Artist Interview: 1-on-1 with JET W. LEE

Artist Interview: 1-on-1 with JET W. LEE

A few weeks ago, these guys followed me on Twitter. I sent them a reply, and we started talking about music, the Windy City, and their awesome sound. I had no idea they were coming to Indy for a show… then I agreed to live blog Indy Meets Windy 2, a showcase of Indianapolis and Chicago bands here in the Circle City. It is actually a great concept, featuring two bands from Chicago. Once these bands play down here, the Indy bands head to Chicago for a show. That is called… well, Windy Meets Indy I would assume! Anyway, these guys were on that bill. I started listening to them before the show, and I liked everything I heard. They also have a great style. Since Indy Meets Windy 2 was going to be an acoustic show, I would get to see them in a different light. The show was great, the guys were nice, and it was just a good night of live music. I had a chance to hang out with the band as well. I am glad they followed me on Twitter… and it is my absolute pleasure to introduce you to JET W. LEE.

You guys followed me the other day… but I had no idea that we had so much in common. I am still trying to wrap my head around that. But thanks for the follow! Since I am talking about Twitter, let’s start there… what other social networks do you guys use?

Definitely! We primarily use the standard trio of Twitter, Facebook and YouTube, but we also use ArtistData/Songkick for shows, ReverbNation, Bandcamp, SoundCloud, Flickr, and we still spend time on that dinosaur Myspace. Since we’ve got our own website I use that for blogs and then use Twitter/Facebook for smaller updates. I’m always wanting to expand our reach as much as possible, and I’m sure I’ll be getting into some new ones soon.

That is a LOT of sites… what is your favorite social media site?

Facebook (before Timeline) was my favorite, but now that the Timeline thing is going on I’m partial to Twitter. It’s great to be able to tag people/venues and give a quick update or funny pic from a show. I’m not big into the, “what I just ate” or “where I am” tweets but if I think of something that makes me laugh or that I think people would want to know about us I’ll post it up.

Where are you guys originally from?

I’m from Springfield, Illinois. Patrick is from Park Ridge and Pierre is from Bloomingdale. We all met in Champaign at University of Illinois and all moved up here. We were friends before we started playing together.

I love Chicago… do you guys play a lot of venues in the Windy City? What is your favorite venue in Chicago?

We love Cole’s Bar in Logan Square! They are just amazing people who run that place and they know how to have a good time. There’s an audience in the area that genuinely loves going to shows and the bar will pay you if there’s a good amount of people there! Cole is our bud for sure. Plus they’ve got awesome local art there… except someone stole a weird portrait of Abe Lincoln that used to hang by the stage.

It looks like you guys play out a lot. Do you guys have jobs outside of music?

We do have day jobs. Patrick is a nuclear engineer, Pierre is in art school for life drawing and is a server part-time, and I work in a stem cell research lab. Usually we plan weekend tours but we also do longer tours when our schedule allows. Our goal is certainly to play music as much as is humanly possible!

Where did the name come from? It reminds me of the General Lee!

Awesome! That’s part of the name for sure. It’s kinda a mish-mash that our friend Todd came up with and that we ended up liking a lot. Also in the mix is Jet Li, my middle initial, and Robert E. Lee. My favorite description of the name was by a reviewer who said, “It sounds like a mode of travel for Civil War generals.” I tell that to people sometimes when they ask.

There is a creepy looking octopus on your Facebook page. As a matter of fact, I love that style of art. Who designed that?

Me too! That’s our wonderful friend Angela G. Pestano ( I really can’t say enough awesome things about her. She designed our first show flyer and put that octopus on it. We loved it so much that it’s kinda been our logo ever since. She’s doing the art for our new record too!

What makes it a western nightmare?

