Laurel Lee and the Escapees
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Laurel Lee and the Escapees

Asheville, NC | Established. Jan 01, 2000 | SELF

Asheville, NC | SELF
Established on Jan, 2000
Band Americana Country


This band hasn't logged any future gigs

This band hasn't logged any past gigs


The best kept secret in music


Is it possible to be a contemporary of such greats from the past, such as Loretta Lynn and Hank Williams Sr., while simultaneously also being a contemporary of modern songwriters and performers like Laura Cantrell and Carla Bozulich? Singer-songwriter Laurel Lee pulls this off with relative ease. It's an easy task to emulate songs from the past but how do you make them your own? Laurel understands that in order to look back, you must be constantly moving forward.
I first experienced Laurel Lee (with her most capable backing band, The Escapees) when I ran sound for her at The Riverside Arts Market during the 2009 season. Memorable, to-the-point songs with a country bent that wasn't a schtick but the real deal. Quirky? Sure. Fun? You bet!

Roy: For anyone who has never heard your music, explain your sound in one sentence.

Laurel: A guy I never met on the Internet put it well: It’s like Mother Maybelle (Carter) if she’d been Goth.

Roy: What is your songwriting process? Are you a words first kind of writer or does melody come first?

Laurel: Usually, the mood comes first, then the words (usually assisted by walking and bicycling, both have the patterns of the heartbeat, the world’s first beatbox), then the sounds of the words help me carve out what the words would be like with melody.

Roy: How much time do you generally spend on a song?

Laurel: Of course, some songs write themselves in a few minutes. “I Should Not be in the Kitchen” is a little “funny funny” that I giggled through when I really shouldn’t have been trying to cook around hot, burning domestic instruments of torture. Other songs, though might start with a line in a notebook that reminds me of an attitude or a mood and I’ll let my mind percolate on it for years, trying to decide if I have more to say other than that line and that particular consideration. Some lines grow up to be a real song, most stay where they are.

Roy: Has your songwriting process changed in any way over the years?

Laurel: I started writing songs during a breakup, so the focus was songs related to love and loss. The songs have followed my love life a little personal, but that’s okay… I’m not afraid to show the world that I experienced a completely non-novel but sensitive love life. All of this love stuff has been tortured over by many well-intended or manipulative people. Writing it out, however, so that it’s an identifiable mood, is the difference I think. If I write it just so, I can compartmentalize the experience of a singular event and look at it from the outside in. Conversely, a listener can recall an old experience and re-live it for a few minutes, good or bad.

In the past few years, however, I’ve noticed that my songs are covering more diverse topical material: traveling across the country, theology, funny regional traditions, for example. I finished writing “(I’ve Got the I Can’t Get a) Goddamn Fucking Job Blues” and have performed it a lot lately in front of adult audiences. The economy sucks so badly lately, and people try so hard with so little response, they cheer and laugh at my song, and they feel relief. I do too! There’s no rest in job hunting, and you’re constantly denied.

I’ve also noticed that I’m less concerned with manufacturing old-time country for the sake of old time country. For example, the swearing. The country gentleman would never be so garish, even if they fancy themselves undereducated good ole boys. Still, I’m a product of the 80s, punk rock, alternative live music, grunge, and electronic music. I’ve been a big fan of old time music including Cuban, collegiate, doo-wop, and jazz. In every style of music, someone goes outside of the norm and lays it out with the parlance that matters while nicking the bone. It’s not the Top 40 Country stuff, but expletives or racy, forward messages are an important element of independent music.

Roy: What have you learned from previous songs you've written?

Laurel: I’ve learned that I tend to sing in G, so I’ve had to divert some songs away from G. Also, I’ve learned that just because I write a song, it doesn’t mean it’ll have legs. I’ve learned that just writing out stinkers can be helpful later. You never know when an idea will meld together related thoughts, but you can’t recall the thoughts unless you write it down. On the flip side, not every deep thought deserves a song.

Roy: Can you name a few of your favorite songwriters and why they are important to you and tell us what you have learned from them.

Laurel: Harlan Howard, Willie Nelson, and Loretta Lynn come to mind first. They were all of a school where there should be a clever hook, a deep feeling, and the acceptance or defiance from the source of love. I needed that frame. I didn’t know I relied on that frame until I’d written twenty songs. I thought I should be a little more punk rock, but it turned out I was more ‘70s AM radio.

