The 99% Podcast Episode #26 with ChrisLee
ChrisLee is an LA-based singer-songwriter inspired by likes of Frank Sinatra, Dave Mathews Band, Daniel Caesar and John Mayer. The Berklee graduate combines a voice made for classic R&B and soul records with modern and infectious pop melodies. First announcing himself to the R&B scene with his track, “Between the Lines” which recently surpassed 3 million streams. He has a 4 track EP lined up with a groundbreaking independent label, Lowly Palace. Destined to showcase his array of musical abilities, songwriting finesse, and feel-good signature sound. Expect warm tones, nostalgic waves of soul and catchy pop hooks throughout 2018 with the ChrisLee imprint.
Listen and Read ChrisLee’s 99% Podcast Interview:
Steereo: Welcome to Steereo: 99% podcast or videocast as where I don’t know what you call them these days.
Steereo: Both, right?
Take both. Video, audio.
Steereo: Well, we have you in person we can touch you.
Yeah. I’m real.
Steereo: And your fantastic hair.
Oh, thank you.
Steereo: This is Chris Lee everybody, and we’re so excited to have you today ,and we’re going to probe you with some questions. But first of all, congratulations. You’ve been topping the charts on our
Yeah. I really appreciate it you guys pushing my music out there.
Steereo: Well, we appreciate you making such incredible good music.
Well, man, thank you.
Steereo: Genre, what type of genre do you put yourself into?
I’d say it’s like R&B Pop, but I have some acoustic elements as well. So, it’s Pop at its core. I’m a Pop writer, for sure.
Steereo: Comparisons. You know like people love to do comparisons with artists.
Steereo: And I hate that question so; therefore, I ask everybody it as an interviewer.
Steereo: When you talk about R&B and Pop together, is there an artist that you strive to emulate or you’re inspired by?
There’s a lot of artists I’m inspired by. I wouldn’t say there’s one artist that I really have tried not to emulate people most of my life. I didn’t really have ever liked doing covers and things like that because I felt like I took on too much of the artists’ natural tone and stuff. In the beginning, it was really hard for me to find my voice because I would sound like the artist I was playing. I remember there was a time my brother always used to laugh at me when I was learning Pearl Jam songs. I always sounded like Eddie Vedder. He’s like, “Dude, and you got to stop, you sound like Eddie Vedder.” So, I always tried to kind of form my own path, but I would say I was inspired by a lot of the greats like Otis Redding, and a lot of the classic R&B singers, but also Jazz singers like Frank Sinatra.
Frank Sinatra is huge in my family, and my grandfather was a big Frank Sinatra.
Steereo: You grew up on Frank Sinatra?
Yeah. My grandfather used it as a famous story with my mom’s one of eight kids. And my grandfather on Saturday would blast New York, New York by Frank Sinatra, wake people up for chores which probably made them not like that song that much.
Steereo: Well, I can race you on that one.
Steereo: My mother comes from a family of 15.
Wow, you definitely raced me.
Steereo: She only had two in the end because don’t think … no, in terms of she only had two children.
Oh. I was like, Jeez.
Steereo: There wasn’t a mob like you.
I was like this just got morbid.
Steereo: So, growing up in our house, Frank Sinatra was definitely a cherished thing.
Yeah. So definitely inspired by people like that, but I would say I tried to make sure every time I’m singing or recording, I try to be like, “All right, what do I sound like on this?” And not like other people. But if I had to put myself in a category with current artists and stuff, I’d put me probably in like Justin Bieber, Daniel Caesar, kind of like that R&B Pop crossover and Wayne, Khalid. I don’t sound like Khalid, but similar vibes of the types of records that I’ll be on. I have a wide-ranging taste for music. I just put out a record with a buddy of mind, Meeko, the kid. He’s more of a house electronic producer, but it’s a pop song for sure. That came out on the seventh. All the songs I have out right now are vastly different. I would say kind of what keeps them together is the tamer of my voice. I’ve always tried to make sure that it was mine and no one else’s.
