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All Things Bright and Beautiful
By Trae Cadenhead
Earlier this year I had the pleasure of hearing the debut album from All Things Bright and Beautiful and was simply blown away. Essentially, All Things Bright and Beautiful is the moniker that Lee Bozeman (of Luxury) creates his own music under. On the afternoon of Friday, July 2, shortly after an impressive show backed with the band from Namelessnumberheadman, I met with Lee for an interview. Since the artist hospitality tent was closed we moved on to a youth leader's tent that was mostly empty. I started the tape recorder and this is what followed...
Trae: I guess let's start with you introducing yourself.
Lee: I'm Lee. Lee Bozeman. All Things Bright and Beautiful slash Luxury.
Trae: How old are you?
Lee: I'll be 32 next week.
Trae: How did All Things Bright and Beautiful come about? Is it a band that we'll be seeing for awhile or is it a project? Or...
Lee: I guess it's out of necessity. Having done Luxury for so long, we moved out of the area - my wife and family and I did - and I wanted to keep doing music, but to do it as a cohesive group as Luxury was kind of difficult. Not that we stopped doing it obviously because we're doing a new record, but I also wanted to do something solo. I didn't like the idea of just, "Hi, I'm Lee Bozeman, here's my songs" so I wanted to create something, a moniker of sorts, that would work to convey an image and message that people would get to know. As long as there's a record label out there for a guy that just records songs and doesn't tour and doesn't promote himself necessarily, I'll keep making records.
Trae: Okay, cool. Do you see a big difference between All Things Bright and Beautiful and Luxury as far as where you want to go musically?
Lee: With Luxury it's obviously a collective experience. All of the creativity, whereas I was responsible for the songwriting end of things, all of the arrangement and elements that combine together to make a song were done collectively as a band. When you're doing something on your own you have to really be the one who drives all the creativity. So when I recorded the record, I had all of the songs in place and all of the instrumentation worked out how I wanted it. Of course there was some manipulation and tweaking with it when we actually recorded it, but for the most part it's a totally different beast when you're doing the recording especially. And the All Things record itself really isn't a live record. It wasn't born in a live setting. It's just something where I sat in my laundryroom basically and just started recording one day. It's a different experience. Luxury was always a live experience and the songs were born out of a live setting.
Trae: What was it like taking these songs that were designed specifically for a CD and turning them into a live experience for Cornerstone?
Lee: It's difficult. You have to have the right people. With my record it's often difficult to find people who are skilled musically who can play a lot of the different piano parts and keyboard parts and then also have the ability to play with a certain amount of conviction. You know, the rock experience. Usually they're one or the other. Using Namelessnumberheadman as a backup band - which I've done several times now - I think it's gotten to the point now where by bringing in a second drummer especially, it adds a lot of tension the live experience. We can kind of focus more on the energy of it as opposed to the technicalities of it. A lot of songs have to be adapted and played differently. You probably noticed today a few of the songs were totally different expressions than they are on the record. They sound better live that way. Otherwise it just sounds weak.
Trae: It really was a totally different experience. I mean, they're both great experiences, but different. So moving on, what bands do you feel have influenced you musically?
Trae: I guess that's kind of the hard question that everyone asks.
Lee: There's so many it's hard. I've been listening to music really with some conviction now for 17 years, as a teenager you know. For me when I was first getting into music, it was Depeche Mode and The Smiths. They were my two pillars and they still to this day remain to be my two favorites. But that doesn't really mean anything as far as what I'm doing today. It obviously formed a lot of my likes and dislikes. I like people that can speak lyrically especially. I like the certain amount of darkness that comes with a particular style of music. So from there, anything from some obvious influences like Radiohead or The Flaming Lips or things like Low or even Sufjan Stevens, which is more recent. It's so difficult to even begin to run down the list.
Trae: The album really takes an interesting approach. Especially for a CD sort of released in the Christian market somewhat. Lyrically where you've got songs ranging from the apocalypse to sex to...
Lee: Back to the apocalypse.
Trae: Yeah. Was there a theme that you had in mind in trying to tie these things together or where did it all start?