To be honest, the most important song writers are local talents and people I’ve met on tour…the music that’s being used live. Local recording artists that try to focus on their attention on their art are wonderful. I lived in Portland, Oregon for seventeen years and moved to N. Florida five years ago, and found that I’ve been sort of trained to respect the active local artists, and give them their due. In Portland I found great freedom in song writing after falling for Elliott Smith’s work: he was soft spoken but would be so harsh and forward! James Low, in Portland, writes a great mix of country and rock without going to the stupid hick end of the spectrum. These are only two names of two guys, but there are so many original artists that are amazing.

Roy: What are a few of your influences outside of songwriting--that is, who or what has inspired you to write songs that has nothing to do with music? (Film, books, people, etc.)

Laurel: I enjoy literature, and think songwriting is a type of literate storytelling. Music writers verses print storytellers… they are equals. For example, Willie Nelson is equal to Thomas Hardy, or perhaps Jack London is equal to Roger Miller. They all entertained as they strove to hit that nerve. That said, I think lately I’ve been a product of Carson McCullers, Flannery O’Conner, Zora Neale Hurston, and Marjorie Rawlings. The location of their work has been helpful. The Deep South is difficult to understand sometimes, and these authors offered their views as socially aware women.

Roy: How do you deal with criticism?

Laurel: I’ve been told that I don’t seem to take it very well. Ha ha. I do okay, I think. The thing is, if I can’t let another’s criticism affect the eventual outcome of my music. There’s a lot of time and trouble that goes into the processes of music, and I hate it when I know what I’m doing and I get off-tracked by someone who dogs my creative process by trying to divert me towards his ideas or preferences. I try to be nice about it, but sometimes it’s my vision that has to be the final choice. Alternately, I’m human and learning, and sometimes wrong.

Roy: You generally write in a traditional, albeit slightly skewed, country format, is that deliberate or just the way the songs come out? Have you ever written anything that you think wouldn't work with your band?

Laurel: It's the way the songs come out, although I've learned methods to personalize the music. It seems my formative years in music was next to 1450am KFLY in Corvallis, Oregon. In the 70s, top 40 am radio was still country music, so I suppose I fell back on that influence. Also, I relearned to love country music in the pizza shop I worked at for many years, and a chunk of what we heard was Outlaw country and outcast misfits, like Graham Parsons and Johnny Cash. I heard music as a crooning, plaintive cry.

I originally thought of “Why Don’t We Don’t Get Married” as a barbershop quartet kind of thing. It would be acapella, and we’d all wear vertical stripes on our collegiate sweaters. I have a jazzy song called “Half of Me” that the band likes to play, but it seems so out of character for a tavern bar show. It’s not easy to switch over into being the chanteuse. If the songs come out then the band seems to find their place with it, it’s just a matter of bringing them back out when we have a good setting for it. We brought out more blues in our songs in the past year, like, "Without a Man I’m a Rabid Dog."

Roy: Have you ever had a song that changed considerably during the recording process from what you thought it was going to be like when you initially wrote it? Has working in the studio changed the way you write songs?

Laurel: I would say no. Most of the songs we've recorded were established by playing live so often. I have so little access to a studio I can’t dink around a studio to create. I look forward to an established station with a four track, at least. Recently I just came into the ownership of a multiple-cassette duplicator, so perhaps I’ll make copies of my demos for those who still own tape players.

Roy: Can you tell me how "Darkness At My Door" came to be written?

Laurel: Hm. I don’t want to tell you. I like that it’s a secretive story.

How long/how long/has that evening train been gone/how long how long how long/When did it leave here and leave me/so lost and all along/has it been a year or more.

Well, he left and I kept missing him, even though I knew better.

I heard the Hazel and Alice song “The One I Love is Gone” and took some of its framework for my purpose. Their female vocals are gritty and bluegrass, and then they pull off some of the best “high lonesome” duets. I see the train station in moonlight, a drive home, a lonely porch light for the person that does not come.

Roy: What about "Sorrow"? (Great video by the way--I'm very envious.)

Laurel: The first part of “Sorrow” came to me while I rode my bike home from a sub assignment. I was thinking about a student, wondered if he had a rock in his heart. I stopped and wrote the idea on a sticky note. The next day something was up with my bike so I bussed to work but walked home. On the way home I filled out a bunch of the sticky notes with ideas. When I got home I assembled them and wrote it into a single piece.

Thanks, about the video… I’m jazzed about it. Some of the Flagler College communications people made it happen. My next video will be a funnier one, perhaps GDFing Job Blues, we’ll see. I’m not sure that would be a good idea as a participating member of the teaching profession. Still, I think grown-ups can swear if they can’t seem to get employed after busting their hump to get a job.

