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Ben Lee: A Former Teen Rock Star Goes 'Deeper'

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Ben Lee: A Former Teen Rock Star Goes 'Deeper'

Ben Lee: A Former Teen Rock Star Goes 'Deeper'

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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The story of Australian singer-songwriter Ben Lee's career reads like any budding rock star's dream. He was 14 when his band Noise Addict got a record deal in the early '90s based on demos they recorded in Ben Lee's bedroom. His high school years were a balance between final exams and touring with his band. Since then, he's embarked on a successful solo career. And Ben Lee's newest album - we're listening to the title track now - is called "Deeper into Dreams." Ben Lee's based in Los Angeles and he joins us from our studios at NPR West. Ben Lee, welcome to the program.

BEN LEE: Hey. Thanks for having me.

CORNISH: So, why dreams? 'Cause the opening of the album right away you hear this excellent montage of people describing dreams that they've had.

LEE: You know, dreams are something I've always been fascinated by from when I was young. They just seem to be this common denominator where we all get thrown nightly into this existential mystery. And a few years ago, I met this amazing therapist. And I did three amazing years of dream analysis with him that really changed my life. And then he passed away suddenly last September. And so the record was kind of both a tribute to him and my way of sort of processing all this dream work was about. I mean, it's super uncool, like...

CORNISH: No, no. I want to play a clip from that actually, because it's very cool.



UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Wow, OK. I just woke up. I just had the craziest dream that was really amazing.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: I dreamt I saw a giant, like, sailboat on the ocean.

LEE: And a huge sort of monolith comes towards me but it's constructed out of metal and industrial piping.

CORNISH: What I liked about this is hearing your dreams is actually a very intimate thing. I mean, you don't just do it with the people on the street. And I was wondering sort of how you convinced people to tell you about them and why you wanted to include them on the album in this way.

LEE: With this, you know, I didn't know quite what I was doing. But I was really into dreams and me and my friends would always talk about them. And so I just went through a phase of everyone who came past through the house - I have a little studio at home and I'd record - I said can you tell me a dream? And then I started emailing friends, saying can you send me a dream?


LEE: (Singing) Everything is saying hit me, break me, everywhere I look. Finally, I win the biggest catch but I barely have a (unintelligible). What's the point of speculation? I want to feel it in my hands. That thing that lives it should spark in primordial man, yeah.

You know, after this many years of making records and the bottom line is, you know, I came to the realization several years ago that, you know, I'm not Justin Timberlake. Like, my job is not necessarily to cater to millions of people at a sort of, you know, mass level. So, I make these records that are about what I'm interested in.


LEE: (Singing) All I want to do is give (unintelligible) pointless beauty. I can't remember what's the pointless beauty...

CORNISH: Another thing about the album I like is I felt like I was hearing you wrestle with family and being the head of a family, especially in a song like "I Want My Mind Back."


LEE: (Singing) Setting in a mindless cloud, I try to remember everything. Takes a kind of destiny (unintelligible). But in your obligations, need someone to care. I want my mind back, I want my mind back, I want my mind back, I want my mind back, yeah...

CORNISH: Can I ask you a little bit more about this song? Because for people maybe who are familiar with your music from when you were younger, you know, kind of being, like, this punk kid, what was it like writing about these scenes now?

LEE: Yeah. I mean, it's so odd to talk about the way parenthood and growing up effects art because we automatically have all these assumptions that, you know, it's going to be like a parent writing lullaby songs to put their infant baby to sleep or, you know, maturing and things getting safe and vanilla. But for me, hanging out with a baby has, like, actually made the world volatile to me and more - the stakes are higher, I guess. So, when you bring in a new generation you stop feeling the clock ticking on your own. And I have been feeling that, like, it really is my duty to myself to make records that reflect where I'm at now because no one's going to do that except me. If that makes sense now.

CORNISH: It does. And it's interesting coming from someone who I've read said that, you know, you made music to escape normal adolescence.

LEE: Well, yeah, meet girls basically. Like the same reason everybody starts making music. This is probably my least commercial record in a way that I've ever made. But it just feels honest. I'm kind of getting to this place now where it's really just about rigorous self-contentment with the music that I'm making.

CORNISH: Ben Lee. His new album is called "Deeper into Dream" and he joined us from the studios of NPR West. Ben, it was a real pleasure talking with you.

LEE: Thanks for having me.


LEE: (Singing) I want my mind back, I want my mind back, I want my mind back, I want my mind back, yeah.

CORNISH: You can hear songs from "Deeper into Dream" at

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