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Ben Lee gives intimate interview

Jess Shaffer | Monday, February 11, 2008

In concert, Ben Lee has proved to be entertaining, funny, quirky and talented. Off stage, he’s much the same. In either case, the best way to describe Lee is genuine. His laid back confidence is contagious, both in concert and in person. Taking time to do an interview for The Observer, Lee, who performed at Legends this weekend, talked about his inspiration, his love life, his celebrity and his music.

SCENE: Have you been playing college crowds lately?

BL: No, we’ve been recording. We’ve been recording a soundtrack to my friend’s film, for an Australian director. So I’ve just been in the studios working on that. We just came for tonight, and took a couple days off recording to do this gig.

SCENE: What’s the film?

BL: It’s called “The Square.” It’s like an Australian romantic thriller. … It’s really exciting; I’ve never done a project like that before. I’m trying to learn to flex a lot different musical and creative muscles because I feel pretty inspired. Sometimes the rate that it takes people to get music, like you put out the album, it takes about a year for all the people to get it, who are going to purchase it. So I like to stay creative during those periods too.

SCENE: What’s been inspiring you lately?

BL: It’s sort of like a personal attempt to document each moment. What really inspires me is just this moment right now, I haven’t experienced before. So I’ve never documented my feelings about it; I’m trying to be up to date. I make changes and growth as a person and express that in song. It’s not a strict thing that inspires me. It just the fact, the idea, of channeling this into music is exciting to me.

SCENE: You’re recently engaged. Is that playing into your inspiration?

BL: It’s kind of fun. I think I spent so many years just putting all my energy into chasing women and thinking and worrying about it and everything. Starting to settle down a little bit makes me feel more musically creative because I can put the creative energy into music.

SCENE: You’re about to head back to Australia. What’s your tour going to be like over there?

BL: That’s a really cool one because we’re doing a couple concerts with the symphony orchestra of Western Australia. I’ve never done that before. It’s like a 60-piece orchestra, and we’re doing two hours of my music. I have no idea what to expect. And Mandy Moore is coming and she’ll support and then sing with me. It should just be a really fun couple of nights with big outdoor audiences.

SCENE: How was working with Mandy Moore? Did you ever think you’d be working with someone who got her start as a 1990s pop star?

BL: I’ve never written anything off. A lot of different things I’ve done, like singing with Kylie Minogue or writing songs for Evan Dando, they’re like childhood …. not even dreams, because you don’t even dream things like that. They’re too weird. Specifics of collaboration are just too bizarre. You never think about this stuff but have always kept a very open mind about the people I work with. And generally people that interest me and intrigue me, I want to work with.

SCENE: You’ve mentioned being interested in different types of people, and your lyrics seem to reflect an interest in Jay-Z and Beyoncé. Could you explain that?

BL: Well Jay-Z, I love. I really do look up to him. I think it’s important to have role models in the world. We’re so obsessed at the moment with the negative side of celebrity and people’s tragedies and stuff. I think that it is important to derive hope and courage from people’s stories. Someone like Jay-Z is just full of inspiration, that he’s achieved what he’s achieved. And gone from being a crack dealer and just made this amazing music that is so honest and real and fun.

SCENE: Are you interested in using your celebrity to plug anything?

BL: There are a few sides to it. Number one, every artist has an opportunity to contribute to social change just by being an artist. Art is about getting people to live in a more intuitive emotional sensitive open way. Just the act of being an artist is inherently political in a way. It tells people to think about their internal worlds and with sensitivity about what’s happening to them and their neighbors. So I think you do contribute to societal change. And I also think that by being yourself you give your audience permission to be themselves. So that is a big change you can make. Then there are things, I’m not so much concerned with political things, but I do what I can if I get an opportunity to be involved with a program like The Earth Hour Program. And then in Australia, I’m an ambassador for the Clown Doctors, which trains doctors to entertain children. So there are so many things an artist can do, some of them directly through art and by having the public eye. And others by being a human being.