Interview with Henry Lees
What got you into music, and if you had not gotten into music what would you be doing today?
My family, specifically my mother's side of the family. My mother was a self-taught-by-ear pianist and accordion player with a rolodex of songs in her head that she could pick and choose from to play with passion and flair on our family upright at any time. She was a joyful melody machine and always sang along in her sweet and lilting soprano when she played. My mother's brothers and sisters also all played guitar, piano, percussion and other instruments and my uncles had a dance band for three decades or more. My grandmother and grandfather were both violin/fiddle players who entertained all around central Alberta in the 1930s and 1940s. While I grew up, every holiday and family gathering had a musical component. As a kid, my favourite toy was our console record player in the living room and I know that hearing and participating in music from a very young age is what got me started on this lifelong creative path.
Today, I also work in media and broadcasting as a marketing manager and I always maintain that I could be one popular song away from working the most at what I love the most. For now, I work the most at what I love the second most.
What do you like to do when you are not playing music and how does that influence your creativity?
I love any kind of exploration - from a walk around my neighborhood to a weekend driving getaway somewhere I've never been, to international travel. I almost always find something that can or will inspire a song. I've written a song about a magnificent, blooming magnolia tree that stopped me in my tracks, and another one about a child's chalk drawing I came across on a sidewalk. Exploration and experiencing new places and things are some of the best song fodder.
How long has your band been around?
I'm a musical multi-tasker. I'm a solo singer-songwriter. I'm also in an original music duo called The Soul Maître D's, a trio called Evolution and sing and play percussion with singer-songwriter David Storey in his quintet, the Dirt Road Scholars.
Where are you based out of and how did that influence your music?
I'm based in Toronto and this vibrant, diverse and highly creative city can send inspiration to an artist from many different directions at once. I'd say the friends and peers I've met and grown to know and love here are the greatest influence to my music through the wonderful collaborations I've been able to have.
How did you come up with the name of your band and what does it mean to you?
In the case of the Soul Maître D's, my duo with my main songwriting partner Lawrie Ingles, we both love a good turn of phrase, puns and jokes. Hence the mash up of soul mates and maître d'. We always say, “We may not be your soul mates but, we wanna be your Soul Maître D's!”
Tell me about your most memorable shows.
New Year's Eve 2018 at the Capitol Theatre in Port Hope, Ontario. The Soul Maître D's got to play an opening set for the headlining act, Elton Rohn, a fabulous Elton John Tribute act. It was the first time I was able to sing a set of songs that I had co-written, except for two occasion-appropriate covers, to an appreciate, soft-seater audience. When they gave us a second round of spontaneous applause at the end of our set, I floated, rather than walked, off the stage.
Another wonderful memory is sharing the stage as a background singer for Indigenous actor, singer-songwriter, philanthropist and Order of Canada honouree Tom Jackson on his cross-Canada Huron Carole Benefit Tours across Canada in 1996 and 1997. Getting to sing on CBC TV specials taped during the tour with great Canadian acts like The Rankins, Natalie MacMaster, Charlie Major and more was magical.
What is your favorite venue to play at, and do you have any places you want to play that you have not already?
My favourite venue to play at in Toronto is sadly not around anymore. It was called Relish Bar and Grill and it was a casualty of the pandemic. So many wonderful nights spent there playing gigs, singing at their weekly open stage, karaoke nights, theme parties and seeing other fine artists pour out their hearts and souls like they were in your living room are cherished memories.
If you could play any show with any lineup, who would be on the ticket?
I would love to have been an up-and-coming artist in the great singer-songwriter period of the late '60s early '70s, opening for a one-night only line up of James Taylor, Carole King, Joni Mitchell, Jackson Browne, and for some killer harmonies in the mix, Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young.
What is some advice that you would give to someone who is just getting into playing in a band and some advice that you would give to your younger self?
I would tell someone just getting into a band to do it, and keep doing it, strictly because you love music and want to answer that call. Don't only chase fame because, for most of us, it stays ten steps ahead. For my younger self, I would tell him to not be so hard on himself and demand the impossible, perfection.
If you could go back in time and give yourselves advice, what would it be?
Don't get that perm. Seriously though, see the above answer...
Of your songs which one means the most to you and why?
My latest release, “Walking With Fear”, a song I co-wrote with award-winning singer-songwriter and dear friend David Leask, is about my journey coping with fears and anxiety throughout my life. It's very important to me but, was itself scary to write because it's so personal and revealing. It was so cathartic and beneficial to write though, and I'm so proud of having explored that part of myself. In turn, I hope others who grapple with high anxiety might get a little hope and inspiration from the song's message of learning to live and thrive with these uncomfortable emotions.
Which songs are your favorite to play and which get requested the most?
Any song that I've had a hand in writing is a favourite of mine to play.
Unfortunately, the ones that get requested the most are usually better known hits by other artists but, we love to play those too.
What is the creative process for the band, and what inspires you to write your music?
I usually co-write with one or two other writers. That process can be both like a bad date, or like the most soul-satisfying, creative gab fest. The intricacies, wonder and shock and awe of life inspire me to write my music mostly but, I've also been known to write a song from a single word, even a word that never existed before the song in the case of a song called “Melancholywood” that I wrote with my fellow Soul Maître D, Lawrie Ingles.
What kinds of messages do you like to get across in your music?
Anything that is relatable and that can connect with listeners. Anything that will inspire listeners to feel a bond with what the song has to say. Maybe it draws a memory. Maybe it reminds them of a life event or a loved one. Making a shared connection with listeners is what it's all about.
Do you ever have disagreements in your band, and how do you get past them?
A good ol' fashioned arm wrestle! Seriously, for any occasional disagreements it's important to listen, give consideration to everyone and come to a mutually agreeable decision together.
What are your plans for the future, and do you have anything that you want to spotlight that is coming up?
I'm aiming to release a debut solo EP in early 2023 and will be releasing two more singles as lead ups in the last half of 2022.