Taking his talent on the road — Jesse Lee

Jesse Lee has toured North America with Shane Koyzen
Jesse Lee has toured North America with Shane Koyzen's band Short Story Long. He's also part of several local bands and is a Kootenay Music Award-winning DJ under the name Rafferty Funksmith.
— image credit: Rod Wilson photo

A local bass player is part of award winning spoken word performer Shane Koyczan’s band Short Story Long.

Jesse Lee auditioned for the Short Story Long two years ago securing a great gig with an artist on the verge of fame. Penticton native, Koyczan took to the world stage when he performed at the Vancouver Olympic opening ceremony in 2010.

But the world really took notice last February when Koyczan released an animated video “To This Day,” a spoken word poem about bullying — something the artist is personally familiar with. It went viral after its release with the video receiving over 11.8 million YouTube views as of the year’s end.

Today, Koyczan’s theatre shows sell out, which gives Lee a chance to experience a larger audience on a different stage.

“People are buying tickets to see the show, not showing up to the bar and we happen to be playing,” says Lee.

This fall, Lee accompanied Koyczan down to San Diego for a Tedx youth conference with the theme being “no limits.”

“It was a whirlwind,” he says. “It was very inspiring to be part of.”

Being tucked away in the West Kootenay mountains hasn’t been limiting for Lee.

His roots here go deep — his grandma, who put a violin in his seven-year-old hands, grew up in Nelson — which is what keeps him here while musical opportunities take him further and further from the new home he and his family have just moved into.

Abandoning the violin for guitar, Lee plays anything with strings. But ironically, he didn’t start playing the bass guitar until after he professed proficiency. About five years ago, he overheard Brian Rosen in Oso Negro saying all he needed was a bass player and approached his now friend claiming to be his guy.

“I wasn’t actually a bass player what so ever. I don’t know what possessed me to do that but ... I learned to play bass in that band,” he says.

In addition to his work with Shane Koyczan, Lee plays with Brian Rosen and the Whatnow, Clinton Swanson and Friends, in a duo with Ty West and has his own projects — the band Lint, which he’d like to dedicate more time to, and DJing under the name Rafferty Funksmith.

Though he says variety makes for a well-rounded musician, “It gives me more opportunities to play music,” he says, funk seems to be the genre of choice.

“I like helping people dance, providing a venue for them to dance,” says Lee. “Dancing is way you can move people and what Shane’s doing is another way you can move people. I like being a part of anything that gets across to a bunch of people.”

Koyczan is well known for his emotional performances.

“That’s part of his magic. He does really tap into it. He’ll often finish a piece and turn around and wipe tears from his face,” says Lee. “The music we’re playing is pretty simple. The challenge for us is not the music itself it’s the method of keeping right with him – with the emotion he’s trying to put across and the timing, knowing what’s coming up, what he’s about to do and getting ready for that.”

Koyczan and Short Story Long plan to record this spring should time permit. The spoken word poet is currently writing an opera based on his novel about bullying called Stickboy. The artist has been an inspiration to the local musician.

“He’s a pretty special person and I feel super fortunate to be working with him,” says Lee.

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