MP3 Jon Lee - Calder Plaza
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7 MP3 Songs
ROCK: Acoustic, FOLK: Modern Folk
While growing in Grand Rapids, Michigan, Jon Lee listened to a variety of music. "I was the only white boy in my neighborhood, so my first records were by Run DMC, Michael Jackson, and the Beastie Boys, who were solely responsible for me being accepted by my neighborhood friends. Thank you, Beasties!"
As a teenage skateboarder, Jon discovered punk rock groups like The Clash, Fugazi, and Descendents. Soon he found himself behind the microphone. "In high school some friends and I formed a band called Glass Bead Game. Since I couldn't play any instruments at the time, I sang and wrote lyrics." GBG was influenced by U2, Minor Threat, and Green Day, bands they tried to cover live, with limited success. "Glass Bead Game's first show was in my parents' basement one night while they were out of town. A ton of people showed up to hear us and, athough we sucked and only knew about four songs, I was totally hooked on the experience."
Eventually Jon picked up the guitar and formed another band called Shut, playing guitar and singing lead. "In Shut I played with (former GBG drummer) Nick Varano and bassist Mike Peterson, who were very Tool/Nirvana/Primus-influenced. My tastes were not quite as heavy." After gaining some success, Shut lost Varano to the well-established ska group, Mustard Plug. The remaining Shut members briefly continued with drummer Bill Hoeks. "Ultimately, Shut was really about Nick, Mike and me. Without all three of us involved, it just wasn't the same band."
The next group Jon was in was called Friends of Durrutti, named by lead singer Jeff Danielski, a close friend and band mate from Glass Bead Game. "In Friends of Durrutti I played guitar and sang a few songs, as well as background vocals." FOD also gave Jon the opportunity to play guitar alongside his younger brother, Josh. Lars Engstrom played the bass and Chris Nienhuis covered the drums. "Most of the FOD songs were written about Grand Rapids girls that Jeff and I were dating. We called them the 'Rotten-Rottens.' The songs Suckerboy and Divertido came out of that era."
After Friends of Durrutti dissolved, Jon was recruited to play saxophone with the ska band Mustard Plug, where he was reunited with his old friend, drummer Nick Varano. The brief stint with the ska group exposed Jon to life on the road and introduced him to the SXSW music festival. "I dug touring and performing at SXSW was a huge thrill, but I really wanted to get back to writing and performing my own songs."
Shortly after leaving Mustard Plug, Jon left Grand Rapids and moved to California. Over the years he had amassed a small catalog of original acoustic songs. In San Francisco he began to record and perform them for the first time. "I was shy about performing these mellow songs because I was so used to screaming and jumping around in rock bands. The acoustic tunes were just so personal. I didn't think anybody would even want to hear them."
After a few years in SF, Jon moved to Los Angeles, where he met his wife, Rita Lee. The couple wrote and performed comedic songs around LA. "I remember we once played some songs at a party in the Hollywood Hills. There were all these actors and models standing there next to the pool just gawking at us like, 'Who is this ridiculous married couple!? Do they think they're funny? Pass the coCAINE!'"
Eventually, Jon's old friend and former bandmate Jeff Danielski moved to LA and the two created the band Guyboo. With cohorts Ryan Chan on bass and Marc Precilla (currently with The City Drive) on drums, Guyboo played music that was reminiscent of their common favorites: Weezer, Radiohead, and the Foo Fighters. "Guyboo was like my last attempt to be part of a rock band. We had a lot of fun, but ultimately I just felt like I couldn't crank my amp up to 11 and pretend I was still 19-years-old." After a year of recording and performing with Guyboo, Jon left the group to pursue his solo career in earnest. "These days it's just me and my acoustic guitar, and I've never been happier."
His first solo release, Calder Plaza, is a collection of songs that were written back in Grand Rapids. "I realized that I had written a group of songs in each of the cities I had lived in over the years - there were the Grand Rapids songs, the San Francisco songs, and the LA songs. I decided to record and put them out in the order they were written. Together, they tell the story of my life."
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