Sing J Lee
SING J LEE
I believe that travel is vital for artists and filmmakers. You can’t rely on other’s interpretations of a place and claim to know it, it takes first hand experience to grasp the feel of an unfamiliar place; authenticity comes through in the details. Thus, when I’m in England, I want it to be as English as it gets - I want to have afternoon tea at Kensington Palace and dodge puddles schlepping through incessant rain to get to a 200 year old pub and drink beer to eat steak & kidney pudding damit. Which is why I was so thrilled to be able to meet up with London-based director Sing J. Lee to enjoy a very English breakfast together while bonding over music and directing, jetlag, directing with jetlag, and trying to be vegetarians.
I first met Sing while he was in LA shooting Muse’s most recent music video Mercy, and have admired his impressive body of work ever since. His reel spans between videos for Charlie XCX to Years & Years to CHVRCHES to Vogue. His work is notable for it’s boldness and graphical elements, his use of illustration and his extensive design background shines through each video.
“I was able to come into filmmaking it with different sensibilities, especially graphic design, which is something that’s been hugely influential in my work, and something I’ve always been interested in. I still try and pay careful attention to those principals of color and composition.”
Sing and his younger sister grew up in a creative environment with artistic parents, a graphic designer and technical draftsman who run a takeaway together. A hyperactive child with a penchant for painting, his punishment for acting out would be to sit and draw all of his toys over and over. “That’s how I ‘honed my craftsmanship,’ haha.” His creative passions expanded as a young adult, and when he moved out of his parent’s house around age 16, he joined an electro-indie band and grew his hair out big, mimicking unlikely heros Nikki Sixx and Johnny Thunders. The project, titled The LP signed to a Japanese record label and was even played on Radio 1, but it fizzled out after a few years.
“I was 19 and trying to figure out what I really wanted to do with my life, so I went to an art college in North Wales called Yale - but not YALE - and enrolled in a foundations course, where I got to experiment with different mediums, filmmaking, photography, drawing. That’s when I started wanting to see the images move. So the natural progression from painting would be animation, so I took an animation and illustration course, but literally the first week into that animation course I decided I wanted to make a live action short film. And so being a director was like a really natural discovery, without ever having any preconceived notions about wanting to make films.”
He extended his overdraft to buy a 7D camera and began making short films and hassling local music video commissioners. “At that point I didn’t even really know what commissioners were, I’d be like ‘Hey- you sound important - can I make a music video?’ haha. I think my naivety actually helped a lot, and just not being afraid to look like an idiot.”
That boldness and naivety proved successful and he was soon being sent pitches by commissioners. In his second year of university he directed a video for a group in the UK called Skunk Anansie who were a quite big grungy band in the 90s, setting him on a steep learning curve where he was able to cut his teeth and start honing his craft as a director.
“I worked with a couple more bands like that - I think it’s probably like this for you with LYKA as well - there’s not this pressure, I wasn’t in the public eye. You’re making what you want to make because it’s fun for you without anything really holding you back. So that’s how I got started directing really, it was very natural.”
He graduated in 2012 and hopped around a few different UK production companies and began bidding on major label briefs. He began making videos for the band Pins, who had toured with CHVRCHES, and got his major break by facebook messaging Lauren Mayberry about collaborating, which spawned into 3 hugely successful videos for the band. He signed with worldwide production company Partizan shortly after, and from that point on has been booking music videos and writing an original short film to be shot in 2016. Although young in age, Sing has been able to excel in a competitive artistic field, and we’re super excited for what future work he has in store for us.
Where do your music video ideas come from?
My ideas always come from the song. On my computer I’ve got all my old treatments saved and I always think that I’ll go back into that folder and adapt some of those ideas, but every time a song comes in I always end up writing something new for it. The ideas always come from the songs, maybe not necessarily the lyrics but the feeling, and that usually winds up linking back to the lyrics anyway.
I have two lists, because one are favorite movies that you have like big sentimental attachment to because you always watch them to feel good or for certain reasons, and then there’s also the critically acclaimed favorites list. Little Women is one of my favorite films, I love that film, I watched it so much when I was young, and The Little Princess. [The Little Princess by Alfonso Cuaron is AMAZING.] I think both those films have really interesting female characters without being gratuitous. Singing in the Rain is probably one of my favorite films - I own it on every format available: video disc, laser disc... I don’t even have players for all of them. Blade Runner is obvious in there, and then The Three Colors Trilogy by Krzysztof Kieślowski. Those three collectively might actually be my top, they’re color coded in blue white and red and are based on the ideology of the French Republic: liberty, equality, and fraternity.
I think Paul Thomas Anderson has to be in there - he’s interesting because he doesn't - apart from like, well Boogie Nights had one of his neatest endings - but I like that his films don’t really come to a tight close. And I feel like he’s still exploring and doesn’t mind making mistakes. He doesn't do the same things over and over and isn’t looking to write the perfect Hollywood script.
I love all sorts of music really, I love Jai Paul, he’s this UK artists who wrote two songs, signed to a label and disappeared - no one knows what he’s really doing, it’s been like 3 years now. I also love Banks. I like all sorts of music, depends on the mood I’m in really. I live in this warehouse, and my housemates are from all over the world, Canada, California, Australia, Italy - all of them love music. There’s a routine where on Sundays we’ll listen to music, and I really enjoy the atmosphere so I like to take a backseat and see what everyone plays. Timber Timbre’s been on a lot lately, really like him, and also Dirty Beaches. The house is always full of good surprises.
Favorite thing to do outside of directing?
I still like to try and draw when I get the chance. Reading, at the moment I’m reading This Side of Paradise, I find that privileged American world really fascinating. And then I’m really quite active, I love picking up new sports, soccer, tennis; I just started slacklining with a housemate, we just go to the park and try and slackline, it’s all about the balance.
Favorite brunch spot in LA or London?
I haven't had brunch in LA... but in London, well really, I don’t usually have brunch. But a good friend of mine who’s also my editor, for some reason we started this thing where we eat fried chicken together - and we just keep on trying to find fried chicken places together. But now I’m trying to be a vegetarian so it’s not going to work out… I’ll have to break that news to him at some point.
Bloody mary’s or mimosas?
Ok so I’m allergic to alcohol, so I guess my go to drink is probably coke, but I still ask for tea at the strangest of times.