Janice Jo Lee
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Janice Jo Lee

Kitchener, Ontario, Canada | Established. Jan 01, 2010 | SELF

Kitchener, Ontario, Canada | SELF
Established on Jan, 2010
Solo Folk Spoken Word




"Album review: Janice Lee and the Free Radicals - Drown the Earth"

Gregory O’Brien

Drown the Earth
Janice Lee & the Free Radicals

Janice Lee, when not too busy reimagining communities through art, speaking truth to power, or just plain indulging in the poetic joys of spoken word, is able to enchant with a soulful musical touch.

Together with fellow musicians AFL, Brockenshire, Daniel MacPherson, Rachel Avery, and Kathryn Wetlauffer – the ensemble known as Janice Lee and the Free Radicals – Lee has released their first album, Drown the Earth, which bellows and swings across blues, folk, and indie terrains with a social conscience that has something meaningful to say.

Drown the Earth begins on the bittersweet resound of Lee in “I Lost My Darlin (They Gone Take Him to Jail),” which arrests the ear with its stark vocal power before galloping forth into a fleshed out groove.

The album as a whole follows similar structures, where Lee’s voice is given the space to set the
melodious vision at each song’s beginning as the rest of the instrumentation catches up, develops the sound, and carries the tempo forward.

And yet, there is enough thematic depth on offer to appeal to variety of sensibilities.

“Take a Walk with Me” is a sweetly paced lullaby that showcases Lee’s strengths in a true to form singer/songwriter style. “White Collar Blues” thumps with groove and political fire as it mockingly disarms the hypocrisies of modern philistines. “Struggle” presents a blues sensibility with a gospel finish as the track meanders high and low with melancholic pathos. And on “Will you Go,” the group crafts a striking ballad that positions Lee’s siren-esque voice in the center of a whirling sea of sound and shows the Free Radicals at their most moving and emphatic heights. - The Cord Community

"Janice Lee 'slamming' her way coast to coast"

Feb 6, 2014

By Coral Andrews

Folk artist Janice Lee says the first time she heard Lauryn Hill's stirring interpretation of Joyful Joyful in the film comedy Sister Act 2 it stopped her world.

"I rewound that VHS tape and learned that song note for note including all the runs that Hill did." admits Lee. "Because I found that the emotion in blues and gospel music really spoke to me so I wanted to sing like that." notes the singer, adding that her Korean childhood included listening to a lot of her parents' eclectic music playlists from the Beatles, and Mariah Carey to mainstream Korean pop.

It's no surprise then that Lee's debut album Drown the Earth (produced by Lee and Dave Houde from The Sound Distillery) with her band The Free Radicals (Justin James, Adam Lewis, Brockenshire Lemiski, and Daniel MacPherson) was created against a soul/blues/gospel tableaux.

Rather than "singer" Lee identifies herself as a folk artist and storyteller — an artist of the people talking about social justice and relevant community issues connecting to audiences through emotion whether it's through poetry, story or song. She adds that a song is easier to listen to "than someone yelling at you on a street corner."

Lee's CD is a savvy mix of love songs (Take a Walk with Me, Will You Go?) plus social commentary including How Do We Fall, White Collar Blues (an ode to Lee's old corporate hamster wheel) and I Lost My Darlin', about Toronto's G20 riots.

Directed by Cambridge documentary film maker Michael Sizer and shot around familiar downtown Kitchener haunts, this wry police state comment features Lee and drummer Adam Lewis (who actually went to jail during the riots) dressed as cops spying on social justice organizers.

Lee says title track Drown the Earth was written in a "moment of helplessness" during a summer drought, followed by severe flooding. She's convinced these were not isolated extreme weather incidents, but climate change. And denial's really a "head in the sand attitude."

In perfect sync with her music, Lee's also artistic director of the KW Poetry Slam, and said that slam poetry is any poetry performed in a "slam" or spoken word performance.

"It has dual things." she said. "One thing is the content — the words themselves and then the second part that makes it "slam" is the performance." she affirms adding "slam" in the competition world means a three minute time limit.

She credits Waterloo Region's arts and culture maven Isabel Cisterna for her first spoken word gigs plus the garnering of three different arts grants which give her the "freedom" to perform.

Lee's music, infectious stage presence, and slam poetry prowess make her a favorite at many local and regional literary festivals like Word on the Street, Latitudes, and Tri Pride, plus The Hamilton Fringe, and Canadian Festival of Spoken Word.

On Feb 9, Lee and The Free Radicals bring their mighty multi-meld of blues, jazz, folk and satiric slam beats to The Jazz Room with special guest Charlena Russell, for a evening featuring two powerhouse female vocalists.

After that, Lee will be "slamming" her way coast to coast performing at festival events and hosting social activism workshops. From The Vancouver Poetry Festival to Ottawa's Youth Can Slam 2014, Lee will greet her audiences "eye to eye" encouraging them to pump their fists and practice joy as she continues to rally the power of the people. - The Record

"Community Composer: Janice Lee"

Janice Lee is fearless.

This multi-disciplinary artist is unafraid to be exactly who she is: smart, bold, and fun.

Plus, she absolutely loves her community.

“To boil it down, I would say I’m am a folk artist, meaning I want to be an artist of the people, telling stories, rooted in our community in what’s happening right now,” explains Lee.

She’s passionate about storytelling – creating, crafting, and commenting on life through various poems, songs, stage banter, and more.

“I try not to limit what I create through artistic discipline, I just want it to be created in a way that makes the most sense for what message I want to get across.”

