New Ben Lee Album To Feature Jenny Lewis & Har Mar Superstar

Australian indie troubadour Ben Lee is set to release his fifthalbum, Awake Is the New Sleep, on February 22nd. Lee, who was famously signed by the Beastie Boys to their now-defunct Grand Royal label as a teenager, stayed true to his roots for the effort, self-financing the fourteen-tracker before inking a deal with Los Angeles imprint New West.

“I don’t need to make records for huge budgets at this point,” Lee says. “I knew I was going to make a pretty special record this time — it was just something I couldn’t put my finger on. I wanted to leave my options open, and New West — these are real music people. For me, it’s exactly the kind of place I need to be at right now.”

Lee wrote the songs for Awake Is the New Sleep while on tour in the U.S. between October 2003 and March 2004 in towns like San Francisco, Austin and New York. But it was at his sometime-home in Los Angeles (the singer spends time throughout the year in New York, India and Australia) that Lee laid down the tracks with former Smashing Pumpkins producer Brad Wood and a collection of local musician friends.

“It was a hugely social time, making this record,” he says of hanging out with pals like Har Mar Superstar, who turn up throughout the record on backing vocals. “There always seemed to be parties, and so we’d go out every night drinking and dancing. It was a really fun time, with all those people around you. That’s L.A.”

Former Phantom Planet drummer (and actor) Jason Schwartzman plays on “Light” and “Close I’ve Come.” And while supporting Schwartzman’s old band in California, Lee came up with one of the album’s standout tracks, “Catch My Disease.” Featuring Rilo Kiley frontwoman Jenny Lewis and singer-songwriter Jason Falkner in the chorus, the jangly number follows a classic Fab Four formula.

“I was watching The Beatles Anthology, and Paul McCartney talked about how the best pop songs are songs that are sung from the artist to the female teenage audience — like ‘I Wanna Hold Your Hand,'” explains Lee. “‘Catch My Disease’ follows that model, too. The message [in my] music is a bit complex. But pop music’s so great, because as long as you put it to a catchy melody everyone’s happy.”

Lee says he’s refreshed and ready to take his new bag of songs on the road this spring, having just wrapped up a month-long visit to India, where he studied with a spiritual guide.

“The last few years, I feel like my music and my spirituality have become one and the same thing,” he says. “And I feel like, more and more, I’ve been drawn to music as a form of sharing hope and inspiring. Teachers have helped me clarify that my job as a musician — whatever gift I was given — is here to help people feel some joy. So that’s what I’ve been working on.”


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