I have made a lot of mistakes, you come back and sit in front of God. I ask the lord what does grace mean, what does faith mean and I am probably going to screw it up along the way but as a Christian artist, I do not go out and do what Christian artists do.

I love God and I know people that are Christians that blow my mind. I usually fail…but I call them when I do not get it. But more than being a Christian artist, an artist, I am still trying to figure out what it means to be a Christian, but singing about hope to people that have had a rough week, that are broken, I am down with that. I am not a preacher, I know what it is like to have no food, no money and make a ton of mistakes and sit in your car and pray about it.

Bev: From all the songs on “Risk Everything”, do you have a favorite?

Nathan: I don’t. I am supposed to have an answer to this question and I don’t. It depends every night. I am a “live” guy. If I found out I was never going to make a record again, I am not the artist to be depressed. I will be depressed if I don’t do shows. I love doing shows. It depends on the night. You know, some nights, “this is exactly where I am at” and another one, you’re like “I just have to get through this”,

Bev: Is there one song you like performing more than another?

Nathan: No. Again, not to keep coming back to it, but depending on the night, because with the guys, when you have five guys on stage and everybody has their life, you don’t know what is going to happen every night. Someone might have been in a fight with a girl, they are depressed, they are excited. Some nights you say “wow”, have not heard that lock in 3 weeks and we have it and then the next week it doesn’t lock. So I get my rush out of it and you really do not know what is going to happen, you get one shot. It adds to the risk factor, in the studio, you just do it, do it, do it until you get a sound you want.

Bev: What has been the worst thing that has happened to you on stage or during a performance?

Nathan: Well, the worst thing was when I was about 20 and we played in a club in New Jersey. The walls were mirrors so you really had no frame of reference for depth and perception. I was drinking hard back then and I thought it would be a great idea to launch, to jump from the stage up to the bar and back. Well I jumped from the stage to the bar and missed it, went down, sprained my ankle and had to crawl back to the stage and do my last song. That was the worst experience on stage.

I have had times when I have gone out and the piano was not turned on because somebody forgot to turn it on or the sustain pedal was not plugged in so when you hit it, it just went “clink”. I have had all these things happen. I have had it when the piano cooked, like fried on stage and I had to just stand and sing a song.

Bev: Now when you push it over, do you do that every show? Did you just do it the one time?

Nathan: No. I do it half the time, now we have fire and smoke that shoots out of it.

Bev: Do you actually break them?

Nathan: Phil Osbum is the production manager and the rule is whenever the piano goes down, the next morning at 9:00 we have coffee and keys. We fix the piano keys.

Bev: So you fix the same ones over and over?

Nathan: Oh yeah, we have a box of keys. We pull them open and fix them or glue them and replace them.

Bev: So instead of breaking a guitar, you push the piano over?

Nathan: Yes, and it is dumb because I have no money! That is a thing that the guy that has the endorsement would do. But I do not want to wait until that day because it might not come so we smash it and try to fix it.

Bev: What else are you doing, from here on out?

Nathan: The record is made, been writing all summer. Doing shows, we did this whole series for World Vision. Giving the money back to help build wells in Ethiopia.

Bev: How much money have you raised for them, do you know?

Nathan: A few grand? I have not counted it, just put all the money in a stack in a safe. They have a grant with Hilton Foundation. World Vision has all these partners that will do grants and what this means is the Hilton foundation says if you find someone to go out and work, we will match it “up to”. They had a $250,000 “up to” grant so whatever I raise they will match it. For the next couple of years I am going to work on it.

Bev: Any other plans for promoting the new CD?

Nathan: September first we leave for 40 days, we are going to do the 40 Day Risk. 40 cities, 40 days, 40 shows, no bookings. If you move to Nashville to do music, you need to do music. The flip side of that coin is an interview I read with Garth Brooks that said “do music but get a job and have some money in your pocket”. I agree.

My Dad just got laid off and he is on unemployment so we are just going to drive around with the web cam, trailer and piano and some speakers and play every night, we don’t know where. Truck stops, churches, thrift clubs, taco stands, south of the border, parties, we don’t know, wherever.

Bev: You are going to do it, you are going to broadcast each performance live?

Nathan: Every night, but because we are going to 40 cities, we don’t know if we will be able to get connection at every location every night. So if not, we will just have to record it and play it later.

