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Brian Koch and Kara Harris are Dead Lee. Photos by Mathieu Lewis-Rolland
Brian Koch and Kara Harris are Dead Lee. Photos by Mathieu Lewis-Rolland

Dead Lee emerge from pandemic with new record, 'Ride Or Die', string of dates

By Phil Favorite// Cosmic-folk duo to open a sold-out show with Ashleigh Flynn & The Riveters at Alberta Street Pub in Portland, Thursday, May 20

When they first started writing and performing together, Kara Harris and Brian Koch of Dead Lee had a basic philosophy that served them well — keep it simple. That’s how they approached their live duo performances, and that’s how they recorded their eponymous 2018 debut EP.

Steadily building momentum and honing their craft, the cosmic folk duo positioned themselves for a breakout 2020 only to have a global pandemic interrupt their plans.

But as restrictions have begun to loosen and musical artists return to live performance, Dead Lee is back with a new record and ready to pick up where they left off more than a year ago. This week, the duo is celebrating the release of their second recording, Ride Or Die, with a string of shows including a sold-out performance opening for Ashleigh Flynn & The Riveters at Alberta Street Pub in Portland on Thursday, May 20.

The new record finds Dead Lee sticking to the formula that worked so well for its predecessor, but listeners can expect to hear a little more ear candy on Ride Or Die. The duo trade off on acoustic and electric guitars, adding some bass and kick drum to the recording as well as some colorful percussion parts. There’s even a little pedal steel guitar on the new record, and always the harmony singing that is their stock in trade.

We took a few more liberties than we did last time,” said Koch, who splits the lead singing duties with Harris. “The first one is very intimate, sort of a living room affair, very DIY. That was more a snapshot of where we were right when we started. It was really a useful for us. With that EP we were able to play all over the world.

“But (the new record) is pretty sparse. We still tried to keep it pretty simple.”

With Dead Lee, nothing feels forced. The duo displays an easy-going chemistry that became apparent to them soon after they started sharing songs.

“We bonded over a lot of the music that we liked,” Koch said. “Kind of the outlaw country genre, cosmic Americana and Americana in general. Then once we started showing songs to each other, we would sing together — the harmonies — and it was like, ‘Oh, wow, this is easy.’ ”

Working collaboratively, the duo works out arrangements together, though it’s easy to tell who a song’s writer is when you hear it.

“Any song that I am singing is a song that I wrote, and any song that Brian is singing is a song that he wrote,” Harris said.

“We use each other as a sounding board and there’s been some little bits of miracle collaboration, but usually we bring each other the songs that we’re writing and the other person helps round it out,” Koch said.

With a new record to promote, Dead Lee has set themselves up for a busy summer, hoping to quickly make up any ground lost from last year’s shutdown.

“We had a good handful of festivals lined up, so that was sort of heartbreaking to lose those,” Koch said. “But since then we’ve managed to re-book three for this summer.  . . . And then we have a lot of winery and brewery shows, which have sort of been our laboratory for how we got our sound by playing two- and three-hour shows without a lot of material.”

“I always say that we could teach a class in how to make a two-minute song a 20-minute song,” Harris joked.

Along with Thursday night’s performance at Alberta Street Pub, Dead Lee is playing tonight at Bargeway Pub in The Dalles and Sunday at Pudding River Wine Cellars in Salem.

Dead Lee plays their record-release show opening for Ashleigh Flynn & The Riveters on Thursday, May 20, at Alberta Street Pub. SOLD OUT. Play the first single, the title track from "Ride Or Die" via the group's Bandcamp page, and see a video of the full interview below.


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