Ben Lee is an old favorite of mine. I first became enamored with his sound when he released the single "Catch My Disease" back in 2005, supporting his album Awake is the New Sleep. Awake is a quintessential feel good pop album. Prior to that, he had released a few other albums-- my favorite being Breathing Tornados, a record of odd samples beautifully strung together-- not something you hear typically from a singer/songwriter. Since Awake came out, Ben has also put out two other great pop records-- Ripe and The Rebirth of Venus. While he isn't the most synth-y artist to have on the site, I was sure to snatch up an opportunity to talk to him a bit about those old records, and chat about his upcoming release. You can hear his new single over at Spinner.
Everything's been very quiet on your site and on your blog, I imagine because of your entrance to fatherhood. How is that going? How is the family? What can you tell me about this new journey for you?
Becoming a father has been good for me. Creatively, emotionally, spiritually. Its such a cliche to say it makes you grow up, but it really has created some strange sense of balance to things.
I've always thought it was very cool you've married the talented and beautiful Ione Skye. What's it like to be married to the co-star of the legendary Say Anything? If you take a walk in public together, who gets recognized first?
well neither of us are really household names. anyone that comes up to us is usually pretty cool. ione's a great artist. she inspires me daily.
I've kicked myself since I forgot to tell you this when I met you, but The Rage in Placid Lake is one of my favorite movies. It's incredible offbeat and funny, but sincere. Placid really seems like a kindred spirit to me. Do you think you'll do any more film?
If I get offered one, I’ll consider it. It’s nothing I think about that often.
I feel I'm at an interesting position as there's been very little news on you lately and I'm sure a lot of your fans are wondering what's going on. What comes next for you after this? Are you writing a new record, or are you producing? Or are you taking off more time for fatherhood? What is the future of Ben Lee at the moment?
I have a record coming out in october on Dangerbird called "Deeper Into Dream". I’ve been doing a lot of production and co-writing for artists like Tim Myers, Mozella, Margaret Cho, The Silver Lake Chorus, Sam Shelton, Sophie Koh and Appleonia. I haven’t had much to say to the public between the last record and this one, so sometimes it’s better to say nothing at all, right?
It feels a bit like there must be "Six Degrees of Ben Lee" in the music world. How do you do it?
I go places that interest me. I follow my own excitement about things. Work with people who seem fun at the time. There is no grand plan really.
As a fan of Ben Folds and Ben Kweller, I have to ask: Do you think you guys will ever do a "The Bens" record?
I would be up for it, but I dont know. That was a great moment in time. We’ll have to see if the universe creates another opportunity for that to happen.
One of your collaborations I've always been curious of is that with Jason Schwartzmen. How did you meet him? What have you worked on together?
We met at a hollywood type dinner in the 90’s. We connected right away. We went home together! to listen to records...I played him the stooges, he played me the zombies. we used to hang out alot more. Now we both have young kids it’s hard to connect as much. I have a lot of respect for Jason. We’ve written lots of songs together, and recorded together. I’d pretty much work on anything with him. He has a great sensibility.
Do you think there could ever be a Ben Lee/ Coconut Records (Jason's Music Project) LP?
That would be cool.
One of the aspects of your career that I've always loved is there's always unpredictability. The change from Something to Remember Me By to Breathing Tornados is something no one could have expected. Where did the inspiration for that record (Breathing Tornados) come from? How was the strange yet beautiful musical landscape made? What are your thoughts on the album 13 years later?
I wanted to make a "great" album - who knows what that is, but I felt like stepping up in a sense. Ed Buller was really instrumental in that what Breathing Tornados became. He pushed me to write great pop songs. He really taught me about that.
Moving on further to 2005, Awake is the New Sleep is a classic record. One of my absolute favorites. It definitely feels different than your older records and seems to be more about being a positive influence on the world. What happened before this record was made?
Claire and i broke up and I meet Narayani Amma. Those would definitely be the two biggest influences on that album. Oh, and sleeping around.
Your records "Ripe" and "The Rebirth of Venus" seem like they came out really close together. What was that process like?
They were both a really conscious attempt at being "professional". I’d never really done records back to back, full of big singles and toured and that type of thing. So I gave it a shot. Not as fulfilling as I thought it would be, but fun.
Who are you listening to these days?
Julianna Barwick, Bon Iver, Alexa Wilding, The Jay-Z/Kanye Album, The Shoe
You've been writing songs for a long time. What advice do you have for younger songwriters?
Any advice I could give sounds trite and redundant. You’ve heard it all before. Find your own voice and refine it.
Thanks for talking with me Ben. Do you have any other messages for the fans?
Thanks for still being interested. I hope you like the new album. It’s all about dreams.