What they say…
“He’s from Wichita, Kansas, but has a lot in common with Minneapolis boy Prince in versatility and the desire to push boundaries.”
Shawn grew up in a rural area on the outskirts of Wichita, Kansas. His mother is half Lebanese, half American Indian, his father Irish-American. While his peers got off on cheesy corporate rock and the kind of line-dancing tunes recently fashionable in Gap ads, Shawn was groovin’ to the blaxploitation funk of Sly and the Isleys. Later, his local Baptist Church widened his appreciation of black music, but when he sang and played drums in its gospel choir, he discovered some of his white friends were racists who disapproved. “F**k this”, he thought, “time to leave the Mid-West”, but not before playing in local band Lotus with future country superstar Martina Mcbride.
Next stop Los Angeles. Already an able multi-instrumentalist (guitar, drums, percussion, bass, etc) Shawn now set about developing his songwriting. There were bands, publishing deals, relationships, tours and day jobs: more notches on the bedpost of experience. Shawn was introduced to producers the Dust Brothers (post Paul’s Boutique) and spent much time hanging out, drinking cappuccinos and making mixtapes from their dusted record collection. This period also saw Shawn befriend the late Jeff Buckley, and somebody, somewhere has a tape of them jamming Honky Tonk Woman. “Keith your fired”!!!
In 1995, Shawn moved to London, where he recorded his solo debut for DJ Gilles Peterson’s Talkin Loud label. For all the wrong reasons, the album was never released. It was soul destroying; a bit like somebody erasing 3 years of your life. Resolving to write and record on his own terms, Shawn kept working. He created the infamous “Planet Of The Breaks” series as well as 5 volumes of “Ape Breaks”, becoming the most sampled drummer of his generation in the process. He passed CDs of songs to friends with no agenda other than hoping they’d enjoy it. As Shawn continued to do it his way, airplay garnered by a self-financed EP prompted several major labels to phone him. He had no intention of reboarding the corporate merry-go-round. Instead, he opted to sign a deal with Mark Jones at Wall of Sound. “The labels got real credibility” he says, “Mark was happy to put out a record which sounds exactly like I wanted it to”. Subsequently Shawn became the flagship artist for the new Wall of Sound imprint, We Love You with his album “Monkey Boy” which features the cult song “Happiness”. The song was later covered by million-selling UK artist Will Young on his “Keep On” album. Say what?!
2004 saw the release of two Shawn Lee albums. “Soul Visa” (in Japan only, on Rush!) and the debut release of Shawn’s instrumental side project Shawn Lee’s Ping Pong Orchestra, entitled “Music and Rhythm” on Ubiquity Records. 2005 also saw two more records from Mr. Lee; “Harmonium” (in Japan only, on Rush!) and the second Ping Pong album “Moods and Grooves”. As the success of the Ping Pong series grew, Shawn was offered his first full movie soundtrack. The movie was “Save Angel Hope” and was released in 2007. The Industry has been quick to embrace the Ping Pong sound. PPO tracks have been featured in the TV series: Malcom In The Middle, Lost, Desperate Housewives, CSI: Miami, Ugly Betty, Boston Legal, Rodney, Damages, Good Morning America etc., and movies: Oceans 13, The Break Up, The Bank Job, Pool Hall Prophets. Ads for BMW, Cinemax, Jaguar, Barclays, Exxon, Head & Shoulders and numerous skate, snowboarding & surf films. Shawn also has composed a video game soundtrack for Rockstar (Grand Theft Auto etc.). The game is called “Bully” and was released in 2006.
2006 saw an American and European release for “Soul Visa” and the release of volume three ”Strings and Things” by the Ping Pong Orchestra. Also look out for Mr. Lee doing “No Surprises” on a Radiohead covers album called “Exit Music”. Plus vocal collaborations with Muallem, Silent Poets, Sparo and Blackjoy. Remixes for The Thievery Corporation, Nino Moschella, Dust Galaxy, Jack Arel, Tony Joe White, Elmer Bernstein and Lord Large. November 2006 saw Shawn Lee’s Ping Pong Orchestra vs Nino Moschella EP hit the streets featuring “Kiss The Sky”.
January 2007, the fourth Ping Pong Orchestra album “Voices and Choices” was released and features guest vocals from: Ohmega Watts, Nino Moschella and Pierre D. Shawn chips in with textural vocals and takes the PPO sound onto some next level shit! Track “Kiss The Sky” from that album became itunes “single of the week” and was downloaded a quarter of a million times in one week! Not one to rest, Mr. Lee has been beavering away in his London studio Trans-Yank on a number of new albums including a Ping Pong POP covers album entitled “Hit’s The Hits”, followed swiftly by a Ping Pong Christmas album called “A Very Ping Pong Xmas”.
2008 sees the release of the 7th Ping Pong Orchestra album “Miles Of Styles”, which features some new musical maneuvers and the first lead vocal from Shawn on a PPO record! The Funky Tiger also released the soundtrack to surf film “Under The Sun” on Ubiquity later that year, not to mention a collab with Clutchy Hopkins on “Clutch Of The Tiger” again on Ubiquity. Follow-up album “Fascinating Fingers” with Clutchy came out in 2009, as did Shawn‘s solo album “Soul In The Hole”. 2010 saw Shawn drop solo album “Sing A Song” and “Into The Wind” alongside Chinese guzheng player Bei Bei, and the following years saw a slew of releases on labels such as Pedigree Cuts, BBE, Eighteenth Street Lounge Music, Tummy Touch as well as numerous collaborations that include AM & Shawn Lee, The Electric Peanut Butter Orchestra (with Adrian Quesada), Lord Newborn & The Magic Skulls, New York Trouble and The Superimposers.
In 2015 Shawn begins a fruitful collaboration with German label Légère Recordings which sees the release of “West End Coast“, the first album of his new AOR / yacht rock project Young Gun Silver Fox with Mama’s Gun frontman Andy Platts. This new home at Légère would prove a good fit for Shawn and so it is with them that he releases the second album in conjunction with Bei Bei called “Year Of The Funky” in 2017, followed by the second Young Gun Silver Fox album “AM Waves” in 2018. Finally the time was ripe for a new solo album, and in November of 2019 Shawn Lee‘s ”Rides Again“ saw the light of day on CD, LP & Digital. So move over, Shawn Lee is now “the new hardest working (tiger) man in show business!!!”.