A half hour on the phone with Phil Lee can seem far removed from a conventional interview.
Sure, there is plenty to talk about regarding his myriad musical projects, including possible recording with members of Neil Young’s famed Crazy Horse band. There is also a recently completed cameo in an upcoming indie film to consider. One could also mull over the inspirations that forged Lee’s reputation as one of Nashville’s most esteemed (and overlooked) songwriters or the altogether hapless attitude he maintains about a career where financial returns are measured in shades of red.
There is a vast professional history that eagerly awaits discussion, as well, from his brief tenure in the Americana mainstay band The Flying Burrito Brothers to a series of extraordinary indie albums that define his expert sense of songcraft to a few of his non-musical jobs (long haul trucker, knife thrower, etc.).
Best of all, there is the encouraging news that enough of a regional fanbase has formed around his music to bring Lee back to Natasha’s this weekend for his third regional performace in just over seven months.
But as our conversation concludes, unasked questions about past recordings and future tours fade in favor of the very human humor that drives Lee’s music. It’s a fortifying force, to be sure. While several tunes from his 2009 album So Long, It’s Been Good to Know You possess the stark, dark turns of a vintage work by John Prine, Dave Alvin or Merle Haggard (25 Mexicans and Sonny George come to mind), Lee’s musical instincts – much like Lee himself – are devilishly quick witted.
“A lot of the stuff in my songs happens, oddly enough, because I’m always out in the trenches,” Lee said. “If these things aren’t happening to me, they are most certainly happening to the boneheads around me. Between friends and family, there is never a shortage of material.
“Even when this stuff happens to me, it’s funny. In my music there is no parental supervision, no publisher and no endgame. That’s my job description, really. If I can make myself laugh, then mission accomplished. Look, I’ve said this before. My mission in life is to do cool things till I’m dead.”
Here, then, is a random sampling of anecdotes and one liners that emerged with delightful frequency during a half-hour talk with Lee. They were plentiful enough to suggest that perhaps his next Lexington booking should be at Comedy Off Broadway.
+ On UK’s defeat of North Carolina in the NCAA division finals: “My son-in-law is the media liason for the UNC basketball team. Believe me, there was a lot of crying and slow driving going on down there after the game.”
+ On performing with members of Crazy Horse: “To some, it would be eerily disappointing to hear that band and then realize it’s me, not Neil Young, singing. I can hear them going, ‘Neil, brother, are you sick?'”
+ On a proposed title for a proposed album with Crazy Horse: Phil Lee and the Horse He Rode In On.
+ On his just filmed role in the movie tentatively titled Carolina Blue: “I play an old geezer playing guitar in the next hotel room over. Basically, I portrayed myself.”
+ On the financial rewards of his profession: “I’m making just as much money as I ever have, which is… well, let’s see. I go in the hole about a grand a month. But that’s alright.
+ On other recording possibilities: “The other plan to go around in my travels and record with people who are friends of mine. It would be nice if some of them were celebrities.”
+ On the state of Americana music: “Everybody’s writing the same song over and over again. It’s always about their nickel and dime problems. I mean, who cares if you’re lonely? I don’t.”
+ On his Americana contemporaries: “I have friends whose songs are all about that factory that just shut down. I’m like, ‘Yeah, we know that already. Thanks for the (expletive) news tip.”
+ On the life of a working musician: “I’ve learned to live off air and spores, like a mushroom.”
+ On the future: “Anything can happen. Maybe this movie will come out, I’ll make that record with Crazy Horse and things will change. Maybe unicorns will come back to life, too.”
Phil Lee and George Worthmore will perform on April 2 at Natasha’s Bistro, 112 Esplanade. Cover charge is $10. Call (859) 259-2754. Worthmore will perform at 8 p.m. Lee will begin his set after Saturday’s UK/U Conn game.