The words one finds in reviews, in bios, in all descriptions of Christie Lenee are joyful, unrestrained, virtuoso. She's a wilding spirit with true technical and melodic chops.
She picks up a Luna Craftsman guitar and makes it whistle and buzz, call, cry, laugh and burn. She makes it sing sing sing.
When did you first pick up a guitar and what compelled you to do so?
I first picked up a guitar at the age of 12 inspired by Pink Floyd, Jimi Hendrix, alternative and classic rock music. This "new" music initially inspired me as I grew up listening to classical music such as Mozart, Beethoven, Bach, and frequent attendance to the Florida Orchestra. Between this classical inspiration I was also involved in musical theatre and various acting gigs since the age of 5. I studied piano beginning around the same time, however my piano teacher made me feel that music was some sort of academic task. She discouraged my continued occurrences of hearing songs on the radio and figuring them out by ear then showing her at the lesson. Instead of listening, she would blow it off and say "open the book to play # 6."
With this academic experience, I still loved music but felt inhibited. At the time I was more into theatre as my sense of expression and attendedBlake High School of the Performing Artsas an acting major. Rather than try guitar lessons, I played along to records and learned as much as I could from favorite albums. Guitar was my outlet for saying everything that I wanted to say but couldn't as a teenager. It was what I would do at night in my room when I wanted to hibernate and not talk to anyone... perhaps a means of self discovery.
After a year playing guitar alone and refusing lessons, I attended a guitar concert that changed my life. John Michael Parris, guitar professor at Blake High performed a stellar version of the piece "Sunburst" by Andrew York. When I heard this piece I thought: Wow, if I could do that, I could do anything! I changed my major and dedicated my life to classical guitar for the next 4 years, practicing 8 hours a day and taking on challenging pieces as developing projects. My teacher John Parris encouraged ear training and self-expression in addition to lessons in theory. He was a blessing in my life and a very gifted mentor across the board.
In my junior year I joined the jazz band and started learning about improvisation, chord changes and lead sheet reading. I had two private teachers outside of school for both jazz and classical, and would also pick up lessons anytime I could from people who inspired me over the years. Continued studies led me to the University of South Florida in both the Jazz Guitar Performance and Music Composition programs.
Now being out in the "real world" performing, recording, and collaborating with successful musicians, I continue to be compelled to use my ears and make art. I am learning more every day and the journey is infinite!!
When did you know you wanted to be a serious songwriter/composer?
In my senior year of High School I got my first acoustic guitar, ironically after spending 3 years with a nylon classical and electric guitar. I attended a Dave Matthews Concert in West Palm Beach that was again a life changing experience... an encore performance of their song "Tripping Billies," and there I was in the front row playing air guitar along with the music. I noticed Dave Matthews look out into the audience and sensed a moment of appreciation. It was as if the music descended and all I could do was feel... like a vacuum of the universe sucked out any thought that I could have and infused me with only feeling.I felt submersed in the energy of the crowd and this moment of appreciation then closed my eyes... and I imagined what it must feel like to write something that could bring this many people together. To write something that could touch souls across the world... and in that moment, I opened my eyes. Dave Matthews was looking right at me, and suddenly... it hit me. "I have to write songs." Suddenly everything I had ever loved became one... guitar, acting, dancing, singing, poetry... it all became one. Songwriting and performing. After this epitome I temporarily graduated from the studious mind and dove head first into writing songs. And since prior to this I had been "shedding" traditional and modern classical music in addition to jazz, I suppose I was coming from a different place than someone picking up the guitar to accompany the voice and lyrics. The guitar drove the music and composition.
What inspired you to explore the percussive fingerstyle and two-handed tapping that is such a defining part of your music?
After the release of 17 live albums and 2 home studio albums where I ambitiously played all of the instruments, I took on a bigger project for the album "Set it Free." This became my first album to ever release digitally, and to this day many now know it as my first album. Throughout the course of this project I was writing a lot of choral music, string quartets and various compositions for other instruments at USF. I had this grand idea to start the album with an acapella choir and infuse classically rooted composition into folk/pop music. Soon after releasing this album I moved to Philadelphia and started playing a lot solo. This was a huge transition for me after the release party of "Set it Free" where I performed with a 10 piece band and 15 piece choir.
