The Bobby Lees
Energy In / Energy Out
The Bobby Lees Get Skintight
Sam Quartin, singer/guitarist for Woodstock, New York-based band The Bobby Lees, laughs as she recalls how she almost blew the chance for her band to work with Jon Spencer (of The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion and Pussy Galore fame). “He emailed us randomly and asked us to open for him when he was playing up in Hudson, New York. I had never even heard of Jon Spencer before. I didn’t know who he was! I was like, ‘Sorry, we’re busy.’ Then I looked him up and I was like, ‘Holy shit!’”
There really was a scheduling conflict – bass player Kendall Wind had her high school graduation ceremony on the proposed night. But once Quartin and her bandmates realized Spencer’s status, they knew even that momentous occasion couldn’t stand in the way of this opportunity. “I wrote him back: ‘Actually…we can do it,’” Quartin says wryly. “So Kendall just rushed from graduation and we did it.”
At that show, The Bobby Lees impressed Spencer enough with their high-energy garage/punk rock that he went on to produce their latest album, Skin Suit (released on July 17 on Alive Naturalsound Records). “It was real quick,” Quartin says of the recording process. “He came in, and we were together for five days. The first day, we just played him everything. Then we recorded in two days. And then they mixed it in two days, and that was it.”
The songs on Skin Suit capture the youthful band’s raw energy and uninhibitedness. “I think our best stuff was just us doing it all live together, just a few takes, and then moving on,” Quartin says. She gives Spencer credit for this method. “He didn’t let us do it over and over again. And he would get us to do things I don’t think we would have thought to try. So that was really cool.”
Quartin says the band – which, besides Quartin and Wind, also consists of guitarist Nick Casa and drummer Macky Bowman – share the songwriting equally, and “we’ll either be able to write the song really quickly, or it’s probably just not going to happen. That’s been our experience. Sometimes with an idea, we’ll either like it right away and the song writes itself in an hour, or it doesn’t and then we move on to the next idea.”
Since recording the album, Spencer continues to mentor The Bobby Lees, sometimes coming to their shows. “He always will give me notes and give us pointers,” Quartin says. “It’s really nice that he takes the time. We feel really lucky for that.” She adds that now, she’s become well-familiar with all of Spencer’s work, and listens to it “all the time.”
Even before Spencer came along, though, The Bobby Lees seemed to be well on their way. Their 2018 debut album, Beauty Pageant, earned positive reviews – and it gave them their band name. Quartin sighs as she explains: “It was a song on our first record, which was about feeling possessed by something, and I named the spirit or character ‘Bobby Lee.’ Then we had to play a show, so we said ‘Let’s call it this for that show.’ It was not supposed to be our name. We didn’t really like it. Our drummer still despises it. But it is what it is.”
She may not be thrilled with her band’s name, but Quartin says she’s still excited to be playing music professionally. “I’d wanted to play music for so long, like when I was really little and was too scared to tell anyone I wanted to start a band,” she says. “So I’m just grateful that we can make music and put it out. I’m not thinking about if it’s good or not; I’m just happy to be doing it.”
Unlike her bandmates, who all started playing their instruments at a very early age, Quartin only picked up the guitar a year before The Bobby Lees formed. Now, she says, making music – especially the kind of high-energy songs The Bobby Lees create – is a cathartic experience. “I have a nervous panic disorder, so the energy comes from me having to give energy out. Without getting energy out you feel kind of trapped.”
Quartin says her deep love for her craft comes from her parents, who “raised me on good music,” which led her to having an unusually open-minded and wide-ranging approach: “I really do like almost every genre. The first time I heard Little Richard, I really fell in love with him. Patsy Cline, I love.” She also says she’s fond of all the bands on Jack White’s Third Man Records – and it’s a dream of hers to work with White himself one day.
The Bobby Lees have plenty of time to achieve their remaining goals – the youngest member, guitarist Casa, only recently turned 18, and the others are not that much older. Their young ages mean that some of them still live with their families, which recently led to a blessing in disguise when the COVID-19 pandemic hit.
“When [the pandemic] started, we were on tour – we were supposed to be going to South by Southwest [festival in Austin, Texas], and then it got cancelled when we were in the Midwest. When we came home, our families didn’t want to see us. So everyone quarantined at my house for three weeks. We wrote a ton. So we have our next record ready to go now,” Quartin says. But, she promises, “We’ve made an oath, we’re not writing anything virus related!”
For now, though, The Bobby Lees are still focused on releasing Skin Suit. Quartin is hopeful about what will happen with this album. “I’m grateful that anyone might find it and like it,” she says. “The one thing I hope is [that] people feel less alone when they listen to the record. That’s what music does for me, helps me feel connected to something and/or gets me out of my head, so I hope we can be of service in that way.”