Roy: Can a song change after you play it in front of people?

Laurel: They tend to get faster, at least. When we play in front of a lot of people, we want them to be energized, so we play music in a way that might touch them. Slower music is appreciated live, but I’ve literally seen someone fall asleep (early on), so I try to keep that from happening again.

Roy: How do you deal with writer's block?

Laurel: I tell myself that being blocked is a good thing. I haven’t wanted to bitch about anything, I’m settling in, I am healthy and warm. I used to write strictly for the outlet while I wanted to be outraged. Then I wrote to experiment with topical and musical ideas, then to emulate the younger and elder statesmen of Americana music. Now I know more, I’m less surprised that people are cruel and stupid toward one another. I don’t know exactly how to write ten songs on command, but I suppose I could, like Woody Guthrie when he had thirty days to write thirty songs for the Bonneville Dam in Oregon. No one is paying me for quantity, so I’ll rely on my attachment to music as a lifestyle, one that includes creative interaction.

Roy: What's next for Laurel Lee and the Escapees?

Laurel: I’d like to play festivals. The regional festivals seem to be the best venues for music fans. I could use some help getting on those stages.

You can find out more about the talented Laurel Lee at her website:

Laurel Lee's three CDs, all with her excellent backing band, The Escapees, are available at cdbaby: - Roy Peak

Sometimes it’s not about how you get there; it’s about what to do once you’re actually there.
Laurel Lee Welch of St. Augustine didn’t set out to front her own band when she formed the altcountry act Laurel Lee and the Escapees. The evolutionary process was as subtle and organic as
her songwriting; something she did just because she did it. “My band at the time was some boys I practiced music with. We were all just learning to play and I was writing songs on the side. They
would say, ‘Let’s do that song that you just wrote.’ I thought I might actually be able to put something together, mostly because they said I should,” she says, “I had done some theatre so I was not afraid
to perform. I just didn’t realize that was the next step until I was stepping in it.”
The original Escapees proved to be a loyal bunch, ably backing Laurel Lee for five years before she left the West Coast behind and settled in Northeast Florida. The creative community in Jacksonville
welcomed her with open arms, and the generosity and support within the community made it easy for Laurel Lee to cherry-pick the new generation of Escapees.
“Jacksonville is a really large small town,” says Welch, “Fortunately, I walked into a very encouraging group of artists, even if they didn’t do that style of music.”
Laurel Lee quickly amassed a solid band with a little luck and extreme good fortune. Bass player John Mortensen was her husband’s old college buddy. She and singer Dolly Penland met at an open mic night and the pair became friends and collaborators. Drummer Don Beale, with three decades of
experience under his belt including a stint with local punk icon Stevie Stiletto and the Switchblades, answered her ad on Craigslist.:“I said I was looking for someone who could do a ‘Waylon Jennings-Telecaster thing.’ It was pretty specific. He said, ‘Yeah, I can do that.’” Violinist Phillip Pan, who has enjoyed a lengthy tenure with the Jacksonville Symphony Orchestra, regularly joins the band on stage where he gets a break from the structured compositions in classical music and get his fiddle on. “In a country group, there is a lot of jamming,” Welch explains, “Phillip had no extemporaneous experience. It was interesting to see what would happen.”
Laurel Lee and the Escapees recently opened for rockabilly queen Wanda Jackson at the Ponte Vedra Concert Hall. Her band “put their best professional foot forward,” always their goal unless they
are playing more laid-back venues like Shantytown that allow for a certain amount of experimentation.
The band has recorded two CDs in local studios – Eastward Pioneer and Showdown – featuring songs that were born of Laurel Lee’s own personal experiences. Over time, she said she began to sew more common threads into her phrasing to echo not just her own frustrations, but those that might appeal to the average audience participant. “I realized, as a musician, there is more topical
matter to choose from,” she says, “You can’t just play for catharsis. You have to get other people
Laurel Lee and the Escapees will perform on November 11 at the free Veteran’s Day Concert and Picnic event at Metropolitan Park and will close the day with a special performance at St. Cyprian’s
Church in St. Augustine. The band plans to record a third batch of songs after the first of the year. - EU Jacksonville, November, 2011

