|Crossroads: Michael Lee Of The Rising|
Pivotal moments in musicians' careers propelling them from obscurity to infamy
by Mark E. Waterbury
If band and album names can be considered prophetic, then The Rising can be a bit confusing. On one hand, the band which is the brainchild of singer/songwriter Michael Lee is poised to start "rising." Formed and cultivated in a grass-rootsy way by the Australian born Michael, The Rising was signed to Maverick Records who will release their debut CD "Future Unknown" early next year. The band has already created a buzz with some prerelease live performances as well as radio airplay of the song "Cradle". Perhaps in the truest terms, The Rising's future reflects their album title as it IS unknown, especially in today's turbulent music business climate. Along with the talent This Rising has, the work ethic is also there; it helped Michael get his name out and secured that label deal. With these solid indicators, The Rising's future may be unknown but one can expect it to be fairly bright and promising.
When he was about seventeen, Michael Lee was in awe along with six thousand others after seeing Jeff Buckley in concert in his native Australia. Shortly after that show, Michael, a budding singer/songwriter, was performing in front of two hundred people at a party. "I had that same kind of feeling like it must have been for Jeff (Buckley) at that concert," Michael remembers. "I just thought that I had to have that every night and connect with people on that level." Michael's path became clearer when he had a chance meeting at Australia's Big Day Out festival with Tim Rogers, the lead vocalist for popular indigenous band You Am I. Tim told him how even though they were the biggest band in Australia at the time, they were not really that hugely successful money wise. Michael recalls that, "I was at the stage where I was wondering what I was going to do to make this happen. And (Tim Rogers) told me that if I wanted to make it, I needed to go to America and do what I could there. Being from a small town in Australia, I thought that going to L.A. or New York would beat me up. So I decided to go to Atlanta, who had the Olympics there and a growing music scene. So I took my chances."
When he arrived in Atlanta, Michael tried to do everything he could to get out and play and develop his work ethic as a performer. He wound up first in a bar band playing mostly cover songs but learning a lot about how to cultivate his own on stage persona. "Being a foreigner, I had to get used to what Americans liked, and even though I was playing covers, I learned the invaluable lesson of how to win respect from a crowd. Whether there is a hundred or a thousand people in a crowd, it is your job as front man to win them over. That experience got me into the whole American psyche of what works here and what doesn't." Even though he was playing other people's music, he continued to hone his own songwriting crafts in every spare moment that he had. His band Film did do a couple of original songs and had some moderate success in the area, but the guys in Film were a number of years older then the twenty-one year old Michael, and he felt that the chemistry was not quite there for what he wanted to do. "We had some interest from labels with Film, but at that point, I decided to leave the band and take about six months off to get my head straight," Michael recalls.
After his brief sabbatical, Michael recorded a demo which included a song called "So Alive" which wound up catching the ears of several labels that had shown initial interest in his previous band. Michael went to L.A. to do some showcases and was signed with Maverick Records as a result. Once the deal was inked, Michael perused the mammoth L.A. music scene for musicians to form his new band. He eventually found guitarists Robb Torres and Kevin Haaland, bassist Ari Gorman and drummer Kirke Blankenship, and The Rising was born. "I didn't want to take anything short of one hundred percent from my bandmates. I needed the right mentality and the right musicianship. With these guys, I knew it from the first rehearsal that they were the right choice for me. They really have a clear idea of what we want to achieve with this band." The Rising entered Atlanta's famous Southern Tracks studio to turn the demo into the full-fledged debut "Future Unknown." Michael co-produced the album with Rick Beato. "I wrote most of the songs on that album so long ago that I was wondering, how the hell did I write that; where did that come from? Being an artist you want to hear the songs sound like they are when they're running around in your head. But I really love how it came out and it really catches what I was writing about at the time."
In a short time The Rising has achieved what most musicians only dream about. They have the record deal from a major label, they have an album about to be released early next year with songs going to radio, and they are poised to tour the U.S. and beyond to support the release. While the dream may seem complete to some, Michael Lee realizes from his experiences in the music business that there is a lot of work to be done yet to keep the buzz about The Rising growing. Perhaps that attitude is the most prolific indicator of how rosy The Future may indeed look for The Rising. "We actually have the biggest uphill battle now. We have to constantly keep getting in the face of people and show that the fans are still the number one priority. It's good to have that chance of having a label giving you the money to record an album and pushing it to radio, but we're about three quarters of the way there. A lot of people don't get this kind of chance and I'm a lucky S.O.B. I get to play music for a living and play live with four other guys who I love for a new audience every night. We need to keep playing as many shows as we can and working our asses off."
Michael Lee's advice for musicians: "Work, work , work. Always be open and receptive to what's out there. No one has all the answers, but you have to draw from other people's strengths and not be afraid to do that. And you need to be creative in whatever ways you can find and not let yourself down."