Thursday, November 10, 2022
Mackay and Whitsunday Life
Ben Lee’s catalogue of iconic Australian hits can be heard in Hollywood movies, hit sitcoms and indie surf flicks all over the world. Saturday night at the Airlie Beach Festival of Music brought thousands together to watch Ben’s return to Australian stages and Sam had a chat to him before he took to the big tent.
I want to go right back to your childhood band Noise Addict, how did that come about?
That was just, honestly, I wanted to form a band and I just looked around and saw that guy, ok, his older brother has a drum kit so he can be the drummer. That guy has a Zoom pedal that can make his guitar sound like a bass so he can be the bass player, and I’ll tell them what to play and that’s it, we’ll have a band.
How did that transition into your solo career?
It was really just because I was writing all these songs and I would record them on a boombox just acoustic but I always envisioned they would be songs we would then play with the band, but I gave them to the label. This guy, Steve Pav (Stephen Pavlovic), I would give him these tapes and they were just acoustic, and he was like, ‘I think you should record some of these like that,’ so that was that.
You hear Ben Lee songs on TV shows, on movies, what was that like to get that coverage?
It was good because I love the way songs interact with film. Sometimes it’s used almost as a band aid where a scene isn’t working so they’ll put a cool song in, but that’s the worst case. The best-case scenario is you’ve got a great film and the right song in it and suddenly everything gets heightened; the song gets better, the movie gets better. I had the song ‘How To Survive A Broken Heart’ that the Farrelly brothers used when Cameron Diaz first comes in on roller skates in ‘There’s Something About Mary’, and to me it was like, I love being part of that scene, that’s an iconic Hollywood comedic moment, and I feel like my song is a part of that history, so it’s great.
Is that your favourite scene that a song has been used in?
Yeah, that would be one of them. There was one in ‘How I Met Your Mother’ that was really good. They’re all good. The funny one was I was watching the Tegan and Sara; they have a show called ‘High School’ on Amazon and there’s a scene in it where one of them is going to make a mixtape and she’s like, ‘Get ready, it’s going to be all California punk bands and the dulcet tones of Ben Lee,’ and I was like, ‘Yeah, man, I’m in there.’ It’s just being part of things, it’s cool.
My mind was blown when I saw Radnor and Lee pop up on the internet. How did your relationship with actor Josh Radnor come about?
It just happened through the show. The creators, I chatted to them, and they invited me down to the set after they’d used one of the songs and me and Josh met and just became friends.
What’s the creative back and forth like?
We had a few years where we were doing a lot. Josh was new to song writing and guitar playing and I have a side of me that really likes being in the support role, I just like helping people bring their vision to fruition, so it was a bit like that.
What’s it like being an Australian singer-songwriter living in America?
It’s good. It’s fun because I’m obviously most successful in Australia and Australia is a really good country to be successful in. If you had to pick one country that you have to go to a lot, it’s fun, you get to play festivals like this, on a beautiful beach. If you get successful in, like, Germany, you’re just touring playing beer festivals all summer. That’s really nice. I do love the creativity. I feel like, in Hollywood, people come with very big dreams, and I really get off on that. They all want to play in the big leagues and see how good they are, and I respect that ambition.
How do you think it’s affected your career trajectory?
I don’t know. For instance, me and my wife do a podcast, and we got offered, from Australian companies, to do it, who would only have Australian advertising, and I was just like, ‘I don’t ever want to make anything just for one place.’ I’ve never been like that. Now the world’s a bit different in that more artists are thinking internationally out of the box, but when I started, that was not that common. If you were an indie band in Sydney, you never thought you were going to get to go to America. For me, my world is big, and I like to keep it that way. Even if Australia’s my biggest fanbase, I like thinking globally.
When you think that way, where are you going?
I’ve always envisioned a career that peaks in my 70s. I really feel like I’m halfway through. I can really see more and more people getting it. It’s funny, I know that’s, in a way, statistically unlikely, but I’ve never been that interested in the normal to do things. I think, we’re actually living in a time where there’s less ageism than ever before and diversity in outlooks in more valued than ever before and I see, when I play, there’s teenagers and kids and older people and people in their 40s who have a babysitter for the night – I can play for everybody. I still view it like that.
What’s it like to be back in Australia and playing at the Airlie Beach Festival of Music?
Honestly, after the pandemic, I reprioritised, like, ‘What do I want out of gigs?’ so the show’s become much more of a spectacle. We’ve got a giant joint and props and the full band. I just realised, firstly, I think everyone got a sense of life is short, societal collapse is possibly on the way, lets try and create a good energy because, as an artist, I am not going to solve any of the problems that we are facing collectively, but I can contribute to creating a good atmosphere where maybe my audience can go and solve those problems.
Photo credit: Cherrie Hughes Photography