Touring singer Stephen Lee preaches "country for city folk"
By Chip Chandler — Digital Content Producer
There's one rule a touring indie singer really needs to follow, according to Baltimore country-punk artist Stephen Lee.
"The No. 1 tip is just making sure you've got enough sleep," Lee said. "In my experience, most of the problems of travel could be alleviated if you've got enough sleep and somewhere decent to crash out."
Lee is testing out that tip now in the middle of his first cross-country tour; he'll stop in Amarillo for a 9 p.m. Monday show at The 806, 2812 S.W. Sixth Ave. The show is free, but donations are accepted.
"I've been sort of spoiled, maybe, for lack of a better word," said Lee, who has been touring the East Coast and the Midwest for about three years. "I've been lucky enough to make friends or have friends in a lot of the places I go.
"It can be challenging (to find a place to sleep)," Lee said. "But I try to use good judgment. I've definitely crashed at a few houses — and I'm sure they were nice people — but I was sketched out. The result of that is that I didn't get any sleep that night, just laying awake, wondering what this dude is doing in his basement all night."
But in general, he said, "people are nicer ... or more humane and generous" than they often get credit for.
That led our chat to a discussion of filmmaker John Waters' 2015 book Carsick, in which he recounts his cross-country hitchhiking trip in which Waters was pleasantly surprised to find he had little trouble finding good people to offer him rides.
"John Waters is a worthwhile tangent," Lee said. "He owns a house on the block I live in in Baltimore — his sister lives there, who looks like him minus the mustache. Apparently, he showed up one day and couldn't remember which house was his house, so he started knocking on everybody's door saying, is this my house? Is my sister here?"
Like Waters, Lee started his career in a Do-It-Yourself style.
"My older brother ... who's four years older than me ... was playing in bands all the time, and I would just tag along," Lee said. "Probably since the age of 13, I was going to shows. That's where I found a lot of the community — my community. The DIY shows in basements and VFW halls.
"After a certain amount of hanging out with those kids and going to all those shows, it was sort of inevitable that I'd pick up the guitar," he continued. "It's sort of an obligation to the community. ... It's a way of life, and it's a great community. Music has saved my life in more ways than I can count."
Though Lee grew up in the hardcore scene and "developed this thing that I almost can't believe somebody if they're not screaming," he's more in the country vein. Or, as he puts it, "country for city folk."
"It's sort of something I came up with after a while of trying to figure out where I fit into the musical spectrum," Lee said. "It's the intersection of country and folk that I grew up listening to to a lot of indie rock and punk rock, that sort of hard-edged stuff."