Interview & Review: Bobby Lee – Origin Myths
‘Origin Myths’ is an enchanting 20 minutes of mind-altering solitude. It transports the listener to a non-terrestrial enchanted mesa, one which is swarming with locusts under four different skies while pine trees crash into obsidian.
Bobby Lee is an ardent music fan, record nerd and a collector of weird global memorabilia – and as a natural extension of that, he “feels like the need to create is there.” Without creation, artistic souls stagnate and feel stuck; creation can be both therapeutic and liberating.
Whilst definitely not disparaging them, Bobby notes that, sometimes, working an ordinary 9-5 job can have very little to show for it. Often your labour is invested in something intangible, but the opposite is true for his music. ‘Origin Myths’ is a quantifiable success, where he’s shaped and created something quite unique.
“I struggle with just getting my head down and slogging on with mundane stuff. I like to be able to have something tangible at the end, it’s why I get a lot of satisfaction from cooking, or writing, and I love to make mixtapes for people.” This hands-on approach to life permeates ‘Origin Myths’. With a tape machine on, junk shop guitars and a wild imagination, Lee holds our hand through an unfamiliar yet warming journey with this record.
Chatting informally with the story-master, he says to me: “I’m trying to avoid the ‘how come you make music that sounds American when you’re British?’ angle, as it’s a bit of a dead end and results in circular arguments about authenticity.”
I can see why this would be frustrating, although having spent many afternoons battered by the sun in Joshua Tree National Park, and despite having an oceanic depth of appreciation for Americana and Country music, ‘Origin Myths’ feels undeniable in its connection to Bobby himself, rather than any place or person, rather than any genre or influential record.
Concerning the inspiration behind the aesthetics of the record, I wanted to know more about where ‘Origin Myths’ came from. What motivated the sepia tones of Americana offset against the direct and bold Sumerian cuneiform?
“It is two-pronged. I have a background in social anthropology, I love archaeology and ancient history and folklore, particularly South Western Native American cultures. I also enjoy that very specific era of 60s and 70s academic graphic design, so I search, finding the right pieces of inspiration to stick together, to create something new – juxtaposition is a key element here, taking the language and textures and the timbre of country music, but smashing this into the world of ambient, of noise, something more leftfield…”
Prodding the issue of authenticity, a little more, Bobby decries the discussion altogether. It’s quite simple for him: “I’m not a traditional country musician, I’m not James Burton or Doc Watson or Ry Cooder, and I don’t sing like George Jones. As much as I love that stuff and all that desert, western imagery, I’m simply working with a collection of influences. Everyone has access to everything now, in terms of ideas and sounds and genre. My Life In The Bush of Ghosts and E2E4 are just as big a part of this as Paris, Texas or Sweetheart of The Rodeo.”
Strutting through Kelham Island on a soggy Saturday, ‘Rule the Summer Clouds’ clanged between ears, offering crisp insight into the atmospheric solitude of an industrial walk.
‘Impregnated by Drops of Rainbow’ overtures a vista of colourful twangs instilling the necessary speed to avoid the rapid white vans flying over Brook Hill roundabout. ‘Drops of Rainbow’ bids insight into elements of rhythmic krautrock and subtle chimes of Sheffieldian electronica present in Bobby’s music, demonstrating that genre is but an imaginative exercise, a restrictive one. Bobby’s music is full of a lifetime of experience and emotion, condensed into a concise and allegorically rich record.
‘Fire Medicine Man’ is Lee’s personal favourite, but he also admitted that picking one would be slightly silly. His justification comes from it sounding a bit like JJ Cale, whom I’ve never listened to, so don’t ask me to verify that. We’ll have to take his word for it.
He also draws attention to the combination of the primitive drum-machine paired with the swampy, syrupy guitars. Although from an outsider’s perspective these tracks may seem like the product of intense planning, Bobby admits he did not have the luxury of time.
“The 4-track cassette recorder allowed for quick and simple work. You can spend an afternoon dicking about with the EQ of a snare drum in Ableton or Logic or whatever, and then just like that you’ve lost an afternoon with almost nothing to show. I could be recording within 30 seconds using the Tascam. And it’s all about using your ears, rather than obsessing over plug-ins and staring at a screen. This record was liberating and offered a freedom to record something quick and put it out there almost immediately. Before I went instrumental, I could spend years, years, knocking something into shape, be it lyrics or something else, sometimes with nothing to show for it. Forgive the product placement but Bandcamp has helped with this, especially their Bandcamp Fridays deal that has been super helpful for musicians who’ve lost out over lockdown.”
Sweetly swooning into ‘The Badger and the Locust’, sunset and sarsaparilla jump to mind as the tender exploration of acoustic guitar begs the listener to experience breadth in their feelings. We’re given moments to resonate with the music, many sensations are born, grief betwixt joy, the song develops feelings which inhabit a void somewhere between these tender emotions.
“I’m just really glad the record is resonating with people. Putting a record out for people to hear isn’t easy, so to know that music nerds such as myself are enjoying these sounds, I’m satisfied.”