Digital Leather founder Shawn Foree is often so immersed in writing, recording and producing his music that often times, people who were there at the beginning of the album are not there by the end.
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His fierce dedication has provided him with enough material for 24 albums, commencing with his newest release New Wave Gold out today. There is no sign of him stopping music anytime soon, although the environment and people involved may change as he grows his curiosity to play with others.
“When I first started doing music, I was just into punk,” Foree told American Songwriter. “And I had these friends from Memphis who were paying in a band called Lost Sounds and they used a lot of synths so seeing what they could do with it outside of new wave and it inspired me.”
Foree’s band Digital Leather originally started with him and a friend who ultimately had differing visions and long-term goals for the band. Which led Foree to a revolving lineup for touring, but left him as the sole permanent member of the band. But Foree seems to like it that way as he can execute creative freedom and is able to take his time in developing each song, which he writes and records out of his home. A self-taught player, Foree usually starts his music with a drum beat, before adding in the shiny, ambient layers of synths that are a staple in his material.
“I usually start with drums,” he said. “Either a drum machine or I have someone sit in to record some drum parts that I can mash together. It’s not really ever a guitar or lyric. I think a beat is the most essential thing to the kind of music I make.”
Foree tends to lead more with the music and less with vocals or lyrics, because he can often spend an immense amount of time on one song, and perspectives and personality can evolve a lot over time which can ultimately affect the kind of lyrics he writes.
“If I have a guitar in the songs it’s the last thing to go along with lyrics,” Foree said. “It’s not that I don’t think out the lyrics, but sometimes a song will take a year for me. In a year’s time a person can change a lot.”
Nothing seems to remain constant for Foree, be it his personality, lyrics, music, environment or even relationships. As a serious solo, DIY musician with a busy day-job working in hazardous waste assessment, Foree is often away traveling which impacts his relationships. But music is not something he can give up, though he often considers it and has tried.
“When I hit third or fourth gear and I’m really working and all my friends are starting to wonder where the hell I am, it’s hard to maintain a relationship,” Foree said. “It takes a lot emotionally and it’s rewarding but some people aren’t there when it’s over.”
“About six years ago I told myself ‘I quit, I’m done,’ I wanted to have more of a normal life,” he added. “But I said that for like three months and since then I have put out like five records, so I can’t stop. It’s like a marriage, it’s not a bad one, but it’s not healthy either. I don’t think I’m going to get out of this one. But it makes things interesting. It’s a good way to reflect on life. I have a small group of fans, I’m not trying to be on the radio, I just like what I do.”
Some of Foree’s songs on New Wave Gold like “The King of Idiots” were inspired by struggles he saw friends endure with drugs and addiction, while some songs were influenced by the same travel that made other aspects of his life difficult, which included him catching Covid-19. He recovered without any issues, but it along with his day-to-day experiences with the environment got its place in his music.
“It definitely inspired a lot of doom and gloom in my music,” Foree said about his day job. “I travel and am on a lot of hazardous, environmental sites for work, that’s how I pay my bills. I like it because I feel like I’m productive for society, but it can be depressing and feel like nobody gives a shit about the environment. So, I think a lot of that spilled over into my music in parts. There’s definitely some nihilistic shit happening in the music.”
While Foree is always looking to experiment with his sound, he admits with so much material it can be hard to not repeat himself. “Sometimes it’s hard to not use a C and G together,” he said. “But that’s part of the fun, it’s challenging and I’m not being held to any expectation on my next album. It’s not like I’m AC/DC or something and if I change up my sound, I’m going to lose a million fans. The silver lining is I have the freedom to experiment into whatever I want musically.”
As a solo artist with creative freedom, Foree also has the opportunity to play with whoever he wishes. And he has been focusing lately on collaborations with friends, which could be the next step for him with music as he somewhat shies away from a 25th Digital Leather album.
“If I have another Digital Leather record great, but I am reaching the point where I might do something different, more collabs,” he said. “Twenty-four is a lot of records and that’s just LP’s. And If history repeats itself, there will be a 25th record- but if I become the next AC/DC and someone hands me a check for 20M, I’ll sell out at this point.”
Listen to what could be Digital Leather’s last album New Wave Gold out today on Spotify or better yet, order a copy of the limited edition white vinyl here and check out some other top tracks from Digital Leather over the years here on American Songwriter.