Catching melodies from dreams and stories from real life events, Lee crafts her music like heirloom quilts, heavy, warm, each panel detailed and tells a story. Monica's voice is stirring, reminiscent of Carly Simon and Carole King. Playing piano, guitar, viola, ukulele and most notably her voice, Lee will bring you back from where ever you have been.
Talking about her band, Nathan Peekay of 4thrcrdMag said, “..the sound of life! ... the sound of new landscapes being explored and musicians finding that special place where birth happens.” John Mann of Spirit of the West compared her to Joni Mitchell for her use of imagery and poetry in her lyrics. With a curious heart her purpose is unwavering, sing about it, bring these feelings to life. Lee has been a staple in the Vancouver music scene for 20 years. Her new record Farewell is long anticipated and sure to move listeners.
Singer-songwriter Monica Lee uses her powerful voice, sense of humour and poetic chops to warm our hearts as well as to share her pain.
Lee has been compared to Joni Mitchell (by John Mann, Spirit of the West) and her songs tend to focus on romance – love and loss are frequent themes. They are often wryly humorous, despite the serious subject-matter. After all, a woman who has MC’d zucchini races for kids in McSpadden Park, a community event organized for folks living near Commercial Drive on Vancouver’s east side, can’t take herself too seriously.
“I have processed a lot of pain and uncertainty by writing songs,” she says, adding that she often wakes up in the middle of the night with a new song roaming around in her brain. Most of them come to her via a strong pictorial images – for instance, “Only One” (one of the tracks on her upcoming new release) began with an images of a woman in an airport, waiting for her lover to disembark amid many others, all with their own stories.
Sometime in the early 1990s, Lee decided to take music seriously. She took the money she’d been saving for a trip to Europe and bought a viola instead of a plane ticket. She was 23. Some 15 years later, she quit her job as a chef in the film industry and, by 2006, she was making her living from music.
For such an accomplished musician – as well as her powerful voice, she plays piano, viola, guitar and ukulele – it came as a shock to discover, early in 2019, that she had significant hearing loss, probably since childhood.
“I had no idea I was missing so much,” Lee says. “I hear the songs in my head ... and for me, musicality and crafting melodies doesn’t seem to be affected by hearing loss. What I don’t hear (without aids) are the soft sounds, the shhhs and the high jingling sounds.”
Still, her hearing aids have opened vistas of sound she never imagined. When she reviewed the freshly mastered tracks on her new release, Lee was hearing parts of her recordings she had never heard before: the sound of the brushes on the drum, the high end of the guitar. “It was overwhelming at first.”
Stephen Drake of The Odds, who recorded Lee’s EP “Seasons Greetings,” says, “Monica Lee is a fine musician and an excellent vocalist. Catchy melodies are everywhere in her music. But where she truly shines is in her lyrics. I’ve heard a lot of songs over the years (as have all of you), and I find words worth hearing to be quite rare.”
Born in Calgary in 1972, Lee grew up on Edmonton and came to Vancouver in 1998. Her family was musical – her mother taught piano and her father, who came to Canada via England and Trinidad, used to entertain family and friends with calypso music, accompanying himself on the ukulele. As a teen, Lee sang in local choirs, played in orchestras and finally gravitated to the guitar at age 16. Her parents gave her a beautiful instrument, which she still plays.
By the time she got to formal music classes at Vancouver Community College at age 28, she had recorded a solo album of original songs and played in many local bands. VCC provided her with exceptional voice and composition teachers, and she won the college’s contemporary music competition and was chosen to sing with the Big Band.
In her third year at VCC, after minoring in Jazz Piano, Lee wrote dozens more original songs, some of which were released on “Seasons Greetings,” the EP recorded by Drake of The Odds. She went on to score the CBC film “A Safer Sex Trade” in 2006, which features songs from the EP.
In 2008, Lee released “Live at the Libra Room,” an homage to her long-standing gig at the popular Vancouver venue. In 2011, pregnant with her second child, she began recording her first full-length studio album. She then juggled years of childcare and the creation of her early-childhood music business, performing with her band, and sporadically working on the record.
In 2019 Lee wrote her first Fringe play titled “Girls Night In” giving life to the stories in her songs. The play was a happy success performing to sold out crowds with her new group - Monica Lee and The Couch Choir. In the same month she put the finishing touches on her album “Farewell.” If that sounds like an odd title for a musician’s first studio album, there is logic: the title track sprang from letting go of one relationship to make room for new love. Like the story in the song, this album represents a new beginning for Lee.
“Feeling Fences,” 1998
“Seasons Greetings,” 2004 (EP)
“Farewell,” to be released in 2020