Ben Lee (Singer-songwriter)
Matthew James Oxlade
Welcome to the third episode of the Creative Detour Podcast! In this episode I sit down with Ben Lee to talk about his creative journey. This Ben Lee interview spreads light on how he sustains motivation for creative projects long-term, what he learned from Sonic Youth and The Beastie Boys around community and heaps more.
You’ll hear about it in this Ben Lee interview but in case you miss it, Ben Lee is playing the Brisbane Powerhouse on 19 June. You can grab tickets here.
Ben Lee interview episode in video format
Ben Lee interview episode in audio format
Ben Lee interview episode transcript
Please note: The below transcript was generated by Descript. It’s best to find the timestamp you’re interested in and jump to that area of the podcast episode you’re interested in.
Ben Lee interview: What Beastie Boys taught him about community, motivation for projects + more
Ben Lee: It’s kind of amazing, like, yeah. I think like a this day and age to have the benefit of having being around two smart, attentive, young women as the world’s going through so many changes and everything. It’s like, it’s really it’s enlightening. Like I kind of feel like you reach a certain threshold with your kids where the script flipped, flips, and they start teaching you a lot. And it’s awesome. It’s really awesome. Awesome.
[00:00:34] Matt Walter: Is that when, like they become more peers rather than kids?Kids.
[00:00:38] Ben Lee: Yeah. And they just, they, they, they’re more attentive to, you know, like, I mean, the easiest example is like in terms of gender stuff, expectations and roles and societal stuff, like, you know, a lot of my assumptions were formed.
[00:00:55] 30 years ago, 40 years ago, you know? And they’re growing up in a different, thank God in a different environment, with different, a different reality. And so they take many things for granted. That to me is still like new ideas, you know? So it’s a way to keep, continue to evolve if you like. Allow your kids to help show you where things are going.
[00:01:19] It’s the same reason why, like, you know, it’s funny, like where you can, you and I connected through Georgia Mac. To me it’s always incredibly important to stay connected, to auditors younger than me who are really creative and whose creativity I connect with and enjoy because. I think they’re always pointing the way forward and I never had interest in being like tied to the past.
[00:01:43] I always want to know where we’re going and how I can participate in like positive change, you know, creatively, politically, socially, all of that. So it’s like, it’s just about how open your mind is, I guess.
[00:01:57] Matt Walter: Yeah. And do you find that that sort of, I guess come relatively naturally to you, but do you have to sort of sometimes like, understand, like, learn more about the person that you’re learning from to really get those foundations in, to build upwards in terms of employing it into your own creative process?
[00:02:16] Ben Lee: Yeah, I’m, I’m pretty intuitive with whose creativity I trust. Yeah. There’s kind of just like a vibe, you know what I mean? Without being to the castle about it. But it’s the vibe that creative people have. Like, you know, it’s like, I kind of tend to call them like the fun freaks, you know, like I, I relate to the fun freaks from any generation.
[00:02:45] I, I they’ve always been my people, you know, like whether it’s coming into music at 14 and connecting with all these bands that were like so much older than me, but that I could like relate to where they were coming from, like sitting down with someone like Mike watt or Jay maskus. So, you know, like kind of weirdos that were like two generations ahead of me that, like, I just, I feel like I psychically understood who these human beings were and what their values were or meeting people like.
[00:03:14] Georgia and Shamir and, you know, Christian Lee Hudson and like different like younger people who I just go like, yeah, man, it’s just birds of a feather. Like it’s, it’s, it’s cross-generational creativity. That’s how, that’s where my real community is. It’s artists. It’s not based on like religion or money or race, or it’s like, I, my community creative free thinkers who are fun, you know?
[00:03:41] Matt Walter: I think and I’m jumping ahead a bit here, but that was one of the things yeah. Let’s jump around because normally we started the podcast with what your, what your earliest creative memory is.
[00:03:53] Ben Lee: Yeah. What’s that. So do you want to do that or are you just telling me that
[00:03:58] Matt Walter: now Moscow, I was telling you, but yeah.
[00:04:02] Ben Lee: Oh, man, I have so many it’s it’s honestly like, particularly when you get into childhood, it’s pretty hard to like compartmentalize what was a creative experience and what was just childhood because all of childhood was creative. There’s literally like the essence of play is creative. And I remember playing, you know in some ways I remembe, I remember this moment of like going to synagogue with my dad and finding it so boring and putting his blazer over my head and having two little lollies.
[00:04:45] They were like these raps, like strawberry or pineapple lollies and playing this adventure game in the side of the Jacket, which had come to resemble sort of like a cave system or like the dark crystal or something. And I applied under there for like an hour or something, and I totally got lost in this world.
[00:05:04] And I remember the next week being excited to go back to synagogue with him. Cause I would get to play this game again and I put it over my head and there was no way to recreate the magic. Of the exact formation and like the way the jacket had landed and, and the way my mindset was. And it’s like, it was a really early lesson.
[00:05:27] I remember in the transitory nature of inspiration that it’s there when it’s there. And then you can go back and try and recreate it, but it’s like never the same.
