Ben Lee takes us through a track-by-track look at the creative processes and inspiration behind his new album 'I'M FUN!'
Thirty years into a career in “show business”, through ups and downs, successes and failures, still kinda loving it every day. This is a song and a mission statement. I'm made of the right stuff to do this. I can handle it. Even more than that, I can thrive. The musicians on this track, all contributed their parts remotely during 2020 and the song found its voice gradually and in such a cool way. When Money Mark added the piano and organ parts, when Sadie Dupuis added her psych-pop production and programming, these were all just incredible moments for me.
This started in an Adelaide hotel room, very Dylan-esque. I sent it to Sally and Darren Seltmann and asked if they wanted to do some stuff on it. What they sent back floored me. It felt like a sunny, 60s, cruisy folk pop song. So much fun. When Justin Stanley and I were finishing the record and mixing in Bondi, I had a vision of mixing that polished psych pop thing with a home recording flavor, so I took my iPhone out and sat at the piano and recorded the choruses straight into the phone. Then we mixed those lofi recordings into the track. I love how it came out.
Don't miss a beat with our FREE daily newsletter
I wrote this about why we alter our consciousness. No-one knows do they? Every culture in the history of humanity has appeared to do it. It's innate. Jon Brion produced this. He’s a genius and you never know what, if anything, you're gonna get from him. In the peak of the 2020 madness this showed up in my inbox one morning. He had orchestrated and arranged an incredible production around the stems I gave him. I wept.
This song began with a story Tom Waits told about how he answered his daughters question “Why aren't you like other dads?” He described a crooked tree amongst a forest of big strong trees that always got teased for being unusual until one day the loggers arrived and cut down all the trees except the crooked one. It's about resilience through uniqueness. It's kind of sung to my own daughter, and the verses are a tongue in check collection of rumours I’ve heard about myself “I heard that he drinks LSD in coffee” “I heard his sex life ain't exactly square” “I heard he’s selling snake oil”. All true of course. I got to feature my homemade junk drum kit on this one. Zooey Deschanel added beautiful harmonies and so did Eric D Johnson from Fruit Bats.
I think this may have the same chords as a You Am I song, at least I hope so, as its very much a tribute to being a fan, and the moral decisions of what we align ourselves with. Sometimes it seems silly to care if someone likes the Beatles or Stones better, Nirvana or Pearl Jam, and it is both silly and does matter. Life is made up of tiny arbitrary choices through which we express ourselves. The Eddie Vedder story is true. I hadn't been a fan until we spent a night drinking together in Sydney once. He won me over with that one.
Looking back is dangerous, but important, stuff. You can’t be too hard on yourself, but you can't go too easy on yourself either. There is something fun about owning your past. Not even really apologizing, just owning it. Letting it sit there, warts and all. Georgia Maq was the perfect collaborator on this track. She is also always in motion, growing and changing. She understood what this song is about.
When I was 14, Steve Pav kinda “discovered” me and gave my band Noise Addict a gig opening for Sonic Youth that changed the trajectory of my life. He became a mentor, a cool older brother. I used to go around to his apartment on Sir Thomas Mitchell Rd every day or two after school and make tapes of his vinyl collection. That was my real musical education. That's when I discovered the good stuff. This is my friend Ella’s favourite song on the album.
One night when I was 41 I was drunk and thinking about the Chris Knox song “Song to Welcome the Onset of Maturity”…”Cringing at a joke I told while drunk and 41 years old I wonder if there’s karma after all?” I decided to write a song with a similar rhyme scheme and vibe in tribute to that mystical inebriated moment. I can't help being cosmic sometimes. It's in my DNA or something.
Shamir produced this one and sung backing vocals. I played my junk drum kit on it too. It's slinky, open tuning and bluesy. And it's true. Growing up is about confidence. Confidence is about not rushing through things. Slowing down is sexy. It name checks Beck and Pavement too, so there's some good inside baseball for the indie rock trainspotters too.
Courage is probably the most noble quality. It's the one you need to make things to happen, the step into the unknown, to attempt something new. Courage is one of the qualities that I think music can give you. So this is me giving my audience a dose of the right medicine. Christian Lee Hutson played guitar on this with a rubber bridge acoustic and it's so gorgeous. I love the architecture of his guitar parts. They are totally unique.Lee's
Lee's new album I'M FUN! is out now. You can stream or download it here.