“I’m such an ego-maniac when it comes to performing,” says Laurel Lee, songstress and staple of Laurel Lee and the Escapees. She moved from Oregon to Jacksonville two and a half years ago for a dose of sunshine and to write her album Eastward Pioneer. She frequents low-key venues that showcase her lyrically structured songs. “I sing because it’s cathartic,” she confesses. “I sing because I have something to say and I want to let people know that they’re not alone.” In college she helped launch a radio station and at age 29, she taught herself to play guitar; she still sees herself as a work in progress. “I will never be done. I will never take a break.”
Now, Laurel Lee is going to grad school to get a degree in education in addition to her many musical gigs. She currently teaches social studies classes to UNF seniors. “I gave them my CD,” she says, “But I want them to be thinking about economics...It’s inspiring for them. It’s encouraging for both parties.”
Her first song on her album, “I Don’t Miss Missing You” is about a “push-pull” relationship she had for thirteen years. “I was so sick of it,” she says. “One day I was thinking about how I’ve been doing really well and a line came back to me:I don’t miss missing you.”

(,, full page article 11”x17”, printed in the June, 2008 Jacksonville edition. )
  - Skirt! Magazine

Local band opens for Wanda Jackson at the Ponte Vedra Concert Hall
Sarah A. Henderson, The Recorder
Jacksonville band Laurel Lee and the Escapees have come a long way since playing at First Coast bars and taverns.
The “indy country” band performed for 40 minutes in front of about 100 people Wednesday night at Ponte Vedra Concert Hall, opening for Rock and Roll Hall of Fame member Wanda Jackson.
“It’s like opening for Tony Bennett in my world,” said Laurel Lee, lead singer of the band.
Lee, a native of Oregon, said that in the 1990s she used to stand in for Jackson to help Jackson’s band warm up before the singer got into town.
Lee has performed as a musician for the last 12 years. She moved from Oregon to Jacksonville in 2006 to “get some sunshine and warmer weather,” she said. Her husband, from Washington DC, spent summers in Jacksonville, so they decided to move there.
While she lives and works as a substitute teacher in the St. Augustine area, she and her Jacksonville bandmates predominately perform in the River city.
The Escapees of the band all have strong musical backgrounds, she said.
Guitarist Don Bealle has played for numerous bands over the past three decades.
Bassist John Mortensen, who has played in a wide range of genres, was the first musician Lee—who previously had a West Coast group of Escapees—brought into her Florida band.
Cameron Wick, a graduate of Douglas Anderson School of the Arts, is a trained jazz drums musician.
Dolly Penland, who sings harmony, left her band Dollyweed to join the Escapees.
Scot Murray plays the pedal steel guitar, and Philip Pan plays the violin.
Laurel Lee and the Escapees have produced three albums—one by the first band in Oregon and two by the Florida group.
The first was recorded in 2005 titled “Why Don’t We Don’t Get Married”. The second was “Eastward Pioneer” recorded in 2007 in Orange Park. The latest album was recorded last year in Jacksonville titled “Showdown”.
Lee said she particularly enjoys playing “Sorrow” and “Holding You to Blame”.
“It’s a simple song, but it has its own little volcano behind it,” Lee said of “Holding You to Blame”.
Lee said the best thing about performing with the Escapees is simply being consumed by the experience.
“I get lost in it,” she said. “It’s like being in a play of real life.”
Next up for Laurel Lee and the Escapees on the First Coast is performing at SALUTE, the first-ever Veterans Day concert and picnic to take place at Metro Park following the annual Veterans Day parade in downtown Jacksonville. - The Recorder

