Ben Lee is picking his step-daughter up from her play rehearsal when I speak to him on the telephone. She’s appearing in Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale. His other daughter Goldie is currently in a play too. She’s in Annie. What Ben describes as s “real little fun production” of it.
I ask him whether he’s surprised that both of his daughters are drawn to the stage. Both Ben and his wife started working at a very young age.
“That’s not the ideal situation,” he says of his own experience. “As far as honing the craft – that’s a wonderful thing to start doing as young as you want. But there’s a different quality from learning and experiencing something to doing it in a professional capacity.”
Next month Ben travels to Australia, something he’s able to do once or twice a year and while he’s proud to say he’s Australian-born, he doesn’t consider any real attachment. Not just to Australia, but to anywhere in particular.
“I love my friends and family in Australia and I’m always happy to see them but I’ve always made blue-collar decisions and have gone where the work is and where the opportunities are.”
“I’ve just never been geographically minded in the sense that I’ve missed places or been excited particularly about places,” he said, when I asked him if he ever misses Australia. “My interest has always been more in the psychological realm.”
Ben’s interest in the psychological sphere is well documented and he’s always been quick to speak openly about his own internal thought process. He spoke last year about his maturing ego and the changes that have come with age. Neither are any surprise when you consider Ben started his recording career (with his teenage punk band Noise Addict) at just 14.
“I began my career in the music industry hungry for fame, attention and validation,” Ben’s biography says. “With time, effort, failure and success, I gradually lost interest in these goals, and I now continue for different reasons.”
Ben tells me about how he has evolved as a person over the course of his 24-year career.
“I think there’s a couple of factors. One is what happens to us. And the other is what we do with that,” he said.
“There’s external impressions that are created – through experiences, success and failures. And then there’s the internal processing of that.”
“My life and career and romantic relationships took me to extreme places and I came to feel that that was not ideal. In a sense it limited what I could offer my audience. I think when I was younger, I bought into a model of creativity and success that was based on a 1960s paradigm of what rock and roll is like.”
“As I’ve gotten older, I’ve come to think that equilibrium is necessary for us to think clearly. If we can’t think clearly, how do we offer something of value?”
“The whole world is out of balance and the artist is someone who can offer something that is a light in that dark time.”
“For me, it was a mixture. Life happened. But what I did with that was put in some real effort to change the course I was headed on.”
Ben’s exploration into the world of Ayahuasca is also well documented. And the album which was born out of that period, Ayahuasca: Welcome to the Work took many music critics by surprise, gaining positive reviews from all quarters. Released in 2013, Ben himself described the album as dynamic and joyful, meditative and tender, playful and experimental.”
Three years down the track and Ben says he’s matured and he tells Blank GC “that there was sort of an indiscretion with that album.”
“I sort of wish I’d just called it just Welcome to the Work,” he said. “Naming the record after a plant medicine, I might have cut some people off listening to it.”
“I believe the plants truly do have spirit within them and that plant, that spirit didn’t want to be discussed so publicly,” Ben said. “But I got caught up in the fashion, everyone was being caught up in the discussion.”
“It isn’t a devaluing of the record.”
“But I do believe that all of these various skills to do with meditation and prayer and breath and plant medicine are all options and they all create states of amplified consciousness and if you find a path – there’s no one path to fit everybody – if you find a path that resonates with you – it’s like a door opens and it’s necessary to catapult yourself down that road and not to worry about sort of your fears in a sense.”
“Meditation brings up a lot of fear for people – if someone feels called to that path, their inner being is crying out to take a journey and it’s important that they take that journey.”
Since the 2013 release of Ayahuasca , Ben has released Love Is The Great Rebellion (June, 2015) and he says he’s been working a lot – and not all of that work is music related.
“I’ve become very consumed with this Qollari essentials project – connected to awakening people to the possibilities of entrepreneurship and philanthropy.”
“All of my work is related to awakening people. Even my earliest music was as a 14yo saying “it’s possible”, why be an ordinary teenager? In a sense, that’s always been my calling. This Qollari project with business and philanthropy is an interesting project I’ve become passionate about.”
Ben said he’s also working on a kids’ music project but he doesn’t want to “divulge too much about it.”
“A lot of conflicts in the world are based on literalism in religion as well as fanaticism,” Ben said. “This project is based on helping children early on learn about the symbolic aspects of religion – that there’s truly just one path that’s discussed in many ways.”
When Ben comes to the Gold Coast next month for Bleach* Festival he’ll be performing on a main festival stage as well as running a song-writing workshop at Helensvale. He’ll also be appearing at a special luncheon at QT Hotel where he’ll be in conversation with Blank’s editor.
“I suppose this Bleach* festival is very exciting for me because I’m getting to share in a lot of different ways,” he said. “I’d say to people who are interested in what I have to say, come out to these different events.”
“Whether it’s the music or the talk or the song writing workshop – let’s connect.”
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Ben Lee at Bleach* Festival 2016
An afternoon with Ben Lee, Saturday 19 March, 3.00pm – 5.00pm, thanks to QT and Griffith University. Tickets $45 + BF.
Songwriting with Ben Lee, Sunday 20 March, 10.00am – 1.00pm, presented by Griffith University at Helensvale Community and Cultural Centre. Tickets here.
Bleach* at Burleigh, Ben Lee + Black Rabbit George + Sahara Beck, 1.30pm – 5.30pm, Goodwin Terrace, Burleigh Heads.