Daniel Lee, set to release his Average Joes debut Roots on Tuesday (July 22), offers up a bit of diversity in a crowded marketplace. As Luke Bryan and Florida Georgia Line deliver breezy summer anthems, Lee digs a bit deeper for a 13-track project that sweeps from the emotional ("For Sale Sign") to the gritty (his current single "Backwoods Tobacco") and every red-dirt stop in between. With years of club circuit performances and songwriting sessions with some of Nashville's finest, he is ready to make a bold statement about his life and character.
Possessing a bit of self-awareness, the singer-songwriter hopes to change people's pre-conceived notions. "I’m a walking, talking contradiction. I really just want people to understand that I am a songwriter as well as a singer," he says in an exclusive interview with NashvilleGab.
Lee will be the first to share that it was his grandmother was the first to introduce to him the magic of songwriting. "I remember like it was yesterday, sitting on a church pew," he recalls. "She was on the pulpit singing a song. It caught me, ‘I’ve never heard that song before.’ I looked up, and she comes down, ‘Where did that song come from?’ She said, ‘ I wrote it.’ That’s when it hit me. Back then, I thought every song was already written out. I wanted to do it. She sat me down and showed me how to write a song."
"I got to write a bunch of things with her. We only played one in church. I think I got a taste of what it’s like to be on stage," he smiles, noting that he had actually considered a few of those tracks for his Roots set. "I actually wanna save something like that for a special occasion. I real wanna save it until I have more leverage under my belt and do something gospel."
Admittedly, he had over 200 songs lined up for the record. "You better believe it," Lee chuckles. "There’s a next record already!"
Of course, that's in the back of his mind. Focusing on Roots, Lee co-wrote one of the record's standout tracks, the life-affirming "Struggleville," with country superstar Brantley Gilbert. "Any session with Brantley is an interesting one. He’s a strong writer," Lee says of the songwriting session. "He knows what he wants, and I know what I want. So, whenever I go in to write with him, there’s always one of those situations where you have to listen as much as you talk. He was one of my first co-writes ever. I learned a lot from him. The way he words things is just brilliant."
He adds, "There’s never a song that comes quickly when I’m writing with Brantley. There’s a lot of thought that goes behind it. He wants the best, and so do I. We are two headstrong people in the same room."
How did the two meet? "I know Brantley through my manager, and we ended up writing together. It’s been about four years. We pretty much grew up not knowing each other, 15 miles from each other. I remember him playing down at Jefferson, in front of like 200 people."
Comparing solo writes and co-writes, he's torn about which is more productive. "There are times where I need to say this song, just me," he explains. "There’s times where I need help. At the end of the song, you have to ask: are you happy with it?"
Even listening to Roots, you get the sense that he's in a good place in his life. "As a writer, from the time I was 19 to now, these songs are my life, my roots," he notes of the reasoning behind the album's simple name. "You have ‘Redneck Routine,’ ‘Hell Yeah,’ are about my early days. Then you’ve got ‘For Sale Sign’ and ‘Head Over Heels,’ which are songs about things later on in my life. It’s definitely where I come from. It keeps me grounded."
The decision to pursue music as a career came after a fan approached him after a show. "There was a time where I was playing music for fun. Then, when someone came up to me and said, ‘this song means something to me.’ It actually took me into writer mode and made me think, ‘hey, this is working for somebody. Maybe it’ll work for somebody else, too.’ I started writing more and more and more. That’s eventually when it hit me," he says.
Early on, Lee was really into the hard rock scene, but he soon realized that he's country to the core. "I played in a rock band when I started out. It just infused into what I’m doing. I sing country, talk country. That’s all I know how to do. I could play you a rock song right now, and it’s still gonna sound country because that’s the way I am. When I grew up, I listened to rock, rap, country, everything."
On choosing what to share on his first record: "I just wanted people to see me. I’m not shy about singing a sad song that comes from the heart. That’s me as a person. I don’t really give speeches or talk well, so that’s why I write music," he laughs, adding that he's feeling the heat with the release. "As an artist, you want it to be the best you can be and people like it. I’m nervous about it. It’s like a Christmas present, for everyone."
And yes, he's prepared for negative album reviews. "Love it or hate it, I’m still gonna be me tomorrow. I started out play in little bars, and I’ve been told I suck and need to stop. I keep going. A bad review isn’t gonna hurt my feelings."
As a newcomer, he looks to social media to build his already growing fan base. "In the beginning, I thought you just go out and play and if they liked you, they liked you. You gotta really get into the crowd and relate to these people. If you don’t have that relationship, then it doesn’t work. They really need to be a part of what you’re doing."
There are several country male A-listers he admires for the way they do business. "I’ve looked up to a bunch of guys. Eric Church. That guy just stands out. He’s doing what he said he’s going to do. He’s delivering what he wants to deliver."
"I’ve always looked up to Randy Houser, too. His record ‘Whistling Dixie’ was huge for me when I was just starting," Lee continues. "There are so many other artists I admire: Jason Aldean, Luke Bryan. Everywhere you look, there’s a guy from Georgia."
Pre-order your copy of Roots on iTunes now!
Enjoy this interview? Feel free to email me to keep the conversation going!