Transitioning to solo performances forced me to explore some new guitar techniques and attempt playing as many of the parts as I could all at once... whether that would mean drumming on the guitar with one hand and tapping chords on the other, de-tuning my guitar to get the rich essence of a bass, or any new an innovative concepts I was willing to try. For the short answer... I started the tapping style out of complete necessity to fulfill multiple parts.
You do a lot of improvisation in your music - can you remember what first prompted this "in the moment" type of creativity? Are you able to be as extemporaneous in other areas of your life?
I think that we improvise every day, from deciding what to wear or when is the right moment to cross the street. To me music is life... life is music. We are creating our sound tracks with the way we live, and therefore the "doing" of music and life weave into one another. What first prompted me to realize this is the recognition that music is a language. We can learn it literally just how we begin to speak English: by imitating sounds through sight/action and associating words with meaning.
What first prompted this "in the moment" type of creativity is realizing that music can become second nature. Once you know the instrument well enough it becomes a vessel of expression... and it doesn't matter what instrument is being used. What does matter is that music is being channelled through the human being and through the instrument.
To me improvisation is like speaking: a lot of it is having confidence and trusting yourself that you know what to say.
You recently wrote a blog on the benefits of actually "studying" songwriting after many years of writing intuitively. What was the mosthelpful thing your learned?
To me the benefits of "studying" songwriting in addition to writing intuitively are infinite. First we enable ourselves to discover our own patterns as writers, then we either enhance it or laugh at certain things that might seem silly. We must be able to critique ourselves in a light, heartfelt way, and having a positive mentor to point out the areas of strength and weakness is essential to the growth of an artist. Fans will almost always give you the good feedback of what they like, but having someone heart to heart point out things that need work can be incredibly enlightening. In fact, it can open up a whole new channel in the writing process!!
What's something that gets in the way of your creativity and how do you move through it?
Every writer has moments of block, perhaps from external life experiences or something internal in the music. In these times it's nice to take a step back and look at the big picture... widen the scope and explore a different angle in the creative process. This might be going to an art museum, taking a walk in nature, going to the beach and watching the sun set, reading poetry or some other sense of profound literature, or perhaps doing nothing and taking the time to nurture the body. Healthy food and juice or anything to nourish to the body can be extraordinary in inspiring creativity.
A concept from Victor Wooten's book "The Music Lesson" comes to mind: the moments of silence are the moments we can truly listen. This is when we open our ears fully to hear the music.
What attracted you to Luna Guitars?
The first time I heard of Luna Guitars was at a benefit concert I played many years ago at Bringe Music Center in St Pete. Luna Guitars had sponsored the event with generous donations to a children's charity, likewise, my first perspective was that this company must be filled with really good people. For that I had an enormous respect for Luna but still had not tried their instruments. In late 2013, however, I ran into virtuosic guitarist/composer/songwriter Vicki Genfan. I was blown away by the sound of her guitar and became intrigued by the instruments. I went on the website and learned more about what this company is about: bringing people together, bringing goodness into the world, and doing it through fine art and music. I loved the beautiful embroidery on the guitars and the original images, the colorful website, and the feeling of togetherness that I got from their site. Considering that this is so much of what my songs are about (unity, inspiration, and togetherness), I became intrigued to be a part of the Luna family.
What other passions do you have?
Yoga became a deep passion beginning at a young age. In fact, before I can even remember I would imitate my mother in stretching poses. Once I realized I was doing this thing called "Yoga" I was intrigued to learn more. This yoga journey has been just as profound as the music journey, in fact, they support each other in beautiful ways! *The practice of breath, meditation and body movement inspires composition by deep listening. It is a powerful journey within.
Other interests: poetry, inspirational books, hikes, beaches, mountains, waterfalls, traveling, discovering, meeting people, and learning something new every day.
