Jeanice Lee is an Edinburgh based vocalist and guitarist who fronts the four piece band – Jeanice Lee. Here she fills us in on her musical background and the origins of the band, as well as her upbringing in Hong Kong and witnessing first hand the recent atrocities committed against democracy protesters by the Chinese police.
How long have you been performing? What are your first musical memories? And what was the light-bulb moment that made you go “I want to do that”?
It was just short of 3 years when I had my first public performance! I did an acoustic set of my own songs when I could hardly play the guitar. My now lead guitarist accompanied me back then and filled in for me. And we have been performing ever since, going from open mics to headlining our own gigs!
I actually started learning the piano when I was 10 but gave it up when I was 15. I have always had a love-hate relationship with it. I think it was the wrong instrument for me because I am more a guitar kind of woman! In my culture back then, girls are supposed to play piano and boys play guitar. I also remember re-writing lyrics for existing songs when I was 13 and I guess I knew back then I could write lyrics.
Singing is my first love and I guess I have always known I should sing, but somehow cultural factors and life circumstances meant that I left it very late in life to start pursuing my dream. I didn’t seriously start singing and song-writing till about 4 years ago. But hey, everyone says it is never too late, right!?
Exactly! It’s never too late! Now, who do you have in the band with you?
First up I have Marco Morelli, my lead guitarist and right-hand man. He first started accompanying at open mics to enable me to sing my own songs due to the fact that I have only started learning the guitar. We then started arranging songs together and it soon became apparent that we needed a full band to fulfil the potential of the songs. We recruited Leen Hodge in January 2018 as our bass player who was in a prog metal band and he keeps talking about how he plays very simple stuff in this band (which is not the case but then we are not prog!). It took a while to find the right drummer and eventually Graeme Hamilton joined us in July 2018. He got completely thrown into the deep end and played his first gig with us at the Ross Bandstand at Princes Street Gardens! Nowadays, Marco and I write most songs together. I am very lucky to have these guys in the band who are very committed, and we have all become very good friends. I kept thinking it may be better to have a band name but they don’t seem to think so, so the band is still under my name!
How did you feel performing your first gig? And how was it?!
My first gig was very scary partly because I could hardly play the guitar. But mostly, playing my own songs to the public for the first time was like putting my heart on a plate and serving it up to people who were ready to carve it up with blunt knives right in front of me. A bit melodramatic I know lol!
Nothing wrong with some melodrama! What should people expect when they check they you out? How would you describe yourself musically?
First of all, I think people can expect a voice they might not have heard before. Somehow people who haven’t heard me sing before don’t tend to expect the voice that comes out of my mouth! Musically, I think most people are unable to put their finger on what we are or who we sound like. This can be both a good and a bad thing of course. Some people love the fact that we are different and not like anything they have heard before. But then, if we cannot describe what or who we sound like, some people just won’t take a chance.
I’d say our music lies somewhere between melodic rock and heavy rock with a vocal-driven and guitar-fuelled modern sound. Our songs are an amalgamation of powerful melodies and poetic lyrics with dark undertones. My lyrics are not only about my own life experience but also social and world issues that matter to me. Our live set is heavier than what you hear on the album, mainly because we were very new and inexperienced as a band when we recorded our debut album and we are heading towards a heavier sound generally.
Your last single ‘Our City’ deals with the recent atrocities perpetrated by the Chinese police on democracy protesters in Honk Kong, something that you witnessed first hand. Most of us will never witness something like that, looking back on it now, can you believe that oppression like that still happens in supposedly “modern” times? The lines “You can point your guns at us and make us disperse in tears, you can incite fear but you won’t make us kneel at your feet” are especially poignant.
I knew when I was 15 that the Chinese government don’t care about their people. We are not even numbers, and they haven’t proven me wrong since. I do worry about the future for my family and fellow Hong Kongers. In many ways, writing and recording ‘Our City’ really helped me cope with the worst of the situation. I remember not being able to sing the song without bursting into tears, but like most things, it becomes the “new normal” and it hurts a little bit less, but wrongdoing and injustice of any kind should never be accepted as normal. I am currently writing a sequel to ‘Our City’ which will appear in our next album.
Much of the media coverage seems to have moved on from reporting on the clashes, that must be frustrating to see?
