Join us next week for Art Walk at Standard Goods. We will be hosting ATLEE as our musical guest. She will be performing live Thursday, February 8th at 8:30 pm. Read on to learn more about her.
ATLEE is a Seattle-based artist, singer, and songwriter, influenced by greats such as Lauryn Hill, Etta James and Alanis Morissette. Her sound is unique to the Seattle music scene, combining the lyrical intricacies of New-Age Folk with the soul and rhythm of Nu-Jazz and Classic R&B. ATLEE's s tag-line, “circle in a world of squares,” describes her love of the unconventional and her passion to empower others to color outside the lines. Learn a bit about what inspires her eclectic style, newest EP Mamma Says and her creative process as an artist in our interview below!
What is your creative background—what sparked your interest in making music?
I have been acting, dancing, singing and writing since I was about four or five years old. I was that little girl in all of the dorky community theater, clubs and classes and a member of a traveling musical theater company from the age of seven until about fourteen. I then went on to audition and be accepted into Marin School of the Art's Musical Theater Program (a school reminiscent of NYC's FAME). In addition to art school, I was a member of the College of Marin Dance Company and had dance rehearsals about two nights a week for most of my high school career.
If I wasn't acting, dancing or singing in school or my after-school companies/programs, I was generally doing one of the three for myself and or any of my very gracious friends and family members that had enough patience and love for me to watch. I then went on to get my BA in Theater Arts and Dance at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. Needless to say, there wasn't really a time in my life I can remember that didn't revolve around music and performance. It is in my blood.
How would you describe your style as a musician?
I was heavily influenced by several very diverse female artists growing up. Alanis Morissette, Lauryn Hill, Etta James, TLC, Celine Deon, Jewel, Amy Winehouse, amongst others. The list is really all over the map.
I think my eclectic taste and early exposure to so many diverse genres really comes across in both my singing and writing style. I think you can hear the heavy lyrical influence of artists like Alanis and Lauryn in my writing, while I think my singing style oftentimes embodies the grit and playfulness of an Etta or an Amy. If Nu-Jazz, Pop, and Folk had a baby... it would be my music.
What is your Debut Single "Mamma Says" about? The lyric video is beautifully done. Can you tell us your process when creating a new song?
My single, Mamma Says, was inspired by a recent, very impactful relationship I had last year. It had started off like most "soulmate," love stories do, much too fast, ripe with passion and pleasure but, quickly followed by painful polarization. The experience left me heartbroken and full of regret which, were not sensations modeled to me by the Disney princess stories I grew up on. I found myself wishing that someone had told me the truth about love. That it is hard, messy, complicated and, in some cases, like mine, not enough.
The song came out of that place. I wanted to flip the traditional "soulmate story" on its head and write from the perspective of someone who was told the truth by her "elders." The song is full of a bunch of little twist and turns in melody and verse that intertwine parts of my personal experiences and the abrasive reality that life and love don't usually turn out to be the stuff of fairytales but, that doesn't mean they are any less magical.
Was there a certain artist or experience that made you want to be a musician?
There is a very, very long story to this... but I'll try to give you the cliff notes;)
I have been singing and writing ever since I can remember. I would sing for myself, friends, family and in theatrical performances but, I decided early on that I would never actual "pursue" a singing or songwriting career professionally. I used to say, "singing and writing are my soul and I don't really want people commenting on my soul." So, I moved to LA and decided I would pursue industry acting instead, because, believe it or not, that seemed easier, less vulnerable. Of course, it wasn't. I spent five years in Hollywood trying to fit myself into all of these different boxes that everyone else, but me, had decided I should fit into. I stopped singing and dancing.
I woke up after five years and barely recognized myself. I knew I had to get out. So, I did what any other lost millennial artist from San Francisco would do and I signed myself up for a two-week silent meditation retreat in the mountains of Yosemite, in the dead of winter. Needless to say, that retreat forced me to peel back the layers of inauthenticity I had collected over my stint in Hollywood.
After the retreat, I couldn't lie to myself. I couldn't avoid my truth. I started writing. I would wake up in the middle of the night and scribble down lyrics. I carried tiny journals with me everywhere I went and averaged about a song a day for several months following the retreat. The words just flew out of me.
I left LA and moved to Seattle with $27 in my bank account, no apartment, no job, two suitcases and a shattered ego. I decided I was only going to do what made me feel good and nothing else. A few months later, I said goodbye to my acting agent and started singing and I've been singing and writing every day since. I'm no longer interested in waiting in line for other people to give me the permission to do what I already know I can do. Of course it's still hard and I'm still scared but at least I'm me.
What is the greatest lesson you have learned so far as an artist?
The greatest lesson I've learned so far as an artist is the importance of having a very clear and strong underlying message, or purpose, for why I do what I do. We need to hold a deeper reason in our hearts for why we create, bigger than fame, self-actualization, superficial accolades or material possessions.
The truth of the matter is this, creating is not for the faint of heart and society's definition of "success" is not a guarantee. However, if you are able to develop your own reason for expressing and creating that has little to do with money, or outward praise, and more to do with unshakable internal pursuits like living an authentic life, remaining vulnerable and aware, sharing your truth or spreading a particular message with the world, then you will never stop creating. You will never get discouraged or settle for something "easy." You will never stop pursuing excellence and growth through your art and the "outcomes," and how other people react to your art will matter less and less.
Instead, you will celebrate the more subtle creative victories like producing a song that makes people want to dance, writing a lyric that made someone feel less alone, and going to bed each night knowing you will never have to wonder, "what if?"
What themes are influencing your current work/projects?
I think my music, like most, deals with a lot of universal human themes like love, loss, failure, and fear. However, I do feel a lot of my most recent work deals with my own personal experiences in returning back to my authentic self and owning my power, as an individual, but more specifically, as a woman.
Most of my recent songs came out of me learning how to own my sexuality and fluidity as a paradoxical being. My music has to do with breaking free from life's many constraints and definitions that don't allow us to truly own and celebrate all the many opposing shades and shapes that make us who we are, while also acknowledging that all of them might change tomorrow.
If you could pick any musician to collaborate with who would you choose?
Alanis Morissette. Writing with her would be life-changing.
Thank you for joining us for February art walk and performing! Any other shows/events relating to your music coming up? We would love to share.
My EP comes out on March 3rd! All the info on where to download and stream can be found only on my website xxatlee.com. I hope to be playing many more shows in the near future. All future show info can also be found on my site and you can keep track of me by joining my mailing list which can be found on the site as well, by emailing me at email@example.com, or following me on social media.