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|Sasquatch 2006 coverage...
May 21, 2006
by Ashley Graham
Ben Leeís been on tour forever behind his most recent release, Awake is the New Sleep. He played Seattle in the fall. He played Seattle in the winter. Now heís hitting up Sasquatch in the spring. On stage and off, Ben Lee is a delight. As his Canadian tour with Sam Roberts was just getting underway, he took a few moments from his hotel room to chat about the festival, exhaustion and band wars.
Hi Ben! How are ya?
Hello Ashley. Iím doing quite well. Iím in Regina (Reh-GIH-nah).
How weird is that? I had assumed it was reh-gee-nah.
Apparently itís referred to lovingly by the locals as ďThe Vag.Ē
Extra fun. Howís the Canadian tour?
Brilliant. This record has been such a trip for me. Itís taken on a life of its own. It seems like that happens a lot now when youíre on an independent label. Unless youíre given that immediate push where it can all happen in a week, you put them out there and they sort of go where theyíre gonna go. This one has developed this very strange momentum. Right now in Canada itís getting played all over the radio and was just released on Universal here. Iím supporting Sam Roberts, and heís quite a popular Canadian. Itís a great opportunity.
How long have you been up there?
Just a few days. We did Winnipeg, Saskatoon, now Regina. Another week of shows.
Then you head to Sasquatch. Which is why I calledÖ wanted to talk about that.
How much do you know about the lineup?
What should I know?
Well are you excited?
Kind of, about playingÖ Festivals become days where you donít get a sound check and you just have to do your best to engage an audience that isnít really your audience. In another sense itís just another show. My job is exactly the same whether itís 80 people or 80,000 people. My job is just to be myself, so I donít put too much thought into what kind of show it is.
Iíve always imagined festivals were pretty much awful for performers.
They can be. They have the potential to be really fun. One problem with festivals, and this doesnít really apply to Sasquatch, is that they can be a little too rock-leaning, and thereís a lot of guys drinking and there can be a violent atmosphere. Thatís not the best atmosphere to get my music across, Iím pretty sure. Thatís something in general that is really weird about festivals, dealing with this energy that is brought by ALL the people and ALL the artists, whereas at your own shows you create the energy from the moment you walk in.
So youíre playing on one stage while the Decemberists and Laura Viers are on other stages. Iím wondering what your best pitch is for why people should come to see Ben Lee instead.
Probably becauseÖ I donít know. I donít know Lauraís music, so I shouldnít talk about that. My music might appeal to a different side of people than the Decemberistsí. Their music is so clever! I love them and Iíve gotten to see them live. It makes you think! (laughter ensues and doesnít stop) But my music just makes you feel.
I donít know if thatís the best pitch, but thatís okay.
I donít really try to plan a cerebral experience for anyone. When I make records, I always like playing them to, like, 6 and 7 year olds right when Iím making it. If they get into it, then I know itís on the right track. I donít like a prerequisite of intelligence or a backlog of knowledge to ďgetĒ something, whether itís cultural or whatever.
The fun thing about Sasquatch for me is that I donít typically play indie rock shows. Thatís something I sort of consciously decided when I was younger. It seemed like sort of a provincial mentality in indie rock, and I wanted to make music that was really broad, and always called it ďpop music.Ē So Sasquatch is fun, because you get to go in there and play with all the indie rock guys. Itís good times!
Is there anyone in particular you want to see?
I donít think Iíll see anybody, I think Iíll leave right after I play. (laughter)
In and out, Ben Lee!
Youíve toured behind this album, what seems like, relentlessly, to me. How long have you been on the road?
Weíve now been out straight, aside from my month off at Christmas, since February í05. Getting up to a year and a half.
Are you tired yet?
Well, do you mean, like, physically, right now, am I tired? No, I feel quite relaxed, I got a good nightís sleep. Am I little battle-weary? I have my moments. But in general, you know, this is what I do. Itís not something Iím doing to get to somewhere else. For me, if this experience isnít nourishing then I should stop doing it. But Iím fed by it.
So are you trying to prove your album title, Awake is the New Sleep, true by exhausting yourself?
(laughter) Noooo. But, itís an album about consciously engaging with life and making a point of bringing out the good in every experience and I guess in that sense, for the music to have any integrity I need to live it! Not just talk about itÖ Itís all very well to sing all these songs about ďYeah, follow your dreams, take a gambleĒ but if I werenít out there on the front line it wouldnít mean anything.
I know after next month youíre heading out with Dashboard Confessional. Whatís that all about?
We did one show in Eerie, Pennsylvania. I came off stage and Chris Carrabba was like ďI was absolutely blown away by that, I loved that, what are you doing this summer?Ē and it was the next day that we locked it up.
Are you a fan of his?
YES. I find his whole connection with his audience amazing. Have you ever seen them live?
Canít say I have, no.
Itís really something. For me, pop music of all kinds, the artist has a job to doóto give to their audience, to help them to learn something about themselves, about their feelings, about life. Going to his shows, you really see thereís a release, a real catharsis with the crowd. The crowd is experiencing something there together, that they felt very isolated from before they got there. To me, thatís what the experience of rock Ďní roll is about. I have a lot of respect for his music and for what heís accomplished.
Whatís his audience like demographically?
Way broader than youíd think. I saw them a few years ago when a band called Ash supported them and there was much more punk rock kids. Now itís like college kids and itís a really broad audience. The kind of people who would go see Jack Johnson, just regular, real people. So yeah, itís cool. I guess when you get to that size as an artist, youíre no longer playing to a clique.
Have you played venues of that size before?
Yeah, the tour with Rufus Wainwright and Ben Folds we did places those sizes. In Australia I can fill those on my own! I wonít feel totally like a deer in the headlights.
Whatís the plan after that?
I donít know, that already takes us to the end of August. At this point Iíve learned to not make any plans and just take the cues from the universe. If it feels like thereís more territory to be battled for, Iíll go back out there and do it. If it feels like this is it and the cycle of the album has come to an end, well, then, Iíve got 35 or 40 songs and I can start to make another one and see how it goes.
Awesome. Thanks for your time, Ben.
Yeah, yeah. I donít think I gave you a good answer about the Decemberists! Iím happy with what I said about my music, but Iím really in no position to judge. I was just trying to come up with something interesting. Always when youíre asked to compare, itís so boring when an artist says ďYou canít compare!Ē, so you try to come up with something but you really you just canít compare!
Yeah, yeah, okay, okay.
So if youíre feeling particularly generous, donít make it seem like Iím starting some sort of war with the Decemberists or anything!
So when youíre at the festival next week NO ONE will come see you!
There are a bunch of them, just one of me! I canít possibly compete!
Good sell, good sell.
Ben Lee plays the Wookie Stage at 4pm on Sunday. For a complete schedule, head to www.sasquatchfestival.com