Well you gotta have dust, tumbleweeds, cowboy boots, mustaches, pistols, brothel zombies, angry saloon bartenders, Molotov cocktails, and giant octopus monsters!!! “Western Nightmare” is gonna be the title of our new record that we’re releasing this fall. I wrote a song with that title in high school and though the song is… well, from high school, I liked the title a lot and always wanted to use it for something. A lot of the new songs deal with disillusionment, struggle with identity, addiction, and a few are even murder ballads. Those things are all nightmares in themselves!

Your genre is hard to explain… I wouldn’t call it rock. But I wouldn’t call it punk either. What do YOU call it?

We usually call it rock. Nowadays that means so little that ANYTHING could be rock. I’d say we fall somewhere between Neil Young and punk rock. “Loud alternative rock” is pretty good (unless we’re playing acoustic!) or “dark rock” may work thematically.

You guys are headed to Indianapolis for Indy Meets Windy 2. How did you get connected with that show? By the way… I will be there, live blogging the entire event!

Hell ya! We feel super privileged to be a part of Indy Meets Windy this year! I was actually trying to book us and our good friends Coed Pageant on an acoustic weekend tour through Indianapolis. I found And Away They Go on Indie on The Move and got a hold of their booking agent Meredith. She really went above and beyond helping me hook up a show. She told me about making this the 2nd Indy Meets Windy and of course I was excited about that idea! She also thought it would be really cool to do all acoustic performances since we were looking for an acoustic show anyway. Again, she really hooked us up! We haven’t played with any of the bands (other than Coed Pageant) before and we’re really looking forward to rocking with them. (They all sound really great!) We’re also stoked to check in on the blog and with the other band interviews on your site too.

Who writes all of your lyrics?

I write the lyrics and songs and Patrick helps me arrange and write parts when a song needs something extra or to be changed around a bit.

Where do you guys practice?

Patrick and I have a house in Chicago that we practice in. It’s nice because we don’t have a lot of neighbors and the ones we do have are also musicians. We’ve even had a few house shows at our place and haven’t had any complaints yet (knock on wood).  We used to play in our basement but it was pretty moldy so we moved all the band stuff into our living room. We’ve basically got a couch, all our band gear, and a TV in that room and it totally rules! As soon as we did that we knew it was the right thing to do. Why hide the band stuff in the basement when its all we wanna do anyway?

Tell me a little bit more about “WHO SHALL REMAIN SHAMELESS”. Any reason ALL of the letters are capitalized?

“WHO SHALL REMAIN SHAMELESS” is our debut record that we recorded it at POGO Studios in Champaign on a ton of vintage gear. I think it’s got a nice, punky classic rock sound to it thanks to Mark Rubel and his awesome gear! Many of those songs are about moments of facing shame or being willfully ignorant of it, so two extremes. I thought of the title one morning while I was in the shower and thought it worked perfectly. I just had to hurry out and write it down! Our new record is gonna be a bit more poppy and bring in some of the storytelling stuff like on my solo record “Home to Roast”. It’ll definitely be rocking and with the right amount of darkness! The caps thing I got from the poet Paul Haines. When you see something in all caps it grabs your attention, but I just think it’s a different and cool way to visualize certain phrases.

Let’s say I wanted to book a show with you guys… where does that process begin?

Well the easiest thing would be to shoot us an email. We try to put our contact info clearly on all of our sites. Honestly, I can’t believe how many bands I come across with NO CONTACT INFO on their sites! Horrible! We do a lot of booking ourselves and for the most part we actively seek out bands and shows and try to set things up that work best for our schedule. (Check out what a weekend trip with JET W. LEE is like here.We love getting show invites! Sometimes the best shows kind of fall into your lap… but that doesn’t happen often.

There are a lot of great bands out there. Who are some of your favorite acts?

Some of our favorite bands in Chicago right now are The Safes, Hemmingbirds, Panoramic & True, The Canoes, Hospital Garden, The Runnies, The Cathy Santonies, The Dyes. Some other bands we love are Pile (Boston), Geri X (St. Petersburg), Grandkids (Champaign), The Palace Flophouse (Champaign), Emily Jane White (San Francisco), Sarah Jaffe (Austin), Favorite Shape Triange (Milwaukee), The Directionals (Milwaukee), Thieves Market (Athens), Bruiser Queen (St. Louis). And of course the other bands playing Indy Meets Windy!