Steereo: Offscreen just before we started this interview we were talking a little bit dual records. What do you think in today’s market? What would classify as a good rap board or a good release?
I think it’s really different now because every piece of entertainment is competing with one another. Instagram is competing with … Netflix is competing with Apple music because it’s all entertainment time. I think what categorizes a good record is something that’s a cohesive blend. I bought Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly and Mad city. I think they’re very cohesive and have a theme, Adele’s records. Records that have a consistent feel throughout the whole thing in a thread whether it be the production elements like the instrumentation or whatever, or the message across the whole thing. I think something cohesive like that is great. And then especially things that incorporate multimedia. I think newer records have a multimedia aspect. Whether it be like Sulfa had. He’s an R&B artist. He had a release call Process in which he released; I think it was like 10 to 14 tracks. I can’t remember the exact track count. But he also had a 45-minute short film that went with it. I think those type of release is going to start leading the game, these multimedia components. Because, at the end of the day, you are competing with Netflix, you are competing with a lot of stuff.
Steereo: Yeah. And everything, we’re in a consumer world now where everything is a swipe. Everything is consumed through a screen.
Steereo: On that note and obviously, we’ll go back later with social media, modern music technology. What are your thoughts on all of that, especially as an independent artist?
I think it’s all really great. I’ve had a lot of people say to me, “Oh man, the music industry got ruined or whatever. How is that? It’s must be so hard. Music doesn’t make money anymore.” But I think it’s a really exciting time. I think it’s the beginning. Really, the old music industry was a whole different industry that died with the release of Napster; a iTunes pulled it back in. Now we are in this new world of streaming, and there are these new giants forming. But I think it’s a really exciting time that the artist has to be an entrepreneur and kind of create their own visions for what a successful artist is. Whereas I think the path prior to this was really solid, and there was a big gatekeeper, and you had to go through a label, and you had to sign your life away. I think it’s a really exciting time for the musician as an entrepreneur. I think tools like social media and all that really give the artist access to a whole other world of connection with their fans. It allows fans to take a deep dive into who these people are as human beings. Whereas before, it was putting artist and creators on a pedestal, making them almost Godlike. Now, it’s about bringing that artist down to earth with the consumer and having a sort of friendship almost develop. I think tools like social media and TuneCore to release music through Spotify, Apple music, all that stuff. I think that gives rise to a lot of independent for the artist, and the artist taking back their power and owning it and being entrepreneurial and being creative with how they release and group their music. So, I think there’s a lot of opportunities.
Steereo: So, you mentioned entrepreneurial a couple of times there. So, for anyone who’s tuning in, or anyone who’s your fans, or anyone who’s new to the music game, what does that word means for you as an independent artist? What are the things that you’ve learned over the last couple of years that have made it work for you as an entrepreneur or as a CEO of your own career?
I think it’s about obviously working on ways of being your own boss, ways of being organized in a world where we’re raised in an institution, school, teachers are telling us when things to do, when this has to happen. Being entrepreneurial is about being grass root and feisty and really pushing to be your own boss and make your own world. Being willing to negotiate and do interesting deals with partnerships and grants and things like that. Like this partnership with you guys has been great. And I think it’s about looking outside the normal box and being creative with the landscape that you have available. Something that I attribute to being on top of what I’m doing is just getting good with your calendar. Whether it’s your Google calendar or your apple calendar, whatever it is. Just something that keeps you … you kind of allows it to be your boss. If you don’t have a specific boss, you kind of adhere to some method of keeping on top of what you’re doing because otherwise, there are so many options now.
Steereo: You run it, or it runs you. Yes, right. If you don’t have a good sense of your organization in the world, it’s hard to stay on track. You spoke a little bit about bringing it back to grassroots and being accessible to people as an artist. We just recently lost Aretha Franklin who is a legend and an icon. It seems like a lot of the people like the David Bowie’s, the Prince’s, the Michael Jackson’s and Whitney’s, the people who were legendary and iconic are shuffling off to different places. Let’s just put it that way. Do you think in this musical landscape we’ll create legends again?
