Lee recently came to Yahoo! Music to play three of his new songs and talk about his rocky but ultimately triumphant post-"Idol" journey. Scroll down for the full interview, and check out a few choice quotes about his career ups and downs.
On new album Frames versus his 2010 post-"Idol" album, Live It Up:
"I definitely stand by the music I've made and will never turn my back on it — it's a part of who I am, a part of my musical journey, if you will. But I believe that everything I've done up to this point — going on 'American Idol,' Live It Up, all those things — all happened so I could make this album. And that's truly how I feel. [Frames] is the album I've always wanted to make, this is the album I knew I could make, and I think it's the album that most represents who I am as an artist."
On how making Frames was a better experience:
"I would say for me, right after the show, it was more or less…I wouldn't say confusing, but it was definitely this feeling of pressure of working with all these different people. And everyone had their ideas; it's one of those too-many-cooks-in-the-kitchen kind of things. And the difference between that album [Live It Up] and this album [Frames] is that on this album there aren't many cooks in the kitchen, and that's the beauty of it. It's really been a personal experience for me, being able to just go into a studio and hit 'record' and write and make the music I want to make without that time pressure."
On his new label, Vanguard Records, and new team:
"I have an amazing manager, I have an amazing label, I have amazing people around me that all support and care about the music and me, versus just 'the American Idol winner guy.'"
On whether he was properly represented on "Idol":
"I think that anyone that says they go on the show and don't feel any nerves, it's a lie. I mean, nothing can prepare you for going and playing in front of millions of people on a stage with cameras flying around and lights. I think that when I went on the show, there was a point where I definitely forgot who I was for a minute. It was a really surreal situation. It took a minute for me to kind of plant my feet again and be like, 'Okay, you don't need to sing any different or this way or that'…After I got off the show, it was a big lesson for me as far as, just do you, and do what you know how to do, and do what you love to do. And that's what I'm doing now."
On any lingering "Idol" stigma:
"I'll say as far getting a 'bad rap,' truthfully, I don't really pay attention to that stuff, to be honest with you…Whether it be ratings or album sales, whatever people judge whatever on, for me it's like, I'm a guy that went up there with his guitar and did his thing so I can make music…Do I think this album will surprise people? I think it'll surprise people in that, for people that say, 'I don't know what Lee's about,' if you listen to this record, there's no doubt what kind of artist I am and there's no doubt what kind of music I should be making."
On parting ways with RCA Records:
"When RCA and I parted ways, it wasn't so much that I felt, 'Oh my God, what am I gonna do?' It was kind of like, 'Whew, so what do I do with this time?' And instead of rushing and freaking out, it wasn't like that…There's definitely low points, of course, when you're sitting there and you're like, 'Why did I do this, why did I do that, why didn't I stick to my guns more on this, why didn't I stick to my guns more on that?' But that's all part of that path…I think that without the RCA and Live It Up and 'Idol' and all that stuff, I don't know if this record would have ever happened. So I'm grateful for all those things and I'm grateful for the opportunities I've had."
On "Silver Lining"/Mumford & Sons comparisons:
"Well, I'll say this much. I don't claim to have invented the guitar or the kick-drum or the banjo…we're talking rhythm & blues here, you know what I'm saying?...I definitely don't sit in the studio and say, 'Oh, look what they're doing, I need to write that.' The thought process behind that is kind of ridiculous to me. But I love that the lane's open and I think if anyone listened to what I was doing years ago when I was 16 or 17, that's when I learned to first play the banjo. I like that kind of music, that's what I like. I like going into the studio and stompin' it up and harmonizing and playing aggressive acoustic...I don't claim to be the only person in the world that does it. Music's open to interpretation, so you can take whatever you want from it. But I'm glad that that lane's open, and I'm glad to see that kind of music making it to not only radio, but to people that may have never been into that kind of stuff before. I think that those are the people that maybe make those comparisons, people that never listened to any folk or bluegrass or any of that stuff until such-and-such band made it massive. It's like it's the first time they'd ever heard a stand-up bass, so they're like, 'Wow, who invented that?' But I love that this world of music is making a comeback, and I think it's awesome and I think it's much-needed."
- American Idol