[00:05:38] Matt Walter: Even like a wakeup pot, like I guess synagogue would probably be awake, awake or a month or so apart. Right. Even
[00:05:44] Ben Lee: five minutes apart, like even with like writing a song you know, like sometimes you’ll be jamming out an idea or dreaming something and it will feel really good.
[00:05:56] And then you’ll go to recreate it later and it doesn’t have the same spark to it. So I think a lot of like Being an effective artist in the longer term is knowing how to work with that transition. Join us and sort of like both respecting that magic is magic and it’s out of your control, but when it’s worth pursuing ideas, even if they’ve slightly lost the inspiration because you trust what happened in that moment was real.
[00:06:27] And that it will lead to good things down the line.
[00:06:31] Matt Walter: So do you struggle with demos then if that’s like, you know, bottling that spark, that initial spark, how do you maintain the motivation to evolve a demo when you’re, you’re doing an initial sort of jam out?
[00:06:43] Ben Lee: Well, I’m not really certain what a demo is particularly anymore, because any elements you use while creating a song or quote unquote, demoing a song can easily be taken into your finished recording.
[00:06:59] So I tend not to think like that. I also don’t do two demos for labels. I’ve never, I don’t come from that generation where you like, get approval for work. You want to make like, I’m more come from the generation of, Hey, I’m going to make the thing here. It is. Do you like it or not? And that’s, that’s not to say I have like the best track record with everything being liked.
[00:07:21] Like I’ve put out tons of records independently on my own because labels didn’t find them that interesting. But to me it’s always been that like, You win some, you lose some, like I’m not going to try and build something for your approval. I just don’t, I it’s not how I’ve ever worked and it’s not, I don’t see how I would do that kind of thing.
[00:07:40] Matt Walter: Is there a little bit of like you know, self satisfaction when a label doesn’t believe in something and you go out and you do it on your own, you almost want to go, like I told you so or, well, a shock
[00:07:54] Ben Lee: for Shaw and I’m particularly with With awake is the new sleep. There was, that was rejected by everybody.
[00:08:02] I ended up putting it out with the inertia who basically pitched me, this guy, Nick Pontus, who is really great. He said, I reckon, think of this as the Bentley retirement plan, you can put this at yourself and make a bit more money, but like, it was pretty reasonably modest though. You know what I mean?
[00:08:19] And, uh, and that record went massive. So yeah, but you kind of learn. As you go on that you know, it’s like that expression, the best revenge is living well, that you don’t have to make a big deal about it. It’s simply by like, I have detractors now the same way I did 30 years ago when I started.
[00:08:43] And, but I have a certain amount of confidence in, Hey, you know what, 10 years from now, I’m still going to be a musician. And I’m still I’m in this for life and your approval or your momentary disapproval is ultimately like, it’s nice for someone to be able to like, feel powerful in that moment, like tearing someone down, but ultimately it’s a sign of quite a sort of weak personality.
[00:09:12] The strongest personalities, I think don’t put a lot of energy into. Trying to dismantle other people’s journeys. They just get on with what they’re doing.
[00:09:24] Matt Walter: I mean, that’s a pretty, like, evolved way of thinking, which I love. And I think a lot of people, especially in the circles that I run in that has had less experience than obviously you’ve had.
[00:09:35] I know a lot of them, and I’ve only recently gotten better at this is separating criticism of work or, you know, all those kinds of things. How do you, how long did it take you to get above? That or to get to that level of thinking where you go, like, you know what, I’m never going to get a hundred percent, so I’ve gotta be happy with 70% or whatever.
[00:09:54] Ben Lee: yeah, but at the same token, I do read criticism and I often think it’s correct. Like, like I’m not saying I don’t take on people’s like well-written criticism or someone who says like, Hey, this is a good record, but. He is something that was like a blind spot in the artists, you know, a vision. I find that quite interesting.
[00:10:19] And I think you can learn a lot. It’s more about where do you derive your sense of value from, and ultimately you know, you come to realize quite quickly that. People saying negative things, speak with much louder voices than people saying positive things. So most people that enjoy your work. I probably never going to say anything about it to you.
[00:10:44] They’re just. They’re enjoying it in the background on their own. They’re not getting on Twitter. They’re not, it’s just, they’re listening to it. And they’re enjoying it. The people that want to be negative are the ones who require a soap box. And like, I want you to hear it and all this stuff. So, so you do get quite a slanted perspective as an artist.
[00:11:03] Like the, you know, for the most part, things, jump out at you with more aggression when they’re disapproving. But I’ve, it’s something I’ve wrestled with for so long. I mean, On the first noise addict record, I took all the bad reviews from the British street press and put them in the artwork. Because I sort of was like, it was both, you know, I think some ways in punk rock, you sort of like build a thick skin by almost like acting with bravado in the face of that.