Lee: Well, some of the songs were written a few years ago. After the last Luxury record came out. Probably about three years ago I put together a collection of seven songs that I sort of produced on my own, just burning some copies and passing them around. They were, for the most part, really personal. They were songs like "Post Modern Love" which is obviously personal, "Transfiguration" which has personal themes to it. Lyrically I wanted to approach it in a different way, but I never set out to necessarily be controversial or be... it's certainly provocative. I think all good music is usually provocative in one way or another. But I just wanted to deal lyrically with themes that would say something, that would be meaningful and push people in one way or another. You know, people can either sympathize with it or they're creeped out by it and don't like it. So obviously there's some amount of poignancy to it.
Trae: Yeah, that's definitely something I can see in listening to the record. It does a feel a lot more personal than...
Lee: Right. And going back to influences, I was an English major. I taught English for a couple of years and I was a big book reader and poetry reader. Lyricism, which is a totally different animal...
At this point a kid comes up and asks us if we are youth leaders. We tell him we aren't and he leaves, with our train of thought thrown off a bit.
Lee: Umm, sorry...
Trae: You were talking about poetry...
Lee: Yeah. Obviously I read a lot so a lot of my influences come from the literary world. I'm not at all a person who thinks, "I'm just putting poetry to music." Because that's a complete sham and people don't do that. But one of my big influences is Flannery O'Connor. All of the issues I deal with on my record are things that she deals with in every story she ever wrote. The apocalypse, sex, racism, and all those things - not that I dealt with racism necessarily - but I just think she dealt with it in such a bold and honest way. It's so provocative and so influential. For this All Things Bright and Beautiful record that was really a main influence. Especially the end times theme. I really love that imagery even though I don't necessarily get into a belief in the apocalyptic jargon that's going on today. I find it interesting and the imagery in songwriting is really powerful so I just enjoy that. I like to comine the real personal, sexual aspects with this otherwordly element.
Trae: Most CDs from Christian artists try to paint over the struggles and I found it really refreshing to find someone who doesn't do that.
Lee: I really hope it's above the whole Christian / non-Christian dispute. I think it is. I didn't worry about it. I mean, I am fundamentally a Christian artist in the broader sense of the term. I think that gets watered down so much in this culture that, you know, hardcore bands try to be really really pro-Christian and they do it with this kind of passion that really just comes off kind of weak to me. Even in the "secular" world, most musicians that write lyrics are writing lyrics that don't really mean anything. So I hope the record is above that discussion. I mean, it's profoundly Christian. I think it's the most Christian thing that I've ever done, but so many Christians won't see that and miss the point. You know, because I'm so much better than they are.
We both laugh.
Lee: Of course, that's a joke.
Trae: But yeah, it is really sad that so many people totally miss that...
Lee: Yeah, there's a sadness to it. But it's also the reality of things. We primarily view music as entertainment. There's this certain fraction of the population that views it as art and being meaningful, but some people just listen to music to shake their head to it.
Trae: A lot of people feel like if they're just getting that "Christian" message in there then they're not doing themselves any harm, I guess...
Lee: Right. I think that's a small part of the population. I think most people are smart enough that they can listen to any type of music that's out there and make judgements about it and still be alright. Obviously there's a small portion that only listens to things that are Christian and my record will really confuse them and make them angry probably. But I'm not worried about that necessarily.
Trae: So I guess that's not really your audience in the long run anyway?
Lee: No, I don't really know who the audience is. I think generally it's just thoughtful people. People that generally have liked it and talked to me about it, they have been rather intelligent, thoughtful people and it means something to them.
Trae: What is the writing process like for you and what do you go through?
Lee: I don't know, it's always changing. I keep a notebook where I always write song titles with just whatever strikes me. Everything generally starts with a song title of some sort. The majority of them come from film or something I'm reading or an advertisement that I see somewhere. In certain blocks of time I'm working on music and when I have a certain direction to go in, things kind of things begin to flow out pretty rapidly. And then when I'm done with it, I'm done with it. I'm not one of those guys that writes a song a day or a hundred songs a year or anything like that. Every song I write, I try to make it as good as possible. I don't like mediocre songs so if it sounds mediocre to me, I just don't even bother with it. That's sort of the process and lyrically it all unfolds from there. I don't really know how it happens, it just kind of happens. It's usually spurred by a title of some sort... although everything I just said is kind of untrue for the last record. I don't know if you noticed, but all of the song titles have nothing to do with the songs themselves. They never appear in the songs. All the lyrics in the songs were kind of inspired by the titles but didn't have anything to do with them necessarily.
