Lee Rosevere is a prolific musician from Vancouver, Canada.
Not only does he seem to release an album on Bandcamp every month, Lee draws inspiration from various sources. Consider that his most recent album was inspired by a radio announcer saying it reminded her of music that you would hear if you were on hold, and how they should start a show where it’s just that kind of music.
That album, Hold Music, came out the same month as an album titled Music for Podcasts 4, which offered music based on research into the material sought by podcasters. These are the two most recent of 51 releases available. Lee’s very easy listening music threatens to wallpaper the world around us and Cyclic Defrost’s Jason Richardson thought it was worth peeling back the ambience to learn more.
Let me start with an observation, your music has developed over many years.
Yes, it has changed a lot over the years! I find the music I make is directly connected to the tools I have access to.
What are your early recollections of music. What do you remember catching your ear as a kid?
I’ve been listening to music since I was three. My earliest recollection is getting my hands on my Dad’s record collection that he brought over from England – Parlophone mono versions of With The Beatles and Beatles For Sale.. I destroyed those records from playing them so much (still have them too).
Also Stevie Wonder’s Innervisions and Paul & Linda McCartney’s RAM were played SO many times. I couldn’t understand the lyrics but the music was so inventive and it just caught my ear. Just like I loved the sound of the Goon Show records, although I had no idea what was going on, it just sounded funny.
There were other songs I loved as well, mostly British singles like Petula Clark’s “Downtown” – the performance & production on this is pure magic, especially to a kid… you just hear the lights twinkling. it’s a work of art. I also pestered my dad to play Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick & Tich “Bend It” over and over over (I have a recording of me doing this).
The only record I remember from this time that was intended for children was Marlo Thomas’s Free To Be…You And Me, which I also loved then and even more as I’ve grown older with it’s messages of love, acceptable, understanding and smashing stereotypes and conventions, and even more amazing it was done 45 years ago and things have improved, but not even close to where we should be. Basically, I’ve been listening and collecting music my whole life.
How have you developed your skills as a musician? Your drumming was the first think I noticed.
Drumming was always first. At age 5 living in Toronto, I kept banging along to music on the furniture, and my parents decided to give me lessons in 1978. My first teacher was Tom, a bit of a stoner but a nice guy – I remember he wrote out the drum chart for Rolling Stones “Beast of Burden”, which is not a hard song to play but he wanted to do it anyway to show me something I could play, and read along so I would get a sense of how everything worked together.
Then I had a teacher named Trevor who played congas and we would trade 8-bar solos back and forth. He told me I should be listening to Steely Dan and Average White Band. At the time, I was into Kiss, the Bee Gees and ELO, so I wouldn’t get into The Dan until a few years later.
We moved after that and I never found a teacher again that I really liked. We tried a few – one of them was so bad, he put me off drumming for a full year. He pushed me too far, thought I was ‘wasting my time’ wanting to play along to rock and roll records, when I should really learn jazz. At age 9, I was not ready for jazz – I wanted to figure out Anton Fig’s drum solo from Ace Frehley’s “Rip it out” – and therefore rebelled.
So after a year of not drumming, I decided to pick it up again just for fun, and taught myself the rest of the way. I started listening to more challenging music and playing along to my fave records by Rush, Yes, Jethro Tull, FM, Genesis, and Level 42.
From there into the late 80s and 90s, I discovered drummers like Vinnie Colaiuta (all the Zappa drummers really), and how important the groove is from bands like The Meters.
Around the mid 90s, and tired of being labeled ‘just a drummer’, I started to teach myself other instruments like piano and guitar, but I never learned these instruments properly, mostly because I have a short attention span and get impatient when things take too long. I mostly work in patterns and play around until I find something I like, and make a song based on it.
Do you find there’s a certain amount of time spent making a song?
Thanks to my short attention span, most songs are written from start to finish in one day, two days tops. I usually only have the weekends to work on creative projects, so I make the most of the time. I feel I wasted it a bit if I don’t have a close-to-finished piece by the end of the day, or whenever my brain gets tired.
That said, lately I’ve been taking my time in releasing things and listening to them more before letting them out. In the past, it wasn’t unusual to release it the day it was finished. I still do that occasionally, like the Trappist-1 album – the whole thing was done in three days. I didn’t listen to the tracks after each was mixed, as there was no time to check for mistakes. “Honour thy error as hidden intention”.
However, the Hold Music album was started in September of 2016, and not released until June 2017. That one went through lots of changes, everything from minor remixes to dropping tracks and writing whole new ones. I find if I listen to something TOO much, I can get super finicky with small details that nobody would notice and I get more impatient with it.