Originally from the North York area of Toronto, Janice was born a naturally talented singer and later discovered a love for poetry, which lead her and few friends to the birth of the KW Poetry Slam, where she is now Artistic Director. On top of that she performs regularly, and is also Chair of the Safer Spaces Committee for Spoken Word Canada, where she’s been the catalyst for providing safer spaces and anti-oppression mandates in slams, placing her and one of our local arts organizations on the national map.

But, being Waterloo Region’s resident “poet-provocateur” isn’t where her story ends.

Janice has brought all of her creative experiences together in writing, recording, and performing her own music alongside the Free Radicals on her brand new CD: Drown the Earth.

I’ve been blasting it in my car for the past month and I can’t get enough. It’s smooth, it’s sorrowful, it’s sultry, and it’s spunky; it’s everything you want to be listening to on your worst day and your best day. It makes me feel like I’m singing the blues on a surfboard in the sun. She takes you on a journey.

“The art stems from the messaging – the activism, the things I want to talk about – some of my friends do that through organizing speaking events, some are in academics doing research, and some of us make music as a different method to try and connect with people.”

Janice has the necessary combination of confidence and talent that inspire a life as an artistic entrepreneur.

“I’m good at connecting with audiences through song, or through humour, or through stories. And when I had that moment of self-recognition, my breakthrough happened,” Lee admits.

What I find truly exceptional about Janice is that within her art is an authentically beautiful, wise old soul, who seems to sing and speak with the ease of experience, making her listeners feel like someone understands.

And when I asked her why she chose to stay in KW, she said:

“Because the organizations here work collaboratively with each other, you feel as an artist that you have support and that the community is alive, active, and thriving, and you feel like you can always contribute. I want to do it here because this is where I feel inspired.”

As a folk artist, she needs to have a hearty home base to help her create the stories she’ll tell… She feels accountable to her audience because they’re also her community. And she believes that innovation doesn’t live solely in the region’s technological enterprises – it is also deeply rooted in our artistic and cultural endeavours.

“I have a lot of confidence in the upswing of the culture here. I think good things are going to continue to keep happening,” says Janice.

“And get on the train now before there’s no space.” - Grand Social

"Poet Provocateur: Janice Lee"

Busy gal Janice Lee, is a musician and poet, who has many other identities as a spoken word artist, the artistic director of KW Poetry Slam (KWPS), a community activist and a local arts promoter.

You may have seen Janice on local stages (or stages across the country), competing in poetry slam battles, introducing and encouraging others to share their poems with a crowd or performing with her band, The Free Radicals.

Her biggest performance happened last month, when she recorded and released her first album, Drown the Earth. “It took a long time to get the right people and the funding together, but it was well worth the wait,” she said. “I wanted to create the best record I could.” And she’s extremely proud of the work, which was recorded at Kitchener’s Sound Distillery Recording Studio. She also just released her first video from the album, I Lost My Darlin’, where Cafe Pyrus and Victoria Park make big cameos.

“As a folk artist, I want to share stories that capture and convey the struggles that are happening today: injustice stemming from capitalism, colonialism and oppression,” said Janice. “We first need to talk about these things to inspire action, so we can build stronger, healthier communities, based in love.”

Her social justice philosophy merges into her other pursuits, as the concept of a poetry slam is to create a less elitist reception to poetry, where anyone can share their work without harsh judgement. With her work at the KWPS, Janice is helping create a local community around spoken word, poetry and storytelling. “We encourage new artists to share, be supportive of each other and foster a larger appreciation for poetry,” says Janice. “To see a serious revival of the oral storytelling tradition, especially in younger generations, is very hopeful.”

Life in Waterloo Region has been good for Janice. She has been awarded for her artistry, winning the 2013 Cord Community Arts Mover and Shaker Award and the 2012 Arts Awards Waterloo Region Leading Edge Award. “There are a lot of KW artists who act as mentors and organizers, because when art flourishes, we can engage more people across disciplines,” she says. “This has inspired me to help out in the arts community, especially supporting artists who are just starting out.”

You can see Janice in action at the next KW Poetry Slam on February 1, or on February 9, attend her workshop as part of Flirting with Arts or be part of the big fun at the Jazz Room later that evening. But where you will find her at her best is while she is singing. Check her website for upcoming appearances.

P.S. Janice’s favourite topic of conversation: Helping people understand that to have multiculturalism, you need to talk about, understand and promote anti-racism. - Red Leather Booth


Still working on that hot first release.



Janice Jo Lee is an award-winning folk musician and spoken word artist. With absolute command of the stage, she weaves together soulful songs, poems and acapella pieces. Lee plays guitar and trumpet while creating layered landscapes with a looping pedal. Lee is disarmingly hilarious, off-the-cuff and fearlessly honest. Her latest album Sing Hey is a vocal and acoustic showcase. There are sing-along anthems for the people, and sit-back-and-chill folk songs that will comfort your tired soul. 

Joining her on stage are Adam Lewis on percussion and upstage antics, Becky Reesor on jazzy piano, Lydia Mainville on the cello - hello! And Brockenshire Lemiski on lead guitar.

Her debut album Drown the Earth was played on CBC Radio across the country. Lee was the City of Kitchener’s Artist in Residence for 2015 and created a videopoem project called Folk Myths of Kitchener. She is currently touring across Canada, while writing her one-woman musical. Lee was nominated for the Ontario Arts Council K.M. Hunter Award in Literary Arts in 2014 and received an Ontario Women's Directorate "Leading Women, Building Communities" Award in 2015. 

Band Members