Friday, September 20, 2019

Ben Lee tackled '90s indie rockers, including Daniel Johnston, on 'Quarter Century Classix'

Ben Lee is set to release Quarter Century Classix on Nov. 22 via New West Records. The 13-song set was produced by Lee and features his interpretations of early ‘90s indie rock favorites. It features appearances by Mike Watt (Minutemen, Firehose), Petra Haden (that dog), Maria Taylor (Azure Ray), drummer Joey Waronker and more.

“Part of what I’ve taken from indie rock is the freedom to capture a time and place. Who’s around when you’re making a record? That’s your family. That’s your community.”

The version of Daniel Johnston’s “Speeding Motorcycle” will surely get a close listen as the singer-songwriter just passed away.

“It’s been powerful this past week to see so many people," says Lee, "sharing how Daniel’s music touched them so deeply. It’s one of those bittersweet elements when a beloved artist dies - we are given the opportunity to say out loud what we’ve thought privately so many times. It’s strange timing for me personally, as I had recorded my cover of ‘Speeding Motorcycle’ earlier this year, after performing it with Daniel on KCRW and at the LA show that night, which was one of the high points of my musical life. Climbing inside that song was like a celebration of everything that initially moved me about Daniel’s music and rock ‘n’ roll in general: the freedom, the melody, the wit, the artistic rebelliousness. So here it is for you to hear, oddly, a week after Daniel’s death. And I get the chance to say that I believe Daniel Johnston was amongst the greatest songwriters in American history.”

Hear it and the Breeders cover HERE.

In January of 2019, while touring with his duo Radnor & Lee (featuring the actor Josh Radnor of How I Met Your Mother fame), Lee found himself snowed in, trapped by the polar vortex in a lonely Chicago hotel room. Nothing to do, nowhere to go, Lee thought about his first trip to the city 25 years earlier when he was recording his solo debut, Grandpaw Would, with the producer Brad Wood for the Beastie Boys’ Grand Royal label.

“Chicago plays such a key role in my music history, because that’s where I went to make my first solo record. I met incredible artists like Liz Phair and Rebecca Gates and all these people who were so important to me at the time.”

Lee was 15 years old, but already a seasoned music veteran in his native Australia, where he had been fronting the alt-rock band Noise Addict (who’s first ever show at 14 years old was supporting Sonic Youth. The band would go on to support Fugazi, Pavement, Sebadoh, and more).

Among his fondest memories of that first trip to Chicago was spending hours at the city’s record stores. “Records were so expensive by the time they got imported to Australia, so I spent a lot of time flipping through the crates,” Lee offers. “I remember buying the first Fugazi record on that trip, a Superchunk singles compilation, Sebadoh vs. Helmet. It was a time when being a fan of music was the most dominant thing in my life, which is what happens when you’re that age.”

In 2019, the grown-up Ben Lee started working out the chords to “Web In Front” by Archers of Loaf - another prized piece of vinyl he picked up during that first trip. Using a small recording set-up he carries with him on the road, Lee recorded his own version of “Web In Front.”

After that song, he recorded another. And then another. And then more. Fugazi’s “Blueprint” followed by Guided By Voices’ “Goldheart Mountain Top Queen Directory” followed by Beat Happening’s “Godsend.” Soon, something resembling a record emerged from Lee’s reminiscences, an album with a shape and a thesis: Quarter Century Classix. He then took those hotel-room recordings back to his home in Los Angeles and gathered the small crew of friends to flesh them out.

Lee approached the record both as a fan who long ago memorized every lyric and as an artist who was an active participant in that scene, who saw these bands up close, who even opened for a few of them. As a result, Quarter Century Classix carries a lot more weight than your typical “covers album.” It’s an overview of a particularly vibrant era in indie rock, but it’s also an endeavor of personal archaeology. Lee burrows deep into these classix not only to see what makes them tick, but also to see how they make him tick. At heart, it’s closer to a musical memoir: a mixtape as statement of self, a means of connecting with his younger self. He says, “Within the course of these 13 songs, I discovered that the entire template for what I would explore musically was laid out at that time in my life. These songs truly touched me in the most profound way.”

In celebration of the release of Quarter Century Classix, Ben Lee will be performing a special show with Jon Brion at Largo in Los Angeles on Nov. 22 and will also appear at the City Vineyard in NYC on Dec. 1.

Ben Lee’s Quarter Century Classix will be available on compact disc, across digital retailers, Split Fluorescent Blue & Fluorescent Pink Colored Vinyl, Limited Edition Cassette Tape, and Sky Blue Colored Vinyl Limited to 300 copies available for pre-order now via NEW WEST RECORDS.

Track Listing:

1. Web In Front (By Archers of Loaf)
2. Blueprint (By Fugazi)
3. Divine Hammer (By The Breeders)
4. Car (By Built To Spill)
5. Sugar Kane (By Sonic Youth)
6. Get Me (By Dinosaur Jr.)
7. In The Mouth A Desert (By Pavement)
8. Goldheart Mountain Top Queen Directory (By Guided By Voices)
9. Speeding Motorcycle (By Daniel Johnston)
10. Brand New Love (By Sebadoh)
11. Ingrown (By Smudge)
12. My Noise (By Superchunk)
13. Godsend (By Beat Happening)

Album release shows:

November 22nd - Los Angeles, CA Largo w/ Jon Brion
December 1st - New York, NY The City Vineyard

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