[00:11:35] And it still hurt, you know, what I made, like I was actually like, I had this conversation with Russell Crowe recently where he was talking about David Bowie. Saying, Oh, I just, I love how you just make your music and you don’t care what anyone thinks. You’re just like, fuck you, you don’t care. And Russell’s like I, I, I actually do care.
[00:11:55] And I thought that was really funny. But from the outside it’, it’s nice not to give it too much public air time. You know what I mean? Like your audience ultimately don’t want to. Be involved in that type of criticism. And so I don’t really ever want to think about it. They want to like delve further into the work and talk about it and appreciate it.
[00:12:20] Matt Walter: So, yeah. Yeah, I think it’s interesting. Like I was thinking about someone raised something online and they said that, you know, they’re going on the regular, imagine dragons, suck Nickelback, suck, all those kinds of things. That’s kind of like a bandwagon, you know, hate club where a lot of people probably couldn’t name three of the songs by those bands.
[00:12:41] You know, it’s just becomes this traveling circus of negativity that becomes almost like a meme. And I think a lot of people forget that there’s real people with real money invested real time, real sense of pride and value. And it’s, it’s rough, man. Yeah.
[00:12:57] Ben Lee: That’s true. And also just that, like, who cares? Like no one’s making, like you said, no, one’s making their work for everybody.
[00:13:05] And in general with careers, I find there’s usually something. You can find that is like, no one that has success has nothing going for them. It’s just not possible. It’s like, you can’t, even if it’s just work ethic, you know what I mean? Like, even if it’s just that like, damn they work hard. Like, okay, take Taylor Swift.
[00:13:25] For example, you might not like her music. Like it might not be your cup of tea. That is one. I think the idea that everyone’s meant to love Taylor’s it’s like ridiculous. She’s just an artist. You might look at you. Can’t deny. She’s a kickoff CEO. You know what I mean? She’s a great business woman. She’s a great business woman.
[00:13:41] So it’s like, you don’t have to be approving of every aspect of an artist, but like, it’s nice to look for the things that are, that you do, like, because you’re ultimately going to learn from what you see other people doing well, and I can, I’ll take that example of Taylor Swift. I’ve taken more inspiration from her as a business woman than I have as a songwriter.
[00:14:08] But that doesn’t other people love her songwriting, you know, it doesn’t matter. It’s like, I just tend to go like everybody who like has the courage to speak up and make their art and especially resilience, like I’m really into courage and resilience. And I think it’s impossible to have success, particularly long-term without pretty hardcore jet I skills.
[00:14:32] So I just kind of look at like most artists who are, you know, making their Mark and they just go cool, man, what Jedi skill has that artist mastered that I can learn from? Yeah,
[00:14:45] Matt Walter: I think that’s really interesting. What did you what did you think about Taylor’s rerecording? Because I listened to two side-by-side.
[00:14:52] I don’t know if you’ve heard it, but they were like identical and I was like, I didn’t, yeah, I didn’t hear it. But did you hear the same thing?
[00:15:00] Ben Lee: Oh, you’ve done it. I did. I didn’t listen to it. Well, I actually, I actually got the idea from my wife’s dad from Donovan. He’s the folk singer he’s he rerecorded, he was getting a lot of sinks and he’d signed labels when he was to live labels, like when he was 19 in the sixties.
[00:15:18] So he felt like absolutely no obligation to those labels to be giving them 50% of his master fee and on decisions on royalty splits that he’d made when he was a kid he’d recouped many times over and he was like, I’m just going to re-record these. And I thought that was brilliant. So I’d been in a couple situations with both catch my disease and we’re all in this together where I felt that I was no longer with those labels.
[00:15:44] And I thought that those labels at the time had Had made more than made. They’re like 10 X money back or whatever on what they invested in me as an artist. And I felt, you know what? It’s been long enough. It’s been 15 years. And I just had my mate, Tony Buchanan did one of them. Like he just rerecorded for me and it’s like he did.
[00:16:05] And then when I licensed it out, I got the master fee as well. Instead of, I don’t know if your listeners know about how sinks work, but you generally get paid for the songwriting and for the actual recording. And that’s where Taylor Swift now can she owns the actual new recordings? So I dunno, I think all is fair as long as you’re not like.
[00:16:26] Screwing people over, like you have the right to rerecord your staff. It’s not necessarily, I wouldn’t expect my audience to sit and like listen to my records because like, they’ve already got the other ones, like who cares, but on a commercial exploitation level, it’s like, it’s a pretty smart strategy under certain circumstances.
[00:16:44] Matt Walter: Did you find it really hard? Because like, when I was listening to it, I’m like, man, these are identical you know, to within reason. And I was like, Oh, I wondered when I hit play, whether she was going to take some, you know, small changes to modernize certain things, or whether she’d be loyal to the original or whether a voice had evolved.
[00:17:05] And she couldn’t recapture an earliest sort of, you know, more sort of younger voice. Did you like struggle with those decisions or? Well, not really.
[00:17:15] Ben Lee: Cause I mean, look where it’s, it’s a different game. It’s like doing a ratio. I mean, it’s so funny to spend time talking about it, but it’s, it is, it’s the very specific scenario where you actually are imitating something.