What is the best concert you have ever seen?

We saw Them Crooked Vultures in Indianapolis about a year ago and that show was amazing! Patrick and I saw Ke$ha in St. Louis and that was maybe the most fun I’ve ever had at a concert. We love listening to that kind of music on the road when we need to stay awake!

We recently went down to SXSW in Austin and my favorite show was a tiny radio show featuring Emily Jane White, who is such an awesome dark folk singer. Check her out!

What is the biggest crowd you have ever played for? The smallest?

(Thinks.) We’ve played for several hundred people a few years now at The Great Cover Up. It’s where local bands (and ex-local in our case) choose a nationally known artist to play a 20 min cover set as. It’s a ton of fun and I’m hoping we can squeeze out another year on our “ex-local” status.

The smallest crowd we’ve ever played for was 1 person (not counting the bar tender) at an underground bar in Athens. The other band had to cancel because their singer was really sick and we played all night by ourselves. It was December and very icy so no one was really out. The guy that was there let us stay at his place and we played pool in his spare bedroom with half-cues because the walls were so close to the table. It was fun!

Beer. Wine. Liquor. What is your poison?

We’re a beer band for sure. PBR and Coors Light collectively by choice. For me Bud Light is the best but Pat and Pierre don’t like it as much. They also like Miller High Life though, which I can’t stand. I like the ad campaigns and the whole concept of “Champagne of Beers” but I just think it tastes horrible!

You have some pretty sweet concert posters. Who does all of your graphic design work?

Ah that’s Angela again! She’s talented, right? We’ve also got some help from our friends Matt McGuire and Sarah Koster.

What would you be doing if you were not in a band?

I’d be doing ancient DNA analysis or trying to join forces with Jeremy Wade of River Monsters. I love that show and I love fishing. Pierre wants to be an artist, specifically an anatomy illustrator. Patrick would be an engineer, but speaking for all of us I don’t think we’d survive without playing music.

Do you guys have any merchandise? I would love a shirt or a sticker!

We do! You can check out for that. Also we have 2 shirts for sale at Midwest Merch, which is an awesome site for anyone looking to make their own shirts. I HIGHLY recommend looking into it. Here’s the link to our shirts: We’ll had the tentacles shirt for sale at Indy Meets Windy, as well as FREE stickers, buttons, and download cards! We also have “WHO SHALL REMAIN SHAMELESS” on vinyl and CDs of “HOME TO ROAST”.

Have you ever heard your songs on the radio?

Yes, we’ve heard our songs on the radio in Chicago, Springfield, and Champaign. I’ve been told they were played at other college stations where we toured but I wasn’t around to check it out. I’m definitely doing some more radio promo when “Western Nightmare” comes out!

What is the WEFT Community Experience?

WEFT is an awesome independently run radio station in Champaign that hosts two local music programs. One is WEFT Sessions where local and touring bands can come in and do an hour interview/performance with host and super music supporter Todd Hunter. We actually just did one in April and it went swimmingly! In regards to the actual “experience” at WEFT, I’d say it is quite warm, inviting, intellectually charged, socially accepting, rockin’, respectful, and radical.

Do you guys ever do cover songs, or is it all original music?

We do do cover songs. (Laughs.) Do do! Off the top of my head we have covered Neil Young, Hank Williams, Warren Zevon, David Bazan, and Sarah Jaffe. We usually stick to original stuff though since we have a lot of it. We’ve been thinking of throwing another cover in soon. It’s always cool to hear a band’s interpretation of a song you know. In general our rule is that covers should either be spot on or total reinterpretations, never anywhere in-between!

What’s the most embarrassing thing that has ever happened to you on stage?

Besides your normal oops moments of forgetting lyrics, tuning problems, cable shorts, or dropping sticks I’d say so far we’ve not been too embarrassed. I’m sure that will change sooner or later. I almost fell off of an outdoor stage that was a good 6 ft up but that was during sound check.

