'Soul Music Comes From The Eternal': Surprise Chef & Lee Fields Interview Each Other

27 November 2023 | 3:37 pm | Mary Varvaris

Ahead of Lee Fields' headline show at the Sydney Opera House, the American soul legend has interviewed special guests Surprise Chef exclusively for The Music.

Lee Fields, Surprise Chef

Lee Fields, Surprise Chef (Source: Supplied)

More Lee Fields & The Expressions More Lee Fields & The Expressions

American soul legends Lee Fields and special guests and Melbourne groovers Surprise Chef are preparing for a spectacular show at the Sydney Opera House tonight, with Fields and his band The Expressions ready for their debut at the venue.

To know what you’re getting in for, here’s what Sydney Opera House’s Head of Contemporary Music Ben Marshall had to say: “Releasing his first single in 1969, I am overjoyed legendary American soul singer Lee Fields finally makes his Opera House debut in November. Fields is no funk-soul revivalist; he’s the genuine article still at his peak with collaborators like Dr John, BB King, Bobby Womack, Kool & The Gang and Sharon Jones, having all sought his immense talents.

“Backed by his incredible band, the Expressions, Fields is a powerhouse live performer who puts it all on the line – you’ll feel it down to the bone. Joining this mighty double bill are Melbourne’s masters of forward-thinking jazz-funk and neo-soul, Surprise Chef.”

To celebrate the gig, Surprise Chef’s Lachlan Stuckey and Lee Fields have interviewed each other exclusively for The Music.

Lachlan Stuckey interviews Lee Fields

Lachlan Stuckey (LS): You’ve brought soul music to a younger audience; people in my age group who didn’t live through the golden era of soul would have discovered your music before they found your contemporaries from the ‘60s and ‘70s. What do you think you represent to the new generation of soul listeners?

Don't miss a beat with our FREE daily newsletter

Lee Fields (LF): I believe soul music comes from the soul and that is from the eternal, the everlasting. I hope my music imparts to the listener a feeling of spirituality (whichever religion you may follow). I also, of course, hope they have a good time listening, hahaha.

LS: In my opinion, you’re the most important living soul singer. Your legacy in soul music spans half a century, and you still continue to make fresh, unique records half a century later. What keeps you pushing to make records?

LF: That is very kind of you. The artist must seek to always innovate while keeping themselves real and true. That is what I have done over the years to keep making music that is interesting yet true to myself.  

LS: You’ve made records with some of the great producers of soul music this century: Leon Michels, Thomas Brenneck and Gabriel Roth. What do you think these producers have brought to your music and the process of making records?

LF: Each producer, through their guidance, has helped bring the songs to where they should go. That’s what they do. They guide the songs and take them to a place maybe I would have never gone. However, I’m always the constant. It has been a great journey to work with every one of them. 

LS: Your relationship with Gabe Roth now spans a period of close to thirty years, from those first tunes you cut for Desco in the late ‘90s to your latest LP, Sentimental Fool. How would you compare the records you were making together when you first met to your most recent records?

LF: First off, the studio is way different. Now, he’s got this great big room with assistants and all this fancy equipment. Back then, it was a tiny room, and he did everything. The process is similar to me; he allows me to record and make the songs, and craft the vocals exactly the way I like to do it.

LS: How has your experience of being on the road and making records changed since the ‘60s? 

LF: Well, it’s basically the same, but the differences in technology make it more comfortable and easier to get around. You got the crowd, the band and the music, which is, of course, the most important, but being in touch with people back home and navigating with the phone is a whole lot easier.  

LS: What music are you listening to? Any artists, new or old, that you’d like to share with the readers?

LF: I like Tom Petty, The Beatles and Neil Young, but when I roll around in my car, I love to listen to the most current music. I dig Miley Cyrus or Rihanna while driving around. Ed Sheeran, in my opinion, is pound for pound the great performer of our time.

Lee Fields interviews Lachlan Stuckey

Lee Fields (LF): How does your spirituality affect the music you create?

Lachlan Stuckey (LS): Our connection to playing music with one another is a spiritual one. It's a great privilege to be able to write and perform music; every time we do, it's a special thing. 

LF: How do you write and shape your songs?

LS: We usually bring ideas to the band and shape the arrangement collaboratively in the rehearsal room or the studio. Sometimes, tunes come spontaneously when we're in the room; sometimes, they're formed more meticulously before the band plays them. There's always an element of collaboration in the way the tunes are arranged. 

LF: How did you get into music, and what drives you to keep working in the music industry?

LS: Personally, I've always wanted to play music. I don't remember having any other aspirations or inclinations. We're just fortunate we're able to spend most of our time doing music and still pay the rent at the end of the month. I can't really describe exactly why music is so important to me, but I couldn't see myself doing anything else. That blind faith alone probably keeps me doing it. 

LF: Who are your main influences musically?

LS: David Axelrod, Karate Boogaloo, The Pro-Teens, Isaac Hayes, The Budos Band, El Michels Affair, Menahan Street Band, Lady Wray, Brainstory, Lee Fields!

LF: Is anyone in the band a great chef, and can they throw down when we hit the road together?

LS: Jethro is heavy in the kitchen. He's a silent assassin and doesn't brag about his talents, but he's got a deep bag of tricks. Hudson can make a vegetarian feast happen like you wouldn't believe too.

Lee Fields will perform at the Sydney Opera House with special guests Surprise Chef tonight.