IN CONVERSATION WITH LEE ANN ROBERTS
Unapologetically herself, Lee Ann’s vibrant character reflects in her art, portraying a darker, emotional sound that still carries a bounce, heavy grooves, and industrial undertones. Her tracks are majorly inspired by different cultures, African percussion, and 303 lines. Born in South Africa, the Amsterdam-based producer and DJ’s career began in the underground electronic music scene in Los Angeles in 2014. Since then, she has pushed and established herself relentlessly on international stages and line-ups around the globe.
We sat down with Lee Ann Roberts to dive deeper into her sound, artistic development, and her newest release ‘Alter Ego’ EP (NowNow Records) which features remixes from Tred, Milo Spykers, and Lokier.
How has your style evolved over the years? It changes all the time. As artists, we are constantly evolving. If that means that I’m suddenly more into acid or another genre then so be it. I don’t go in with a specific sound in mind, I go with what I’m feeling at the moment.
Your sound is inspired by African percussion and drums. In what way did African music and sound influence you? It has always been a part of me, I grew up with it and listened to traditional instruments in school, but I wouldn’t say I specifically use an African drum per se. It’s more about taking inspiration from them in terms of the grooves and recreating something new with it. Although sometimes I do like to record and play around with live instruments.
What cultural influences have shaped you as a person and artist growing up in South Africa? South Africa’s cultural influences have kept me grounded and made me independent, street-smart, and thick-skinned if you want to say so.
In an industry that is constantly changing and striving for something new, how do you stay true to yourself and your artistic vision? I try to block out the noise and focus on myself as an artist and how I want to portray myself and not worry about what others are doing or following some trends. I have a strong willpower and I’ll always follow a path that’s true to me, to perfect my craft and be the best version I can possibly be.
What made you start producing? I started dabbling in music production in 2012. At that time I had my own radio ‘The Heat’ on Mutha FM in Cape Town and I was doing DJ classes here and there. I was a full-time model back then and felt like I couldn’t fully give my all to it. I met Jake Childs an Old School Music producer and now dear friend in South Africa in 2008. When moving to LA I went to spend two weeks with him working in the studio at his spot in Houston working on the direction, leads, and vocals and after finishing two tracks with him, I fell in love with the production side. He was the one who inspired me to produce. From there, I decided to study music at Garnish Music Production School to focus on and deepen my connection to music even more.
You used to work as a full-time model. Can you envision appearing in the fashion industry again? I was speaking to my team about this the other day because I think there’s kind of a stigma in the techno scene of girls that were models. I’ve tried to hide my past, although I feel like I shouldn’t have because I was a successful model, and it got me to where I am today. I moved to the States because of it and was able to study music. From there it just snowballed. If I’m able to incorporate modeling into my vision and music I’d be open to picking up on it again.
Your very first encounter with electronic music? I was quite a naughty little kid. I was going to parties at a young age already. I was dating my ex-boyfriend, who was running a lot of the events in South Africa and was a DJ himself. I think I was exposed to electronic music when I was 15 or 16. I was given a rare insight into the industry at a young age, every weekend I’d see the top-tier artists at that time, like Sven Väth, Marco Carola, Sasha & John Digweed, Magda.. It’s actually crazy how much inspiration I got from seeing those kinds of artists in the flesh of what they used to do. There was no social media, people could not compare themselves so much, and everything felt a little bit freer.
How did you come up with your second, newest EP – Alter Ego? When I make a track I never know what I’m going to call it or how I’m going to execute it. Once it’s complete everything just jumps at me. I feel that this track is a bit warped which made this other side of myself come out to play, my Alter Ego.. After that, I was able to create a story behind the project by simultaneously portraying both one’s Ego & Alter Ego.
What elements do you focus on the most? The groove, syncopation, and overall vibe.
How would you describe your Alter Ego? My Alter Ego feels like Yin and Yang. I am a bit weird, in a good way. You know, when someone calls out the drunk side of them, like another name, when the other personality comes out. That’s me but being sober. If you just look at it in that context, my Alter Ego would be my weird, warped, and a bit silly personality. Some people say that I’m very much of a cartoon person, maybe my Alter Ego could even be some sort of an Avatar.
The EP features three remixes. Can you tell us more about the remixes by Tred, Milo Spykers, and Lokier? What’s your connection to the artists, and what can we expect in terms of sound? The remixes are excellent and all are very different. I have loved each of their unique styles for a long time and they are all friends who I admire and adore. I couldn’t resist having them on this release with me. They are perfect for it. Tred’s signature sound is an incredible, superbly produced, high-powered, relentless ode of rave nostalgia. Milo’s raw, less-is-more sound is a breath of fresh air, I love the grooves here and the overall spacey feel but still bold. Lokier’s productions have beautiful melodies which are easily recognizable with some 90s-inspired references, a powerful remix.
Tell us about NowNow Records – What’s the concept behind it, and how did that evolve? I wanted to create something of my own, to have complete artistic control. Having my vinyl imprint is special for me. I am trying to create something unique, not only with my own music but also by signing some diverse and exciting new artists to the label. The name is a South African phrase we use as an indication of time to say I’m coming now which actually means I’m coming soon. NowNow Records is more than just a label but a movement that allows you to travel without actually going anywhere. To be in that moment where the music takes you. If I’m inspired by any artists and their sound and vibe, then it’s usually someone I would like to align myself with and create.
Do you have any resolutions for 2023? I stopped drinking in November already, and I couldn’t feel better. I am always striving to be better, learning, growing, and evolving in my personal life and in my career. My biggest resolution is to be kinder to myself and healthier as last year when I got into a bit of a pattern where I would wake up and be in the studio all day forgetting to eat and exercise. Moderation is the key and I have already started the year with a better routine. I have an amazing team and am ready for this year. Whatever it may bring I’m always trying to live in the moment and appreciate what is happening in the now.
Interview by Magdalena Roe