When I first met Jonathan Lee in the summer of 2010, I didn’t know how much of an impact his presence would have on the music industry; admittedly, I spent most of that summer infatuated with a friend Lee and I shared. Chasing my heart’s desire around the city, I got to know Lee best as we drove around town with the other kids in the hall, to music video shoots and culinary dives.
Fast forward three years, hundreds of miles, and countless hours of hard work later, and Lee is amidst his own success story. After the release of his début EP album “Yellow Brick Road” and the hype of his masterful online (re)mixes, Lee found himself transplanted to the Great City of Oz (better known as NYC) where he now works as a music producer & songwriter for a big-time record label. As a personal mentor and close friend, I wanted the opportunity to better understand his unyielding love for music, and his big league approach to attracting greatness.
THEREGION: I think it’s fair to say that you’re a dream chaser. Have you always been so tenacious about pursuing your passions?
JONLEE: You know, when I was younger, I didn’t want a career in music. I was more into basketball and was the type of kid who played early in the morning until the street lights went off at night. I played because my original goal was to one day play in the NBA. Then injuries happened in high school and I didn’t have basketball anymore. After a year of college I dropped out and absolutely did not know what I wanted to do. I loved business and all that, but the one thing that brought me up and inspired me to keep going was music. It was the one thing that plugged that hole. But even then, being a dream chaser, I don’t know. I’m not big on chasing things anymore—it’s more of an attraction thing. Kind of like the law of attraction, where you do the right things, let go of all the possibilities and everything kind of gravitates toward you.
REGION: Would you say your courage comes from all the hard work you’ve put in and time you’ve spent in the industry?
JON: Absolutely. Here’s another parallel between sports and the music business; the more work you do, the more hard work—smart work, you put into things, the more you start to feel like you deserve the results you do get. You’re less surprised of the things that happen when great things start to happen.
REGION: You’re originally from Victoria but you currently live in New York City. What sort of influence did the city have on you, creatively?
JON: It’s a great place to be from. I mean, the amount of influence the outside world has over you is as much as you want it to be. I grew up on a lot of different types of music; I was that kid who put on records of everything from the 50s, 60s, 70s, 80s—and that was really my music education. As far as music influence goes, I think that’s what I learned a lot from. Musically, rhythmically, that’s what influences my music for sure. But I mean, Victoria is a great place to be from. The standard of living, the environment, the views—just living on an island, you don’t have to go far to be around an ocean, and that’s something I really love. Just being on a beach and having ocean.
REGION: Great music has the ability to transport us outside of ourselves. Where do you want your fans to go when they listen to your work?
When you listen to a song down the road, it always associates itself with what you were doing , who you were with or what was being done at that time. That’s why music is subjective. That’s why music is powerful. Just travelling from place to place, you can get respect from anybody, anywhere, from all walks of life, because music really is another form of language. And I know that doesn’t answer your question at all, but I look at my music as the soundtrack to my life. The people around me, the things going on, and when I share that with the world, it becomes their soundtrack. Whatever they want to do, wherever it takes them, wherever they want to be.
REGION: Your current mission is to “simplify and get back to the basics” of music. When did music get so complicated, and why do you think a change of pace is necessary?
JON: I don’t think it got complicated per se, I just think that when I was learning and making music, you go through a kind of evolution of what your sound is and where you’re going. I started noticing this when I would listen to other music, including a band you may have heard of called The Beatles—
REGION: I think I’ve heard of them.
JON: Just checking. Yeah, I’d listen to a lot of popular music, especially old popular music and found it was very simple. The main message and the main melodies and the main rhythms are all very basic. There’s not a lot of countermelody or counter rhythms or offbeat stuff and that’s what makes a strong and catchy song. Everything rhythmically and melodically is all very similar.
REGION: Throughout your time in the industry you’ve acquired a jack-of-all-trades approach: you’ve remixed, produced, managed, marketed, written, directed, and edited. Why are you so involved in the process, and what have you learned from the roles you’ve taken on?
JON: It was all a matter of necessity. Getting it done because no one else would. For me, that’s what it came down to. I’m also a very curious person and all of those roles were curiosities. They were all parts of my life where I was trying to find out exactly what I wanted to do within the business, but it was also a matter of just getting shit done. ‘Cause that’s the bottom line, that’s it. A lot of people aren’t willing to do it. They’re willing to talk about it like they are it, but aren’t really in love with doing the work.
That’s another thing I’ve learned; my salvation is in my work. I’m usually my happiest when I’m working because I like to get it done.
On the flip side, I’m not a huge believer in being a jack of all trades anymore because it gets to a point where, in your evolution, you have to choose one or two things and become great at them. How do you become great at them? Not becoming a jack of all trades. Focus on one or two specific skills, hone in on them and become a master of them. It’s like the old adage, ‘jack of all trades, master of none’. You do eventually have to get on the path where you know what you want to do, and when you get there just fucking sprint down it.
REGION: Picture this: it’s a warm, summer evening in Manhattan. Streets are crowded, noise is ample, but the city seems at ease. You’re walking home from a dinner meeting. What are you listening to?
JON: Lujon by Henry Mancini. That would be it.