"Whether it's a pod, a fanzine, or a new single. And what really sets our company apart is that it's exclusively driven by my and Ione's taste. And what can I say? We have great taste! LOL.”
Husband and wife team Ben Lee and Ione Skye will officially launch their label arm, “production company, playhouse, and container for whatever the heck” they want to make, Weirder Together, tomorrow. But in a The Music exclusive, Lee has dished some of the behind-the-scenes details around the new venture.
Weirder Together began with podcasts, launching the projects Jello Biafra’s Renegade Round Table, Vague Data with Brock Enright, Raw Impressions with Lou Barlow and Adelle Barlow, Weirder Together with Ben Lee & Ione Skye and Lee's The Future of Being a Musician, each representing the couple’s interests within the entertainment industry.
The label arm then released a limited run of Skye’s individually numbered fanzine watercolour paintings. In addition to those early projects, the pair are currently developing a YouTube video essay series by Safy Hallan-Farah.
“Concepts like ‘record label’ or ‘podcast network’ are kinda outdated and a bit boring,” Lee revealed before using the label arm’s catchphrase: “We make cool shit with cool people.”
“Weirder Together, as a company that my wife, Ione, and I started, has had a very organic process of growth over the last few years,” Lee tells The Music. “It began as a variety type comedy/music show that we did at Largo in LA and Giant Dwarf in Sydney, with guests like Lena Dunham, Julianna Barwick, Spike Jonze, Lisa Loeb, Cameron James, Sally Seltmann, Sam Campbell, and Andrew Stockdale from Wolfmother.”
From the podcasts and Skye’s fanzines to the video essay, Lee and Skye recalled feeling that it was wild they hadn’t started releasing music too. Everything they’ve done has been organic and independent, with each collaboration following a flow-on effect.
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Lee explains, “For instance, collabs I've been doing or artists I meet on the road or online. It's all just ‘stuff,’ isn't it? Whether it's a pod, a fanzine, or a new single. And what really sets our company apart is that it's exclusively driven by my and Ione's taste. And what can I say? We have great taste! LOL.”
Weirder Together recently released Ben Lee and Ninajirachi’s collaboration, Tuck Shop, and will be releasing a collaboration between Lee and Georgia Maq in the coming weeks. Weirder Together also hosts events such as recent private Amyl & The Sniffers and Joanna Sternberg shows at Lee and Skye’s home in Laurel Canyon.
“I have always been interested in the grand tradition of outsider weirdo musicians - artists that live and thrive essentially outside the mainstream ecosystem, with their own rules, morality, and culture,” Lee says about what fires him up about working with artists like Ninajirachi and Camp Cope’s Georgia Maq.
He adds, “That doesn't mean they can't have mainstream success - I've had some hits here and there - but essentially, I love artists not exclusively defined by the mainstream.
“Both Nina and Georgia are like that. Genuine creative spirits love the process of creativity and are extremely open and present in their music. When I'm working with someone like Nina or Georgia, I basically feel lucky. To watch people you admire make things up close is a real honour. I try and open up and absorb whatever genius I can by osmosis.”
Tomorrow, with the official launch of Weirder Together comes the EP announcement of indie folk duo McDermott & North’s The Hollywood EP.
A duo Lee dubs “the real deal,” he says about the group that’s on the launch of Weirder Together, “They opened for me a couple of years back. They were buskers living in their van—the real deal. But when you heard them, it was clearly thousands of hours of practice that made their harmonies sound like that, that made their songs sound so cohesive. I was genuinely impressed.
“I chatted to them backstage about what they were into musically, and they said ‘The Beatles’ and nothing else. I mean, come on, that's a legitimately perfect answer! How could I not work with them after that? It was just about figuring out how to do it for very little money.”
Lee goes on to say that the musicians on the EP (Joey Waronker, Roger Manning Jr, Mike Viola) are “the absolute top of the food chain in terms of session type guys.
“These are dudes that don't say yes to everything. They each have impeccable taste. When I sent roughs [demos] of the tracks, they each fell head over heels in love and said yes. It was validating to know that what I was hearing was real, not my imagination. My friend Nic Johns mixed it really well too. I just love it. But I also think it all begins with how good the songs are.”
Lee notes that he and Skye are “fans of culture” as a critical motivator for their work at Weirder Together, adding that “we still get lit up by meeting young artists making cool shit! There's nothing better than hearing something brand new that makes you rethink your whole reality. It's one of my favourite feelings.”
Weirder Together hasn’t gifted Lee with all the answers but instead provides him with the platform to ask questions. After recently tweeting, “How different would the music industry be if musicians and songwriters were able to unionize and strike as effectively as screenwriters when our incomes came under threat?”, Lee felt the need to start the podcast series The Future of Being a Musician.
“The first episode has an interview with Tom Gray (Gomez), who has become the leading force in the UK pushing for greater streaming transparency,” Lee states. “The second episode has Joey La Neve DeFrancesco, who formed the Union of Musicians and Allied Workers (UMAW) who are tackling streaming issues in the US and issues like fair pay at SXSW—very interesting people.
“And I have a few in the pipeline that are fascinating. I mainly wanted to get conversations among musicians and the larger music community. We aren't going to find solutions until we start talking more openly about the issues we are facing.”
Weirder Together officially launches tomorrow with the announcement of McDermott & North’s new release, The Hollywood EP. You can keep up to date with Weirder Together here.