Ben Lee’s happy py homecoming
Musician Ben Lee remembers a series of messages around this time last year that he couldn’t ignore. “They said ‘Michael Gudinski is trying to reach you’,” Lee says.
“Whenever you had a call from Michael Gudinski there was an element of terror because you knew whatever the idea was, you were about to be talked into it. It wasn’t going to be a conversation that could involve you saying ‘No, thank you’.”
Gudinski knew his Anzac Day concert Music From the Home Front needed Ben Lee’s 2006 hit We’re All In This Together – a song with a life that’s gone from subverting commercial radio to insurance commercials to being a pandemic soundtrack last year.
Lee performed the song on the inaugural Music From the Home Front, a virtual concert that wound up being watched by more than a million people on TV alone, spawning a No. 1 album.
The late Gudinski had been working on a sequel to Music From the Home Front and his son Matt and the Mushroom Group team are continuing his legacy.
NEW YEAR, SAME VIBE
For the 2021 version, Lee is reworking We’re All In This Together with his friend and former tour mate Gordi, aka Sophie Payten, a musician and also a doctor who spent much of last year working in COVID wards.
Like all the artists on the bill – including Jimmy Barnes, Kasey Chambers, Vance Joy, Amy Shark, Mia Wray, Tina Arena, The Rubens, Dean Lewis and Bliss N Eso – the chance to honour Michael Gudinski was an instant ‘yes’.
“The precedent the event set in terms of focusing on the way music can unify and bring people together is resonant with me,” says Lee, 42. “It felt like a nice fitting tribute to carry on what Michael was working towards.
“He showed the way one individual can change an industry, and he was an eccentric. Which to me is the foundational cornerstone of the arts. Doing things by committee is fine, but when you have visionary impulses on behalf of people who are a little bit kooky, it’s nice to see so many people recognise that. There’s no substitute for an individual who won’t take no for an answer, in terms of achieving their dreams. Their legacy is felt forever because they become our mythological folk tales.”
We’re All In This Together, from Lee’s most successful album, Awake Is the New Asleep (also home to Catch My Disease and Gamble Everything For Love), was written with total purity, which Lee thinks explains its durability – and suitability for uniting people last year.
“The cycle of releasing music and social media means it all happens very quickly now. Sometimes you can forget that art really does have a moment in time that it’s going to be most useful. The idea that in this time when new music is being churned out every day that a song from 15 years earlier could have its moment, it gives you a lot of faith in the organic nature of art serving a purpose; of personal and collective experiences.”
Born in Sydney but based in LA for many years, Lee and wife, US actor Ione Skye, recently moved their family back to Sydney to escape the ravages of COVID.
“It’s quite hard to separate what happened with COVID in the US with the Trump Administration. The bungling of the response; the effects will be felt for generations. It was a really scary time, at a certain point there’s sacrifices you can make in scary situations before you have kids where you’re making decisions for yourself or you and a partner, but once you have kids you owe it to them to make the safest decision possible. It was inevitable we needed to get back to Australia.”
Since his return, Lee has been touring like it’s 2019 – including extensive regional NSW shows for the first time in years – and has a new album, It’s Fun, ready for release, including remote collaborations with Money Mark and Jon Brion.
“Playing music again has been unbelievable,” Lee says. “It’s like the scenes in those post apocalyptic movies where heads start popping up out of bunkers. Both the audience and performers are like that: ‘Are we really doing this? Are we doing live music?’ It’s really exhilarating.”
Music From The Home Front, Saturday April 24, Sidney Myer Music Bowl, on sale midday Friday. Presales start tomorrow see frontiertouring.com. Also on You Tube and Channel 9 from 7.30pm