At The Bar with Musician Ben Lee

Multiple ARIA-award winning singer/songwriter Ben Lee has always found a clever way to stare down the barrel of the indie pop gun while giving us poker face, his cheeky and clever wit always welcome when delivering the classics over a 30-year career reign.

But if his new single Lovers is a sign of what’s to come on his forthcoming solo album, we’re in for a dose of nostalgia bolstered with real life lived experience that has served him well both sides of the studio. Oh, and then there’s heavy metal, but more about that later.

Lee was inspired to write the song Lovers about his wife, American actress Ione Skye who is about to hand in the first draft of her memoir – where she digs deep and chimes on past romances. It gave Lee a chance to reflect on how past experiences ultimately brought her to him. Together they host a husband-and-wife podcast Weirder Together and split their time between homes in Sydney and LA.

Where Lovers tackles romance, the new single Heavy Metal which drops on 17 May, plugs into an 80s nostalgia of big hair and bigger egos. The video clip was directed by Nash Edgerton, who was instructed to watch The Decline of Western Civilization Part II: The Metal Years documentary for inspiration.

“My favourite band when I was 10-years-old was Motley Crue,” says Ben Lee who is back in Sydney when we chat over Zoom.

“I had a VHS tape with the clip for Motley Crue’s Uncensored on it. There’s a scene of lead singer Vince Neil riding in a jacuzzi built into the back of a limousine down Sunset Strip while girls are flashing boobs all around him,” he explains.

“That image imprinted on me at a young age, what being a rock star’s life might be. When I started writing the song Heavy Metal, I realised metal has taken a lot of blame for issues in society, it’s an escape goat for a lot of world problems and one thing led to another,” he says.

“I wanted Nash Edgerton to reference the famous doco [The Decline of Western Civilization Part II: The Metal Years]. It contains some of the most iconic and comedic representation of what that era was about. Nash was blown away and came up with this idea of creating a shot for shot of the characters in the exact framing and it became this absurd thing and a fun video clip to make,” adds Lee.

While his new album This One’s For the Old Headz won’t be out until later this year, Lee says it riffs on the soundtrack of his youth – he was after all dipping into archives as far back as The Replacements and Teenage Fanclub and more recently, the now defunct Camp Cope.

“I really got into the music of my past – songs that were full of blistering guitars, indie rock and aggressive punk,” says Lee.

“It’s amazing when your personal nostalgia is something that has a lot of piss and vinegar in it,” he says.

“We often think of our past as being docile and simpler times, but in some ways for me, reflecting on getting older and having the music of my youth being so full of energy and vigour, I knew I wanted to make a record like that again.”

MY CITY

Home is Sydney at the moment. We all came back from LA a few months ago. Growing up in the 80s and early 90s in Australia, I felt constricted by the provincialism and we felt separate culturally. What I love about Australia now is our connection to nature, the Internet has also allowed us to become culturally more connected with the rest of the world. In the last five years, I feel the music scene in Australia is more impressive and dynamic, people are still creative underground and inspiring – and yes times are tough and people aren’t spending money to see local bands, but there’s so much going on it’s quite amazing.

FAVOURITE FOOD MEMORY

A favourite meal I had was while on tour in Japan with Grand Royale – the Beastie Boys record label I was signed to. They had organised a traveling showcase and Sean Lennon took us to a Buddhist monastery outside Tokyo where John Lennon and Yoko Ono used to go to and where John loved to visit. There was one dining room and everything that was served was grown on site by the monks. We ate a 12 course omakase vegetarian meal which I’ll never forget.

There’s also Raffi’s Place in Glendale, Los Angeles where Ione and I like to dine. This is a traditional Persian restaurant. They serve the best tasting radishes and the bread is amazing. it’s a beautiful experience.

FAVOURITE BAR

The Baxter Inn, Sydney. It’s a whisky bar and I went there with The Dandy Warhols when they toured last week. It was a fun atmosphere. We live near the pub, The Lord Dudley which is a regular go-to. The Old Fitz Theatre in Woolloomooloo is another great spot, Ione is obsessed with fireplaces.

WHAT DO YOU ORDER

A Moscow mule.

WINES YOU LOVE

I have two new discoveries and wines I love from Australia. One came via The Dandy Warhols’ Courtney Taylor-Taylor. He recommended The Duke’s Vineyard – The First Cab. It was fantastic and full bodied. The other is a wine from South Australia – The Standish Wine Company. I drank the 2022 Standish Shiraz release. When it comes to wines I trust the expertise of others, or trust the graphic design logo to help me make up my mind.

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