[10:00 ] Chris Lee:
I think it’s possible. I think it’s at a transitional time whereas, in the old kind of world, there was a really solid adherence to musical talent and ability and practice. Singers were singing all the time. Guitar players were playing all the time. To be a studio musician or to be in that role meant that you needed to put serious hours in your craft. And I think now we’re in this transitional time where people are putting those serious hours in, but it’s more towards the production and the computer becoming this new instrument for people. I think it’s starting to get there. Like when recorded music via the home studio and computers was staring coming out, I think there was a serious reduction in quality because major studios were putting millions and millions of dollars into these records and spending tones of time and had a lot of expertise and everyone’s doing their own roles. Then it got the push on to the home producers engineer who is a kind of trying to do everything in a cheaper way in their apartment. So, there was a loss in quality but an increase in creativity I think. More sounds, newer production styles, people creating their own lane and their own perception of what it takes to become a producer. I think we’re kind of transitioning back into this quality growth again. Because now all these people who have home studios or set these new … It was really the destruction of this old industry and creation of the new. So, I still think it’s on its leg. But there for sure are going to be an artist that are popping up who are still deep in their craft. For example, I’ve been doing this since I was 13 or 12 years old. I think there’s going to be a lot of kids even younger now starting and having this access to recorded music. You can record a full song on your iPad now, or some tablet device. I think just like there were in the past, there are going to be people who become obsessed with this craft, and get really into it, and spend tonnes and tones of hours working on their craft.
Steereo: So you started it where when you were 12, 13??
I started recorded when I was 12 or 13. I’ve been playing music and writing songs since I was in fourth grade which-
Steereo: Where are you from originally? Sorry.
I’m from New Jersey. Northern New Jersey, it’s about 30 minutes outside of New York City.
Steereo: The music scenes from New York to LA, they’re very different. Why did you choose LA to pursue your personal dreams?
I think New York in the last probably five or 10 years, it’s just gotten a lot more appropriate, and it’s becoming increasingly difficult for independent artists and younger artists to be in the heart of Manhattan. So, there’s a lot of really interesting pop-up stuff coming out in Brooklyn and Hoboken, and the surrounding cities are around Manhattan.But I feel that predominately, if you’re not really established as an artist, in Manhattan’s tough. It’s easier in LA to just trip over people really who are in this field because there’s really only two industries out here and it’s music and film. It’s creative. It’s just easier when you’re getting started to kind of cast a wide net, and meet a lot of people, and get in with a lot of different types of people, and do work at the ground floor. I think New York is still amazing. I grew up working in a studio in midtown. There’s still great studios. I would say New York is more for the established artist.There are really cool things. I’m sure I don’t know of all of them in surrounding cities, Brooklyn, Hoboken and that’s sort of thing cropping up. I think in a more transitional time, and there are so many other industries going on that it can be distracting at the beginning.
Steereo: For sure. Let’s talk about advice or wisdom that you have. Obviously, you’ve been in the industry, and you’re breaking through, and you’re making waves. But for someone starting out, if you were to give them your top tip of a mistake that you made not to replicate. What would it be?
