INTERVIEW: Bluejuice (AUS), February 2009

The guys from Bluejuice are one of the best bands to interview. I’ve done it a few times over the years and it’s always a treat – they’re great people, a hard-working band with an outstanding sense of humour and a great set of stories. This was my first interaction with them in that regard, being for The Big O festivities (remember that?). This was also why I spoke to Ben Lee around the same time, albeit accidentally.

Like the Owen Pallett chat, this was done via email; so I had next to no control over it beyond the questions. I was very happy with the results, however. This has dated quite well; what with the MySpace references at all. Good times. So, here is a Q & A of sorts with the band’s bassist, Jamie Cibej; as well as their dearly departed keyboard player, Jerry Craib.

– DJY, April 2014

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2008 has been and gone; how was it in the Bluejuice camp?
Jerry: 2008 was incredible. We played at over 20 festivals, which was a real privilege… for them. Obviously.

Your Homebake 2008 performance was a fucking triumph; has to be said. That must have really been the icing on the cake for you guys, playing on the main stage of such a big Australian festival?
Jamie: Ha ha – a ‘triumph.’ We don’t have triumphs; we have slow, grinding victories, but thank you. It was amazing to play the main stage at Homebake. It was Ned’s last show with the band, which made things a little sad. The intense heat liquefying our genitals also made things a little sad.

How have things gone since Ned’s departure? Newb settling in well?
Jerry: Our new drummer James Hauptmann has settled in better than a moment of unintentional irony in an Australian reality TV show.

Jamie: Ned was a dead weight. He’s currently in Guatemala extorting crop yields from peasant farmers, or something equally shameful. Booooooo! Hissssss! (Hi Ned.)

When are we going to get to hear some new material from you guys?
Jerry: A new single – very soon. An album – in a couple of months. A Christmas album – end of the year. Best Of – fairly soon after that.

The Big O tour is just around the corner. Are you excited about these shows?
Jerry: My work colleague Lorin asks me that question every day. “Are you excited about such and such..?” No Lorin, I’m not. Not usually until it’s the same morning or at least the same week of the event. Premature excitement is a fool’s game. Of course we’re excited. Put your hands in the air, bitches.

How many of the ‘Juice camp actually attended uni? Will any of the shows bring back some old memories?
Jamie: I’m not sure exactly – I think three of us finished Bachelors of Uselessness. I did mine via correspondence, so I have no memories of campus life. I assume all universities are like those in American frathouse comedies from the 1980s. Bikini water fights and such.

I recently interviewed Ben Lee and he hadn’t heard of you guys before. How do you think you’ll introduce yourselves?
Jerry: Who’s Ben Lee? Catchy name.

Jamie: I hear he digs flowers – maybe we’ll bring him a bunch. Plus, Stav and I have both been to India, so maybe we can break the ice by talking about gurus or burning ghats or aloo palak.

After that comes the Bacardi Express tour. What is the band’s stance on that kind of product placement involved with live music?
Jerry: Let me just take a minute from this FasterLouder interview to have sip of my Toby’s Estate coffee and relax in my Wilkhahn office chair.

Jamie: I dunno – it’s not like the music industry is any less obsessed with capitalist whoring than the alcoholic beverage industry. It kind of depends on the manner of the product placement. There have been a few alcohol company events we’ve done which turn out to be poorly-planned, poorly-attended soulless exercises in shameless plugging. But at least this Bacardi thing has a good idea behind it, and as far as I know it’s free for the (overage) kiddies.

Your four top MySpace friends are Dostoevsky, Erik Satie, Captain Planet and Avril. Who would win in a fatal four-way for the title?
Jamie: Everybody knows that Captain Planet doesn’t kill people, so that puts him at a disadvantage. Avril is too frail for mortal combat. I don’t know too much about Satie’s physical condition (when alive), but if his melancholic minimalist tunes are anything to go by, he’d be a pushover. Dostoevsky lived through a mock execution, and was sent to a Siberian prison – I think he’d know how to handle those other sissies.