What causes are close to yourheart?
I have always been an advocate for world peace and environmental consciousness, in addition to awareness and studies on cancer, autism, suicide, helping support the homeless through food and clothing donations, benefit concerts, etc. Some organizations that I've worked closely with on benefits and charity include Environmental Florida, GreenPeace, Blush Cancer Awareness (Annapolis, MD), Benefit to Feed the Homeless on Thanksgiving (Philabundance, Philadelphia, PA) National Ovarian Cancer Coalition (Washington, DC), Childhood Cancer Awareness (Phoenixeville, PA), Benefit for Breast Cancer (Women of Substance Radio, Philadelphia, PA), Benefits for American Cancer Society (Savannah, GA, Tampa, FL, Philadelphia, PA, etc), Benefit for Creating Communities (Annapolis, MD), Benefit for Hurricane Sandy Relief (Philadelphia, PA), GINA for Missing Persons Foundation (GoGirls Music, Philadelphia, PA), Toys for Tots Benefit (Tampa, FL), and many more.
As a person seen and respected in the public eye, it is important to me to not only to get involved in these organizations but to bring communities together to better the world. I am also involved in an organization called "Musicians on Call" that brings live music to patients in health care facilities, ranging from small children to elderly folks in the community. This is an incredibly rewarding experience. Truly, what could be better than someone playing and singing to you at your hospital bedside? Helping people heal and rediscover themselves through music is one of my main purposes in life.
Any additional information you'd like Luna fans to know?
I'm excited to announce that I'll be releasing a new album on Friday, November 21st: "Live at The Hideaway Cafe," featuring 11 selected tracks from 3 shows at the Hideaway Cafe and Recording Studio in St Petersburg, FL. These songs were multi-track recorded with a live band including guitar(s), electric bass, drumset, saxophone, keys/organ and all original music plus an original arrangement for the classic song "Landslide" by Stevie Nicks. This version of Landslide includes some new "ear candy" in the harmony in addition to a tapping guitar part in an open D tuning. Landslide is one of 3 songs on the album that is just solo guitar and vocals while the rest features a full band of incredibly talented musicians.
The music I perform has often been described as "conscious music" lyrically, while musically somewhere between Dave Matthews, Joni Mitchell, Michael Hedges, Peter Gabriel and Bela Fleck and the Flecktones. Open guitar tunings and the tapping style are fused with heartfelt song lyrics and upbeat "feel-good" songs that can take a "jam" vibe when performed live with the band. The music has been described as "conscious" since many of the lyrics touch on inspiration, following your dreams, overcoming obstacles and world issues, loving yourself and living with an open heart. With the new addition of flute/saxophone to the band in addition to three part harmonies, we are beyond excited to share the evolution of the music!
We will be having a CD Release Party on Friday, November 21st the The Ale and the Witch in Downtown St Petersburg, Florida, Located at111 2nd Ave NEfrom 9pm to Midnight. The party/concert will feature a 5 piece band and original music with epic intros and elements of world music, harmonic elements and expansive percussion sections. The new album will also be available on iTunes searching "Christie Lene" in addition to the website, www.christielenee.com.
As one more thing to share, I am thrilled to go into the studio in December with the legendary record producer Will Ackerman, founder of Windham Hill Records who produced Michael Hedges among many grammy award winning albums. After the release of my instrumental album "Chasing Infinity" in 2013 (available on iTunes and website), I feel grateful to have connected with Will Ackerman and now be venturing into a new recording project with him. My vision is to integrate the solo tapping guitar sound and orchestration with a similar essence to Bela Fleck and the Flecktones: innovative musical arrangements, counterpoint melodies with woodwinds, acoustic and electric string instruments and percussion. Feel free tovisit me on Facebookfor daily updates on the upcoming album release and new recordings getting started, myYouTube Channelfor live videos, and my websitechristielenee.comfor current tour schedules.
Love and light to all!
Christie plays theArtist Series Craftsman guitar.
We are proud to call her a Luna Artist.