At just 28 Ben Lee has released six solo records, not to mention work under his early ’90s band Noise Addict. Think about it, Ben was touring before Kurt Cobain died, before cell phones, before Definitely Maybe was released. At 18 he flew the coup for New York – for adventure. “I think what drew me to New York when I was 18 to 20 are the same things as a lot of other people: you’re creative and you want to meet other creative, displaced people. That’s an amazing experience straight out of high school.”
You were on the road at a young age. Did you embrace it with open arms? That really started when I was 14 or 15 and it was every school holidays to America, Europe or Japan, and then on the weekends we’d be touring Australia – Melbourne, Perth, Adelaide. When I was 18 I jumped head-first into the life of a touring musician and that was a shock. Still to this day you wake up on the bus in some weird town you don’t know anything about and you think “Is this my life?” For a lot of people travelling is a hobby, or a break from real life, but when it’s your life it’s an interesting phenomenon. You’re like a travelling salesman – you have your rituals and things that ground you no matter where you are.
So whats grounds you? For me it’s a lot of yoga and rest. Now with the internet you stay in touch with loved ones much easier. I started touring before cell phones and that was a really wild thing. Nowadays bands have GPS and never get lost. I think when I was younger it did feel like a fantasy world that was going wear off. And now I realise I have to come back even more centred than when I left.
How does your new album Ripe differ from Awake Is the New Sleep? It’s bigger sounding. Awake is the New Sleep had an intimacy to it. Ripe has an intimacy to it too, but it’s built for a big stage, more of a rock record in some ways. It’s more three dimensional, more humour, emotion, sexuality, different aspects of myself.
I’ve heard an anecdote about you playing to television industry execs in the US to get your songs on their shows. Can you explain a certain ‘incident’? You play a lot in conference rooms nowadays. One was at Tom Hanks’ office and I jumped up and pulled a rad guitar solo on the coffee table and broke one of his Oscars. You have a song called “What Would Jay-Z do?” How often do you ask that? Quite often. He really is a true hero of mine. Apart from the wonky comeback, he’s handled it all well. He’s got a lot of courage. Jay-Z exemplifies the message of hip-hop, which is empowering yourself. He created a life out of nothing for himself and his family and his friends. He created a miracle and he did it through art. This is someone whose line between dreaming something and making it a reality is a very thin line.
Have you met him? No, I’ve never met him.
How’s it looking then? Have you got “the hottest chick in the game and vacation in San Tropez?” My girlfriend is pretty hot. I like her. Part of the fun with that song for me is what Jay-Z has achieved is a balance. You know the lyrics are, “I want a big heart and I want a big car, I want to pay my dues, a better life, I wanna choice.” It’s not just about materialism. I don’t think Jay-Z is about that, he’s about raising your life, lifting your life to a better place. So I try and do that too.
Ben Lee’s Ripe is out now on Inertia Recordings. For more info hit up inertia-music.com. Ben plays the Metro Theatre, Sydney, on Tuesday 25 October.