But a youngster in Sydney when playing with Noise Addict, Ben Lee is now in his 16th year of releasing records. He started his solo career at the age of 16, while still working with Noise Addict. His new album, The Rebirth of Venus, Ben’s tribute to femininity and the female spirit, releases April 28th. He chats with PopMatters 20 Questions about a very mushy (but he swears fabulous) food combo, the positive properties of ginger tea, and a surprising affinity for Dostoevsky’s troubled Raskolnikov.
1. The latest book or movie that made you cry?
The season premiere of Lost made me cry. I’m not sure why, specifically. I have just always found the whole tone of the show incredibly moving.
The Rebirth of Venus
(New West; US: 28 Apr 2009)
(New West; US: 4 Sep 2007)
Hey You Yes You
(F-2 Music; US: 5 Aug 2003; UK: 11 Nov 2002)
2. The fictional character most like you?
Raskolnikov from Crime and Punishment rocked my world at 16. It’s weird how accessible that book is. I thought it would be hard to grasp but the concept is something we all think about: Is there a greater morality than the one we institute upon ourselves?
3. The greatest album, ever?
Jonathan Richman’s Back in Your Life probably affected me most profoundly. He came out of the Modern Lovers where he had been playing this awesome garage rock and then started up with this kinda kid’s punk music. It made me think about making powerful and fun upbeat songs that both kids and adults could listen to.
4. Star Trek or Star Wars?
Neither. Twilight Zone was more my speed. I always liked my fantasy life with a touch of the melancholy.
5. Your ideal brain food?
Peanut butter and avocado. Everyone I know thinks this is a bizarre combo but its heaven to me. The textures work really well together. Take a couple scoops of peanut butter and dump them into the middle of a halved avocado. It’s a life-affirming experience.
6. You’re proud of this accomplishment, but why?
I’m proud of living a life that was not laid out for me. I never took the road more traveled. I’ve always had a hunger for truth and experience and have searched those things out with a lot of passion and inspiration. That feels like something to be proud of.
7. You want to be remembered for…?
Being a good person who added some hope to the world. I used to measure my successes in pretty black and white terms. Commercial success was very important. Nowadays I realize that success takes many forms.
8. Of those who’ve come before, the most inspirational are?
I like all the big ones—Jesus, Buddha, Krishna, Moses, Joan of Arc. They all brought very simple messages of peace, love and devotion that we have systematically made infinitely more complicated. Not sure why. Must be human nature. But they each spoke the truth.
9. The creative masterpiece you wish bore your signature?
“Lithium” by Nirvana was a big song for me. I saw them play it in 1992 and the whole venue shook in that chorus. I always wanted to be able to do that to a room. I’ve come close, but haven’t quite gotten that far.
10. Your hidden talents…?
Using a remote control. My wife always lets me do it. I have that killer instinct for finding the right show to watch.
11. The best piece of advice you actually followed?
“Surrender”. We’re taught that life is all about fighting, and breaking through and winning contests. But it seems to me more about relaxing into the flow of creativity and spontaneity.
12. The best thing you ever bought, stole, or borrowed?
A plane ticket to America when I was 18. I had just finished high school and wasn’t sure where life was taking me. I made a leap into the unknown. I spent a month or two on someone’s couch ordering pizza and watching The Phil Donahue Show. Things could only go up from there.
13. You feel best in Armani or Levis or…?
Band of Outsiders. Its a great brand from L.A. that was started by an ex-C.I.A. agent. The clothes fit guys with a slight frame, like me, exceptionally well. I love pretty much everything that designer makes.
14. Your dinner guest at the Ritz would be?
Sakthi Narayani Amma. He is a Hindu saint living in Tamil Nadu, India who is changing people’s lives.
Photo (partial) by Ione Skye
15. Time travel: where, when and why?
The ‘60s. I’m sure that is not the most original answer but I would have loved to see the Beatles, Dylan, Joni Mitchell, Miles Davis and the Stones in their heyday. It was an explosive time musically and culturally.
16. Stress management: hit man, spa vacation or Prozac?
Meditation. I’ve been meditating for about 12 years and it always brings some clarity to me. I use the mantra “om namo narayani” meaning “I surrender to the divine”. It’s a way of aligning myself with nature and finding some peace to make it through a hectic world.
17. Essential to life: coffee, vodka, cigarettes, chocolate, or…?
Ginger tea. It’s awesome. I drink a couple of cups a day. I like the Yogi Tea brand. A Chinese doctor introduced me to it several years ago and I haven’t turned back.
18. Environ of choice: city or country, and where on the map?
The ocean. I grew up by it and find a tremendous sense of liberation when near the coast. I feel a little claustrophobic inland. I find the ocean a cleansing and healing presence.
19. What do you want to say to the leader of your country?
Congratulations. Now get to it.
20. Last but certainly not least, what are you working on, now?
A Noise Addict album. That was the name I recorded under as a teenager while doing experimental lo-fi pop in my bedroom. I’m doing another album like that now.
I also have an album I’ve made with Squeak-E-Clean called A Mixtape from Ben Lee, where I wrote songs for different singers like Sleepy Jackson, Kylie Minogue, Nina Persson, the Eels and Zooey Deschanel. That should be out later this year.