When you travel, who drives?

Oh, we all take turns. For the past few tours we’ve taken smaller cars and just cut down on the gear that we take. Pat and I both have large Buicks that take to the road quite nicely! We’re in the market for a van though.

Tell me a joke.

Man I was recently asked this same question and it really puts you on the spot! I also realized I don’t know ANY jokes! (Thinks.)

I will tell you some inside jokes within the band though. We love trying to use Pierre’s name in regular conversation around him, such as, “Those shoes are a pierrefect fit” or “It would apierre that the car battery is dead.” I once told the guys a long involved story about a pretty girl who I talked to before going to the bank to cash a check, and it was quite uneventful. Now anytime someone tells a boring story we ask, “was that before or after you went to the bank?”

We love coming up with horrible/alternate band names a la Jesse and the Bucket, Cheap & Easy, Jack W. Chan, and after one especially hot show Sweat W. Lee. We LOVE going to ridiculous action movies and laughing at them (booze optional) and also simultaneously loving them. Some of our favorites were Law Abiding Citizen, Faster, The Mechanic, and the best ever is Crank 2: High Voltage!

Any big plans this summer… perhaps a tour to support the new album?

Hell… and yes! We’re planning to tour in July and August. It’s looking like we may have “Western Nightmare” out by September so we’ll definitely have release shows and a celebratory tour for that as well. We’d love to come back through Indy!

The more I listen to your tunes… they are pretty creepy. The lyrics are incredible. Where do you get inspiration for a new song?

Awesome! (Laughs.) Thank you very much. I have always been drawn to darker stories so I guess its natural I go that way when writing. I just like it when you hear something that is really honest and hits you square in the heart. My goal as a songwriter is to convey things like, “It’s not OK, but that’s OK.” I’m fine with having a darker edge because that’s what I relate to most and I think it’s somewhat comforting to hear things that are a little sad or dark. When you hear something like that it’s kind of like, “Whew, I’m glad its not just me then!” and there’s some therapy in that. I’ve also written lighter songs and I guess my favorite thing is when a song has a dark theme but a happier or upbeat sound. That’s probably the best. It tricks you into listening!

Inspiration can come from everywhere, from my own family experiences, to friends, to TV shows, to bad things I’ve done or almost done. The best inspiration is just something that makes you NEED to be creative. Maybe it’s a really good book or other music or an awesome or really shitty experience, but something that makes you need to get something out. Usually I just start playing guitar and if something comes to me I go with it. Melody is often first, and I try to just unconsciously sing and let it all come out. Often I’ll go back and edit while trying to keep as much of the original “out pour” as possible. Usually I can’t write a song I like when I have a per-conceived notion of what it should be. There’s too much fighting with the creative winds there. You’ve just gotta let go and go!

For those who have not seen you live, can we get a sneak peak of what you bring to a live show?

At Indy Meets Windy it was just be Patrick and me playing guitar together. We did a special acoustic set of some brand new songs and some songs off of our new record, “WSRS”, and “Home to Roast”. This exposes the more rockin’ songs in a different light and that can be really cool for us to try. We also don’t get as much of a chance to play the more folky songs so this is definitely a rare set for us.

When it’s all said and done, what do you want to be remembered for?

I guess I’ll speak for myself here… this is kind of like thinking about if I was dead, right? Here goes…

I’d want to be remembered for my music and being someone who wrote and recorded a lot and was very active in doing so and getting out there to perform. I’d also want to be remembered for playing pool pretty well, knowing how to catch fish, being able to drive a tractor, being a gracious (or at least not too horrible) lover, being honest to myself and with others, and being good company on LONG drives to small bars.

In all of the interviews I do, I always give the artist the last word. Go.

Come hang out with us… we’ll give you some free stickers and we can talk about ways to say Pierre’s name in a sentence. Also check out our music video for Anticipation High!


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