Frankie Lee has spent his time up 'til now roaming the wastes of the 21st century U.S.A., from his humble beginnings along the Mississippi to the bustling nightlife of Minneapolis, to Nashville, Austin, Los Angeles, and more - a real salt-of-the-earth country man with decades old wanderlust. On that journey, he picked up a musical trick or two.
Following the death of his father when he was 12, Lee jumped into the Minneapolis music scene after inheriting his father's record collection and instruments. "[I was] taught to play guitar by a ghost,” Lee says. "I was raised on stage. These guys [Slim Dunlap (The Replacements) and Curtiss A] would bring me into the clubs, sit me behind the soundboard and give me all the Coca Cola I could drink until they'd call me up for a song or two at the end of the night."
After that he swapped a soccer scholarship for a life on the road, learning from Merle Haggard, Patrick McCarthy, and Roky Eriksen while doing odd jobs (Townes Van Zandt's son hired him to build cabinets for the best part of a decade) around the Southern states. Dogged by narcolepsy, he travelled back to Minnesota to be with his family, and that's where he spent a hefty chunk of time recording and writing tracks for American Dreamer, his debut album.
American Dreamer is an album with brutally honest lyrics, real cowboy grit, and that perfect balance of roughly hewn hooks and polished melodies. Check out Lee's side of the American Dreamer story below, and then stream the LP in full afterwards.
All my friends think it's about growing your own weed, but I wrote it about farmers growing their own food… I guess that's the same thing really. What you are is what you eat and the other way around.
[It was] recorded around 4a.m. in the dead of winter; that's me on all the instruments. I had the keys to a music studio but I couldn't start making noise until 2a.m.. It's about a girl I knew whose apartment I moved out of because she had carpet. Took about five minutes to finish. I still hate carpet.
Came to me in a daydream while I was building a house. Sat on a pile of deck boards and wrote most of it out on a scrap piece of 2x4. I remember asking the song to wait until lunch so I could get it on paper, but you should always stop whatever it is you’re doing when songs are coming through… you wanna keep that channel open.
This is the first take of the first song I ever properly recorded, all live and to tape… vocals too. This set the formula for the rest of the session, I think they trusted me after this one. An ode to the capitalist investors and developers who've destroyed every side of town and built shit that won't last.
A friendly reminder to resist the lies you've been fed and throw them back up in society's face. Maybe Kurt Cobain had something to do with the chorus… it sure sounds like that.
'Buffalo' was born in the back of a station wagon on my way through the North Dakota Badlands. I had been driving for 14 hours and needed to close my eyes. When I opened them again, the sky was on fire and the oil fields were pumping blood out of the earth and this song was in my head.
I don't remember writing this... Sounds like I was watching a lot of Twin Peaks. Should be a high school prom song. If a guy's being honest about not being honest he's actually being honest… most of the time.
There's a certain type of girl who's not yet ready to deal with a working class man's reality. They're usually very beautiful and have never had a job. They date guys who look like extras in bike gangs throughout their twenties and when their parents cut them off they settle down with boring business suits who sit around together and watch TV shows about being in a bike gang.
This one wrote itself in a dream… I don't know what it's about but I do know who it’s about.
Originally 15 verses or so… wrote it on piano after my fingers had been crushed in a farm accident. I'm singing to you, not at you... there's a difference that I hope you can hear. How do you sing to a generation raised on fear and the pursuit of fame and wealth? Whose parents buried them in debt and expectations, and technology has capitalized on their every move since birth? With a three minute song of course!
Stream Lee's American Dreamer below. It's out this Friday (2 October) via Loose Music.