If You Can't Find it, Make It: Joshua Lee on Wheeling's musical 'Promise Land'
"We need to work to retain young musicians so we can continue to grow the scene from within."
And today's interview is with a folk rock’n newcomer to the Wheeling music scene who’s sang his way through Nashville and Indiana. This... is Joshua Lee.
How did you start playing music?
I've played in bands as a frontman or sideman since high school in Indiana and throughout my 13-14 years in Nashville. When I relocated to Wheeling a few years ago with my family, I tried to quit playing music. After a particularly difficult first year here, I couldn't help but write songs again. I initially had a difficult time finding like-minded musicians in the Wheeling area to work with, so I had to do it all myself for the first time in my life. I started playing out as a solo act and gradually warmed up to the idea of being a singer-songwriter instead of a member of a band.
And your name?
It's mine! I just left off my last name, mostly because there's a soap opera star and a British Bieber-wannabe who already have my name locked down in internet-land.
How has your sound changed over time (if at all)?
I'm thrilled with how this first EP Promise Land has turned out and feel like it does establish this sort of ambient folk rock as a foundation. That said, since this is still a newish project, the biggest change has been moving from a sort of shapeless, undefined mess of acoustic guitar chords and melody to a pretty clear full-band approach. I love ambient guitars and textures. I love careful arrangements. I love rock and roll energy. I love great melody. I think that's really starting to come out.
What’s it like performing in West Virginia? Where have you played?
As of yet, I've been working primarily in the Wheeling area. We have a dearth of legitimate venues in Wheeling, so I've been working with some other local artists (Michael Iafrate and members of Mr. Fancy Pants) to build a local original music scene through our collective, The Bridge+Tunnel Collective. I've just recently started to try to get out of Wheeling a bit. I actually just opened for Hello June at their CD Release Party in June at Joe N' Throw in Fairmont, and I was very excited about that!
Now that you mention it, what is The Bridge+Tunnel Collective? And what do you hope to achieve with it?
Bridge+Tunnel was born out of dozens of conversations with other bands and artists in the Wheeling area who were all frustrated that there weren't many real mid-sized venues that promoted local, original music. We felt like we needed a hub for musicians to get together and help promote each other, trade tips and ideas and especially try to find spaces willing to partner with us to host shows.
Our first partnership was with Artworks Around Town (in Wheeling’s Centre Market). They have a gallery space that has been hosting original music the 3rd Friday of every month. We've taken over booking and now help run those events.
Ultimately, we want to act as a sort of virtual music venue. We feel like every scene needs that space that acts as a hub. You can meet every type of artist there: photographers, videographers, graphic designers, engineers, producers, songwriters, guitar players, etc... Since Wheeling doesn't have that space yet, we're trying to be that through the events we put on around town and through our online community.
What’s been the highlight of your musical journey thus far?
I've had a lot of great experiences on the road when I toured with bands and artists out of Nashville. I got the opportunity to tour with some of my best friends, and that's really hard to beat. But, so far, it's the making and releasing of this new EP. I have been a part of several projects in the past that I've been really proud of. This record has surpassed anything I could of imagined. I really think this record says what I set out to say.
What’s your advice to anyone starting to make music?
Just do it! Take some chances and introduce yourself to other musicians that you like, even if you're awkward (trust me, I can be pretty awkward). Don't worry about getting things perfect yet; just get out there and publish your tunes, play some open mics, get feedback and just keep making more music!
What’s it like making music in West Virginia?
At first it was frustrating. I had been a band guy my entire life, as I've always preferred to collaborate, but I couldn't find anyone that I thought I could work with. It seemed like an entire generation of musicians fled the Ohio Valley for music hubs like Nashville or New York. After searching around for a while, I found 3rd Friday at Artworks and discovered a number of interesting bands and artists. Gradually over the last couple years, I've met more and more musicians who are interested in working to rebuild a thriving scene in Wheeling.
Do you feel held back by being in West Virginia? Or does it feel like a musically-supportive place?
As a relative newcomer, I've been blown away by what I've found in West Virginia. I hadn't realized what great music was happening in places like Huntington, Morgantown, etc... I didn't know about how supportive West Virginia Public Broadcasting was of homegrown artists. I've been impressed and inspired by the work of people like Ian Thornton. I feel inspired to help grow the original music scene in Wheeling and for us to be able to help contribute to growing the scene statewide.
What, in your opinion, needs to happen in the West Virginia music scene for it to move forward?
We need to continue to spread the word that there is good music here and there is a scene. We need to continue the work of connecting the dots, so to speak. Also, in Wheeling, one of our primary interests is trying to show younger musicians that they don't need to leave town to be a part of something great. We need to work to retain young musicians so we can continue to grow the scene from within.
Joshua Lee’s debut EP is Promise Land. Hear more #WVmusic on A Change of Tune, airing Saturday nights at 10 on West Virginia Public Broadcasting. Connect with A Change of Tune on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. And for more #WVmusic chats, make sure to go to wvpublic.org/wvmusic and subscribe to our RSS / podcast feeds.
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