“Overboard” by The Silver Lake Chorus:
“Overboard” by The Silver Lake Chorus:
“Big Love” by Ben Lee:
Exciting find! Someone recently uploaded to YouTube a video of a full concert (41 minutes) that Ben Lee played back in February 2001 at Village Underground in NYC, right by Washington Square Park.
This show is notable because
1. It was a (rare) afternoon show…that happened almost 15 years ago
2. Ben Kweller and Evan Dando were also on the lineup, and
3. I’ve had some of the audio files from this show on my computer for years, so it’s strange to finally see the visuals in conjunction with the audio
Songs include “Nothing Much Happens,” “10 Feet Tall,” “How Can That Be,” and “Unlove Letters.”
I spoke to Lara Meyerratken, who makes music as El May, about the album she’s currently recording, playing and touring with bands like Ben Lee, Nada Surf & Crooked Fingers, and composing music for commercials.
After The Show: You recently filmed a music video for “I Played A Role” in New York – how was that?
El May: It was really fun – it’s a very dance-y music video. We actually went up to people on the street and asked them to listen to the song (not out yet – it’s on my new record that hasn’t come out yet). People were sweet and it was intense having to get over any embarrassment, dancing in the street with strangers.
As a multi-instrumentalist, how you approach the composing process?
I’ve found the best way to start writing for me is a beat – either I find a loop or I make some beat in Pro Tools. When I’m really starting from scratch it’s usually with a beat…occasionally even a synthesizer sound or synthesizer bass.
I really like the sonic textures and layers on “Draining A Lake” and “Don’t You” – is that something you consciously strive to create, or is it more just a result of being able to play so many instruments?
I think because I record my own things at home usually, it gives me a lot of time to get a little bit lost and try things. It comes from really getting absorbed in it and having the luxury of trying things. And probably the layering thing is sometimes maybe…too many layers [laughs]. With my new record there’s still layers vocally.
I was thinking about what attributes make someone a good session musician or backup musician…Like is there a certain personality/skill set better suited to playing backup?
Oh that’s a really good question…in Sydney I met Ben Lee when I was in my teens and that was just totally kids enjoying music, punk rock. When I toured it was just me having fun as a kid, you just do what you love.
In New York in the early 2000s, no one had keyboards in indie rock, then it started to be cool, so if you could find someone who could play keyboards, that was an asset. I was a good personality type for and it was more natural for me to be a backing person then because I didn’t really have an agenda to do my own music. Eventually it felt almost painful to play someone else’s songs – I knew I should do my own thing. To be in charge of your own creativity and destiny you have to be a little more assertive and confident and have follow-through. If you know that you’re being called to do something else, that requires a lot of strength…and stepping out, it becomes hard – it can make you feel very anxious.
What was the timeframe chronologically when you recorded and toured with Crooked Fingers, Luna, and Nada Surf?
Luna was early on – probably 2001 or 2002, and then ongoing with Britta and Dean…I did a lot of touring in late 2002 and early 2003, right before I toured with Nada Surf, I think over the summer of 2003. In 2004 Ben & I made Awake Is The New Sleep in LA. Right around then I got a call to come and sing on a Crooked Fingers record. I was thrilled about that and I loved Archers of Loaf when I was a kid.
You’ve composed and recorded music for commercials like Dell, Google, Comcast, Kelloggs, the charity RED…How do projects like that come about?
I get approached through different music houses. I started doing that (demoing on commercials) when I was in New York. When I moved to LA my friend Sam Spiegel got me working on a bunch of demos. You submit with a bunch of different people. The advantage that I have is that I made my own record and EP. Having made them on my own and people knowing that – it was a real draw for people because they thought, ‘oh, you know how to record as well’
I know you had songs placed on Pretty Little Liars and The Lying Game…has licensing to film and TV been as effective as you had hoped in terms of exposure?
Even from the commercials I’ve definitely gotten fans. Not as much as you would think – the Pretty Little Liars fans are so dedicated. I was a bit surprised with “Don’t’ You” – a lot of people were writing about it online. They all help a little bit, mostly it helps me live and get paid a little bit on what I do.
I’m so amazed and grateful when that happens…especially when you make something in solitude…it’s incredible that people are even imagining it [being used] in a scene.
Thanks Lara! Check out ElMayForever.com + stay tuned for her upcoming album (the working title is The Other Person Is You).
Amiel Courtin-Wilson’s many-years-in-the-making documentary on Ben Lee is making the festival rounds. I can’t wait to see it!
Watch the trailer:
Ben Lee’s new album Deeper Into Dream doesn’t come out until October 11th, but until then you can read an interview I did with him about memorable tours, favorite lyrics, song inspirations, and dreams.
After The Show: The first time I saw you in concert was Fall 2003 when you toured with Phantom Planet. Do you have a favorite tour (or favorite band with whom you toured) that you remember fondly?
Ben Lee: I remember that tour fondly as I was newly single, and it was very easy to meet girls at a Phantom Planet show! But really there have been so many great tours. The Bens’ tour of Australia was amazing.
Thematically and sonically, how does your song “Sleepwalking” from Breathing Tornados compare to your new album Deeper Into Dream?
Well, I produced the new album myself at home. Breathing Tornados was produced by Ed Buller, so the sonic palette differs a lot, both intentionally and by circumstance. It’s interesting you made a connection thematically though – I guess the dream world has been a big interest of mine for longer than I realized. I always had this strange aspiration of living life more from a mythological dream-like perspective rather than a rational one.
There’s a rumor that you were once a member of a band called Gerling. True/False?
I subbed in when their guitar player left briefly in the 90s. I was so used to being a frontman that I even did the talking between songs – it’s so embarrassing now to remember that! It’s an honour to have shared a stage even briefly (and arrogantly) with Crossy and the Presser.
What was your inspiration for “Pop Queen” and “Away with the Pixies”? Did you write those songs about the same girl?
Not so much. More just an indie rock ideal. I was 15. Girls were the only thing I was thinking about.
Now that you have a family, are you more reluctant to go on tour? Has your view of touring changed?
It’s definitely hard to justify touring for just promotional reasons anymore. I have to make money now! That’s definitely changed…I still love playing, though. My attitude is to look at each opportunity as it comes up and see if it makes sense for me and the family.
Care to shed some light on “Stumbling Block” from Grandpaw Would? Particularly what you were thinking with the line “Locker room dialogue boils the fat”?
Hmm. Not sure I can remember exactly. I think it had something to do with Silverchair and their song “Tomorrow.” And yes obviously about bullies and the teen macho thing that goes on.
What’s one of your favorite lyrics that you’ve ever written? What about a lyric that someone else has written?
“Please, taste the sea you sail, baby I believe, there’s no way you can fail” – No Right Angles. It sings nicely, and it’s always a message that I need to hear.
By someone else – So many. How about “You’re either busy being born or busy dying” by Dylan.
Thanks Ben! Check out Ben-Lee.com