A Q&A with Lee Fields of Lee Fields and the Expressions
by Matt Sherman (Business), published February 9th 2016
Lee Fields is the epitome of a career musician. In 1969, he left North Carolina for New York with $20 dollars in his pocket and the rest is history. Over the past four decades he has collaborated across many genres and persisted in the category of soul music. In 2009, he hooked up with The Expressions and Brooklyn-based Truth and Soul Records released their debut, My World. Today, as the genre has begun to make a comeback, Lee Fields and The Expressions are providing an authentic sound – one that combines R&B, funk, and soul music. Ahead of his concert at The Sinclair this Friday, Tastemakers spoke with Lee Fields about his past, future, and what exactly makes soul.
Tastemakers Magazine (TMM): What were your greatest influences when you started compared to today?
Lee Fields (LF): My greatest influences back in the day… of course, James Brown. I liked Little Richard. I liked Sly and the Family Stone. I liked Otis Redding. The Beatles were my first influence. When I was a kid and saw those guys on the Ed Sullivan Show, man, that still lingers strong today. They were so far ahead of their time. I would say Buddy Holly. I like a lot of country and western – Porter Wagoner and Dolly Parton. Sam Cooke. Wilson Picket.
I was always like being raised in the south. They used to play all kinds of music during the week, and on the weekends they would play an hour or two of soul music. Most of the time, although not by choice, the only music that I had to listen was this different music. The pop and the country western. As I listened to it, I grew to love the music. There is a very thin line between country and western and soul. Both of them tell stories about people’s lives. About love and pain.
I learned not to judge music on what people thought I was supposed to be listening to. I like what I like.
TMM: Out of all the people you have collaborated with, are there any favorite collaborators or any really important lessons you learned from them?
LF: Well I collaborated with Martin Solveig; he’s the French producer. He has a huge following all over the world. So I collaborated with him for about 5 years. That taught me something. That taught me that I can sing songs that, depending on the way the record was produced, could reach many markets. It just depends on the way the record is produced. I learned that from him.
My collaboration with the Expressions has been the ultimate of collaborations. Because we don’t perform and record saying ‘it’s all about my thoughts’. Everybody injects ideas into the project. So we get a situation where we are telling more of a rounder view of life, from many perspectives. This collaboration with the Expressions has been the ultimate of my life.
TMM: Who are you listening to these days?
LF: Well I listen to basically everything. Ed Sheeran, I think is his name. The guy with the guitar. He’s great. I listen to a kid out of Chicago – his name is BJ The Chicago Kid. He’s on Motown records [and] he’s great. I like Adele’s new release. I think she did a fantastic… super fantastic job.
My taste is still very diversified, because I think the more people you listen to, creatively, it gets your ideas going. You listen to somebody – ‘Oh wow, it was clever the way he did that’ – or maybe we can use a chord change in this song, see where they took it and we gonna take it somewhere else, you know? That’s what music is. It’s a blending. It starts out from a blending process, from the instruments to the vocalists. If the record is a good record, it blends in with the public. It’s all about blending.
TMM: What makes a song have soul?
LF: If a person sings from that place within, that’s called the spirit. The spirit is what really determines what is soulful. The word soul is the spirit. If a person sings and lets that spirit dictate – not by some sort of pattern that was written down, but by just allowing oneself to express themselves fully from the spirit. From that animated energizing force within every human. If a person allows that spirit to just shape the words.
You try to make the song as real as possible. You try to make the story of the song in such a fashion that the person is almost reliving what the song is saying. A person will have empathy with what you are really saying. That’s what soul is. That spiritual force within.
TMM: What are your goals for 2016? Any major plans?
LF: Right now we are working on the new album. The ultimate goal is to make the best album that we can. Matter of fact, I was in a writing session over in New York yesterday. We are getting ready to start laying the tracks. This is the most delicate part of being independent – putting a song together. We don’t want rush the song. We want the song to be something real that’s happening in people’s lives. We want to choose the songs with nice melodies, and we just trying to get it right. In other words, this is what I should have said at the beginning – we are just trying to get it right. So I’m very excited about it.
TMM: What are the people gonna get if they go to a Lee Fields and the Expressions show?
LF: Well, what I play for every night is for people to have big-time fun. I like to see the audience just having fun, man. We try to give a performance where, when it’s over, everybody feels better. When you leave that show, it’s gonna be like you been on an excursion to a place called… I call it ‘euphoria.’
Lee Fields and the Expressions will perform at the Sinclair in Cambridge on Friday, Feb. 12.