Ben Lee Returns to his 20s in New York City:
Promises to stay a Centered and Mature Set at City Winery
Words by Brian Hoey — Chicago, IL
Ben Lee, ARIA Award winning Australian indie-popper, has always been impossible to pigeonhole. With music over the years ranging from hauntingly sweet acoustic numbers to adolescence-infused indie jams, he has only gotten more adventurous over the years. And this week, in wake of his late 2011 release Deeper Into Dreams and in anticipation of a new record slated for release later this year, Ben Lee brings the newest incarnation of his category-blending brand of indie-ness to Manhattan’s City Wine Bar on Saturday, February 25.
Lee, coming off of a quiet couple of years following the birth of his first child, is hitting the road with a sort of quiet, but focused and confident, enthusiasm. “What I know how to do is get up on stage with a guitar and sing my songs,” says Lee of the transitional period he’s going through as an artist, “it’s a much more internalized experience for me, performing live at the moment. You know, I still talk to the audience and stuff but it’s like, I’m not feeling as effected by the every up and down of ‘did someone just walk out?’… It’s more about where I’m at emotionally and internally.” Quietude, however, certainly doesn’t translate into boring. In fact, for Ben Lee it’s just the opposite.
“I’ve found that the deeper it resonate with you (the music) the deeper it resonates with the people that enjoy it,” and if there is one thing Ben Lee is trying to bring to the table this tour, it’s a deeply resonating experience. “My primary goal always with music was to be authentic and to be where I was at at the time. So, inevitably, whatever’s going on in my life really seeps into, really creates the content for the album that I make and the shows that I do. Yeah, it’s always been the primary thing I’ve been concerned with: ‘is it real?’”
But again, Ben has been somewhat of a musical chameleon over the years, which can make audience expectations hard to manage. For Lee though, the heart of it is always authenticity and enthusiasm. “I’m not an artist that people think of as someone whose gonna phone it in,” he says, “I think people that like my music expect me to show up and be authentically myself.”
Moreover, as far as his upcoming gig in New York is concerned, Mr. Lee emphasizes the feeling of community that he strives for when putting his music out into the world, professing, “I lived there (NYC) for six and half years in my twenties, which I loved. And I played the city winery last year, which I really loved too. It’s so weird, you go through periods of your life where things make a lot of sense, and your career makes a lot of sense, and mine doesn’t right now, because I am exploring now, for me, a lot of uncharted territory. So I think the beauty of shows… is you get to kind check in and talk with someone, with an old companion (Lee claims that after so many years of touring, it’s many of the same faces he sees in the crowd as in previous years). I think that’s what people expect; it’s like that feeling of when you see an old friend and in a way nothing’s changed, but in a ay everything has.” Really emphasizing the power of collectivity at his shows, Lee additionally remarks, “I like to connect with them and know that we’re on a long journey together. And it doesn’t have easy answers, it’s not a straight journey, it takes a lot of turns, but I like that we’re going through it together.”
So, like he says, Ben Lee’s upcoming New York City show will be like seeing an old friend. In some ways nothing has changed, and in some ways everything has. He is certainly at in interesting crossroads in his career. Having just released an album about dreams for which he did three years of intense dream analysis (which he described as ‘amazing’) and is going even deeper into new territory for the next one. “The new one is about Ayahuasca… it’s a Peruvian hallucinogenic medicine, and it’s something I’ve been working with for the last couple years, with a shaman. And the record’s kind of all about that. It’s kind of meant to be…almost like a sonic diary of my experiences with Ayahuasca. It’s a lot of instrumentals, it’s probably over half instrumental,” and, Lee continues to say, “I’m getting progressively more interested in music as form of sort of experiencing the limits of our consciousness. The last album about dreams was similar in that sense because it was all about these unconscious phenomena we all share but don’t talk about a whole lot. And the next one’s gonna be I guess even more… out there, I suppose.”
But again, in a way nothing has changed for Lee, who says of his music: “I’ve changed styles and I’ve changed aesthetics and producers and instruments, and, you know, there’s still something, there’s still some common thread that’s been holding together.”
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