ARTS & ENTERTAINMENT
Sook-Yin on music & media
By Brian Wong
Gazette file photo
FROM VJ TO STAR. Sook-Yin Lee has moved on from the
role of Muchmusic VJ to the more glamourous world of rock stardom.
The idea of interviewing Sook-Yin Lee sounds intimidating. After all, Lee — best
known for her role as the wacky and edgy Muchmusic VJ in the latter half of
the ’90s, and current host of CBC Radio’s pop-culture program Definitely
Not the Opera — is the ultimate interviewer. In the past, she’s
spoken with the likes of Allen Ginsberg, Patti Smith and Madonna.
But now in the position of interviewee, would Lee be critical of my amateur
university newspaper interviewing skills? I hope my questions are structured
properly. I hope we don’t jump back and forth between topics.
Thankfully, Lee’s ability to voice her thoughts in lengthy and articulate
passages makes the conversation run smoothly. Perhaps being both a media
personality and musician herself has given her a better understanding of the
relationship between journalist and artist, and she is sympathetic to the interview
situation we currently find ourselves in.
Lee is also feeling quite chatty and is undoubtedly passionate about art,
communication and her continuing navigation within both of those fields.
Lee’s latest project, Slan, is a collaboration with a duo who go by the
moniker The Black Europeans: Rumble, the first Canadian urban act to sign a
British deal in the early ’90s, and Maximum, who did production work
on the Dream Warriors’ classic And Now The Legacy Begins, called up Lee
when she was still working at Much. She knew who they were, but hadn’t
spoken to them before.
“I was like, ‘Who are these guys?’ And the audacity of phoning
me at work... and [I said], ‘OK, sure!’” Lee recalls. “It
was pretty cool. I like it when people directly call me and are interested in
working with me.”
After inviting the boys to one of her experimental music shows, Lee heard
what they were working on and didn’t want to pass up the chance to sing their
“Normally, I don’t sing other people’s material, but then I
heard the songs and I heard the lyricism,” she explains, praising Rumble’s
soulful songwriting talent. “It was just sort of a gift for me to work
with those boys and stretch my musicality in a different way that I wouldn’t
have normally done myself.”
With Lee on board, the trio worked to create Electric Blues (out on Montreal
label Last Gang Records). The record is an eclectic clashing of trip-hop,
jazz, pop, rock, soul and everything in between, but given Lee’s penchant
for the unconventional, it is also quite accessible.
“Rumble and Maximum put a high emphasis on writing a cohesive pop song,” Lee
says. “But within the world of that structure, there’s also these
bizarre sublevels of storytelling and psychedelic sounds.”
For Lee, the clashing of several styles of music is a positive thing. Other
culture critics might decry the re-emergence and regurgitation of past
forms, but Lee is fairly optimistic about the creation of new music.
“I guess this is an inevitable mutation of things,” she contemplates. “We
have a wealth of music to be able to draw upon, recycle and put into different
shapes and forms. But I don’t think we’ve completely exhausted it
yet. There will always be different permutations and unique variations of things.”
Referencing other pieces of work might also occur subconsciously, Lee suggests,
after remarking that she can hear French singer-songwriter Serge Gainsbourg
in some of the Slan songs.
“I told Rumble and he had never heard of Gainsbourg. So almost in a weird
way, we’re intuitively accessing these things, sometimes unbeknownst to
Sook-Yin talks about the art of communication in Part II of this interview,