KNOXVILLE — Ask anyone. The wave of modern music is the digital single. Modern music is digested in short songs in which attention deficit disorder seems like the natural order. Why then would local band the Tim Lee 3 put out a double album?
"Why not?" says band bassist Susan Lee.
Over drinks at the Urban Bar in the waning light, Tim and Susan Lee and drummer Matt Honkonen agree that recording the new two-disc album "Raucous Americanus" goes against current logic and trends.
"It wasn't anything planned," says Tim. "We just realized how many songs we had ..."
"And how many opportunities we had to record," finishes Susan.
The album was recorded at Mitch Easter's studio in Kernersville, N.C., Dial Back Sound in Water Valley, Miss., WaveLab Studios in Tucson, Ariz., and a few other studios.
"I think we basically just set out to have a bunch of experiences," says Honkonen. "It's almost like we were documenting the fun we had. 'We did all this and here's the proof.'"
"Raucous Americanus" is not, as Tim points out, so much a double-CD as an attempt at an old-fashioned double album from the vinyl age. The releases' two CDs average out to about 40 minutes each.
"It was all very natural and organic and unforced," says Tim. "It was very effortless. We didn't want to strain and fret. We just went in and knocked them out."
When Tim and Susan Lee (who met and married in Jackson, Miss., in 1981) moved to Knoxville a decade ago, Tim had pretty much decided he was out of the music game. His Mississippi-based, always just-on-the-edge-of-breakout band The Windbreakers, had long disbanded. Initially, the Windbreakers had been in the vanguard of independent rock scene that was championed by college radio in the early 1980s.
"It started off as a beautiful thing," says Tim. "Then R.E.M. got big and other people got big. It got competitive. Everybody was trying to get a deal and it got all cutthroat ... Then it got to the point that you didn't feel like beating your head against a brick wall anymore - you just want to make music. Brick walls are for band photos!"
Susan and Matt laugh.
While Tim did play as a sideman with friends during the 1990s, he says he was mostly just "sleepwalking through it."
Shortly after the move to Knoxville, the Lees, began meeting Knoxville musicians and Tim slowly began playing with newfound friends. Not long after, Lee then became the go-to guy to add a tasty guitar solo to a local artist's albums. He also urged Susan to learn bass guitar and formed a new band. Four years ago, the Lees enlisted drummer and longtime music vet Rodney Cash to form the Tim Lee 3. Last year, Cash was replaced with ex-Tenderhooks drummer Honkonen.
Honkonen says his last weeks with the Tenderhooks, a young band that seemed poised for a national break-out, were painful.
"You lose your (expletive) when you see a glimmer of hope," says Honkonen. "We weren't friends anymore. It was nice to come back to 'This is why I picked up these sticks to begin with!'"
Honkonen says he felt comfortable bringing in songs and ideas of his own and is now writing and singing songs in the group as well as drumming.
Tim says he's long abandoned any idea of "making it," rehashing his past work or taking on any musical venture that isn't fun. It's all about moving forward:
"I'm not interested in what's already happened. I'm more interested in what's going to happen."