Roots Music Canada Feature: Janice Jo Lee’s new album is a triumph over burnout; See her out west this month!

Janice Jo Lee.


Scroll to the end of this story for Janice’s western Canadian tour dates!

Janice Jo Lee’s latest album, Ancestor Song, is a light at the end of a seven-year tunnel as Janice returns from what she calls “spiritual destruction.”

The album, released Wedneaday, is Janice’s third.

Its predecessor, Sing Hey, was released in 2016 on, “a broken spirit and no resources.”

The track order of Ancestor Song mirrors the trajectory of Janet’s triumphant recovery from burnout and surrender.

“I’ve tried to order the songs in a way that it goes through the arc like this, down and then back up,” Janice said, arcing her hand low and then raising it back up.

Explaining the concept behind Ancestor Song, Janice said she wants listeners to be, “feeling your feelings” while also being of mindful of the wishes of ancestors and elders, who aren’t afraid to “call you out.”

Janice stacks crunchy, almost dissonant harmonies throughout the album, with the intention of creating, “a wall of my ancestors surrounding me, giving me a pep talk.”

Ancestor Song cannot always be easy listening, she said. It’s powerful and even anthemic at times.

It is the first time she has been able to deliver on her full artistic vision in an album, she added.

She credits this success to producer and longtime friend Jojo Worthington, as well as 24 other award-winning musicians. The players contribute a unique blend of sounds to Ancestor Song, from upright bass to janggu drums.

“A lot of the players [on the album] I actually met through a Facebook group called Women and Non-Binary Musicians Toronto. And we do so much working in that group. Better than any conference I have been to!”

Janice starts the album with an overture (which she admits she, “geeked out over”) and concludes it with an unofficial epilogue: a song called “Patient as the Land.” As a second generation Korean-Canadian, Janice infuses the album with her Korean roots. The Korean instrument  kayagum takes center stage on “Overture: Ancestor Song,” soloing over piano and anchoring the album to a distinct identity, as the track list whirls through jazz, hip-hop, and folk.

One of Janice’s greater motivations is not to be constrained by genre, only by identity.

“The distinction between genres is so silly,” she said. “All my songs, if I played them with just acoustic guitar, it’s folk music. As soon as I add an electric bass and some trumpet, it’s like funk. I add a piano solo and it’s jazz.”

She’s not bothered by sticking to a genre, as long as she is being true to herself. From tackling serious issues in her music like climate change and racism to bringing in a little humour, Janice said, “it’s fully myself, 100 per cent of the time.”

“If I were a mixing board, everything would be up,” Janice explained. “To me, talking about the issues is just being authentic to myself and my thoughts. And then bringing in my personality and humor is also being authentic to myself.”

“People can tell right away if you’re on stage faking, like pretending to talk about the issues. If you don’t really care or are making jokes that feel unnatural, people feel that.”

Following the release of Ancestor Song, Janice is embarking on a tour of western Canada. It will be her third trip out west and her first with a band.  Her main goal, she said, is to experience something she believes is at the root of folk music: mutual listening.

“Folk music is a practice of listening as an artist – to listen to the community and capture those stories in songs. But also when we’re in concert then the audience is able to listen,” she said

“Oftentimes after a show, the audience wants to tell you – the artist – how they felt or what they were reminded of,” she said. “And then it’s my responsibility and honour to listen to what they have to say in response. Sometimes people are at the merch table and are talking your ear off. This is why I am here. I want to know how the music connected with you.”

True to form, Janice Jo Lee is distinctly herself in concert, even when she’s dressed up in full drag. Her concert advertises acoustic harmonies, poetry and “a little bit of drag king comedy.”

Janice’s cousin, Scotty Kim, will be making an appearance.

“It’s a clown character. He’s all over my Instagram page,” Janice said. “It’s fun, so why not give it to them? No one is expecting that at a folk music festival! But no one’s expecting spoken word poetry. But that’s who I am, so I’m doing it!”

Ancestor Song has music for people on every path, from the weary and the downtrodden to the empowered and the joyful. Give it a listen, because there’s likely a song for you.

Ancestor Song can be found streaming on all platforms. To read more about the creation of the album, click here.

See Janice Jo Lee live!

More information can be found here.

  • Nov. 4 – Willow River Centre, Kitchener, ON
  • Nov. 6 – University Theatre, University of Regina (Artist talk), Regina, SK
  • Nov. 7 – Research and Innovation Centre, Room 209 (Artist talk), Regina, SK
  • Nov. 8 – Regina Word Up, Creative City Centre, Regina, SK
  • Nov. 9 – The Found Stage, Found Books, Cochrane, AB
  • Nov. 10 – The Calgary Folk Club, Calgary, AB
  • Nov. 12 – Poets, Queers, and Folkies, Vivace on the Drive, Vancouver, BC
  • Nov. 14 – House Concert, Nanaimo, BC
  • Nov. 16 – Mateada, Salt Spring Island, BC
  • Nov. 17 – Studio B Collective, Hope Building, Pender Island, BC
  • Nov. 18 – Sooke Folk Coffee House, Holy Trinity Anglican Church, Sooke, BC
  • Nov. 19 – Dan’s Dance Hall, Victoria, BC
  • Nov. 21 – Play Play: Clown Workshop, Gordon Head, Victoria, BC
  • Nov. 26 – Sunday Contact Jam Live Music, Dovercourt House, Toronto, ON (11 a.m. start)


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