With an impressive list of credits spanning nearly twenty years, veteran bassist Sara Lee will make her debut as a solo artist with "Make It Beautiful," an album due from Ani DiFranco's Righteous Babe Records on September 1.
Lee, whose resume includes work with DiFranco, The B-52's, Gang Of Four, Robert Fripp, Robyn Hitchcock, Fiona Apple, and Indigo Girls, recently spoke with MTV News about her leap into life as a solo artist.
"I'm having now to say that I'm a singer, I suppose," Lee said with a laugh, "because I'm now singing my songs on the record. This is so thrilling for me -- the fact that it's happened the way it has, after having been a bass player for so many years -- to look at myself and think, 'I think I'm a singer now, too,' 'cause I have to go out and front a band."
According to Lee, her years of experience will be apparent on "Make It Beautiful" in a new way, as her songwriting was done with bass in hand.
"My record is very
funky -- I like to think it's very funky," Lee offered. "It's very groove, rhythm-orientated. Some of the songs came from basslines that I came up with in sound checks. I very often take my little Walkman to sound checks and record basslines while playing with artists that I work with.
"I came up with a huge amount of one song in my head while I was driving," Lee recalled. "The feel of it, the bassline, the melody, how the drum would go. I just came home and put them all down, and there it was."
That song turned out to be the title track, which wound up with lyrics penned by a friend (and one-time boss).
"Ani DiFranco wrote the lyrics for me for that song, which was a very thrilling moment for me," Lee said of "Make It Beautiful." "I don't write lyrics for my songs, particularly. I sent my songs, the music, to different people to ask them if they would be interested in writing some lyrics. I sent that one to Ani, and she liked it."
Some other well-known
names contributed lyrics to Lee's songs, some of whom she had previously played bass for.
"[Indigo Girl] Emily Saliers wrote one," Lee said. "Ani did two, actually. Pal Shazar did four songs, Barbara Gogan from The Passions wrote a song for me. Kristen Hall contributed; she wrote a big hit song worldwide called 'Let It Rain' for Amanda Marshall.
"I was so grateful to the people who did work with me [because] I was somebody that had never written a song before in my life," Lee said, laughing. "It's not as though I had any experience to back me up."
According to Lee, "Make It Beautiful" started as a self-financed project done mostly for the sake of creative satisfaction.
"I knew very strongly at this point that I wanted to make a record," she explained. "But it really didn't matter to me where it went. If it hadn't come out on Righteous Babe, I was prepared to release it myself, not least of all inspired by Ani herself."
To produce the album,
Lee enlisted Peter Scherer, a musician she had long admired.
"I was a huge fan of a band that he was a partner in, The Ambitious Lovers. I used to go to every single show," Lee recalled. "I didn't see him again for ten or more years. I was writing these songs, and I didn't know where to begin in terms of making a record. My manager suggested that I take it to Peter and see if he liked the songs, and he did. I was thrilled, because I hold him in very high regard from a musical point of view."
Among the musicians who joined Lee in the studio are Andy Gill (Gang Of Four), Ivan Neville, Charlie Drayton (B-52's), Zack Alfred (David Bowie), Eric Schermerhorn (The The, They Might Be Giants), Eran Tabib (Spin Doctors), and James Brown sax player Pee Wee Ellis, who contributed a horn arrangement. Once "Make It Beautiful" was finished, Lee brought the record to DiFranco.
"[Ani] had heard my music all along while I was writing it," she explained. "She had expressed the
notion that she may be interested in it. I sent it to her, and Ani loved it, so she asked me -- in her own way, which was so endearing -- she asked me if I would consider being on Righteous Babe, because she would love me to. I was thrilled, of course."
With her solo album ready for release, Lee told MTV News that she plans to begin some promotional work while completing her upcoming touring commitment with The B-52's (see "Kate Pierson Talks B-52's Tour, New Projects, More").
"The record will be available on my Web site (www.basiclee.com) from the 7th of July," Lee revealed, "even though the official release date isn't until the 1st of September. I do want people to be able to get it, obviously, when I'm out on the road. I'm hoping to visit a few stores or radio stations while I'm out there as well."
As for lining up a road trip of her own, the idea is
still in the early stages.
"I'm planning on just getting the band together and doing some local gigs to warm up and get used to being on stage and singing," she said. "Ani mentioned she would like me to open for her on tour. I'm not sure when [that would happen], but that would be wonderful."