Published Jun 08, 2015Sook-Yin Lee is never one to limit herself. The former MuchMusic VJ and current CBC radio personality is also a multimedia artist who has been known to extend her multiple visions into the realms of photography, acting, directing and music. It's been almost five years since Lee released her last album of sorts, 2010's soundtrack to her film Year of the Carnivore, but she's back now with a new band called Jooj with her longtime collaborator, Adam Litovitz.
The impetus behind Jooj came from an art installation of Lee's called We Are Light Rays, where Lee (with the help of Litovitz), produced "outer space" sounds to accompany the exhibit. "It reminded me of a movie like Andrei Tarkovsky's Solaris," Lee explains to Exclaim!
The 1972 sci-fi film is again listed in Jooj's non-musical influences, alongside light artist James Turrell and French director Robert Bresson. "There were these Moog synthesizers that I loved, because it had this rich and otherworldly sound that was very cinematic in its slow tempo but, in a way, very comforting."
Those building blocks, and the general desire to form sound designs that were dramatic yet comforting, evolved into a series of songs written and recorded in Lee and Litovitz's home studio.
"We recognized that there was a really interesting palette of sounds," Lee says. "So we built upon that while committing ourselves to this notion of minimalism, melody and soul; those were the things that were guiding factors."
Of the writing process, Litovitz adds, "There wasn't a lot of thinking, just playing around. We would send each other in different directions and just see what happens — things just came together and synthesized somehow."
The result was Jooj, a 10-song "emotional movement," as opposed to a concrete story arc, that celebrates negative space in the name of minimalism. Instruments are kept sparse, yet powerfully asserted through booming synths, whirling atmospherics or delicate guitar plucks, while Lee's voice is captivating, a spiritual guide through each song.
"It's almost like a Daoist idea of how big can we go small and how small we can go big," Lee muses. "When you make a song, the temptation is to throw everything and the kitchen sink in there, but what if you can make a monolith of a song with just a few powerful strokes?"
And the spaces in between? Well that's up to you to fill it in.
"I think that things are much more complicated than anything that you can ever articulate, so I like that process of blowing it apart as well," Lee says. "Often times, this leaves space for the audience to project themselves onto."
Jooj is out now on Last Gang.
6/20 Toronto, ON – The Garrison (NXNE)
08/07 Toronto, ON - SummerWorks Music Series