Boomerang Effect: Leah Jee & The Boys Bid Farewell to Milwaukee

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photo courtesy of the artist

 Words by Erin Wolf

Leah Jee (of local pop-punk group Leah Jee & the Boys) may be packing her gig bags for a sunnier city by an even bigger pond, but the Milwaukee-resident of over eight years isn’t about to forget the Milwaukee music scene along with the move. Jee has called Milwaukee home since 2000, when a college scholarship brought her to Milwaukee to study Journalism and Digital Arts at Marquette and the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. The rest is musical fate. Jee talks to Fan-belt about her transition from Midwest to West Coast before her last, official show as a Milwaukee resident/musician on Friday at the BBC’s Upper Level.

“You Follow”, Leah Jee & The Boys

With a new environment, the musician who had previously relegated her music to bedroom sessions and a start-up bands, found herself thrown into a full-fledged band environment through natural progression. Jee says, “I’m extremely thankful for Milwaukee; for being here. I’ve had the most supportive fans I could have had — I’ve made my mistakes and have learned how to be a stage performer. I can’t even imagine where I’d be because I was so shy when I first started. It was really hard for me to pursue my dream, and when I did, the response was so overwhelmingly positive.

“I know that you are influenced by your environment — inspiration comes from everything,” she says, “As I’ve been here, things have changed.” Jee changed things up in Milwaukee by finding like-minded musicians to back her up in her original material. “I’ve been playing guitar for over fifteen years and I’d been writing songs, but I never had told my family that was something I really wanted to do and made myself promise that before I turned twenty, I actually had to be in a band and be performing. It ended up happening a couple days before I turned twenty — then I told my parents. They’re extremely supportive.”

Unfortunately, Jee had the drive but not the proper resources to fulfill her goal of full-time musicianship. “My band mates weren’t able to do this more than a hobby and that’s really tough, because I want to be playing two hundred shows a year, and right now, we pretty much do about four a month and those numbers don’t completely match up.

“You can do a full-band show, or an acoustic show and have a hundred people or maybe twenty five or you could have ten, and those are your diehards. We’d done West Coast tours before, played at festivals and we had about fifty people there,” Jee says. “We’ve been waiting a long time and things have been in the works.” Jee is planning on taking one of her ‘boys’ with her to California — guitarist/vocalist Phil Malko. The two plan on becoming housemates in San Diego, along with the rest of the band who will re-christen themselves ‘Fly By Stereo’.

“We were like, what are we doing? Why aren’t we getting things done, living our dream? Jee says of the decision to reform in her native state. “If we don’t do it now, the opportunity is not gonna come back around. Go for it: our families are supportive, our jobs are supportive, we believe in ourselves, so other people will.”

Jee with her new Fly By Stereo mind-set, is ready to accomplish, taking her old material with The Boys and transforming it and working in new material. “We already have shows booked up through the summer and we’re planning on a tour when we get back. We’re coming here to play the Milwaukee PrideFest again. We’ve got some showcases coming up and will be doing some hardcore practicing. We’ll do some shows and get our feet wet and hit the road. We’ll probably do two months of touring: we’re going to L.A., San Diego, then north, Milwaukee, south and back. We’ve been waiting forever to do it.”

Jee’s forward-thinking has spurred some intense reflection on her relationship with the city she’s called home for over eight years. “I like Milwaukee a lot, but plans don’t always work out the way you expect them to,” she realizes. “I came here and I didn’t know anyone and I created a family of friends here that are incredible. I bought a house here six years ago. I’m pretty rooted here, but this stuff is always going to be here, if I choose to come back.”

Leah Jee & the Boys play their “Countdown to Cali” show at the BBC Upper Level (2022 E. North) at 8 p.m. With Now You Have Audio and Red Letter Diaries. 21+

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