Bill Cummings 02/04/2010
Misterlee (aka lanky Leicester man Lee Allatson and his guitarist Jamie Smith) is an almost uncategorizable two-piece act that blends alternative rock and lo-fi pop - amongst other peculiarities, to create a truly unique sound. Misterlee's new album 'The Disquiet Dog' challenges preconceptions of what music and vocals can be, almost jazzy at times in its loose musical structure veering surprisingly from flights of fancy to intense streams of consciousness back into a tuneful sing along, from pounding drums into metallic guitar licks. Take 'Adolf Hitler' that shifts from berating phone call to serrated barbed wire Rhubarb and Custard-like art rock with its humorous refrain 'he thinks he's Adolf Hitler in a past life' insistent, above clattering scattergun rhythms. To the more conventional (in a loose sense) strum along of 'Littleman (we're alive here)' that's empowering internal monologue like album track 'Stags of Schipol' draws favourable comparisons with the beat poets of Borroughs, Ginesburg and the work of Lou Reed.While the buzzing strident 'The Easy Apple' is redolent of the more aggressive moments of Mark E Smith..Elsewhere the influence of Captain Beefheart is prevalent as the Misterlee project takes you on disorientating, unexpected winding journeys down dark alleyways and through dreams and nightmares. I sent Lee some questions to perhaps begin to scratch beneath the surface of his most unique and challenging sounds....
Why the moniker Misterlee? Or is it just as simple as being a Mister whose name happens to be Lee?
When I was a wee boy, there was a day at school where nicknames were dished out in the playground and mine simply couldn't be shortened. Someone just said 'Mr. Lee!' (we were about five) and kids being kids, it stuck.
Could you talk us through your musical history up to this point?! How did the Misterlee Project come to fruition?!
Misterlee was originally a writing project purely for my own amusement. I had spent years playing on other people's records and live shows and I realised I could go on like that and finish up with very little to show my own creativity. I bought a multi track recorder and got stuck in, expecting to sell the machine to pay for my first album's pressing. The wider project stemmed and progressed from there.
Having played alongside the likes of Sebadoh, Mountain Goats, Jeffrey Lewis, Hamell on Trial, Johnny Dowd, David Thomas, Duke Special, Thomas Truax, Volcano the Bear, Prince Buster! What's been your favourite live experience, on the road? And what did you take from meeting such inspiring, cult artists?
I think the most rewarding thing has been exposing people to an approach to music they may not have experienced before. We've played our share of niche events, but it's always been great to put on a set which includes some pretty difficult listening and free improvisation, for what could be termed a wider 'outsider' audience.
How would you describe the sound of Misterlee in five words?
Bold. Direct. Unpredictable. Robust. Art.
The new album this 'disquiet dog' is very experimental and mostly works between the lines of what is accepted as the traditional rock vocal, and song, were you purposely trying to create this affect or is it just how you write the songs?!
An idea can manifest itself in a whole bunch of ways and I like to allow that organic process to direct its own path. This alludes to the earlier question of genre and trend alignment and those are concepts I just don't even consider. Everything revolves around the core of the song idea, without any prejudices.
Where did you record the new album? It says here you worked on it with long time collaborator and guitar player Jamie Smith, was there anyone else involved in the production/recording of the record or were you the only two players?
Just Jamie and myself, working at Jamie's studio in South Leicestershire. We tracked some of the drums in a huge dance studio and also made field recordings from my car on the M1 between junctions 20 and 19!
What influences your songs? Everyday life experience, travelling, references to literature, music, your weird imagination or all of the above?!
For me it's fair to say all of the above, but also, and more importantly, the instinctual need to create something. I find writing hugely cathartic as a way of unravelling questions that I feel need answering. If you consider each of the songs on the album to be an answer to a question, I think that helps to unlock some of the mystery. The keyholes in the album artwork aren't just there by chance!
Would I be right in assuming that you are a fan of the beat poets, like Ginesburg and Borroughs and the work of Lou Reed, The Fall and Syd Barrett? A few of the tracks reminded me of their stream of consciousness stylings?
I'm a fan of stream of consciousness writing as a creative tool probably more than I am of any specific artist. I guess that would account for any similarity in outcomes, though Lou Reed and Syd Barrett especially are favourites of mine.
How do you approach the songs musically, coming originally from the perspective of a drummer/ukulele player?!
The ukulele thing has been blown up to a more relevant standing than it should be! I've always had a strong leaning for melodic writing and certainly also consider rhythm heavily when arranging lyrics. I think drummers make good song arrangers as they are used to handling big dynamic and textural ranges, as well as structural decisions in terms of where a song is going. I think these lend to more unique outcomes.
If you could offer other songwriters one piece of advice what would it be?
Truthfully allow the song idea be your guide.
The digital music revolution liberating or depressing?!
Functional. And it's not a revolution at all in my book. When music was first ever recorded, it was widely considered to be the end of live performance. Things change and none of the format questions make for intrinsically better music content anyway - that would be revolution.
Future plans?! Will you be touring this album?!? Is it even possible!?!
I'm planning a break once the album business has died down. I need the live gig muse to 'strike' for this one and I already have some ideas for that. When the time is right...