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Byron Shire
April 21, 2021

Interview with Ben Lee

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Ben Lee is on at Lismore City Hall and Brunswick Picture House

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Ben Lee kicked his career off in the early ‘90s in his teens – a kid with a knack for hitting the sweet spot. He’s one of those people who rarely know what he’s doing next, but it’s part of his magic; he just listens to the universe and takes instruction.

After living in the US for years, it was during COVID that Ben Lee came home with his partner and kids.

‘In LA we were barely going out of the house for the last year. Being around people now is a bit of a shock. We were living amongst the socioeconomic collapse under Trump, the anxiety of that for us and the kids was huge. It was a scary time. The other day I saw my 11-year-old going down the waterslide with other kids and I saw her remember what it is to be a kid again.’

Lee’s 2019 album saw him present an album of covers of the songs that influenced him, titled Quarter Century Classics. He covers bands like Sonic Youth, Dinosaur Jr, Fugazi and more.

‘At this point of my career, when I pick up a guitar and play a song by me, or any artist, it sounds like a Ben Lee song, so leaning into that and seeing how to best make the song your own and make it comfortable is the best way to do a cover I think.’

Ben Lee is a prolific collaborator. He even managed it during the lockdown when no one could gather.

‘I had been touring before and had all these new songs and was getting ready to go into the studio and record, but I had to shelve it, and then a couple of months in I realised – if I don’t do this now then it won’t happen – this situation is going to last a while. So I started, and came up with a dream list of collaborators and sent them all stems of the song and said “Go to town”. People like Zooey Dechanel, Megan Washington and Money Mark. Basically the record was built like that. Not the way I intended to make it. Ultimately for artists what you expect to happen or want is never actually as interesting as what does happen. What separates artists who can roll over a long time and be a lifetime artist from the ones who basically do it as a hobby is adaptability.

‘The principle was the same, which was why I wanted to do it live – I wanted to be generally surprised by people’s creativity – when they sent tracks back, I had the same response because people made choices I would never have made.’

Improvisation is key for Lee in his creativity. ‘It’s about making friends with chaos. All art is about that. It’s about controlling what you can control and surrendering to what you can’t.’

Ben Lee plays two concerts in the Northern Rivers. And no two shows are ever the same.

‘I have a list of songs, I don’t concoct a set list, and I move with the night. There seems to be a real gratitude for being in a space together.’

Friday 26 March at 7pm at Lismore City Hall. Tickets from lismorecityhall.com.au

Saturday 27 March at 7pm at the Brunswick Picture House. Tickets from brunswickpicturehouse.com

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