Local songwriter Laurel Lee would rather tell you exactly what’s on her mind than beat around the bush with metaphors. Laurel Lee & the Escapees new album, “Eastward Pioneer” is full of the same sort of declarative statements that populated Lee’s 2005 debut, “Why Don’t We Don’t Get Married.” Lee pummels the listener with her ideas from the album opener to the final strum of her acoustic guitar. Noticeably absent from this album, however, are songs about heartache, a dominant theme in her first CD. Lee recently talked with Folio Weekly about chicken bombs and telling it like it is.
Folio Weekly: “Eastward Pioneer.” Is this title song about your move to Jacksonville from Oregon?
Laurel Lee: Yeah, the push and pull of needing to get away, and still really missing them terribly. You know, it’s awfully sad. I miss my sisters a lot.
FW: Is the line, “I don’t expect recycling yet, but the coffee’s pretty good” a poke at Jacksonville’s lack of greenness?
LL: (Laughs.) It is. You know, there are certain social things that I really took for granted in Oregon. I can see (Jacksonville’s) good intention toward recycling, but people largely don’t recycle. Everywhere that I've worked in the last two years has said, “We’re gonna start a recycling project.” But it never gets started.
Now that I’m here, I don’t expect them to have the same expectations I do. They should recycle. I recycle. I support recycling. I don’t necessarily expect that everybody’s gonna be recycling. By the coffee’s pretty good because I’m here in Springfield, and I small Maxwell House. It’s so great. I love that. It’s a great town smell. I mean, that and the paper mill, it’s pretty great.
FW: So you’ll be relocating again soon, in search of friendlier climes? Like Nashville?
LLW: I love playing in Jacksonville. I want y’all to know that. It’s always been a goal (to go to Nashville). I've never been to Nashville. (We drove) from Oregon… and I've never had a chance to visit the neighboring cities. Like, a day’s drive from you can get to so many places. Nashville, of course, is kind of the Mecca of country singers; I’ve always wanted to go.
FW: You have a song titled “Chicken Bomb.” In it, you describe the “milk and chicken bomb” as “the worst thing on the planet.” What’s the story behind that?
LL: The chicken bomb: You put raw chicken in a jar and put milk in it and seal it, and eventually, the bacteria will force the jar to explode. I don’t know the science, but it won’t explode for several months. So, at that point, it’s quite disgusting. And it won’t grow unless it’s in kind of a warm temperature. So, (it’s) been growing in a jar for months, (then) it smells really bad.
The chicken bomb makes people laugh and it makes me laugh, and I appreciate being part of the North Florida folklore. You know, that I get to take part in that is totally cool. And that one was just given to me, so how could I not write it?
When I first moved to Florida, I heard about the chicken bomb from one of our friends, and I was like, “Yeah, right, that sounds ridiculous.” It’s supposed to be a real thing, and I thought it (wasn't). I thought it was a joke to make fun of me for not being from here.
Wouldn't it be great if all wars were fought with something more organic, like chicken bombs instead of nuclear bombs? It would be hurtful, but it wouldn't probably hurt anyone.
FW: Yeah, but the whole world would smell like New Jersey then, wouldn't it?
LL: That’s right. We have to get a little more creative about our vengeance. - Folio Weekly

By Derek W. Hudson (Jacksonville, FL USA) Before big hair, bare midriffs, and the blast of stage pyrotechnics; Nashville was known to turn out music so pure with production so minimal that artist talent was heavily depended on in order to sell records. While Nashville and its children have gone the way of glitz, glamor, and electronic vocal enhancement; there are artists out there who remember how it's supposed to be done. Enter Laurel Lee and the Escapees with the solidly-grounded "Why Don't We Don't Get Married". Steeped in the traditions of 1920s - 1970s rural American music, the album evokes the feeling an old-school direct-to-disk recording and sets the curve for other Roots Country recordings. Laurel's lyrics are witty and well-sung while her instrumental backing from the Escapees is tight and sounds like skilled, old friends playing together on a mountain stage. Vocal harmonies on this album are provided by Bev Edge and Laurel's sisters Alisa and Elizabeth (who can resist a good, family harmony?). Try it, you'll like it. - Derek W. Hudson


Full Length:

Why Don't We Don't Get Married
Eastward Pioneer



Laurel Lee has your best Americana Honkytonk interests at heart. Handwritten and forged with sentimentality and sincerity, she has contributed to the Americana songbook with her years of dedication to the listeners.  She is known for her witty, wry, and touching lyrics that alternately expose the most precious secrets of one’s heart and hide those injuries behind a hardened Pioneer ethic.  She delivers these stories in a high lonesome or in unapologetic, strident, eyeball jab.

Laurel Lee and the band are currently recording her fourth original recording.

Live video of the full band: (Live “Why Don’t We Don’t Get Married”) (Live “Sorrow”) (Live “Rub It Out”)

Video for "Sorrow" 

Discography: Full length, all songs written by Laurel Lee

     Eastward Pioneer
     Why Don’t We Don’t Get Married

Laurel Lee and the Escapees have shared the stage and evenings with a wide variety of artists, including:

Wanda Jackson

Junior Brown

Emmylou Harris and Rodney Crowell

Mavis Staples

Southern Culture on the Skids

Daniel Romano

Sonia Leigh

This Frontier Needs Heroes

Ryan Bingham and the Dead Horses 

Unknown Hinson 

Gram Parsons Tribute and Guitar Pull, 2015, 2016

“On the Road” was featured on NPR’s popular program “Car Talk”, June 3, 2006, show #200622 

Our band:

Laurel Lee, songwriter, guitar, vocalist

Matt Daniels, guitar

R. Scott Murray, pedal steel guitar

John Dickie IV, multi-instrumentalist

Claude Coleman, drums



email me at

or call me at 828-216-7338

Band Members