[00:17:26] So For me, I didn’t do the rerecord myself. I was like, I hired my friend. Tony has gotten great taste and it was, it can do great mimicry. And I said, can you just, can you do this? Like imitate the sounds. And then I imitated the singing and I was like, it’s not that big a deal. It’s not, it’s not my greatest artistic statement.
[00:17:44] But it it’s a business decision, you know what I mean? So I don’t think. Probably, I don’t know what she did, but I didn’t put too much thought into it. I just like th the goal is basically just that when like a corporation comes to you and says, Hey, can we license the song? Love story off your first album, Taylor Swift’s first record.
[00:18:03] She goes, yeah, actually, can you use this version? It’s exactly the same. And then Coca-Cola listens to it. He goes sure. And then he is that whatever, she gets a million dollars or something straight into her pocket. Yeah. As opposed to going into the other label. So it’s very like pragmatic. Decision.
[00:18:18] Matt Walter: So it’s not about the streams right now in terms of
[00:18:22] Ben Lee: it might be, I don’t know how that, I don’t know how that I don’t have any, I didn’t do it for that.
[00:18:26] I did it just for commercials and movies, basically.
[00:18:30] Matt Walter: Yeah, cause your stuff appears a lot in commercials and movies and stuff. Hey, and they now need to come to you. So you’d have a better idea of where your stuff is appearing. Is that right? Or is that overwhelming? I’ve
[00:18:42] Ben Lee: always had approval on that stuff.
[00:18:44] And to be honest, I’ve actually, I’m just re licensing actually the original work as part of a new label deal I’m doing so ultimately I’m going to not use those very real PA in, so in my new contract, I have to agree to not license the records. Because I’m giving this label is paying for the originals and they’re like, well, you can’t go around like undercutting us, like, and that’s fair enough.
[00:19:06] You know? So I didn’t have man, you know, all these business stuff. It’s like, it’s kind of, I sort of like it, like I used to feel it’s funny when you grow up, like, you know, underground music. It’s sort of unfashionable in a way to like understand the business side and everything, but then you would meet bands like Fugazi and stuff who were like super on top of their business, like in a DIY way or super Chan, you know, bands that had labels that knew how it all worked.
[00:19:35] And then, you know, I went through the Beastie boys and they had, you know, just, they were in charge of their business. But I think now, especially through hip hop, It’s made it much more sort of socially acceptable for artists to sort of have some pride that they conduct themselves in the business world ethically and powerfully, as opposed to being like, I didn’t know anything about that.
[00:19:59] I’m only into like making the music.
[00:20:02] Matt Walter: Yeah. Yeah. I think that’s an interesting cause. Have you had Brooke Hampton’s new album? I haven’t listened to it. Oh yeah. So basically they brought out this new album and they went from like hundreds of thousands of sales because they did the packaging stuff where they sell, you know, buy a ticket to a concert and you get there the album for free.
[00:20:18] And that would count in the charting as a sold album. And now that we’re down to 30,000 for this new album, which I think is probably has. The biggest cut-through of any of their albums. And, you know, it’s a, it’s a bit of a talking point now about, you know, does, is that a bad look for them, but it’s just a change in the way that it counts.
[00:20:38] Like, I don’t even know if sales candidates, I mean,
[00:20:41] Ben Lee: 30,000 sales in the digital age is pretty good. Is that that’s in Australia, you mean? Right?
[00:20:48] Matt Walter: No, that was, that was internationally
[00:20:50] Ben Lee: 30,000 worldwide. Okay. Yeah. Yeah. That’s yeah. I thought you meant in Australia. Yeah, I mean, look, it’s an evolving landscape and I think you see, sometimes people try creative things like U2 did where that, you know, the album showed up on your phone or, you know, no, but it sort of backfired, it backfired in the sense that.
[00:21:12] You know, it, it essentially felt nonconsensual. I mean, it’s interesting how much, like as a, as an audience, you know, I mean, obviously not the same thing, like, like consent in like, you know, sexual dynamics and gender stuff in social spaces is, is really different. But I think similar issues get raised in all different kinds of capitalist sort of patriarchal environments, which are like, How, how much is stuff being forced upon me?
[00:21:44] You know, how much do I get a say in what I’m consuming or what’s happening with my data or what’s, you know, these are, these are like really big ethical questions. And, and I think, you know, artists sometimes get on the front line of like trying something and they realize it crosses a line with an audience.
[00:22:01] And part of trying things I think is also just being able to just go gracefully, huh? That didn’t work. And move on as opposed to like defending it to your death because we all culturally moves forward if we try things, but we also have to have the grace and the humility to admit when we’ve made mistakes.
[00:22:24] Matt Walter: Yeah. True. And do you find, like when you have these discussions with labels and things, do you find you have to push pretty hard to do the right thing? Cause I guess there’s this characterization of label, bad artists. Good. And you know, how, how good are labels generally in that first offering? Is it a, is an argument to do the right thing or is it pretty straightforward?
