Quick Q&A With Amos Lee

In a little over a decade, Lee has gone from being a public school teacher to a musician who tours with the likes of Adele and Norah Jones. On May 20, he’ll perform with the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra at Hilbert Circle Theatre.

You worked at an elementary school before getting into music. Were you the cool teacher?
Not at all. I was the clueless one. I wanted to talk about critical thinking, and I think there are teachers who master their craft and do that. But in many of our public schools, the focus is on test scores. I just didn’t want to do that. I didn’t feel like that was a good use of the kids’ time or mine. I also was not a good disciplinarian, and my class size was 33.
How did you decide to make that leap from a conventional life to that of a touring musician?
It wasn’t something I rationally planned out. I just fell in love with music, and you don’t necessarily choose to fall in love. For me it was about going to open mic nights, being around musicians, and being inspired. I decided to do what I loved.
What the first song you sang in public?
The first song I remember doing for an open mic night was a Sam Cooke song, “A Change is Gonna Come.”
At what point did you decide to start writing your own material?
I could never really play covers. I couldn’t pick out the tunes because my ear wasn’t trained enough and I didn’t know enough chords. But I could write tunes. And I had things I wanted to write about. So again, it wasn’t really a choice. Six months after I started playing guitar, I was writing.
When do you find time to create new material?
An idea will come when it comes. I don’t judge anyone who writes in a 9-to-5, workaday fashion, but my process has been a little more catch-as-catch-can. One of the great aspects of being a professional musician is that you have lots of time where you’re not touring. In the wintertime, I hunker down for a couple of months, clear my mind, sit down with a guitar, and see what comes.
You’ve toured with Adele, who has all sorts of nice things to say about you. What can you say about her?
I was really moved by how connected her fans were to her message. It’s a powerful thing, and it can be tough to find.
For more on the IN Fusion Music Festival, of which Lee’s show is a part, visit the ISO’s website.