I would say one phrase that sums it up is don’t let perfect be the enemy of good enough. Don’t try to achieve perfection and forgo opportunities that are good enough for where you are at. I spent a lot of time being a perfectionist about music and the quality of music that I was releasing. I remember as a kid always wanting the music that I did to be competitive in a professional landscape. But that kept me from releasing music until I was 10 years into doing it. I spent so long, like, “Ah, it’s not good enough. I was not good enough.” There were probably opportunities missed by not putting out stuff earlier. All the opportunities that have come my way recently have been a result of just putting stuff out. Just getting it out because, ultimately especially now in the time that we’re in, it’s about connecting with the fan from a personal level. Perfect isn’t personal. Even what the industry was earlier, these artists who were on this pedestal, their perfection wasn’t relatable per se, but it was the way that we spread music. It had its place, but it’s just different now. There are all these artists who’ve gotten big off YouTube and Vine, and off covers of stuff in their bedroom. Alessia Cara is somebody who’s discovered like that. Don’t let perfection keep you from putting out something that’s good enough for where you’re at at the moment because you can always improve, and always changed, and always pull stuff down and rebrand if you really want to. So, I would say just constantly work on your craft, put hours in, do it every day, whatever’s sustainable. Doesn’t need to be like … you don’t need to be like, “I’m going to do four hours day,” but even if it’s 15 minutes, 20 minutes, something that becomes a habit, something that becomes … and that was something that was tough for me is to create a habit. But I’d always put too high of expectations on how often I was supposed to be working, and it would cause a fall off. I would say the consistency of just putting stuff out, being consistent, connecting with your audience, whatever that is, whether it’s three to five people or 100 or thousands or millions. Constant connection in some capacity with content is important enough.
Steereo: Makes sense. So, you currently are one of our most listened to artist on Steereo: When people jump into the back of one of our riding chair services, whether it be Uber or Lyft or Juno. What is it you with your music want them to feel? As an artist, what’s your main objective or message that you want to relay to people?
I would say it’s not even an individual message. It’s more of just I try to always come from the most authentic place with music. I don’t believe it’s … I want people to feel good when they listen to my music overall. But it’s not about necessarily feeling good in the sense of, “I feel happy now,” or something. It’s really about I feel like I can relate to that. It’s more than the emotion that I want people to feel. I want people to feel like, “Hey, I went through something like that.” Or two of the songs that have been on the Steereo charts are “Make a Move” and “Found her.” “Found her” was about my move to California and this new wonder of coming to this new place and falling in love with it. “Making a move” was about being nervous to make a move on somebody I was in to. They’re both things that aren’t necessarily positive per se, but they inspire connection and relatability, which make people feel better ultimately because when we can relate, that’s what being a human is all about ChrisLee: We want to able to relate and feel some connection with another human being somewhere. I aim to be relatable. I would say it’s something that is really important to me and I’ve pushed it away a lot of records that are good, that I’ve written that don’t go with authentically who I am. I can write through a place of fiction or non-fiction. But for artist stuff, I prefer to come from a place of authenticity and reality. I think that that’s the way to connect to with the most people.
Steereo: Amazing. What’s next for Chris Lee? What are the things you’re excited about coming up? What’s waiting in the world for you?
[18:03] Chris Lee:
I’m definitely excited to be playing more shows. I have some shows coming up in LA on the 20th, the 24th. AnD then a show in New York on October 9th, and just exciting to really get … I’ve been in the studio a ton for my whole life. But really in the last 12 months, it’s been an everyday writing thing. I have probably a couple of hundred songs just in my catalog that I would have to finish up and just polish up and put out.There’s so much content there, so much music there that I’m really excited to get out and actually connect with people and have conversation and be out in the world and kind of have the reaction to all the work that I’ve put in and spread it and engage with people on a more personal level, as opposed to just being on social media and behind the mic.
Steereo: Tell the world where we can find you. Where are you in terms of Instagram and websites and stuff? Give people your links.
My links are @Chrisleemusic for all social platforms, and my website is chrisleemusic.com. It’s pretty simple; it just allows you to subscribe to my mailing list as the new song that’s out. It’s just really NY social. It’s just kind of a baseline of how to connect with me via socials and online.
Steereo: Awesome. Chris, it’s been an absolute pleasure to have you today on the 99 percent. You’re awesome. We love your material here at
Steereo: And we’re so excited for your next releases. Everybody, let’s go down to Chris’ show.
Thanks a lot.