[00:22:46] It’s so
[00:22:46] Ben Lee: tricky because everyone’s relationship with labels is based on their own experience, you know, and you know, I, like I said before, I came from a generation where defining your autonomy was extremely important in terms of how you go into label negotiations. So I’m not the type of artists that gets like.
[00:23:14] Forced to do things against my will or that I find ethically on the sound. And I’m also the kind of artist that like, when I say no, they know, I mean it, you know what I mean? So, but you have to earn that. Unfortunately it’s like, it’s like everything in business. Like if you’re a pushover, you’ll continue to be, you know, pushed over basically.
[00:23:39] So. Yeah, I always liked I remember like hearing when I can’t remember. I think it was like Neil young made, you know, one of his more, two sort of albums that was sort of went over the audience’s head and he said something like, you know, you only have to make one of those and like nobody fucks with you ever again.
[00:24:01] And it’s kind of true, like it’s, I always think of it as like you know, that movie, that spike Lee movie with ed Nordam where he’s going to prison, it was called like 23 hours or something like that. Ed Norton’s like to his friend he’s like punch me in the face. Cause he wanted to walk into prison, looking like a
[00:24:21] Matt Walter: tough
[00:24:21] Ben Lee: combat us.
[00:24:22] And you kind of have to do that a little bit in any power dynamic. Like you have to prove that you can handle a battle and then people don’t mess with you the same way. You know? So it’s like, I mean, all of this is like loud suit, like the art of war or something, but you got to like, you learn all this stuff as you go.
[00:24:41] Matt Walter: I started lists, I’m doing an audio book thing. I’m listening to the art of war for the first time. I’m like, ah, I have to listen to it after I sort of consume it. And that thing is quite short, but it’s packed. There’s so many things in there that can apply to anything.
[00:24:57] Ben Lee: Well, strategy in general is it’s really interesting because you have some artists that are like amazing.
[00:25:07] That’s strategy, but they’re not very adaptive. One of the things about strategy in life in general is that it, you always have to be flexible to change the strategy when it’s not working. And I think that balance between being a great strategist and being a spontaneous thinker is what is like when real greatness happens.
[00:25:31] And it’s, it’s rare.
[00:25:35] Matt Walter: Yeah. So what did, like when you went to, you know, Thurston Moore and the BC boys stuff, that was, you were pretty kind of young man, right? Like that all happened pretty quick. Yeah. So did you, you probably wouldn’t have really been across how to. How to have those kinds of battles or how to sort of engage in those theatrical in a way that sort of preserves what’s right.
[00:25:59] For you. You’re putting a lot of trust in these big names. Do you remember like being scared about whether this is going to work in your favor or
[00:26:05] Ben Lee: anything like that? I mean, for me, for me understanding the dynamics of like, you know, major labels and all that, that came later. I was very lucky in that my early mentors were like obsessed with integrity.
[00:26:19] You know, like when you talk about artists like Sonic youth and the Beastie boys, like they would err more on the side of don’t do things than here’s this corny thing. Please do it. You know? Cause they were also cultivating their own brands and their own integrity of curation and all that sort of thing.
[00:26:37] So, so yeah, that’s what I mean, like w what I came up in. Gave me a training in a certain way. Like I learned from watching how they dealt with things so that I could bring that into different situations.
[00:26:51] Matt Walter: Okay. And do you, did you have like a healthy sense of imposter syndrome when things move that quickly?
[00:26:57] Like, is this real, like, you’d want it to be real, but
[00:27:02] Ben Lee: yeah, it’s, it’s weird. It’s more like uh, I, it’s probably, it’s probably something I had in common with. Most ambitious young people in that almost like it’s like when you go to a restaurant and like, your eyes are bigger than your mouth, like, like what you want to be, or what you want to achieve is like an achievable at your current level of expertise, you know, or maturity.
[00:27:30] So, you know, as a young person, I would say like David Bowie or Bob Dylan, 15 years, 20 years into their careers. And those are my heroes. And it’s like, I literally have not had the experience and probably, or the talent that, you know, to make happen, what I wanted to happen or perceived, wanting to happen.
[00:27:53] And it’s like, there’s no shortcuts in life. Like you can achieve great things, but you have to be willing to stay focused on it. And to tackle every conceivable challenge that comes up on your way there. And I think when I was young, I had sort of the fantasy of this. It would like magically happen in a way.
[00:28:18] And I had to go through a lot of battles in order to feel like now when I stand on a stage, I know I’m going to deliver a performance of a certain level. Even a bad show for me is like, I’m not going to sing out of tune. I’m not going to, like, I’m not going to forget how to the rhythm on my guitar.
[00:28:38] I’m not gonna forget my lyrics. I’m not going to get so scared. I like free, like, you know, there’s just a level of expertise you build up over time and you can’t be afraid of doing the time.
[00:28:50] Matt Walter: Yeah. Yeah, I could. I could. And you, you tweeted about this the other day too. You said like you know, that you have to put in a lot of work to get to, you know, it doesn’t just happen.
