"The day after Parkland happened, I was just like -- as I think we all were and continue to be -- overcome with what the kids were saying and what our history in the United States is and what I feel like some of our obligations to each other are, and I rewrote the whole song," Lee says. "I didn't tell Tony I did it, and I went in the next day and said, 'I think I rewrote the song.' So he ran the tape down and we did it, and...thank you to those kids for sharing their stories with us. Hopefully there's some constructive feeling about this tragedy.
"And that's the feeling for this whole record as well."
My New Moon, due out Aug. 31, is the most personal and deeply felt of Lee's seven studio albums. The follow-up to 2016's Spirit features musical contributions from Benmont Tench, Blake Mills, Greg Leisz and others, while the songs were inspired by other encounters with life and death -- including the passing of Lee's grandmother and a 2011 meeting in Massachusetts with parents of an 11-year-old cancer victim whose family listened to Lee's music during their final days together.
"It was this moment of like, 'Oh, there's actually lasting effects to what I do'," explains Lee, who keeps the youth's basketball card on his bookshelf at home. "For me there was sort of an abstract relationship between the songs and the audience. You do hear applause during shows, but you don't get a chance to really experience the way that people connect in a deeper way like that. Since then I've opened myself up to having more people around and hearing their stories and sharing mine, and I got this much deeper sense of commitment to the songs and to the live show and everything I do."
That of course puts a different kind of weight on the songs, and on Lee's ambitions and expectations for them. But he still considers My New Moon an affirmative experience.
"I don't want any massive downers -- that would not be the point of making this record," says Lee, who starts a summer tour on June 22 in St. Louis. "It can be a little weight at times; There are a few of the ballads, especially, that are some tough situations that came up in writing these songs. But it's not meant to be a bummer or take anyone's hope or spirit away. It's just really meant to be an offering of, hopefully, a place of connection for people. For me it all comes from that place of generosity that people bestowed up on me in telling me their stories. I'm just trying to give some of that back and express that I think there's a way I can try to keep some hope in my heart and also be open to feeling other people's pain in the midst of an experience that seems hopeless at times."