Trae: That is really an interesting approach.
Lee: Yeah, I didn't write any choruses. Purposefully it was kind of... obviously it's singable, but it's not a verse - chorus - verse - chorus sort of thing. I try to just take it in a different route.
Trae: Kind of going back to the themes that the album deals with, can you explain the relationship that you see between sex and faith?
Lee: I think generally people are fundamentally sexual creatures and we also have this element of belief to us. Naturally these two are going to intersect at points. And with Christianity there's this kind of moral level that we're trying to attain if we're being honest in our Christianity and being faithful to it. We are always... I hate the word "struggling" but really that's what it is. We're always working on being better people. Within sexuality itself, our culture is so confused sexually. We are for the most part really oversexed with the images we see, the language we use, the clothes we wear, and the things that we accept as being normal are really pretty sexually explicit. And then you have other cultures like the Muslim culture that are the complete opposite where they hide everything and turn everything off. I think there's a natural balance that the Christian world should bring to that between chastity, humility, and the pursuit of righteousness. You can't really separate your faith from how you view sexuality.
Trae: So this is probably the most controversial album that Northern Records has put out. Was there ever any concern about that before the album was released?
Lee: No. Never. I gave them a copy of the demo songs with all of the lyrics beforehand and they never said a word about it. They are incredibly generous people and they realized that it was going to be a difficult album to market for them because Christian bookstores won't carry it, understandably. And then you can't necessarily pitch it to the mainstream because it's so spiritual in nature. So it's kind of this in limbo record and, "Hey, no one's ever gonna hear it, but that's fine." At least it's out there and perhaps something will happen with it. But they've always been really great about it and really supportive and they continue to be.
Trae: That's really cool. As far as some specific songs, I was wondering where the opening from "Transfiguration" came from.
Lee: There's an orthodox monastery in upstate New York called New Skeet and they had a taping of one of their divine liturgies. So that is a taping of the epistle reading from the liturgy of the transfiguration which happens to be in the church. And that's one of the nuns reading from the epistle. I ripped it off of a video of theirs that they had made of that service and it happened to be in the key of C, which is what the whole song started in and it just worked really well and I liked it so...
Trae: It's really cool and really unexpected when it turns from that two part two of the song.
Lee: Right, to part two. And I don't know if they fit together necessarily, but I like them together so...
Trae: It catches your attention.
Trae: "Wedding Feast of the Lamb" was probably the highlight for me of the whole album. What was the inspiration behind that song?
Lee: I needed another song and just started working on it. Lyrically I wanted to do something that gave some closure to the record. It's pretty grand in its scope as it kind of chronicles life in a strange sort of way from the daily work habits to heaven. And there's definitely references to Flannery O'Connor in there with a book she wrote called The Habit of Being which is referred to. And Thomas Murton, who's another Catholic writer. There's something in there about the little flower which is his patron saint. I don't know, these things kind of grow on themselves and blossom out of the smallest seeds. Musically, that one was influenced by Radiohead. It's kind of an obvious influence on that song. I just wanted the song to kind of build on itself and I think that it does.
Trae: If there's one thing that you want people to get out of the album, what would it be?
Lee: I don't know, those kinds of questions are always so difficult because they're so vague. I don't know that there's one thing I want to promote with this record. It's an experience. Like any good record it's an experience that's different from one day to the next. Some of the albums that I love the best, I've been listening to them for 15 years and it's different today than it was 15 years ago. I hope it's not something that seems like I was trying to do these things just to get some attention. I hope it's something that will be meaningful years from now. And I think that it will be, I don't know that it will be, but I think that it will. I want people to think about it and embrace the broader themes and not just take it at face value.
Trae: That's all of the questions I have. Is there anything else you wanted to say?
Lee: No, I never have more to say. But thank you for doing this.
Trae: Oh, thank you.
With this I shut off the
tape recorder and we talked for a few minutes more about film and the possibility
of me using some of Lee's songs in films I'm planning to do in the future.
A few minutes later we said goodbye. It's difficult for me to stress enough
how unique and important the All Things Bright and Beautiful album
is. Lee is creating some profoundly meaningful songs and I was very grateful
to have a chance to get to know him and learn more about what he is doing.