In Shawn Lee’s world Ennio Morricone dances with Esquivel and Serge Gainsbourg as spaghetti western guitars and harmonicas ride fat drum breaks accompanied by vibes, lush strings, and piano. On Voices and Choices Lee’s signature style moody instrumentals are accompanied by vocals for the first time in the four albums he has recorded for Ubiquity. In addition to a handful of full songs, instrumental tracks are decorated with vocal textures in a nod to classic producers David Axelrod and Charles Stepney who used choir-like walls of vocal to create their big productions.
Ubiquity label mate Nino Moschella joins Lee on the rock n’soul epic “Kiss The Sky”, while Ohmega Watts waxes positive lyrical on “The Glass Hour Effect.” Instrumentals “JW” and “Song For David” are just begging for an accompanying movie to match the cinematic sounds, while “Tense Bossa” and “Glass Act” feature subtle vocal parts to heighten the spy-theme tension.
Releases by Shawn Lee’s Ping Pong Orchestra started off as an experiment. Multi-instrumentalist and record collector Lee was obsessed by vintage library records and wanted to see if he could recreate their soundtrack-worthy sounds in his curio-shop-like London studio. Library records were originally produced to provide instrumental musical backing for TV, film, radio and advertising. Specific library records have become highly collectable, and are favored by DJs and producers for the occasional drum break, sample, or funk track.
Lee’s idea was to make full-length library albums that were good from start to finish and equally listenable at home as they might also be DJ friendly. Lee’s studio is insanely overpopulated, instruments at hand include a 1940’s early proto-synth called a Clavioline, a 100 year old Marxophone zither, a 1950’s Virginal Harpsichord, a 1950’s Xylophone, a rare 1967 Vox guitar that has Fuzz, Tremelo and wah-wah built in, a 1930’s Double Bass and an early 1900’s keyboard called a Dulcetone. So finding the right instruments and noises to create a specific sound was not going to be a problem.
Unsure of how commercially successful these records would be, the first three albums were released in limited pressings and with only a very minor publicity push. However, not only did Lee succeed in recreating the vibe of classic library records, he also attracted the interest of advertisers and producers with tracks being used in commercials for BMW and Jaguar, in TV shows like Malcolm in the Middle, Lost, Desperate Housewives, and Boston Legal, in the trailer for the forthcoming Oceans 13 movie, and the soundtrack to The Break Up. He was also asked to score the entire soundtrack to the highly controversial Rock Star video game Bully (nominated for game Best Original Score) and Save Angel Hope, a movie which will be released in 2007.
“The albums have really surprised me. I never imagined that they would work in the many ways that they have,” says Lee. “The tracks have become longer in length and more fleshed out. I’m constantly incorporating new instruments and I feel like my writing has really improved over the four albums,” he adds.
Inspired by the success of the Ping Pong Orchestra releases, Lee raises the stakes on Voices and Choices, which follows the release of the Shawn Lee’s Ping Pong Orchestra vs. Nino Moschella EP (featuring collaborations and remixes from both artists and a remix by Mark Pritchard.) Lee is planning on taking the Ping Pong Orchestra live in 2007 and is already working on a new album of all pop song cover versions.
As a multi-instrumentalist and singer Shawn Lee has played and recorded with a diverse range of artists including Psapp, Coldcut, Leeann Rhimes, Martina Mcbride, UNKLE, Tony Joe White, Chateau Flight, The Dust Brothers, St. Etienne, Jeff Buckley, Bomb the Bass, The Spice Girls, and Natasha Atlas not to mention solo records for Talkin Loud, Wall of Sound imprint We Love You and BBE. He is also known to breaks n’beats collectors as the man behind “The Ape Breaks” and “Planet of the Breaks” series which were sampled by everyone from Guru to The Gorillaz.