ENCINITAS — Musician Lee Coulter is a lesson in contrasts. On one hand, he plays upbeat, toe-tapping acoustic-guitar rock. On the other hand, the lyrics on his new album “Mr. Positivity” reveal an introspective singer-songwriter who’s occasionally plagued by self-doubt.“The new album is a struggle between my rational and creative brain,” said Coulter, 31, who lives with his wife and toddler son in Encinitas. “Being a musician, it’s sometimes hard being a realist and optimist at the same time.”
Concertgoers can expect a lively and emotional performance when Coulter performs songs from “Mr. Positivity” at the album’s release party at The Belly Up at 8 p.m.
Originally from Logan City, Australia, Coulter started writing songs in his mid-teens. He found some success, but his dream of being a musician was at odds with a rough economy. Coulter and his family were forced to move from their apartment last year, causing him to question his path. But not for long. Several songs from his self-titled debut album began receiving heavy airplay from local and national radio stations — most notably, Sirius XM’s The Coffee House. The popular channel named Coulter its sing-songwriter discovery of 2011.
With momentum on his side, Coulter hit the studio to self-record and self-produce “Mr. Positivity.” Compared to his first album, Coulter says the songs are “rawer.” He did less vocal takes and stripped back the instrumentation.
“I wanted there to be more emotion in the songs by capturing how I felt at that moment,” Coulter said. “Often songs will lose that emotional quality if you overthink them too much.”
He also wrote more personal lyrics. The song “Go” tells the tale of how Coulter’s grandmother and grandfather met during World War II. As the song alludes to, Coulter’s grandfather was a prisoner of war in Thailand; his grandmother, a local villager, snuck his grandfather food.
“He promised her that he would marry her when he got out alive, and he did,” Coulter said.
Some lyrics document Coulter’s struggle to stay positive in the face of negative thoughts — hence the somewhat ironic title “Mr. Positivity.” Inspired by a “nostalgic sadness.” Coulter’s new songs were largely influenced by artists like Paul Simon and Natalie Merchant.
More intimate lyrics don’t necessarily mean less hook-filled songs. Many of Coulter’s arrangements are less bouncy and energetic than his debut. But his penchant for fun, catchy tracks remains. Handclaps punctuate whistling, piano, chiming guitar and a sing-along chorus on “The Rendezvous,” for example. For Coulter, melody still comes first and foremost.
“With the music I want to create a platform that sets a mood for the lyrics and the message to really reach people in a way that matters,” Coulter said.
Some might peg Coulter solely as a serious, contemplative songwriter. But he also has a funny, self-deprecating side.
His alter-ego records auto-tuned rap songs that parody the rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle under the group Square Pegs Baby.
“We act absurd to point out the absurdity of the music business,” Coulter said with a laugh.
Silly, somber, upbeat, laidback — Coulter could be described as a lot of things. But more than anything, he wants optimism to shine through.
“I’m not really a kumbaya guy,” Coulter said. “Still, at the heart of what I’m doing, I’m trying to connect people with the idea of love and positivity.”
“Mr. Positivity” will be available on iTunes March 27. A physical copy of the album will be available at The Belly Up show.
Visit leecoulter.com for more information.