Musician, producer, writer and citizen of the world...
And so it begins ... The quest for the "Right Stuff"
Lee Groves; This musician, producer, writer and citizen of the world came crashing into my life in an open-air bar just under the Brooklyn Bridge in Dumbo, NYC in 2013. Introduced by a mutual friend, Lee and I instantly got on like a house-a-fire. By the end of our 2nd round of drinks we were finishing each others’ sentences and we have never looked back. After two years and many miles we and our wives hiked together in the concrete canyons of NYC, our family’s lives were separately, but simultaneously, transplanted to Nashville in 2015.
Before we met in NYC however, Lee had already had a well-established career in both London and Sydney. A brief roll-call of his clients and projects included: Depeche Mode, Gwen Stefani, Britney Spears, Marilyn Manson, The Black Eyed Peas, Dave Matthews and even a Martin Scorsese project. Lee was also responsible for producing/remixing the soundtrack that accompanied the 2006 Super Bowl’s infamous wardrobe malfunction. The boy gets around.
Lee and I began our long discussion on this topic in East Nashville’s Bar 308. The discussion continues to this day (well past this entry’s completion). To say he’s passionate about being creative would be a gross understatement.
TB: So, Lee ... as promised, here is the question; What is your mental and physical experience when working on a creative project and it feels big, it feels self-propelled, it feels exceptional, it feels … ‘Right’?
LG: Your talking about “Purity”. It’s always a search for something pure with me. Something original.
TB: Isn’t all of our jobs/desires as artists to create something original?
LG: Well, yes. But, you’re asking how it ‘feels’, right?
TB: Yes, thank you. Please keep me on track here …
LG: (Lee brings all his fingertips and thumb together on one hand and points them into his sternum, just below his heart) It’s here. This is where I feel it(!). Not here (points to head), or here (points to his stomach). It’s here (sternum). You’re asking where. That’s where. ∏ When it’s “Right”, you feel something here. It’s unmistakable. You say to yourself, “Oh, wow!” You feel a physical sense of surety here (points again). ∏ When writing, for me it all begins with the chords.
TB: Chord progressions? Is that what you mean? Can you expand on that?
LG: Maybe, sometimes. But it doesn’t have to be a chord progression. I’ll really just focus on the individual chords themselves. Chords are the vehicle of the soul. Whether I’m writing for a specific project, with a specific emotional tie, or just jamming together with a friend in a session and we discover a thread and follow that, it all begins with the chord for me. Music creation, when it’s “Right”, should transport you to somewhere else.
TB: Is that what makes a song or piece commercially successful, that it transports you to somewhere else?
LG: No, that’s not how pop songs work. Pop songs are tough for me to write. I just try to be original to me. Pop songs can be too formulaic, there are rules, and it’s important for me to try and break those rules and write for me. I’m always looking to excite that 14-year-old boy still inside me somewhere. It’s that sense of discovery that wakes you up, you are jolted by the originality and the connection you instantly have with the music your playing or hearing. That’s success for me, not necessarily commercial success in the pop charts … though that’s nice to have, too, when it happens.
TB: For years now I’ve tried to move into or through creative processes focusing on making myself happy with the work, believing that I am no different than most people. And if I like something (I am creating) chances are others will like it, too. Is that similar to your approach?
LG: A bit. Yeah, a bit I suppose. But we are all so similar when it comes to music, experiencing music. Bobby McFerrin’s TED Talk and his use of the pentatonic scale demonstrates a perfect example of that. You have to watch it! Amazing. There’s another documentary, “The Heart Is a Drum Machine” from 2009, also amazing. Those speak to the universal understanding of the impact music has on all of us.
TB: You’ve used a few beautiful descriptors so far: “Original”, “Purity”, “Surety”, “Discovery”. Is it fair to say a piece or an artist can embody all those at once? For musicians I’m thinking of Elvis Costello, David Bowie … artists that are wholly different in their approach, sound, message … wholly original.
LG: Yes, absolutely! Bob Marley, Michael Jackson … loads of people. With Bob Marley, his purity came from his message, what he had to say and how he chose to say it. Bob Marley had important things to say.
TB: So we’ve talked about what it feels like. What do you do to preserve that feeling in the moment? How do you hope to create that feeling again? Have you developed a method? Or, do you specifically not want to know the method and leave it all up to an indiscriminate muse?
LG: Well, the way I work, and music in general these days, is very linear. My friend Pete was recently in town and we spent 11 days in the studio together writing and creating loads of textures and themes we used to finish a group of songs before it was over. Pete is a longtime friend, we have a great collaborative energy together. We begin with just getting in a room, me on piano and Pete on XXXX, and we just play and bounce ideas off one another. I say it’s linear because we are always tracking (recording) what we are playing so we are able to revisit anything we play. It’s always good, but there are moments that are exceptional. We’re able to take to moments and play them back and build more onto the strongest pieces. It’s fleeting, but it’s not. You feel the excitement of the moment but don’t need to panic because we have it. We then get to make it better. Make sense?