COFFEE HOUSE SESSIONS: An Interview with JoAnna Lee

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Ellipsis caught up with singer-songwriter JoAnna Lee while she was touring the UK’s radio stations and universities. With soul-tinted country, Lee blew us away without her powerful, controlled vocals and intense guitar work.  After her Coffee House session in the Guild, we talked about her tour, what it was like growing up in a small town in the Oregon, and how saying “no” in a relationship changed her life.

Eric: You’ve been busy on your UK. In between your performances, have you had much of a chance to explore the various cities?

JoAnna: A little bit. This morning we were in Nottingham and I went to the Nottingham castle, which was a lot of fun. I’ve been trying to see if there’s anything of interest in the cities we go to.

Eric: What’s been the standout of your visit so far?

JoAnna: I just love the old architecture everywhere- I think that’s amazing, like the old churches and the graveyards, how old and ancient everything is! You don’t see a lot of that where I live. It just feels like the UK has a lot of history which is really neat and even the campuses are incredible, so that’s been really nice.

Eric: I can imagine constantly being on the move is considerably different from your situation growing up in a small town. What was that like?

JoAnna: Bend is about three hours from Portland, Oregon. It was beautiful growing up there. The mountains are right there and have all the outside, the water and trees. It’s a pretty amazing place.

Eric: Was there anything about the place that was influential to your musical outlook?

JoAnna: There were a lot of people there also doing music. I grew up in a musical family, so that was my major influence. Being surrounded by them made me feel like that’s what everyone was like, and then once I started going to school and I realised that nobody was like my family. That was a big shocker. I thought everyone, when they had family get togethers would sing together and play instruments but no, not everyone does that.

Eric: Who plays what?

JoAnna: My dad plays the bass, my mum plays the guitar, my aunt plays the fiddle my grandmother plays the piano, my uncles play the harmonica, my brother plays every instrument you could possibly think of.

Eric: So you would’ve picked up the guitar from your mum?

JoAnna: She taught me how to play my first song, which was a Beatles song, Blackbird, and it’s a hard one. She taught me on purpose to keep me distracted.

Eric: What artists were an influence growing up?

JoAnna: All my friends were listening to Britney Spears and NSYNC. I was listening to Motown Records, just a bunch of those oldies: old soul music is what helped inspire a lot of my soul.

Eric: And what are you listening to at the moment?

JoAnna: I love listening to artists that are from over here, like Will Heard, Jimmy Lidell, and I like to listen to a lot of different curated playlists of different music from around the world. I like to just find out new up and coming artists and that’s really what I’ve been listening to now.

Eric: What was the move like from Oregon to Austin, Texas?

JoAnna: I was terrified, but I knew it was something that I had to do in order to pursue my music, because in a small town, with my big visions and dreams, I wouldn’t be able to accomplish that there. So getting in that car was the most liberating thing I ever did and I literally didn’t know a soul. I just knew something in my heart that said I needed to go. It’s opened up so many doors and I’d do it all over again if I had to.

Eric: What draws you so much to your themes of love and relationships?

JoAnna: I mean, that’s what life’s about. That’s what people are living for. Everyone grows up with wanting a love story of some kind whether it be something you’re passionate about or a person, and these were things I was going through at the time when I was writing the album, and writing the songs, so that’s just where I went. This next album is going to be about my move from Oregon to Texas, and changes and growing up and there’s not going to be a lot of heartbreak and love songs.

Eric: Has it been very different working on your second album to working on your first?

JoAnna: Definitely. When you have love and heartbreak that’s so easy to write about. It just hits those strings where you’re just like “Let me tell you something” and you just want get that pain or that feeling out. It’s been definitely different to explain and sing about a journey more. It’s still a relationship but it’s a relationship with myself and that’s what the next one’s going to be more about.

Eric: And just to cap it off, what’s the best advice you’ve received about relationships or music or life in general?

JoAnna: Don’t let anyone ever try to change who you are, or get in the way of what you want to do. That’s advice to myself. I was honestly engaged at a very young age and this guy did not want me to do my music, and if I’d listened to that I wouldn’t be sitting here today. Just always follow your heart. ‘cause honestly if you listen, it will steer you in the right direction where you need to go.

Eric: Thank you so much for speaking with us today!

JoAnna: Thank you so much for having me.

Watch the video for JoAnna’s single ‘Drinking By Myself’ here!

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