Sex, drugs, and rock ‘n roll, right? Wrong — for Shawn Lee, anyway. The hip rock musician is a devoted husband, dad, and vegan. Married for 13 years, the American ex-pat living in London takes his kids to school five days a week and is an avid drinker of soy milk to fuel his busy life recording and producing albums and film scores. And his music is both prolific and acclaimed: since 2000, he has released nearly two dozen albums, contributed to movie soundtracks such as Ocean’s 11, created music for brands such as Louis Vuitton and Reece’s Peanut Butter Cups, and scored soundtracks for games such as Rockstar’s Bully.
The rock ‘n roll life takes its toll. He makes no bones about the fact that going on tour makes him miss his children and makes him feel guilty for “turning my wife into a single parent.” The demands of recording and touring made him miss his daughter Mela’s first birthday.
“You can never get back the time you lose when they’re young,” he says of his children. “But I know they are proud of me and love me.”
But art is the flipside of sacrifice. Spending time in the studio means creating the music that is his passion, and touring introduces his art to new audiences around the world. He is an eclectic musician and composer who invents bright, funky sounds with instruments ranging from the sitar to the Casio Rapman keyboard.
“I started playing guitar when I was 10,” he says. “I always loved music and records as a kid and imagined playing before I ever picked up an actual instrument.” And, he adds, he will keep playing until he dies.
In honor of Father’s Day, Lee took time out of the AM & Shawn Lee Sounds of Summer Tour to answer a few questions about being a dad and touring.
For the devoted Dad, Skype is a godsend to keep in touch with his family, and enduring the rigors of the road means carrying a stash of Larabar nutrition bars. Check out the life of a rock n’ roll dad and enjoy his music. Note: for Chicago fans, AM & Shawn Lee will be at Shubas, 3159 N. Southport, at 10:00 p.m. Friday, June 21 — I hope to see you there.
Does being a father inspire you creatively in any way?
Yes it sure does! I have had both my girls adding little touches to my studio recordings a good few times now. Also, it makes me work even harder to make this musician thing work! Editor’s note: in the first minute of this video, Lee shares how his 3-year-old daughter contributed to his studio recordings.
How did you learn how to be a father?
I’m still learning! It’s a case of instinct and making it up as you go along. Also making loads of mistakes and failing like an idiot from time to time. My girls are ultimately teaching me!
Do you remember what you were doing when your kids were born? What was each experience like?
Childbirth is old school! I was right in the birthing pool with my wife with the birth of our first daughter, Mela (now 8). It is an intense process and nothing short of a miracle. My wife had a really long and painful labor with our second daughter SEELA (now 3). I was right there in the hospital being a supportive spare part ya know! It was so cool for our three-piece family to meet our newest fourth member. She’s a real sweetie!
You’re now embarking on your tour with AM. How will this tour differ from the last one if at all?
Well, we are playing mostly songs from the new album (La Musique Numerique), which we’ve never played before — plus we have a new drummer Mike Green. So we are on our toes getting the music in our heads and hands at this point. Gonna be fun and a good challenge to boot.
I understand you keep in contact with your family through Skype. When do you squeeze in time to chat? How do you maintain a sense of closeness otherwise when you travel?
Skype is great when it works. I have to be on WiFi to make it work, so it is usually in the morning at the hotel when it is the evening London time. It is really amazing for us to see each other’s faces. Their smiles are priceless. It helps a lot to stay in contact. The girls also keep a calendar, which they X the days off to Daddy’s return!
I understand you are a vegan and don’t drink alcohol. We all know it can be hard to stay healthy on the road. How do you stay centered when you’re traveling?
Well, being a vegan on tour is a challenge. Fruit and salads save the day. Also, the oatmeal at Starbucks always is a good safe bet for breakfast. Otherwise, I try to keep a stash of Larabars to give me a boost when I’m flagging.
When the tour is over, what will you do to celebrate with your family?
Will my oldest is still in school for a few more weeks when I get back, so it will be the usual routine. We are going to Cyprus for three weeks in August for our family holiday, so the wife and kids are really looking forward to that.
I am told that you would actually advise your kids to stay away from a music career. What do you think the future of the music industry looks like for kids today?
I would love for both my girls to play music if they want to, but in terms of trying to make a career out of it, I certainly would not encourage that! It’s always been a tough business but making a living out of it gets harder and harder for everyone. Everything is changing so quickly now and nobody really knows where the biz is going to end up? We shall see.