Imported Goods: Candy Lee follows her bliss to Jacksonville


Candy Lee Long and her husband David moved here from Fayetteville, Arkansas at the beginning of the summer, to study and be closer to their friends; she has quickly gotten established herself in a scene already swollen with skilled singer-songwriters. She notes Tobacco Pat, Robin Rutenberg, Gospel Music and Sunbears! among those she’s enjoyed so far, when not herself working spots like Burro Bar,European Street, Dog Star Tavern, Speckled Hen Tavern, New Orleans Café and the Riverside Arts Market. She hosts the open mic nights at the Wine Bar and has featured at Creekside Songwriters Showcase. A strong start, but any standard.

She’s new to this scene, but not to Florida, or the business. Born in Ft. Myers 27 years ago, Candy Lee lived briefly inVermont but spent the last three years studying and performing in her adopted hometown of Fayetteville, which is where her artistry really caught stride as leader of a group (which included Dan Dean, Warren Dietzel, Jennifer Graham and Emily Jenkins) aptly dubbed “Candy Lee and the Sweets”. It was there where she found the confidence to really begin to define herself as a creative individual, performing as a solo act and putting the emphasis on her own songs. And feedback was positive: she was named Best Female Singer/Songwriter and Best Female in a Band by the Northwest Arkansas Music Awards.

Lee has been singing since childhood, and performing in school bands and various other groups for almost as long, but only started on guitar four years ago. “I used to play clarinet, but haven’t since high school. Now the only instrument I play proficiently is my voice. My knowledge of music theory is minimal. I can read music, but when it comes to what I do as a singer/songwriter, I mostly play by ear.” With diligent practice she’s evolved on the instrument to effectively support her songwriting. These skills are ably displayed on her debut solo recording, The Gate, which comes in a package entirely designed by her. (It’s worth noting here that Candy Lee is also a skilled artist and graphic designer.) Not many musicians are as intimately involved in every aspect of their recording.

According to her website, “The Gate is a project of music, art, and philosophy. It explores the evolution of human thought, as experienced by Candy Lee. It is the story of the hero’s journey to Self-realization and enlightenment.” Recorded inFayetteville last year, the album features her own artwork and her own compositions, which display a melodic sense of unusual potency. It captures a musician of ferocious self-assurance, one unafraid to go full speed ahead and miles away in pursuit of her artistic objectives.           

Candy Lee’s voice changes tone and pitch from song to song; the voice services the song, rather than the other way around. Hers is the only voice heard on the album, frequently overdubbed for harmonic purposes; this comes out in places like the choruses on “Worst Enemy”, one of the album’s best tracks. In practice, her voice sounds very much like the Casady sisters, aka Coco Rosie; this comes through on the opening track, “Blues Skies”. At others, like on “Experiences”, it’s more reminiscent of Cranberries singer Delores O’Riordan. It doesn’t sound derivative, but more like a set of certain sonic tools employed in service of the songs.         

Following the album itself, a few minutes of silence yield to a bonus track that shows off yet another aspect to Candy Lee’s artistry: electronic music, rendered by her group “Metasapien”, whose debut disc, Art Or Die, was released a couple years ago. Candy Lee sings the hooks while husband David Long raps over beats they crafted together. The two met shortly after she graduated high school, playing together briefly in an acoustic duo called 50 Cent Trade. Long also records as “I Am”; his third album, Spiral Dynamics, was released in February, and all can be had via his Bandcamp site.

From a newcomer’s perspective, what are her initial impressions of our scene? “I like the indie folk scene and the fans who attentively listen at shows,” she says. “I didn’t really know what to expect when I got here, as far as the music scene goes. I had heard that there were plenty of places to play, but nothing in detail about the other bands in the scene. My initial impressions of the music scene in Jacksonville were positive. I am happy the music scene here is so diverse.

“What I dislike about Jacksonville is that it seems very commercial, like most of Florida. I miss the small town, environmentally conscious vibe of Fayetteville, with its independent businesses, bike trails, community gardens, and kid friendly events. The environment there gave rise to a certain level of introspection” in the resulting cultural products. Of course, many people here are working to change both that perception and the underlying realities; the fact that the city still attracts her type, even in this ridiculous recession, is certainly cause for optimism.

Long earned her BA in Environmental Studies at Florida Gulf Coast University, and picked UNF to pursue a Master’s in Environmental Engineering. Having made the successful transition into a new phase of her life and career, her immediate goals are simple: keep moving forward. She’s building contacts and booking gigs in new (to her) venues, while planning to tour in November. The home studio she used to record The Gate will be used to record her follow-up, with release slated for sometime in 2012.

@the Green Door, 2008. Photo by "Noir33"; September 19, 2011

About Shelton Hull

I'm a writer/journalist with over 20 years experience covering all types of subject-matter, with a specialization in politics, music, food and dance. My work has been published in nearly 40 different magazines, newspapers, websites and zines, in addition to occasional forays into radio, TV and spoken-word. Former candidate for City Council District 14 in Jacksonville, FL (2011), and a proud member of Gator Nation.

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