This is how Sook-Yin Lee became a VJ at MuchMusic and what she's up to now
There were cool people, great tunes, and you never really knew what was going to happen, or who you might run into, which made it all the more exciting.
The slogan for MuchMusic, "it's a lot," was reflective of the times, and co-founder Moses Znaimer's unique vision.
Sook-Yin Lee, who was a veejay there from 1995-2001, says nothing was off limits.
"There were hours to fill," she says, "there was a real fun
team there and they were like, 'okay, you're coming up Sook-Yin [...] what do you want to do?' And I'm like, 'can I have a slow zoom into my armpit?' [...] and then after it would be halfway to Mars!"
This whole vibe was what gave MuchMusic its edge, but it was also by design. Znaimer had a knack for finding rare personalities to staff his station at 299 Queen St. West.
After seeing one of Lee's short films, he called her up out of nowhere and offered her a job.
Lee made the move to Toronto, from Vancouver in 1995, and worked at the music station for six years, where she hosted The Wedge, created characters like Rocker Chick 2000, and wrote sketches for Snowjob and the annual Tree Toss.
Plus, Lee was all about talking to real people and experimenting, which she had the freedom to do. Lee once found a closet of old cameras and took one home to film Eyeball Theatre, which feels like opening some delightfully twisted Toronto time capsule.
Lee tells me she was part of a second generation of hosts, "so it was past that sort of hedonistic kind of like rock and roll days [...] when KISS would come in and [...] wreak havoc, you know, those were the days gone by."
When I asked why she left in 2001, Lee said her manner of speaking became disjointed, which was bound to happen in a work environment that at the best of times felt like "herding cats."
Management was changing, and a big corporate takeover was looming, and Lee says, "in the age of Bradford How, and George Stroumboulopoulos and the whole group that I was with, it was a bit of a tighter ship then."
Lee has had quite the prolific career since leaving her veejay job, but that comes as no surprise.
Aside from being a TV and radio host, she sings, acts, directs, and creates wherever she goes—or doesn't go, as her most recent project, Death and Sickness was shot almost entirely at her Toronto home during lockdown.
The DIY feature film, premiering on CBC Gem on November 20, was written, shot and produced by a team of two.
Lee, and musician Dylan Gamble made the film while quarantining together, so it explores the intensity of the world, and mounting chaos, but also the escape into imagination.
"In a lot of ways, it's a very psychedelic film," Lee tells me, "we transformed my home into a sort of intergalactic void in outer space. We also time traveled to the middle ages. It takes on this incredible flight of fancy."
Death and Sickness is also very much an exploration of grief, as Lee lost the closest person in her life, Adam Litovitz, in June of 2019.
Reeling from the loss, but also feeling the need to create a space for that, Lee says, "[the film] deals with a lot of very difficult things, but it's also extremely funny."
Sook-Yin Lee recalls her time at MuchMusic in the 90s and early 2000s, including the unexpected job offer from Moses Znaimer that started it all.
Lee talks about the move to Toronto, her memorable first day, celebrities, Speakers' Corner, and having the freedom to be experimental on television.
Lee also touches on her current project, a feature film called Death and Sickness, made entirely at home during lockdown.
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