“Lone” Lee, “Carnal” Lee, but never “Sur” Lee, Tim Lee has made a career out of being “Love” Lee. From his storied collection of vintage erotica to composing music for HBO’s Real Sex to his curation of a Brooklyn nudie-art show, his mythology is steeped in women and the pursuit of a good time. Or maybe it’s a good time and the pursuit of women.
Since starting his career playing keyboards for Katrina & The Waves (yes, that one) to helping start the careers of Groove Armada and Tom Vek, he and his flagship label Tummy Touch have been around the block and back again. Christened for his raucous London parties of the same name, the label’s roster of artists virtually defines eclecticism and reflects Lee’s anything-goes DJ style. This Wednesday they celebrate their 15th anniversary at Hiro Ballroom, an event that should live up to the debaucherous 15th-anniversary party in London. We sat down with the man, the myth and the legendary grower of facial hair at Manhattan’s oldest barbershop, Paul Molé, to discuss his newest compilation Fully Bearded and both get shaves and haircuts. The interview is below—as are instructions on how to win tickets to tomorrow’s big birthday bash.
How has your facial hair corresponded to your music through the history of the label?
Well, I haven’t had a beard the whole time, but definitely most of it. I really like the idea of ‘putting a beard’ on something and making it a bit shabby and left of center. But now I’m trying to go for more of the “Successful Businessman” look until I make my first million, and then I’ll go back to the “Crazed Woodsman.”
What’s your favorite style of facial hair?
The Gunterwash is always something that’s appealed to me, even though I don’t know what it looks like. As in “Make mine a Gunterwash!”
There’s totally this whole crazy world of competitive facial hair growing out there.
I’m actually a member of Team USA in the Beard Club! I was gonna compete in the World Championships a few years ago but ended up shaving my beard. They let me on even though technically I’m not American.
Is that like the Olympics? Do you have to go back to the trials or are you still vetted?
I’d have to do a lot of beard growing, but I think I could definitely get back in. It’s pretty casual.
How does it feel to have made it to 15?
It’s quite remarkable that we made it this far. It feels quite surreal, but yeah, super happy and super excited.
If you could go back in time 15 years and teach yourself something, what would it be?
Ohhhhhhhh, we definitely made a lot of mistakes but you can’t say, “Don’t make those mistakes,” so I wouldn’t change anything. But we’ve turned down a few bands like The Rapture, M83, LCD Soundsystem. With the American bands, it was just that we had never worked with bands outside of London so it seemed far too exotic to be dealing with a band from New York. We were a small label and always thought, “Oh, we can’t take that on,” but in retrospect, perhaps we should have taken a bit of a risk.
But it never seemed like you took it that seriously. Not that it was a lark, but—
No, it was definitely a lark! But we do a lot of other things now than just putting out people’s records, like music publishing, artist and catalog management, which is lucky. But there’s definitely still lots of cool stuff out there, although maybe not as boisterous, drunk and fun as we were.
Speaking of, how did this image of you as this drunken, ne’er-do-well party conductor emerge? I always think of the cover of the It’s All Good mix CD with you in a field with a glass of champagne and a lady—
Looking like a poorly paid Polish English professor? (Laughs) Well, I always dug that 70s imagery of the playboy, but there was this popular series of books and movies in the UK called “Confessions of…” a window cleaner or a pop star or whatever and they were these amusing, smutty, Benny Hill-type things and the protagonist was actually named Timmy Lee. So I called my first album Confessions of a Selector and built the image a bit around that. But it was kind of the way I was acting anyway.
Tell me about your East Village Radio show, Two For Tennis.
Me and my buddy The Coach have been doing that show now for eight years. We call it Mostly Drunken Meanderings, but unfortunately they moved our slot to the drive time four to six p.m. shift so its not so easy to turn up drunk. It used to be that we could hit the Happy Hours right before the show, but 4-6 we definitely start off sober but we manage to have a few throughout. But its really just a great opportunity to play whatever we like, both new and old.
You must have a pretty impressive collection of erotica, as it’s mentioned in your press release.
[Laughs] Right now it’s actually all in a box, securely sealed at my mum’s house. I’ve got it all set up so my nephew won’t find it. But now that I’m a bachelor again, I guess I’m back at it.
Still at it, I’d say.
The Tummy Touch 15-Year Birthday Party happens on Wednesday at Hiro Ballroom. For a free pair of tickets, answer the following question from Tim himself: “‘Allo! What was our first release on Tummy Touch Records? (There’s a hint on our SoundCloud page.)” Put your answer in the comments, and we’ll select someone with the correct answer randomly. Please make sure you have an email address associated with the commenting account you use—if we can’t contact you, you can’t win!