Interview Conducted by David Mitchell
I first met Lee Matthews, professionally known as Lee Charm at an ASCAP Rhythm & Soul Awards here in Los Angeles a couple of years back. Now, I’ve met literally thousands of artists over the years, but what impressed me most during our conversation was his ability to remain laser focused when it came to his career. I observed that Lee possesses a tireless hustle, has a wealth of entertainment industry contacts, and has a penchant for writing and recording some uniquely crafted songs that perhaps defy genre. Hailing from Jersey City and splitting his time between NYC and L.A.; from fitness model to recording artist, to industry influencer, Lee stays constantly on the move. BTW: Happy Birthday to Lee from MIQ (August 30)
MIQ: Over time, you have put out several singles on Apple Music and you have a slew of content on YouTube. You’re not necessarily a newcomer. Tell us about your new single, a sensuous mid-tempo song, titled “Swimming,” and what it represents?
Lee: “Swimming” represents water, and its purity. It also represents the highest form of sexual pleasure. When creating the song I thought of how I could bridge and combine my endeavors in fitness, fashion and music all into one and make it make sense. I really like how the song turned out. It was written by me (Lee Charm), Punk Adams, Prince Chapelle, and produced by Brian Rogers.
MIQ: You initially had a song titled, “Trenches” that you were going to release.
Lee: The video director AJ Wilson, who was only 21 years-old, shot the video. He was ahead of his time and had a really good eye, visually. We shot this guerilla-styled video which was amazing. Three days later, AJ was on another shoot, and he had an accident. He fell off a canyon and passed away from his injuries. He had a future ahead of him. We pretty much lost everything. I didn’t feel comfortable retouching his work. So we decided to go with “Swimming.”
MIQ: Is there a forthcoming EP or album?
Lee: I don’t know right now. I’m just going to call it my own playlist of songs. I have so many songs going in so many directions, that I have to call it a playlist. It makes sense. These are songs that are in my life, or things that I have gone through or are currently going through. I don’t want to short-change it by calling it an EP or an album. I’m working on mixes and remixes – I’ll know when it’s ready. I may want to add a feature or a different approach to some songs. Right now, I just want to keep rolling out singles, with a playlist of about 10 songs.
MIQ: How would you describe your sound?
Lee: I never considered myself an R&B artist, but our industry says, ‘if you’re a black guy and you look a certain way, no matter what type of music you’re doing, you’re an R&B artist.’ Listen, I love the genre of R&B, but what I do is more like Hip, Pop & B…it’s a combination of them all.
Lee: It’s difficult being an independent artist because you’re limited by things like budget, and access; you have to be creative. I am a networker. I’m always trying to go out and be aware of who’s who. I have a lot of great contacts in my phone, but I really don’t like bothering people, but people like bothering me. So, what I’ve decided to do is engage these great contacts that I’ve made over the years. Right now, I just want people to hear the music. I don’t want to put too much pressure on myself, and all of these lofty expectations. That usually sucks the fun and creativity out of it. If it happens, it happens. But keep in mind, I do this with great intentions.
MIQ: Is the goal to sign with a major label?
Lee: Not really. I’m one of those people who’ve been able to make money outside of the music business and yet still be in it. I’m not having to depend on record labels and today’s usual streams of income. It allows me a freedom that many artists just don’t have. Many artists have a machine behind them, but I have something very important, and that’s freedom. I’m sure a label would be great for backing, but I’ve done well without it.
MIQ: What are some of these revenue streams that you are referring to.
Lee: I do music, but a lot of artists and celebrities reach out to me for creative services. People want connections to quality art directors, stylists, video production, A&R, photographers, etc. I recently put together songs for a project featuring Tiffany Haddish. People are willing to pay for those services. So, when it comes time to do my own projects, I have to work extra hard and come up with different and unique things for myself.
MIQ: Talk a bit about your strong social media game; mostly in the areas of modeling and fitness. And how do you see that driving the music narrative?
Lee: In the beginning I was anti-anything athletic looking or shirtless. I’ve been in shape a long time, but unfortunately, we live in a society where attention spans are short. I figured out what people wanted from me and I’ve sort of became that; pretty much a sex symbol. I don’t see myself that way, but I guess other people do. I took that and carved a niche in fitness, and so many professionals in the fitness world now reach out to me. I use that to lead them to my music. I use one to sell the other. The fitness situation has helped me grow and reach people around the world, it may be somewhat of a thirst trap, but it’s led them back to my music.
MIQ: You’re constantly, working, traveling, creating, but you seem tireless. What personally drives you?
Lee: Truth is I am tired [laughs]. When I wake up each morning, I’ve learned that you gotta keep going. I know what I’ve started out doing. There are haters out there. But there are also people praying for me, rooting for me and wishing for me to succeed. So, both energies, are a fuel for me to keep going. I know the sacrifices I’ve made to be in L.A., to be in New York, and I think about this journey, and how I can’t give up. I don’t know how to give up!