Ben Lee Sucks: “I Used To Think That Regular People Weren’t Funny”
Australian singer-songwriter Ben Lee is one of the country’s most prolific and accomplished musicians.
Many artists proclaim to have seen and done it all, but in Ben’s case, he actually has. Songs like ‘Catch My Disease’ and ‘We’re All In This Together’ are instantly recognisable by the majority of Australians, but recent collaborations with the likes of Ninajirachi and Alex Lahey are some of the sharpest songs in his discography to date. When Ben Lee tells us I’M FUN, the name of his latest solo album, I’m inclined to believe him.
Ahead of a show in Launceston, plus an appearance at Woodford Folk Festival, Junkee caught up with Ben to discover the story behind a beloved Evan Dando song, to discuss why you should always trust your instincts, and to share how nothing good has ever come from checking Facebook Messenger. It’s sage advice — every time I end up on Facebook Messenger, I inevitably get roasted in a groupchat. Maybe that says more about me than the platform, though.
Junkee: A mistake that turned into an opportunity?
When I was 19 years old, I was hanging out with one of my songwriting heroes, Evan Dando, and he asked if I had any songs that he could use on his next album. I said yes before thinking, ‘Do I have a complete song?’ So I started playing this half-written song, and I knew I’d get to the chorus and be like, ‘It’s gonna come together, something’s gonna come together’, and I saw a pile of hard drives in the corner. I went, “this is the hard drive”, and that became the hook of the song. Evan put it on his record. A few years later, Bruce Springsteen walked out on stage to it, Phoebe Bridgers covered it. It was a total accident, and it became one of my most beloved songs I’ve written, ‘Hard Drive’.
Cringe quote you used to live by?
I used to truly believe in, I think it was a Sylvia Plath quote, “You bit my pretty red heart in two”, which was really just a mission statement for self-destructive romances.
Worst advice you got and blindly followed?
It’s not the moment to follow your instincts, do this one for the industry. That’s bad advice.
The worst failure you’re up for sharing, and what you learned from it?
It’s connected to the last one. I feel good about all the failures where I listen to my own instinct. I feel bad about the failures where I suppress that and listen to what the industry told me I was meant to do. So, you know, just things like putting side projects to the side and waiting because it wasn’t the right moment. I regret those because I think I missed creative opportunities. So it wasn’t about commercial failure, it’s about the failure of following through on my own ideas and spirit.
Anything you used to be wrong about?
I used to think that regular people weren’t funny. I used to think that sort of only people , and it’s so silly to say now, in the entertainment business or in comedy were the funniest people. TikTok actually made me realise how funny normal people are.
Embarrassing internet habit?
My embarrassing internet habit, I guess, is still occasionally checking my Facebook Messenger. Nothing good ever comes of that.
Ideal morning routine versus actual morning routine?
My morning routine isn’t really a routine, except that I do like to get up early. I consider that quiet time, whatever I do with it, to be really useful. I should exercise more in the mornings. I like the idea of doing 50 to 100 kettlebells. I do it like every third day. I should do that every day.
Something very off-brand for you?
My worst trait is being overly critical of people that I love. I’m generally a very accepting person. I’m a great cheerleader for those I love but I can also give unsolicited advice. It’s very unappealing. I should know that by now.
Bad health decision?
At one point in my life, I truly believed that hot chips and fresh orange juice were all you needed and would provide all your core nutrients. I had some theory about it being an acid and a base.
What do you waste money on?
I waste money on food delivery. I should just get in the car and pick it up. You can save like five to 10 bucks every time.
Worst procrastination habit?
I don’t really procrastinate. That is probably my best quality. When I say I’m gonna do something, I do it and I do it pretty quickly. And if I am procrastinating, there’s a real reason and there’s something that is rubbing me the wrong way about the task and I kind of don’t want to do it at a deep level. So I’ve sort of learned to trust that.
Ben Lee is playing a show in Launceston on Sunday, November 19. You can check out more information on that show here. He’s also appearing at this year’s Woodford Folk Festival, which takes place from Wednesday, December 27, 2023 to Monday, January 1, 2024. You can learn more here.
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Illustration credit: Matt Lauricella, @pigeonboyart