Well, we have moved from one crisis to another! Now the coronavirus is dominating all the headlines. There are a lot of conspiracy theories going around about how the virus had started in the first place, and of course the topic has stirred up a huge amount of racism and bigotry which is horrible to see.
Sadly that seems to be the norm these days. What other current day issues do you feel particularly strong about?
I care about many social issues, like racism, inequalities, homelessness and animal rights to name a few. I also particularly care about our planet and the environment and how human beings have been abusing it. Our latest video from our Live Studio Session is a song called “Freefall” from our debut album, and this song is totally about that. The other video which we will release in a couple of weeks is called “World of Fallacy”, also from the debut album. It is about challenging ourselves to see beyond societal norms, questioning why and how we are conditioned to behave in a certain way, and seeking to make more informed choices.
The new music scene is bursting at the seams with fresh talent, in what ways do you feel that you stand out from the others trying to build a name?
Everyone is trying their best to get somewhere, so all we can do is try our best and do what we can within the time and resources that we have. Apart from the few that make it, most musicians who do original music need to work in a paid job in order to make and play music. We don’t have youth behind us, so we need to work hard fast!
We are not making music for the masses by any stretch of the imagination, but I do hope that the quality of the songs speaks for itself. I would like to think that our music is a bit different and alternative, and people who discover it would really like it or even love it. The challenge is how to get the music to a wider audience on a low budget! I personally prefer to get the best audio possible because listening is the first and foremost experience of music. But of course nowadays, you don’t get noticed without high-quality videos, professional photos, website, presence on social media etc etc!
What are you working on at the minute that people can check out?
The two videos from our Live Studio Session is kind of a wrap for our debut album “Beyond Never”. The first one “Freefall” has just gone live on YouTube and the second one “World of Fallacy” will follow in a couple of weeks. We put all our money into making the album and didn’t have any budget for any videos, so we thought it would be good to do that before we move onto our next album. Watch the videos on our YouTube channel and while you are there, please subscribe!
“Our City” which came out in September 2019 is still our latest single. We did a DIY lyric video featuring some amazing photos from Studio Incendo, which is available on YouTube also. Watch out for our next single which is called “My Heart Is Complicated”. We are planning a DIY video for it to accompany its release, hopefully in the summer. Wish us luck!
Good luck! What band out there at the minute do you feel that you would be best suited to open for?
Definitely the Evanescence and Within Temptation joint tour! Amy Lee is my singing idol and I am very humbled when some people tell us I remind them of her, hopefully not just because of the name! One of the reviewers also said our latest single “Our City” gives symphonic metal vibes like Within Temptation. We just don’t do piano or keyboard though, we are all guitars!
Who do you feel is the next UK band to break out in the way that Massive Wagons recently have?
Hollowstar is doing fantastically. We saw them at Wildfire Festival last year where we also played. They were superb on stage and are very nice guys too! The other band to watch out for is Marisa and the Moths. They are really gathering momentum and getting lots of attention since they released their debut album. They do have Sophie Lloyd on guitar! We are super excited to be supporting them on the Edinburgh gig of their album release tour on 19th April!
What was the last gig that you attended as a fan?
Alice Cooper in Aberdeen! I managed to get a ticket on the second row and was allowed to stand right up front and even caught a pick from Nita Strauss, the guitar goddess herself!
The album that you have in your album collection/spotify playlist that would surprise most people?
When I first started listening to music, I still lived in Hong Kong. I didn’t like Cantonpop and because of my love for languages, I went for “Western”, English songs. There was not too much available back then and pocket money was never enough for all the records I wanted to buy! But I did manage to discover an English rock band called “All About Eve” when I was 15. I adore their first two albums and the vivid imageries they painted with their lyrics. I think there is definitely some influence from them in the styling of my lyrics of certain songs!
What are your plans for 2020?
We are currently busy writing and arranging new songs for our next album which we hope to release in the latter half of the year and will hopefully arrange a tour to support its release. In the meantime, we will gig whenever we have the opportunity to…we just love playing live! But it is not easy getting ready for recording while gigging a lot, so I anticipate less gigging this year.
We are super excited for our next gig for Musicians Against Homelessness which we are headlining! It takes place on Saturday 7th March at the Banshee Labyrinth. And we are really looking forward to supporting Marisa and The Moths at Bannermans on Sunday 19th April.
Connect with Jeanice here.
Header photo and artwork by Demi Nikolova
‘Our City’ pic – Giuseppe di Biasi at G9 Studio