By Raymond Simon
Photo by Olivia Vaughn
Even a casual listen to Christie Lenée’s instrumental, “Evolution,” reveals that she’s not your run-of-the-mill folkie.
In a little more than six minutes, the piece skillfully blends elements of modern classical music and jazz, yet it also has a contemporary acoustic feel that would fit in quite nicely on WXPN’s “Sleepy Hollow.”
The song is, by turns, contemplative and raw, building tension and then granting release. And Lenée’s guitar playing, which features plenty of harmonics, finger tapping, and other percussive techniques, signals an adventurous musician with real chops.
Lenée describes “Evolution” as an odyssey song. “That’s an instrumental that follows a story,” she says. “There’s something so powerful in the way that it moves me that I don’t even need lyrics; I go on a journey.”
At just 25-years-old, the energetic multitasker leads her own group, the Christie Lenée Project, plays guitar regularly with the Angel Band and has over 100 songs registered through ASCAP. She can also be found performing solo shows at venues as far afield as Manhattan’s Caffé Vivaldi and JolliMon’s Music Café on Florida’s Gulf Coast.
Perhaps what enables Lenée to juggle so many musical projects and to range over so many styles is her clear self-image. “I see myself as a songwriter and composer who uses the guitar-or piano or bass-as a tool for creating those songs. And I want them to have a positive message,” she says.
Music wasn’t the career she originally had in mind. As a young teen growing up in Tampa, Florida, she wrote poetry and had been taking classical piano lessons since the age of six. But her dream was to become an actress. Consequently, she enrolled as an acting major at Blake High School, the local performing arts magnet school.
Midway through Lenée’s freshman year, she attended a guitar recital by one of the school’s faculty, John Parris, who performed “Sunburst” by Andrew York.
“It changed my life,” Lenée cheerfully admits. “I thought, ‘If I can do that, I can do anything.’ So I changed my major to classical guitar and pretty much dedicated every moment to learning classical guitar.”
Lenée’s restless musical explorations didn’t end with classical music. She also joined Blake’s jazz band and later studied composition at Southern Florida University.
Throughout that period, the budding composer never closed her ears to more popular music. In fact, it was at a show by the Dave Matthews Band that she suddenly recognized the possibility of sharing her own music with an appreciative audience.
The culmination of Lenée’s apprenticeship is her 2009 studio album, Set It Free. She claims to have labored on the twelve-track record for almost three years, not only to get her music right, but also to learn how to use the studio and to sing. Standout tracks include the bouncy “Set It Free” and “Two Worlds,” which is slightly reminiscent of Steely Dan.
Shortly after releasing a debut record that might appeal to fans of both Ani DiFranco and Al Di Meola, Lenée packed up her bags and began the next phase of her musical journey: moving from the Sunshine State to the City of Brotherly Love.
The new environment has been musically fruitful for Lenée. “I love the music scene here in Philadelphia and am learning a lot,” she enthuses. “There are a lot of jam bands in Florida, but there’s more of a folk music scene here. And a lot more places to play!”
Philly fans have reciprocated that love. Lenée gigs frequently around the Delaware Valley, and she’s even been nominated as best female singer/songwriter in Origivation magazine’s reader’s choice awards.
More important to Lenée than accolades has been the relocation’s impact on her music. In Philadelphia, she leads her own band, featuring Chris Farrell on guitar, Chris Lefevre on bass, and Andy Meyer on drums. Gigging regularly with like-minded musicians has lent her music a more direct and warm feel. Recent songs like “Before I Go” and “Patience,” have an almost indie rock feel.
The next step forward in Lenée’s musical odyssey is a new album with the Project, which should be released early next year. So far, she’s pleased with the results. “With the new album, the band comes in and plays live,” she says, “so there’s a more cohesive sound than on Set It Free.”