Bev: What territory will this 40 day tour take you to?

Nathan: We are going to go to Knoxville and out east. We will leave Nashville the first day of September to Knoxville, out east and all the way down to Florida and all the way up the east coast out to Massachusetts, to Martha’s Vineyard, and play the college and then go all the way up through New York and then out west, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Chicago, Detroit, and then back down all the way to Texas.

Bev: You are covering the east side right now?

Nathan: Yes, the east coast out to the Midwest. If it works, then we will go back and do it again with a bus and a camera crew. If it doesn’t, I will be right here. I have some crazy ideas on promotion. Let’s say I am coming to your hometown and you contact me and offer me $100 or $200 and come play”. Now let’s say someone else is in the same town and you go online and go “I will pay $300”. For everybody that outbids somebody else, the price you pay for outbidding is not only the financial cost but anyone that is a lower bidder can come to the show. So no one is ever ruled out and even if it is at your pool in your back yard and you are willing to pay $1000 bucks, we’ll come to the highest bidder but the other bidder get to go for no charge.

Bev: It’s a win, win.

Nathan: It is a win, there is no way, I wanted to do a something that worst case scenario was survival mode. Everybody from the record company, the marketing company, everybody involved could have something to pull from because the economy is tight, there is just not the money for any artist to do radio promotion or to do a major release tour. That kind of money is just hard right now.

Bev: You have to think outside of the box and come up with something someone else isn’t doing.

Nathan: Yes, and even when it is there, is that the way to go? So, what if we do it with hardly any money, that way, worst case scenario is we have a journal, a bunch of video blogs, we can make a DVD. I have a bunch of hard drives. No one’s out of a lot of money, everyone can use their gifts. We had fun, shared music, met a lot of new people, we will write a story about it at the end and keep making music.

Bev: I know you were in LA recently, can you talk about what you did there?

Nathan: One Revolution is a startup company and with any startup company you have to be smart with your money. One of the things that they came across was L.A. Ink. I’m already covered in tattoos and I’m done with it. Wayne called and said “what if we figure out how you can go on and tell the story of how you ended up here”? Well, I don’t know, I guess, from that angle, I’m cool with it. So we all flew out to L.A. and Kat (Von D) got on board and we tattooed “Risk Everything” across my back. Being around the whole LA group, two things happened; they are really creative and really professional and they are on top of their game. Kat was so right brain, left brain with being creative, drawing it, tattooing and then “I gotta take care of this, and you have cameras, fight breaks out, hold on sweetie, I’ll be right back, it’s work time. She would go over, everybody would get in, shoot the drama, come back, I apologize, let’s get back to work”. And she gets up and does that six days a week. This chick owns her crap and I got it. She just dies for it and it does not matter how many hours. And she is still happy, She is not burned out. So that was cool.

Bev: Did she design it or did you tell her what you wanted it to say or did she come up with words and everything?

Nathan: I gave her some ideas. I said could be “risk everything”, it could be from the record, if there is something from the record you like, I don’t care. Now, what I asked her to do, once you draw it up, stick it on my back and I don’t want to see it until it is done but legally on camera you have to say yes, you have to approve it. I was like, ahhhh. I am here to risk everything…But it was great. But they are going to talk about the record on the show and share the story.

Bev: That will be awesome for you, talk about exposure, literally, exposure.

Nathan: It was awkward, I was in the salon for ten hours with my shirt off and people come in the shop and it was all roped off and they are fans and like, love you, see you on the tube. It was so awkward.

Bev: While you were out there, did you do any other promotional work?

Nathan: We did a lot of interviews out there for placement in TV and film. That is tough, that is a whole other world that is so competitive but it was great, we met some really cool people and it ended up being an awesome trip.

Bev: Nathan, I love your music, I love you as a person and as an artist and I really wish you best of luck with this project. I would love to see you on a big ole stage because you would tear the place up. Your live show is so raw and full of emotion, I always leave with my heart just pumping like crazy from the energy you put into it. Thank you for taking time to do this for me.

Nathan: I enjoyed it and am glad you enjoy it so much and are willing to take your time to listen to me and listen to the music. Thank you!

For more information on Nathan Lee visit For more information on the RISK EVERYTHING TOUR fans will be alerted to show location, time and special guests via twitter, blogs on

Additional photos of Nathan Lee can be viewed at

No comments: