Ben Lee

Silent Uproar So, this album (Hey You. Yes You.) was recorded in late 2001. Is that correct?

Ben: Yes, I keep saying late NINETY-one by mistake, which is exaggerating the delay quite a bit, but yes, late 2001.

SU: What caused the hold up for almost 2 years? Was it label issues, like Grand Royal closing?

Ben: Sometimes you just try and do things and they don't happen too quickly. It felt like there were several steps along the way…just different things happened, and people couldn't commit, and you know, it took awhile for the label to set up, this is their first release, and then it took awhile to cut out the deal with Dan, and his people, they wouldn't give us the tapes for a long time. So there were a lot of issues that ultimately made it take the time it took.

SU: Many times, when a musician records an album they feel that it is a representation of them at the time of recording. And then, as they grow and change, the album stops representing them so much. With these songs being almost 2 years old, do you feel this record still represents who you are musically, or have you moved on from there?

Ben: I do agree with that in one sense, like the music I'm writing now is different. But, on the other hand, I feel like, that also, sort of, compartmentalizes your life, you know? And you have to be able to look at what you've done and see where it all fits in. And so, that WAS me, and I have to sort of finish the job I've started now, and you know, with art, half the job is making it, half the job is communicating it, and I have to sort of finish those things [with the communication].

SU: Because you like to look at your body of work and incorporate that all into who you are, does your real early stuff with Noise Addict hold up with the work you've done since? If no, is it a difference of quality, or a difference of time?

Ben: Well, I'm not too interested in judging my work on a quality level, I don't really see what would be achieved by that, but obviously that was a long time ago. It's funny though, the phases you go through looking at your own work. I mean, in some ways, stuff I did 10 years ago is easier to relate to than stuff I did 5 years ago. You almost have a disclaimer, like, 10 years ago! That was so long ago! And the stuff from 5 years is a little more recent and a little more like [makes noise of quasi-embarrassment]. But there are no real rules, in some way or another, you have to face…it's like watching your life flashing before your eyes, and you have to face it all and realize that's all part of you.

SU: This album, sonically, is a departure from what you've done in the past, especially the production work by Dan the Automator. What was it like working with him? I mean, the album works, but at first it seems like an odd pair to be collaborating. How did you come about working with him?

Ben: Well, I sort of have this intuition about people I work with, and I'm never too concerned about how it looks on paper, it's just about how it feels. I just knew once we started talking about it, and we've known each other a long time, and we said "Yeah, let's do it!" And then, I went to the studio and the next thing I know we finished the record. I mean, in some ways, our main concern was to not let the record be like "singer/songwriter with beats," you know what I mean? You know like, Dido, or whatever. After Beck, there started to be a bunch of artists that are just a singer/songwriter with an acoustic guitar with a drum loop underneath. And it was really important that no matter what we did we made an integrated sonic album, that it had layers to the sound, and that it didn't sound unnatural, you know what I mean.

SU: Certain songs on the record sound like if you recorded them without Dan, they would've been somewhat similar, but others have such a strong influence from him, that I can't imagine them without his contributions. Did a lot of the writing happen together?

Ben: That's very true; half the songs I brought in and we just recorded, and the other half, he would, you know, show me a beat, and I'd say "oh, I have an idea," and then I'd go and work off of that. Actually, probably about 60% of the record was written in the studio.

SU: Certain collaborations, especially "No Room to Bleed," sound really unique and original. The beginning of "No Room to Bleed" starts off sounding like something you may have done in the past, but then that beat comes in and it hits you, and it makes perfect sense and sounds great, but is something that I know I would have never thought to put there.

Ben: I think we hit our mark there. When I hear that song, and I don't say this to be arrogant or whatever, but I feel I've never heard something like that before. I think that's the one song on the record that there is some NEW SHIT going on! [Laughs] And you can't do that all the time, but every now and then you get a moment that's like, "where did that come from?" And that was one of those moments.

SU: For me, that song was the one that really sold me on the collaboration, after that, listening to the record again, it all started to make more sense.

Ben: The thing that people may not realize is that me and Dan are both fanatical about pop music, so we'd just watch MTV and talk about No Doubt all day. Dan would always say "I want to own the radio." It's funny that people like us, we could never really compromise and be deliberately commercial, but we try and do what we do and make it the most accessible that we can.

SU: - I've heard that your next record is going to be a record of other people doing your songs?

Ben: Well, new songs. I wrote songs for different people to sing.

SU: I heard one is Kylie Minogue? Is that true?

Ben: Yes.

SU: That sounds like an interesting mix…

Ben: Well, I did a duet with her a few years ago, a Duran Duran cover ("The Reflex"), but you know, I like all kinds of people, and all kinds of music, and as long as, its not…the worst thing I can see is something closed and hidden, or contrived…so as long as I see someone's personality and something genuine, then that's quite interesting to me.

SU: So who else is going to sing on this record?

Ben: Neil Finn, Ben Folds, Angie from Frente!, Ben Kweller, Tim Wheeler, and a few more I'm trying to get. I'm trying to get Robbie Williams to do one. I really want eclectic performances.

SU: You mentioned Ben Folds and Ben Kweller, that leads me to the ubiquitous Bens question. I know you guys toured and recorded and EP - what's next?

Ben: Well, I don't know if there will be anything up next, actually. It was one of those things where it was a moment in time, when we were all together and it was like "let's record!" and we did an EP, we wrote and recorded 4 songs in 4 days, and that's one of those things where we'll do it if everyone is keen and it feels right. But it's not something I think we should push ever, it has to be natural.

SU: And then not too long ago, you did a session with Evan Dando, Tom Peterson (Cheap Trick), and Jason Schwartzmann (ex Phantom Planet), how did that come about?

Ben: Evan and I had a few songs that didn't seem like they would fit on either of our albums, so we figured we should just record them. So I brought in Jason, and he brought in Tom Peterson and we just did it, and it was one of those goofy experiences that was probably best left as a 7''. You know, it was a very odd mix of personalities, but sometimes that's really interesting.

SU: It sounds like lately you've been surrounding yourself with lots of other musicians lately, between the covers record, the Bens, the Dando/Peterson/Schwartzmann…

Ben: Well, you know, I've been getting more and more comfortable operating outside the mainstream, and feeling that like "man, I can make my own rules!" You know, I know enough people, I know enough musicians that I can sort of decide how I want to do my own career. I don't need to do whatever a new artist who just signed to Sony has to do, to go out and whore themselves out, I can do what I want. So, more and more, you come to that, and I get more and more psyched about creating weird little experiments.

SU: I agree, I mean, some of the best artists have been great by working outside of the mainstream box…

Ben: Yeah, I've always admired someone like the Flaming Lips, who did their thing for years and years and eventually, have been noticed by the mainstream. I mean, if you're good at what you do, there is no way that you can escape people getting into it; sometimes it just takes a little longer.

Aug 18 2003