[00:29:02] And I think that’s why he kind of saying now.
[00:29:04] Ben Lee: Yeah. And it’s that combination of, and you have to be flexible, like you put in all the work and all the strategy and all the planning, but you also have to go, Oh look, there’s an opportunity I’m going to run for right now, even though it wasn’t something I was counting on, you know?
[00:29:17] So I think that like a lot of, you know, coming to Australia, for me bringing the kids a lot of what was going on in my mind was thinking, what do I want. To come out of this whole 20, 20 year. Like, what do I want, what lessons do I want the kids to learn? Because they showed us how long can it happen in school?
[00:29:38] What was happening? Zoom? It wa, it was adaptability. I wanted, I think one of the biggest skills we can learn is adaptability and it’s I think rigidity and stubbornness, you know, they like, they can make you lag because it’s like your mind is caught in a fantasy of how you wanted things to be instead of how they are.
[00:30:05] And that’s one of the things I most admire in creative people.
[00:30:10] Matt Walter: So did you move back to, when did you move back to Australia? December. Yeah. Okay. And did it, did take you a while to sort of get restarted back into this sort of way of life, I guess you would have paused there’s a lot
[00:30:23] Ben Lee: of, you know, for me, it’s like, it was the easiest in the family.
[00:30:26] Cause I grew up here and my career is like my relationships and friends and you know, it was pretty easy, but for the other three it was like, I’m like hosting them too. You know, it’s like a new experience living here permanently. But, um, I think one of the things that’s really good is when I was younger, I really craved I found people a bit lazy in Australia.
[00:30:50] Like, like they liked their quality of life so much that they weren’t as obsessed with work and with progress as I was at this point in my life, I actually really appreciate that. Like there’s a better work-life balance in Australia. Like basically like. No matter how successful someone say in Australia, they’re basically doing it so that they can have a nice life.
[00:31:16] It’s not like an insatiable urge to be the best. It’s basically like all look, if I do really well, I could get like a nice house, like out in the country somewhere and have friends come over for a barbecue.
[00:31:31] Matt Walter: What do you think that is? Do you think that’s just a small. A smaller pond or do you think it’s less competition or do you think it’s just a subculture kind of thing?
[00:31:41] Ben Lee: Look, I really don’t know. It’s like in Ireland no matter how tired people are, they’re up for a chat and a beer, you know what I mean?
[00:31:52] It’s like part of the culture it’s like, and there’s something about Australia. Maybe it’s the natural landscape. It’s so beautiful. It’s The weather, I don’t know what it is, but there is a, there’s a premium put on quality of life. And I think that is I think that’s quite unique, you know, as far as an international country, that’s like working at the level that Australians work at, you know,
[00:32:22] Matt Walter: Yeah.
[00:32:23] Yeah. It’s I think it’s, yeah, it’s, it’s strange because I haven’t, I haven’t worked, you know, internationally or anything, but I do feel like there’s more competition internationally or it’s perceived. And I think I have fallen into that as well. And I’ve been like, Oh, well, it’s just easier for me here in Australia.
[00:32:39] I’ll stay in Australia because you’re at least a medium fish in a small pond, rather than
[00:32:45] Ben Lee: capitalism, a bit like tells you that you have to like work 24 hours a day to be successful. Whereas like, you know, you look at Italy countries that have a, you know, more of a value in premium life or Spain, and they might have still have siestas or they might have long lunches or they might have like, they just haven’t forgotten that.
[00:33:06] Atmosphere health connection community. I actually part of a functioning culture and you know, it’s like, you don’t have to choose one or the other
[00:33:16] Matt Walter: and people like hard work is definitely a thing. But what opportunity have you had that you think is single-handedly, you’ve got the most benefit out of, or it’s seeing the biggest jump in terms of your productivity or, or cut through or fame.
[00:33:33] Ben Lee: You mean in my whole
[00:33:34] Matt Walter: life now and your creative life, like in your, in your journey is I like one thing that sticks out to be like, shit, I’m glad I took that. Or is it too hard to, I mean, it’s
[00:33:47] Ben Lee: like, you know, I’ve had a very like long career. I’ve
[00:33:51] Matt Walter: found this question.
[00:33:52] Ben Lee: Interesting. I mean, I don’t know if I can say there’s one moment.
[00:33:56] I’ve. You know, it’s funny. Sometimes I still go back to like my relationship with Steve Pat, who is like, could have gotten, gave me my stock, you know, he’s like an Australian sort of music guy. He
[00:34:10] Matt Walter: was
[00:34:10] Ben Lee: running a modular. Yeah, yeah, yeah. And you like discovered like the avalanches, both mother, you know, like a lot of, you know, did a lot of great work.
[00:34:19] But. You know, he just like believed in me. And I stepped up into that and just tried to write better and better songs and tried to impress him, you know, it was like, I saw that, Hey, here’s someone who believes in me, let’s see what we can do together. I always believe that having allies is really important, but they have to be authentic.
