April 1, 2020
When we started this series it was for live shows, but obviously these are different times. Fortunately, there's some great streaming shows, including local ones, to bring some music into your life. Leah Jee grew up in California before moving to Milwaukee, where she honed her skills as a badass rock n' roller. She's currently working on her third album, Midwest Love Affair. Cream City Hostel caught up with her to talk about her music career and her weekly streaming show every Sunday at 5pm, which has been a hit with her quarantined fans. You can tune in here: https://www.facebook.com/leahjee/
My family knew from a very early age that I loved music. My mom said they heard me singing along to the radio in the backseat of the old family Honda Accord before I spoke, and there are pics of me playing guitar with a tennis racquet singing into my great grandmother’s cane as a mic in preschool. I wanted to play drums as a kid, but I wasn’t allowed. So when I was in first grade and my dad took me to our local neighborhood music store (Styles Music in Claremont, CA) to get a violin and I came home with a trumpet, I’m pretty sure they knew they were in for it.
I’ve always loved music. At family get togethers there were always guitars, banjos, piano, and singalongs. My cousins, local radio stations KROQ and 91X, and hometown of Claremont were super influential in loving rock and punk music. When I was starting middle school, I started playing guitar, and I’ve never stopped. Claremont was an amazing little haven. We had two great music shops and a Rhino Records that hosted live in-store shows from some amazing bands (regionally touring or just downright famous like MxPx and Millencolin). Watching live music, mastering rhythm guitar, and writing my own tunes became a huge part of my life. Growing up in So Cal, I was able to immerse myself in the music world by going to live shows at places like The Roxy, Troubadour, Whisky, and having friends that were in bands that played shows with groups like Incubus and Hoobustank (before the name change).
I knew I wanted to write my own original music, and playing guitar was my way of being able to put the lyrics and melody together to make those songs come to life.
Tell us about your life as a musician so far, like your albums and favorite shows?
Currently, I have two released albums and one that is completed but hasn’t been released yet. All The Things I Forgot To Mention is my first. The album art is Milwaukee-themed. The Rest Is Ours is my second. It really is a badass rock record – it matches the fauxhawk and Joan Jett look I have in the album art. Very rock-punk-alternative-inspired tunes including my version of Paula Abdul’s "Straight Up" as a punk song. One of my favorite things about live shows is playing "Straight Up" and having the entire crowd sing the “Whooaa Ohh Ohh”s in the chorus of that song. The album that has yet to be entirely released is Midwest Love Affair. After The Rest Is Ours was released, I immediately hit the studio again to record a followup acoustic full-length album. There are some amazing songs that have been fan favorites that don’t get that much attention at live shows and there were some great new songs that I was writing and performing because I had been so inspired by the response to The Rest Is Ours and some events in my personal life at the time. We’ve been debating adding a few other songs, but as soon as we make that decision, find the cover art, and raise the funds, Midwest Love Affair will be put out. It’s an amazing album, and I’m really proud of it.
Writing songs that resonate with people and make them feel has always been my goal.
Favorite show? Man that’s a tough one because I’ve played all over the country, done the huge Wisconsin festival things like Summerfest, Pridefest, Harley’s 105th Celebration, State Fair, colleges/universities, SXSW shows, toured states in my car, done more house concerts and Skype/livestream shows than I can count… but that said… each one has left a mark and made me a better musician and person.
One of my favorite Milwaukee show moments: I was back in town for a visit and playing an acoustic show at the late and great BBC. I had a special request of playing "Use Somebody" by Kings of Leon. I was doing my version of it. The place was absolutely packed. A choir of about a dozen people had stopped in to check out the show, and they were in the back by the bar. I didn’t know they were there (remember how those lights on stage were completely blinding?!). But when I got to the chorus, the whole room filled with their harmonies as they sang along with me. It wasn’t planned at all, but the sound in that place in that moment was glorious. That feeling was one I’ll never forget, and looking around after we were done and seeing people wipe away tears (and being told by the audience that had them crying because it was so beautiful) is something I will absolutely never forget and treasure forever.
What have you been doing the quarantine? Tell us about your Sunday Sessions show.
We were super bummed about shows getting canceled but were super supportive from the beginning that we needed to keep the health and safety of our fans as our top priority. So as things unfolded and safer-at-home ordinances were put in place, I knew that I wanted to give back and do a livestream show, bring some levity and laughter into everyone’s lives in a very trying time. I asked my fans if they would be interested in a show, and the response an overwhelming yes. And tada - The Sunday Sessions series of livestream shows on Facebook was born! And after the first one was done, we all couldn’t wait to do the next one. I’ll be rocking The Sunday Sessions livestream shows every Sunday at 5pm on Facebook through this quarantine.
I’ve heard that it’s becoming part of fan weekly routines – put me on in the background and cook dinner, have a few drinks and sing along, shake their shaker and have a kitchen dance party. These are all acceptable things to do when watching a Leah Jee livestream. And it’s kid friendly too! A lot of our fans have kids so these livestream shows can be a family event! If you’ve ever been to one of our shows live, you know how much we love crowd participation so I try to make the livestreams just as interactive. I love that I can read comments of people watching and everyone feels a part of the show. It’s really fostering a sense of community, and it feels like we’ve been hanging out together for an hour and a half or so each week. I’m extremely grateful for everyone that is tuning in to watch/listen.
The Sunday Sessions are giving me the opportunity to play songs I don’t get to play often, rework covers I’ve always wanted to do, and challenge myself with requests that the fans ask for each week. It’s keeping me on my toes. And it’s inspiring to know that people are looking forward to Sundays and what I will be playing each week.
Best/ worst thing about being quarantined?
I really love seeing how people are adapting in positive ways to support each other and take care of one another. I love seeing how businesses are adapting with changing their policies, offerings, curbside/delivery, etc to stay open, take care of their employees, and be what the community needs. This is really uncharted territory for everyone, and it’s all on us to make sure that we take care of each other. It’s starts with staying home, acting as if you have are already infected and live like you don’t want anyone else to get it. We’re trying to support local spots by getting takeout, buying groceries from our local Sendik’s, etc. I think we all need to have a deeper respect and gratitude for all those out there that are making sure our everyday lives continue – first responders, health care, retail, trucker drivers, everyone essential who is risking their health and spending time away from their loved ones to make sure the world still goes on. Words cannot express how much we love and appreciate you.
My wife is in the category deemed “essential” so making sure our house is a place she can come home to and feel it’s a safe and clean place is extremely important. We make sure we sanitize everything, constantly cleaning, washing every piece of produce, wiping down every item that enters the house, sanitizing the mail. It can become arduous, especially when washing the tenth clementine in the bag or wiping off the box of cereal, but it’s important to try to keep us as safe as possible for everyone’s sake.
These safer at home conditions have made me really reflect on life - like what do we spend our money on and where do we spend it, how do we fill our time, what do we need to be happy…. All those kind of questions. It’s never a bad thing to have some time (even if it’s imposed by the government) to reflect on your life and do a self-audit.