Before Lee MacDougall took the stage in Nashville on August 13, I got a chance to talk with him for a few minutes. With his easy, charming wit, Lee discussed heavy metal, TJ Maxx, and his mom.
ATF: How would you describe your music to someone who has never heard you?
LM: Um, wow. No one’s ever asked that before. I guess I would say they’re like…three minute movies. I try to tell a whole story in just three minutes. Like storyteller folk pop.
ATF: You’ve been playing for quite a while. What have you found to be the better teacher over the years–experience or lessons?
LM: Oh, experience. I’ve never had lessons. The more you play, the more confident you get, I suppose. It’s really strange, actually… I had two months off over the summer, and my first show back was really crazy. You literally need to play every night, I think, and then you start to get in a rhythm. Just play and play and play.
ATF: I read your bio and found that you had experienced some success before, but you drew back and decided to try something different. What gave you the courage to change your path?
LM: I was in a band for a while, and it didn’t really work out the way I wanted it to. I didn’t really have the confidence because it left me with such a bad taste in my mouth. After this band split, I kind of took a year out and didn’t really know what I was going to do. All I knew was that I love writing songs and I love singing, but I had such a run-in with the music industry that I didn’t think I wanted to be involved in it anymore. I tried a bit of acting…a bit of this and a bit of that. But I kept writing songs, and one night I played an open mic night in London. I was really nervous. It was the first night I’d played on my own, ever, but I got such a good reaction. It really knocked me off my feet, the reaction that I got. I kind of thought, “Maybe I should try to pursue this a little bit more.” I suppose that’s what gave me the confidence to do this. Just people clapping really. The more people clap, the more I’ll play. If they stop clapping, I’ll stop playing.
ATF: So you had already reached success on your first path. What will let you know you’ve reached success on this new path?
LM: It wasn’t really success. We played a couple of big gigs, and things looked like they were gonna go well. But it wasn’t really what I wanted to do. This music is what I always wanted to do. You just kind of get caught in situations and just go along with it, and then you realize actually it’s not what you want to do. It’s like being in a bad relationship, really. You’re in it a year and you think, “Actually, I really don’t like you. What are we doing here?” I just got carried away with the romance or something. So we never really hit success. Things looked good at one point, but it just petered out. I was in that band for three years, and I’ve achieved more in six months doing this.
ATF: So what is the pinnacle on this new path? What are you striving for now?
LM: I want my music to be heard globally. All over the world. On the radio. In TJ Maxx and CVS or something. I just want as many people to hear it as possible, really. I mean, I’m already doing what I want to be doing. I’m making a living through playing music. That makes me pretty happy. It’s like, success is a drug, isn’t it? The more you experience, the more you want. But I just like playing music, really.
ATF: The harmony on the EP is so resonant and full. It’s pretty rare to hear that kind of harmony unless you’re the backing vocal or a sibling does it. Can I ask who did the backing vocals?
LM: Most of it is my best friend, actually, of like ten years.
ATF: Have you guys sung together a lot? Is that how you’ve developed this amazing blend?
LM: Yeah. I mean, he’s just a mate, really. He just comes round my house and sits on the end of the bed, and we both just play.
ATF: I’ll miss that tonight–the backing vocals. You should have brought your best friend.
LM: Yeah, well. I’m getting kind of good at ventriloquism. I’ll be sipping a beer and you’ll still hear me singing.
ATF: That’s better than backing vocals…or even a full band. I can’t wait to see that. So which song do you identify with the most?
LM: There’s a song called “This Is My Story” that is totally autobiographical. I mean, they’re all kind of about me, really. Not in an egomaniac sense, but I just like to write down what’s happening. I don’t like writing fake lyrics. Some people like writing about imaginary things, but my songs are like three-minute excerpts from my diary. I think people can relate. Or, I hope they do anyway. If I’m going through something, somebody’s going to have gone through it before me. It’s like, if you Google anything, someone’s already written an article about it. It’s kind of the same with songs, but nobody’s said it from my perspective. Love songs have been done a million times before, but I’ve never talked about it. My view’s gonna be slightly different to somebody else’s. That keeps it fresh, I think.
ATF: What do you do in your down time? Do you have down time.
LM: I don’t, really. I toured the States from February until May, and then I had two months off. I spent that whole two months recording. Literally, I was getting up and spending ten hours a day. I do love it. It drives me crazy, but it’s what I live for.
ATF: What was your favorite city on your first tour?
LM: I don’t really have a favorite. They’re all so cool. I really like all the different places.
ATF: (whispers) Nashville.
LM: I really like Nashville. And Nashville is a really great place, as well. And what was it? Memphis? No, Nashville. I just like the places off the beaten track a bit. New York and LA are great, obviously, but everybody’s seen them before. I was in Birmingham, Alabama last night and that was just cool.
ATF: I heard you had your first foray into heavy metal last night?
LM: Yeah. Last night was awesome, actually. We turned up and the bill was on the side of the venue, and the bands playing were like Throngs of Death, and like Skeletal Feces. And then…Lee MacDougall. And I was just like, “This ain’t gonna work.” So, we tried to jazz my name up a bit, and we changed it into Lethal MacDougall. Someone shouted, “What’s your middle name?” and I said, “Weapon.”
ATF: So what’s the craziest thing that’s ever happened to you while you were touring?
LM: I’m afraid I can’t tell you about most of them. And they’re all kind of long stories. I don’t want to bore you with them. The best one… I did a show in San Francisco and ended up back at this millionaire’s mansion with lots of interesting people. I drank too much champagne, and as I was getting out of the hot tub, I slipped and sliced my leg open on a piece of glass. I went into the bedroom to get a glass of water. My manager was on his laptop, working away, and he asked me what I’d done. I didn’t even know I’d done it. I turned around and there was this white Persian carpet…and this trail of blood. You know when you’re a bit tipsy, and you know something is serious, but you kind of laugh…you think it’s a bit funny because you’re tipsy? But I was still thinking, “This is really serious.”
My manager was like, “You’ve got to go to hospital. This should be stitched.” And I was like, “Yeah, but there’s still half a bottle of champagne left. And we’re going to Alcatraz in the morning.”
He bandaged me up a bit, laid me out on the bed, and gave me some more champagne, and then stepped back and said, “This is the absolute image of rock and roll.”
I laughed about it for two seconds and then said, “Yeah. You should probably call my mom now. Can you have my mom come get me?”
ATF: Never mind that she lives in England.
Photo by MD Laidlaw