Nelson musician Jesse Lee recently crash-landed back in the Kootenays after an exhausting tour down the west coast with spoken word artist Shane Koyczan—his new album Debris comes out on September 23—but it’s unlikely Lee will be getting much time to rest now that he’s home.
The multi-talented musician, named artist of the year at the Kootenay Music Awards earlier this year, has no fewer than 9 creative projects on the go and a variety of recurring gigs at venues around town.
And that’s exactly how he likes it.
“I don’t want to saturate this small market by being similar every time I perform,” Lee told the Star. “Having all these different acts allows me to play more without people getting tired of it.”
That means on top of playing classical guitar and jazz at the Hume Hotel’s Library Lounge, Lee’s also a member of the bands Brian Rosen & the Whatnow, the Handsome Liars and Dirt Floor.
Lee (second from left) with Brian Rosen & the WhatNow.
Then there’s his own band, Lint, and his DJ incarnation Rafferty Funksmith. On top of that he plays as a member of Nelson cultural ambassador Bessie Wapp’s quartet and routinely shares the stage with Clinton Swanson.
And though most musicians would be hard-pressed to stay on top of so many projects, Lee said it’s what keeps things fresh.
“Being a DJ, I basically have to play all the roles of the different instruments in the band. I’m responsible for all the music, unlike when I play classical guitar or as a bass player, when I’m responsible for a specific part of the entire sound. Being a DJ helped me to grasp that difference, explore that.”
But the end result is the same: “My sets have been known to cause dancing,” Lee said, with a laugh.
Lee (second from left) with Shane Koyczan and the Short Story Long.
Being onstage with Koyczan is unique, Lee said, because of the raw subject matter being shared and the commanding power of the poet’s presence. Lee plays with Maiya Robbie, Glenna Garramone and Jordie Robinson as the Short Story Long, a collaboration that’s been going on since 2006 and resulted in the viral video “To This Day”, which racked up over 16 million views on YouTube.
“There’s a click, creatively,” Lee said. “The band comes up with the music and Shane definitely steers it, but he’s not a musician. So sometimes we’ll write to a piece he’s already come up with, and sometimes one of us will come up with some music and he’ll write to it.”
During their tour, Lee was thrilled by his time onstage.
“Shane’s live shows are amazing. He’s a very powerful performer so he’s able to reach audiences really deeply. He’ll go deep, and he’ll go dark, then he lifts you back out of it. He’s got a really deft hand with that stuff. He takes audiences exactly where he wants them to go.”
“Playing live with him is satisfying because the shows are so well-received. Shane gets a response from people in a totally different way.”
The new album, Debris, is about brokenness.
“There’s one of Shane’s lines, ‘if your heart is broken make art with the pieces’—I love that. So there’s a lot of metaphors in there about broken pieces of stuff, junk, debris, and it’s about finding value in what might otherwise be seen as junk.”
Now that the project’s completed—they originally recorded it last summer—Lee is preparing for a multitude of local performances. And that’s something he doesn’t take for granted.
“I feel tons of gratitude that I’m able to play this much in Nelson. This is such a supportive community.”