[00:34:40] Like you can’t. It’s not about just being teamed up with the most powerful people. It has to connect with the spirit of who you are and what your values are and what you do. There’s a lot of great people in the music industry that are great for other artists, but they’re not great for me or great opportunities that are great for other artists, but are not great for me.
[00:35:02] I’ve needed people who cultivate my sense of free spiritedness and like, Yeah. That’s I really thrived when people have said to me, what do you want to do? How can I help? I’ve just loved that. That’s been really, that’s kind of my love language, you know? Like I’ve just been like, yeah, okay, let’s do this.
[00:35:23] And that non-judgemental kind of attitude. So yeah, it’s hard for me to put my finger on one thing, but I’m not someone who’s ever like shied away from, you know, opportunity. I don’t think. I’ve just often
[00:35:40] Matt Walter: that’s all the other things. So what’s the was it hard to leave modular then? Like, was it hard to have that convict?
[00:35:47] Cause didn’t you start your own label around that,
[00:35:51] Ben Lee: but it’s sort of like, I feel like when I’m, yeah, I mean that whole history of like, you know, pav and modular, like, you know, I think he peels her list, you know, he’s like. I think his greatest asset was sort of being on like the cutting edge of what was happening with culture.
[00:36:10] It wasn’t necessarily creating like a stable long-term home for artists, which is fine. Like everyone has different skills. So yeah, it kind of at a certain point when you’re no longer on the cutting edge and you are in your experience, it’s like you got to find places to, you know, that makes sense for that.
[00:36:32] Matt Walter: how was it starting your own label?
[00:36:35] Ben Lee: Well, it was, you know, it was more like a subsidiary. Like I have, I’ve never had like a functioning library, like offices and anything like that. It’s more just been in the sense that being the type of artist I am, who makes records without any ANR, you know, like ultimately I think that’s what I think.
[00:36:51] It makes me an independent artist that no one ANRs my records. I do that, you know? So by the time I deliver a record, like how it should be marketed, what the album is going to it’s I know what all that stuff should be like. So it’s more been about teaming up with labels or distributors that gives me the breadth and the sort of bandwidth to do, do it the way I want to do it.
[00:37:15] Matt Walter: And when you’re lost, then who’s your like sort of Phantom ANR team? Who do you go to, to go? Like, I don’t know if this is good or I don’t know what, what this is missing. Are there certain people you go to that you really trust their opinion?
[00:37:29] Ben Lee: I mean, my wife, I guess I, you know, any but I also, like, I don’t really find the answers usually in words, like the answer is often in.
[00:37:40] If I make a recording. I learned this from something Brian Eno wrote in his diary that like he wasn’t interested in other people’s opinions on his music. He was interested in how he felt while playing music for certain people. And there were certain people with certain pieces of music that he would feel embarrassed about and that would let him know what to do to it.
[00:38:08] So I think people’s bodies respond to music in a way that’s often much more educational than what their brains. The words they put together after to turn, leave to criticize it.
[00:38:22] Matt Walter: Uh, what’s the, has there ever been a time where you’ve wanted to jump off the pathway of music and into something else?
[00:38:31] I know you did some acting. Has there ever been a time where you’re like, nah, I’m going down the wrong route here, or I’m not feeling good about
[00:38:39] Ben Lee: this. I think I’ve, I’ve done various other things. Like, even like me and my wife, like built a house, installed it, you know, like Yeah, I see that all as sort of like part of the journey in a sense.
[00:38:52] But yeah, for sure. I think I’m my relationship to my creativity. I don’t, it’s like, I’ve always felt that being able to walk away, even though I really never have, maybe it’s an illusion of being able to walk away, but at least the feeling of that. Is part of what gives me the ability to choose, to keep doing it and to fall in love with it again and again.
[00:39:21] If I really felt there was nothing else I could do, I think I’d feel really a bit claustrophobic, but I genuinely feel that like, while I love music, there are other ways I could contribute to our society. And You know, different. I just did like consulting in a writer’s room on a comedy show for Netflix.
[00:39:44] Cause it was like overlapped with some of my interests. And like, I, I, I view it less in terms of what is the medium then in terms of, am I going to be useful? Like, am I going to be able to contribute? And if so, I’ll try it.
[00:40:01] Matt Walter: And like, how do they knit those Netflix, like riding consulting things come about?
[00:40:05] Because, I mean, they’re not just laying around with posters on the side of the street, you know?
[00:40:12] Ben Lee: I think, yeah. I mean, I think all I ever wanted was to just be surrounded by brilliant creative people and I’ve made that that’s been my passion in life. So when you are interested in that, And you are surrounded by brilliant creative people.
[00:40:30] You have conversations and there’s things you can do together. I mean, you know, me and I only have just started this. We do a monthly show at giant dwarf in Sydney, got weirder together and it’s like music and comedy. And for me, it’s like already just like connecting to the comedy community in Sydney has been brilliant because in LA we had that with Largo and.
