Ben Lee is celebrating his tenth studio album, Love Is The Great Rebellion, and with it, a return sonically, to the glorious pop stylings of Awake Is The New Sleep.
Prolific as well as profound, Lee resides in Laurel Canyon with his wife and child. A musical mecca, Laurel Canyon has been home to some of Lee’s greatest influences. From David Crosby and Joni Mitchell to Carole King, this spiritual home has reconciled the way Lee has progressed on his own journey.
Finding his way through multiple genre’s, exploratory paths and experiences, Lee has, surprisingly, settled back into where he found his most widely acclaimed success – in the land of pop.
Relationships, love, loss and life are subjects never too far away from Lee’s heart and as such, his latest album is filled to the brim with these life-affirming truisms.
We had the chance to talk to Lee about his latest endeavours and how this new project revealed more than he was expecting.
Talk to me about the process of recording this album. How was this different from your last record?
The biggest thing that happened with this record, and I look at the process from the beginning of writing, was that it went in a very different direction than what I had anticipated. I thought after the Ayahuasca album, I was going to make something just as, or even more – niche or out there and I was quite surprised when pop songs started emerging. So from that perspective there was a real “oh, we’re going in that direction”.
It was just embracing the idea that maybe there was something I hadn’t completed sharing about pop music – with pop music as the medium.
So yeah I don’t know, overall, my records are sort of similar, in that they’re just reflections on whatever is going on in my life and the people that are on them, are the people I’m hanging out with, so in that sense, I guess there was nothing that new.
But for me in the sense of what I had to say – with the album – and the songs I was writing – that was always very new because that could only exist in the present moment. That was where it really felt more like I was in unknown territory.
Like a natural progression… back to the past.
Yeah, I think sonically, I embraced some elements from my past. I think with a lot of my career I’ve kind of undermined my connection with my audience. Like I’ve been contrary – I’ve been a contrary person. I’ve said to them ‘oh you think I’m going to do this? Well I’m going to do that!”
Through that, I’ve realised if you look at it like a relationship, which it is, I worked against having a certain kind of intimacy with my audience. So with this record, I just started thinking – why am I putting all this energy into fighting the people who actually like my music? Why don’t I give them a record that they’ll enjoy and meanwhile, I’ll write about the things I want to write about, I’ll explore the things I need to explore, but stop making them the enemy, they’re the people who are actually supporting my career and my course emotionally. They are the people who understand what I’m saying. So that was a bit of a new approach.
You are an incredibly transformative artist and I think your fan base definitely appreciate that aspect of your artistry. I do think that the joyous celebration of life, love and loss is refreshingly familiar to your past albums. This is what your fan base love and appreciate from you, despite the thematic changes your albums go through.
Yes definitely. I think I also had to embrace this in the subject matter. It’s getting more and more dangerous I think, in the last two albums particularly, the phrase I’ve been exploring has been mystical death. You know, what does it mean to let yourself psychologically die and become a new person? That is probably the scariest thing that a human can endeavour to do and it’s probably the one that people are the most reactive against. So I think in a way also, if I want to explore this type of subject matter, doing it within a medium that feels loving and nourishing to my audience, was really the best way to take them on that journey.
So you worked on one track with your wife and child
Yeah, you know, whoever’s around get amongst it! It’s great, I mean coming from punk rock and underground music I’ve just always believed in the authenticity that comes from where you actually are in life. So I’m just finding that now.
At a certain point – those people were Benji Madden and Liz Phair, and now those people are my wife and child. You know, it’s just kind of natural to keep rolling with what’s changing.
Has having a child changed the way you view the music industry itself?
I’m definitely less tolerant of what I’d call ‘consciousness lowering music’ – music that just promotes promiscuity and materialism and degradation of the human being. It’s not just as a parent though, I have just realised that things I’ve defended in the past as freedom of expression – really kind of have no other goal in mind than to drag us down to their level.
And, like I said, maybe you hear a lot of people talk about this as they become parents, but for me it’s also been kind of a spiritual revelation too.
The idea that, if we’re going to move this thing forward – we’ve each got to move it forward! There’s no room on this bus for people who want to slow it down and I just don’t have time for that, nor the energy to put into it. I just see more and more, a celebration of the vulgarity of culture. It’s really like pollution or something. So I just see it as, if we can reinforce the idea that art is there to uplift – that is its real purpose – to help show us the way.
When I watch a movie, I want to watch a movie that’s going to teach me something. That’s the purpose of art and hopefully all of this noise will not ruin my kid’s impression of what movies and music are meant to be.
Talk to me about ‘Everything Is Ok’. It definitely resonates differently from the other songs. With a melodic longing to reach out and comfort, the lullaby like quality of the song is reassuring in the most genuine way.
I guess that song for me was about a week I spent on a retreat in the mountains and I just had a realisation of some mistakes I’ve made. Mistakes I’ve made in friendships, in collaborations, and as a parent. I really saw clearly some mistakes and in that moment, you’re at a really interesting crossroads where you can either, disappear down the hole of guilt and regret and self-punishment or you can say – well I know where I have to go now, lets move forward. So I think that song was about that feeling of moving forward so its just full of resolve. It’s interesting because I’ve always felt that some of the most comforting presences I’ve experienced have been art made with a sense of courage. Because courage is very comforting, you know – you say ‘that person’s got the courage to do it’ then you’ve got the courage to do it!
So if anything I’ve hoped my music has given people a sense of courage and particularly within this record, where we’re talking about rebelling within ourselves – we’re talking about choosing to let go of things that are beneath us and saying ‘I’m going to live a life of integrity and more dignity’, which is a really scary thing to say.
I’ve just really hope to encourage a spark and build a fire in people through this music, if it’s possible.
Ben Lee Love is the Great Rebellion – out Friday 29 May.
Friday 5 June – Black Bear Lodge, Brisbane, QLD
Tickets: oztix.com.au | 1300 762 545
Saturday 6 June – Newtown Social Club, Sydney, NSW
Tickets: newtownsocialclub.com | 1300 724 867
Sunday 7 June – Northcote Social Club, Melbourne, VIC
Tickets: northcotesocialclub.com | 1300 724 86