When most girls her age were, well, doing whatever it is 11-year-old kids did in the mid 1990s, Joanna Lee was already writing songs. And now, 14 years later, she's recorded one of those tracks, filmed a video for it and the tune has become a calling card of sorts for her unique blend of indie folk and soul music.
That song, "Sunshine," was one that she penned with her mother, and she wrote it with one intention in mind - to impress a boy, of course.
"I wrote it about a little boy. I was in sixth grade and I had a crush on this eighth grader. I thought if I played the song, I thought he'd fall for me," says Lee, a graduate of Bend High School who has been playing music since cutting her teeth at church performances with her two musically inclined parents.
"I loved it, but I would act shy because I was that little girl who pretended not to like the spotlight. But pretty soon, you get addicted to being up there," she recalls.
Now 25, Lee has established herself as a talented singer-songwriter in Central Oregon, but wants to push her limits as an artist, which is why later this month, she's packing up her guitar - and everything else she owns - and moving to the music-rich city of Austin, Texas. Once there, she hopes to work her way into that city's legendary live music scene, finally making music her full-time job after a few years of working multiple jobs to support her musical aspirations.
"I'm super motivated in my life to get things done and I'm ready to dive into my music," says Lee.
During her time on Central Oregon stages, Lee has developed a style that blends R&B, folk, soul and rock sounds into an acoustic blend that's hardly what one might expect to come out of a young and wildly attractive singer-songwriter from the mountains of Oregon. Her voice is full of the Adele-like zest that allows Lee to play heartfelt, pop-laced sunny-day tunes, but then also get up on the mic with a hip-hop group.
She's appeared on several tunes by local hip-hop duo Cloaked Characters, which might seem like an odd match at first thought, but just a few seconds of listening to the choruses she provides to the duo's tunes and it seems she fits perfectly into CC's high-energy rap tracks. Lee met Cloacked Characters' Jay Tablet and Rory Oneders at Rage Studios, where she was laying down some tracks for her own album. Soon, she'd added another line to her resume, as her thick R&B vocals seem custom built for rap choruses and backing tracks.
"I really do love hip-hop. If you can do it all, do it all. You can reach out to so many people in a different way," says Lee.
After falling in with the Rage crew, Lee began getting gigs around town and over the past four years has become a staple of the local music scene, and the gap created by her impending absence surely won't go unnoticed.
Before heading out to Texas, Lee is playing a slate of shows around the area, including the locals stage at the Bend WinterFest on February 20 and will also perform a set at Parrilla Grill on the 18th.
But Central Oregonians won't totally be without their Joanna Lee fix. She'll be back here to visit family and says she'll be sure to give us some music when she does, because, after all, Bend will always be her home base.
"Bend's a great starting point for anyone. The community support of the musicians is a major factor. It's awesome that we have this small-town feel.
7pm Friday, February 18. Parrilla Grill, 635 NW 14th St.
2:30pm Sunday, February 20. Bend WinterFest at the Crater Lake Lounge.