In Conversation with Sook-Yin Lee

Adam Litovitz In Conversation Mint Records Sook-Yin Lee

Sook-Yin Lee
The Artist: Sook-Yin Lee (photo: Hidden Lane Productions)

As of late, I find myself more driven to explore artists who are expressing depth, and solace, through noise or alternate expressions and elements of filmic vision and mood. In a time that feels often fraught with sentiments of 'what could possibly happen next,' I find myself identifying in the noise and the oddities; in the misshapes; in the artists who are challenging themselves and creating a distinct landscape. A colorful language of noise, and sound; in the midst of what can, very often, feel like the background, creeping in.

Sook-Yin Lee & Adam Litovitz - jooj two, cover art

Enter jooj two: a fantastic new Avante-garde electro-pop album created by the Vancouver, BC-based duo Sook-Yin Lee & Adam Litovitz. Jooj two is the culmination of a band that Lee and Litovitz formed together in 2015. The name JOOJ (extracted and defined by Lee as, 'joy of our joys') is a palindrome: simple, reflective, and fun to say out loud. Reflection was married deeply into the making of the duo's final album (Litovitz tragically took his life due to depression in 2019), even as the completion of it celebrates a relationship, the magic, and the challenge of working with (and losing} a true friend, or as Lee puts it, her 'twin flame.' 

Jooj two's short album track "Introductory Escape" opens with off-kilter beats percussion, overlapping quickly, as if each beat were competing hearts on the monitor--Lee's vocals slowed down to a crawl, fighting the tide of quick punctuations, and heavily delivered. When "Wrecking Heart" quickly changes the tempo with the sound of tiny rocks being tightly chipped away to an industrialized swing beat and a doom-y echo, above it all, it is Lee's melodic phrasing; eventually laid over different and unusual vocal affects, that navigate us through. Each chisel of the rock gives the track a chilling effect set against a flashing strobe: the wrecking heart wants to devour you.

Litovitz was a talented composer, and the combination of he and Sook-Yin Lee's long partnership in film and music pairs well with their collaborative stream of conscience phrasing for this album. They have a keen ability to create a visual space in the music, with sound effects and melody. That also makes jooj two an observer's album: and one that is as intriguing as it is fun to dance to. Each song on the album hits in deeply unusual, haunting, and playful ways throughout, planting seeds, and only hinting at the album's journey with each new track. They are in it, and to quote the last line of Re-Veil, "No fear."

Adam Litovitz & Sook-Yin Lee

The track that ends jooj two, is simply titled, "Adam." This final track, bookended by nature sounds and waves, is a chant that Lee & Litovitz would often practice together, while randomly discovering hidden stairwells or cavernous secret spaces where their voices could carry and echo loudly, in unison.

Sook-Yin Lee & Adam Litovitz' fantastic new electro-pop album jooj two was released on April 9th, 2021, on Mint Records in Canada on vinyl, CD, and digitally. Lead singles for album tracks have included Re-Veil, Run Away With Her, and, more recently, Wrecking Heart. Purchase jooj two here in our shop.

Thank you so much to Mint, and to Sook-Yin, who took some time to very thoughtfully answer a few questions for us, below, on the new album, its themes, and more:  

Carly: Your new album jooj two was released on Mint Records in Canada this past week. What has been your favorite thing about working with Mint Records to release this album? As Mint is an iconic Canadian indie-label, I imagine it must be like working with old friends, and/or being home.

Sook Yin-Lee: Mint Records is a small but mighty label that has been around since I was growing up in Vancouver. Over the years, Mint has passed the torch from one generation of indie music-makers to the next, introducing us to incredible bands and players. I’m grateful for their commitment to releasing great music with passion and care. There is no better home for our album. Like a boomerang, I’m back on a great label in my hometown, Vancouver. I love Mint. It's such a pleasure to work with Ryan, Randy, and Adrienne. They are THE BEST.

Across your singles for your album jooj two, in both tracks (Run Away With Her and Re-Veil) we hear and read lyrical references to Apollo. Are there any other mentions of Apollo throughout the album, and/or was that coincidental? What else can you tell us about the meaning(s) or significance behind either of these songs?

Thank you for picking up on the “Apollo” references, that's a keen observation! It came as a surprise to me as well. These days, I'm memorizing and learning the songs to perform live. There are a lot of words to remember! Through these songs, I'm discovering what Adam and I unknowingly conveyed. I'm learning from the songs and with each listen, they take on new dimensions and resonance. “Apollo” was the Olympian God of sun, music, poetry, healing and prophecy. Apollo embodied knowledge, order, harmony and beauty. I associate these qualities with Adam. To me, Adam is “Apollo,” the Archer.

Do you think the album is thematic? What made the album creation process unique for you? 