INTERVIEW: Ben Lee (AUS), February 2009

So, get this: I wasn’t actually supposed to do this interview. Sarah, who still works at FL, had actually put down my name and number to interview Ben Lee instead of Albert Santos, a guy I met through Last.FM of all places I believe. Anyway, I was in the shower when I was told that the call had come through for the interview. I quickly dried off and got them to call me back in 10. Sure enough, I was interviewing Ben Lee on the fly. Not only did I do the interview, I did an entire feature to go along with it – all without being asked. Normally, I wouldn’t be such a pushover – but this was Ben Lee we were talking about!

For context,  Ben has been a hero of mine for around fifteen years. His album Breathing Tornados was the second album I ever bought, and I’ve always had a special place in my heart for the man, his music and the lengths he’s taken it. Yes, he is indeed a “precocious little cunt,” as Bernard Fanning put it. But make no mistake about it – he is my precocious little cunt. This was completely unexpected, but totally awesome.

– DJY, July 2013

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“I love pop music, this is how we do it…”

With a simple chord progression and an endearingly positive message one thing is exceptionally obvious – Ben Lee is back and as always, in good spirits. Getting on the line with the man feels much more like a conversation with an old friend rather than a scheduled interview. He is chatty, extroverted and at this point of 2009, already somewhat reflective.

“It’s been a very exciting month,” he says contently. “Since getting engaged and really getting focused on the new album, it’s been really creative time for me. I feel like I’m in kind of a new time of my life- a new era.”

Lee is referring to two of his latest ventures- his marriage to actress Ione Skye and working on his upcoming seventh album, The Rebirth of Venus. Both of these events, Ben reveals, have initiated a reflection through his music.

“I think, for lack of a better term, as you get older you get more… balls as an artist. Probably like everyone else, I’ve spent a little too much time at various parts of my career wondering what would make everyone else happy, instead of doing what I wanted to. So as I get older, I care less and less and also realise that all of the best moments in my career have come from when I did exactly what I wanted to; which is a bit of incentive.”

He goes on to name check a cut from the new record that reflects exactly this state of mind – What’s So Bad About Feeling Good? The song, according to Lee, is about “taking the path of least resistance- to risk criticism and ridicule and doing whatever makes you happy.”

Ben’s next exposure to Australian audiences will be as a part of the Big O tour, where he will be performing alongside Scottish chorus masters The Fratellis (of whom Lee is quite the fan) and UK dance-rockers The Music. With him will be his new band, including acoustic musician/brother of Rose, George Byrne, and Jessica Chapnik. Chapnik was Lee’s partner in crime on The Square soundtrack and is also well known for playing notorious Summer Bay killer Sam Tolhurst on Home and Away. “I always tease her about shooting up heroin in a dingy,” he laughs.

The ironic twist for Lee when it comes to The Big O – a tour that takes in all of Australia’s biggest Universities throughout Orientation week – is that he only went to university for two weeks. “Give or take” he cheekily clarifies. “I did Communications at UTS. I didn’t NOT enjoy it, I just…” his tone of voice shifts to the laughing guilt of how one would confess to enjoying a Miley Cyrus song – “…I had an idea for an album. And there was a deadline where you could get your money back.”

Despite his cameo appearance at university, Lee is very much looking forward to the shows. “In the States, I do a lot of colleges. I think it’s kind of a natural time when people really get into music. Basically, you’ve got the independence for the first time in your life to live whatever kind of life you want. but you haven’t yet been corrupted as a part of “grown up” civilisation. It’s a really exciting time to be a music fan.”

So what next? After Rebirth is released and the Big O tour is completed, Lee has two more records in the works. The first is a Noise Addict album with Lou Barlow from Dinosaur Jr which Lee describes as a “really weird, lo-fi, homemade pop record.” The second is a mixtape that has been in the works for several years and consists of a series of songs that Ben has written and gotten other people to perform. Lee truly is a working musician.

Seven albums and ten years later, Ben Lee is incredibly grateful to still be recognised in Australia’s music scene and hopes this recognition will continue with his new release and beyond. “Even people that don’t necessarily like my music know it’s been a part of the culture for a long time,” he explains. “It’s really bizarre having been around for so long and having people tell you that my music was the first album they ever bought, or that they listened to me in high school… it’s still a treat.”