:: Ben Lee :: Fox Theatre :: November 9 ::
By Jonathan Keller
Ben Lee just wants to be known as an ordinary guy and that is what makes him quite unique. The 27-year-old even goes as far to call himself a “blue-collar kind of guy.” With songs off his most recent release Awake is the New Sleep (Newwest Records) currently finding increased airplay on Triple A Radio stations, climbing up the U.S. pop-charts and being used in Dell commercials, Lee is embracing his current stateside whirlwind of success with the humbleness and optimism of a seasoned veteran of the road — which he strangely is.
“I am in a situation where the album could be on the verge of breaking through or tailing off,” Lee said in a recent interview with The Marquee. “Either way, I am just grateful for the experiences I have had. You have no real control over it so you might as well enjoy it when it comes.”
Even at his young age, Lee has already had the career that many musicians can only dream of. He has been making records and touring for over 12 years now.
Growing up in Sydney, Australia, he attended Jewish school and discovered music at an early age, recording songs in his room on his cassette player. As a teen, Lee was in a few bands but eventually released his first solo album, Grandpaw Wood, on the Beastie Boys’ Grand Royal label in 1994. With pop-chart success in Australia, he toured the United States for the first time when he was 15 and eventually made New York City his home at 18.
It was in New York City that he met and ended up having a six-year relationship with actress Claire Danes. The end of that relationship, coupled with the early death of his father and the bankruptcy of his record label, steered Lee toward a search for his own spirituality. This search eventually led him to an Indian spiritual teacher named Narayani Amma, in Tamil Nadu, India. His time spent in India, and what he learned there, has profoundly influenced Lee’s writing and musical approach. This is evident on Awake is the New Sleep, his most mature and optimistic release to date.
“I am fortunate that my music isn’t driven by alcoholism or drug addiction,” he explained. “When I am in a good place, my music is the truest. I now enjoy writing from a positive aspect and I think that shows on the last record. It is okay to be happy. I am fortunate that my music doesn’t come from angst. I want people to listen to my music and rejoice — my music is a kind of celebration.”
Awake is the New Sleep is one of those rare albums that afford an artist success in two distinct markets. For Lee, those markets are Australia and now the United States. Released over a year-and-a-half ago, the album has gone double-platinum in Lee’s homeland and won Lee the Best Male Artist and Best Single of the Year at the 2005 Australian Recording Industry Association Music Awards (Australia’s version of The Grammy Awards) last October.
“Winning the ARIA was one of the highlights of the past year,” Lee said. “In Australia, my music wasn’t really accepted in the beginning and wining the ARIA Award was a definite sense of acceptance. It really meant a lot.” Lee’s highlight of the awards show: kissing David Hasselhoff on the lips as he accepted an award.
With Awake is the New Sleep now taking off in the United States, Lee finds himself in a position where he is starting all over again in the record promotion juggernaut — more touring, more interviews, more pressure. Lee is quite fine with that, though, for he knows once it starts you should embrace it.
“I am friends with the guys in Maroon 5 and their record took over two years to take off,” Lee explained. “I have so much gratitude that I am in a place where people enjoy my music and I am sincerely grateful that it is having some success in the States. That is what you strive to do.”
Though the crest of the wave is riding high right now, Lee said that fans might have to wait for some time for his next album. “I already have about 42 songs written for the new record,” he said. “Of course, all those won’t make it on the next record. I think I am not yet ready for a double album. It will be a single disc. I do feel all this is building to the next record, which should be out sometime next year.”
With all the success in both Australia and now the United States, Lee has basically been living out of his tour bus for a year-and-a-half. He is currently planning on buying a house in Los Angles because “that is where the action is.” With an interest in acting — he appeared as the protagonist in the Australian film The Rage In Placid Lake —Los Angeles seems like the perfect place to “do it all.”
:: Ben Lee ::
:: Fox Theatre :: November 9 ::
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