Much of the album was made intuitively through a stream of consciousness process. Instead of chiseling lyrics to fit a song structure, I approached with melody first, responding to instrumentation with improvised vocal melodies, words and sounds. I passed those early sketches on to Adam who would apply his acute listening skills and literally transcribe what he heard. Sometimes, they were the exact words I had sung and other times through his unique filter, he heard something else, resulting in fantastic word combinations. We volleyed lyrics back and forth and applied our editorial ears and poetic sensibilities until they were done. I hear unusual forces coming together in these songs that are guided by an internal logic. It’s a propulsive sounding album of myriad emotions. Dancing. Movement. Feelings. There is a paradoxical energy that is indescribable, mysterious yet specific--like poetry.

Sook-Yin Lee photo by Dylan Gamble

Your album cover art for jooj two was taken by Dylan Gamble whom you also just completed a movie with during the pandemic, titled, Death and Sickness. I hope to be able to watch it, but right now it is only available in Canada. Do you know if it will have other showings outside of Canada?

Are you and he [Gamble] still roommates (since the release of the film)? Although your characters were somewhat fictional in the movie, what are some of the best things that came out of making it together and made your relationship as friends stronger (also) while making the movie (and after)?

The album art features a drawing by Adam, a photo of Adam and I taken by my sister Deanna, and Dylan snapped the album cover photo on one of our long walks--in a “Tree Protection Zone” where big beautiful trees are fenced in by plywood planks. It seemed a curiously fitting image. Dylan and I had recently met when the pandemic hit Toronto, and we decided to lockdown together to make a movie that would become Death and Sickness. I had an idea for a story inspired by the heartbreaking last two years made more intense by the pandemic. It deals with grief and loss, specifically the pain of Adam's death, and the ensuing pandemic when two strangers, Dylan and I, are thrown together in lockdown. Death and Sickness is a work of auto-fiction derived from real life with forays into the imagination.

It’s dedicated to Adam, Dede, my sister, and Adam’s mom Malca Litovitz, all of them have passed. The movie features passages of their inspiring prose and poetry that has lifted me in the hardest times. Death and Sickness is a D.I.Y movie made by Dylan and I in the confines of my eleven foot wide row house. Despite the heavy content, it's also a very funny movie, because comedy is the flip-side of tragedy, and that is life. D&S is streaming on CBC and geo-blocked for Canada only. I’m building a website to make it available outside of Canada—that should happen soon in the next few months. Dylan has been a big part of helping launch jooj two. We are making five music videos to accompany the album. We’ve released Run Away with Her, Re-Veil, and Wrecking Heart (as of April 9th). Two more to go! Making music videos has given us the opportunity to hone our methodology and stretch stylistically. 

Recently, Dylan’s landlord decided not to renew his lease and Dylan and his roommates were forced out at the start of the hard-hitting third wave. So we are locked down together again. We get along great and have an exciting creative chemistry. We’re very different from each other, but complimentary. We’re in the early stages of developing our next handmade movie which will be an experimental comedy. 

I am so sorry for the loss of your partner and friend Adam Litovitz. What were some of Adam's inspirations when the initial stages of this album were being created? Are there particular parts or songs that you can point to that are uniquely him, or unique to the types of pieces that he composed that tie directly into his musical or creative process (and how did that differ from yours)?

Adam and I enjoyed making sounds on our computers. We were raw, intuitive musicians who mixed old tech with new tech, found sounds, and noisemakers. We used to describe our style as, “dirt and bone.” On jooj two, I engineered the album and Adam came up with dynamic sonic fragments that I’d mess with in the studio. Those sounds became the foundation of songs like Wrecking Heart and Narcolept, Falling. We loved pop music pop and pop hooks. 

Jooj Two is our unapologetic big-beat pop record (with plenty of experimentalism). Adam had a gift for elegant and simple piano and acoustic guitar playing which you can hear throughout the album. We were maximal minimalists working from an expansive sonic palette, and yet the songs are spare. The album came together effortlessly and was fun and pleasurable for us to make. Often we’d listen to the songs and laugh, wondering how the heck they came out of us. We loved this album and were proud of the songs. When I hear our music, I feel Adam’s energy and our playful energy together. The music we made separately- his solo music and my own music, is very different from the songs on this album. jooj two is the sound of us together. It’s very special. 

If you could send a positive signal to yourself or to others right now: what would that be? 

The pandemic has thrown everyone into an unpredictable space. People have lost their loved ones, lost their health, their homes, their livelihoods, and yet we navigate this strange and dynamic time. Our wounds and losses unite us. I hope our album can provide some comfort. I hope it inspires you to strut, and air guitar, smash stuff and hold things tenderly. I hope it makes you dance and enjoy your body. One of Adam’s favourite sayings was, “Drink a glass of water.” So please do that. Drink a glass of water, feel it quench your thirst and soothe you. Give cheers and love to Adam.

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