[00:40:53] You know, Margaret Cho and Paul Scheer and jot appetite on all these pages, Sarah. So we’ve met all these people would do stuff together. And we really wanted to tap into that community and Sydney because I think it’s also, there’s just, this, I’ve always felt a really natural overlap between what I like to do with my show and with songwriting and with the way I approach things and with the way comedians think.
[00:41:17] So. You know, but you have to care about that stuff. Like community doesn’t appear Exodus. I mean, maybe it does, it might appear once or twice accidentally, but you have to cultivate it and care about it. And B you know, like what we’re doing with weirded together, having these monthly nights is also creating a container for community to form.
[00:41:38] Because it doesn’t form without people having places to go and things to talk about and things to do together. So that’s always, I think I probably learned that from the Beastie boys and Sonic youth that like create spaces where people’s creativity can overlap and ideas can be shared and then magical happen.
[00:41:56] The next week is tonight May 5th, but then the future, one’s a 3rd of June, 1st of July, 5th of August versus September 7th of October 4th, November, and 2nd of December. We’ve got them through the rest of the year, but that we only put them on sale a month at a time and they sell out very quickly, but people can, if they get on my mailing firstname.lastname@example.org, we do a pre-sale for each month and a certain amount of tickets are allocated just to the mailing list.
[00:42:22] Cause it’s like a surprise. No one knows who’s going to appear at each one. It’s like, they just know me and I only are hosting. And then it’s a total surprise. So like last month we had like Josh pike and Andrew from Wolf, mother and Cameron, James uh, max Quinn, like all these great Bridget Delaney, Ben law, like interesting people.
[00:42:43] But you just go there thinking, I dunno, I’m in for something.
[00:42:47] Matt Walter: That’s so cool. That’s so cool. So take sides on the final stretch, take sides. And I thought of these two, do you prefer something about Mary or juice? Bigelow, European gigolo?
[00:42:58] Ben Lee: Yeah, I think something about Mary’s a bit of movie. Uh, I suddenly, where Mary I think is actually a really good movie in the genre.
[00:43:08] Do you speak a lo my sing, my song that you’re asking her, because I have some exhibits. Do you speak a lo yeah, the song was like more memorable, like more people noticed it, but something that Mary actually think the song, they used a song called how to survive a break in hot, which is like a pretty little known song.
[00:43:24] And it is the song that plays during Cameron Diaz’s entrance on roller skates. And so it’s like a more iconic moment. Yeah,
[00:43:33] Matt Walter: because I feel like sometimes when I feel like a comedy, I go juice Bigelow, or one of those sort of like really popcorn on the floor kind of comedies. And then something about Mary is kind of like the, I want to, I want to actually laugh and feel.
[00:43:49] Yes. Yes. I do different styles of comedy. Right.
[00:43:52] Ben Lee: I totally get it. I totally get it.
[00:43:55] Matt Walter: And who do you recognize should have on the podcast next?
[00:43:59] Ben Lee: Yeah. Who do you reckon
[00:44:00] Matt Walter: would tell a
[00:44:01] Ben Lee: good story? So who were the who are the, like what are the parameters? Is it all music or could it be.
[00:44:09] Matt Walter: No, it could be anything.
[00:44:10] So I’ve started with music because I think, you know, it does sort of demonstrate some of that. I think everyone’s always curious about how musicians go about their process, but I think there’s so many good stories to tell out there, but I just wanted to demo some of those like sort of really juicy fruits.
[00:44:29] So people get an idea of what creative
[00:44:31] Ben Lee: details I’m going to go out there then. Out there. I think it achievable. Please. I’ll connect you I’ll connect you with them. Yeah. I think you should interview Lonnie. Holly.
[00:44:44] Matt Walter: Ronnie. Holly. Yeah.
[00:44:46] Ben Lee: Look out Lonnie Holley. He’s a sculptor, a musician teacher. He’s a genius.
[00:44:55] I’ll uh, I’ll connect you with a new job. I’ll can I do this manager and you look into him, see if he resonate, if you resonate with him. There’s a great, there’s a great look up. Anything he’s done, but there’s a particular, there’s a music video called I think it’s born. We’ll call it. Like I woke up in a fucked up America.
[00:45:15] That’s amazing. So check and see if you like him and I’ll connect you with his manager and see if you can hook it up. If he, if he wants it.
[00:45:25] Matt Walter: Yeah, we’ll do. All right. Is there anything else you want to plug?
[00:45:31] Ben Lee: No, not particularly. It was good to talk to you.
[00:45:34] Matt Walter: Hi. Yeah, it’s been good to talk to you too, man.
[00:45:36] Your as your, as, as much of a beautiful man, as Georgia said, you
[00:45:40] Ben Lee: were. My best friend.
[00:45:45] Matt Walter: I kind of thought the friendship was going longer than that when she said, Oh, you know, my best I’m best friends with Ben Lee.
[00:45:52] Ben Lee: Well, I, my whole family, we’re all friends with her. Like she she’s just, you know, she’s like, she’s one of those people you just go like, okay. Yeah, we’re in.
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