What have you found useful for inspiring or developing ideas?
Limitations, themes and time-constraints. I find I work very quickly and can get inspiration from these things.. one of the biggest influences the Disquiet Junto has had on me. I apply constraints to most projects as I find I get the most of working this way.
For eg, again the Trappist-1 album, I decided to write a song for each of the planets, and I want it done by Monday. There’s nothing like a a big burst of creativity – it’s mentally exhausting, but I generally like these projects the best (they’re written so fast, I don’t remember writing them).
Without a frame to work in, I find I can noodle too much with no focus and end up scrapping it. Although these scraps never get deleted and used eventually, I much prefer starting and completing a project in a short amount of time, because I often forget these scraps exist.
Let me share this quote I read recently:“It’s the job of the composer to bring us pleasure through choices we didn’t expect”
I agree with this, I enjoy surprising myself as well. Sometimes I’ll get inspiration from genres such as synthwave, space rock or solo piano albums… but I’m not talented enough to really pull off my favourite ones, like singer/songwriter, or jazz or classical. However, I can hear a melody I love and want to write something like that. My rate of success is debatable, but it’s fun and that’s all I really need out of it. If other people like it too, that’s a bonus.
Thinking of where I read that quote, what do you think of click tracks?
Depending on what I’m doing, but I’m fine with them. I use a metronome click when composing, and sometimes I’ll use them when drumming. But if I’m recording live drums on something, I’ll leave the drum part until last so I’ll actually play something that complements the song and what the other instruments are doing – and I don’t need a click for that, because it’s like playing along with a record or other musicians.
Do you think this is your short attention span or does it reflect diverse influences. I guess it can be both or neither but I’ve seen musicians who reject being pigeon-holed.
Both really, it’s definitely more short attention span. I need to change up ideas often. As far as pigeon-holing, I do that mostly to myself because I try not to repeat myself. I know I do, but I never intend to. I like new ideas, new challenges, but sometimes I do fall into the same processes of making music that I wish I could break, or at least be more successful in trying to. But to paraphrase Neil Young, maybe that’s “just my sound”?
I do like the Brian Eno aesthetic in that you should just not over-think it, and let what comes to you happen naturally, and just accept it.
Have you been surprised at the response you’ve had to your music? I’m thinking about how you’ve found tracks used as soundtracks for short films.
Yes! First off, I’m amazed that people actually like it. I’m not used to that – whenever I made music in the past and showed it to people, the response was between indifferent to “oh, that’s not bad… for YOU.” So I learned to not show it, keep it to myself. After a while I got tired of it sitting on the shelf, and released it under Creative Commons, not expecting anything and truly bewildered that people liked it, and wanted more.
It has shown up in the weirdest places, but it leads to the biggest surprises. The best one I will always remember was being asked to score the Norwegian documentary “No Time to Lose” – unknown to me, the director Paulina Cervenka had been using my ambient CC releases as a temp track and when she secured funding for the film, she wanted me to write an original score for it.
This was my first experience with being directly asked to write something specific (for a visual medium which is harder than just audio) and working with another person/team, and wanting to make them happy with what I come up with, and also please myself.
I found it exciting, extremely challenging and incredibly scary to take on a project like that, but I’ve always wanted to do it, so I jumped in. It’s still surreal and such a foreign idea that I was asked in the first place, but the main things I took away were that yes, I could do this. And also the importance of keeping your music files organized!
Has seeing your music used for soundtracks shaped your approach to songwriting?
I don’t know – my initial response is not really. I will do projects that are specifically directed at an audience. like the Music for Podcasts albums, where I legitimately try to write something that podcast producers might like – I even did a survey for Volume 4 of what people were looking for in podcast music that they haven’t found elsewhere, and got some really interesting answers (for e.g, people are getting really sick of marimbas).
Generally, I’m not really good at writing to specific needs. For a time I tried this website Hitlicense, which posts requirements for tv/film/ad placements with payouts from $100-$3000, each one must sound similar to an existing piece of music, like if it’s an ad for a moisturizer, they want new-age-sounding Enya. Or if it’s for a detergent, they want ukuleles and glockenspiels and hand-claps.
I got one placement for an underwater tv show (I still have no idea which one) using one of my already-existing ambient tracks, but that was it. All the music I wrote for specific placements was rejected. So I cut my losses and decided I wasn’t good at this kind of thing and just stuck to writing stuff for me, which ultimately worked out much better (I released the stuff I wrote for the rejected placements under the album Music for Malls).
However, it’s quite possible I write with a subconscious focus on keeping things simple, ambienty, and easy to talk over, which is what my music seems to get used for most frequently.
You can find Lee’s work here.