Q&A: Having Nothing To Hide With Ben Lee + Full Stream Of “Catch My Disease”
By Bailey Pennick on January 30, 2013
“Who wants to watch their lives retold to them on a regular basis?”
It’s hard to say that a phone conversation with Ben Lee is like chatting with a friend of yours, because your friends are never that honest. You can never ask your buds about the pain of seeing an ex-girlfriend or their deepest beliefs about religion, spirituality and family, but with Lee, these are the only topics that he wants to talk about.
The 90’s indie-pop Aussie has had a lot of practice airing these issues thanks to the new film documenting his life over the last decade. Starting out as just a small art-house film by a couple of friends, Amiel Courtin-Wilson’s latest documentary, Ben Lee: Catch My Disease, is an incredibly straightforward and honest portrayal of the pressures of fame on young visionaries and the steadfast relationships they build.
Beginning his career at age 14 in the critically acclaimed punk band Noise Addict, yearning for the acceptance and love as a pop star, and ultimately learning about inner peace and the power of spirituality, the film shows Lee in a very raw, yet endearing form. Catch My Disease “stars” Lee and his group of close personal friends who just happen to be some of today’s most popular people: Jason Schwartzman, Michelle Williams, Zooey Deschanel, Thurston Moore and Mike D, as well as Lee’s ex-girlfriend Clare Danes.
Lee caught up with FILTER to discuss what it was like to have a film made about his life, the reception of his friends and family and to make sure that his twitter handle was mentioned. Don’t worry @benleemusic, we’ve got you covered.
Also be sure to check out a stream of the entire film below courtesy of HULU!
What was your relationship to the film? Was there always a plan to make a documentary about your life, or were you just filming everything?
Amiel and I wanted to collaborate on something. Initially [the film] was going to be a lot more abstract and cinematically we wanted to produce something unconventional at first. And I mean, while this did end up becoming more of a conventional documentary, it’s kind of unique and I’m kind of glad that Amiel didn’t end up making it like a “Behind The Music” kind of thing. It still has its abstract moments I think…I think it’s got a lot of atmosphere to it and it excites me that that stayed intact.
Being in the public eye from so young, was it easy to have him around all the time filming?
Well if you really think about it, he wasn’t around all the time. We filmed across a ten year period, yes, but it would be more like he’d be around for a week and then I wouldn’t see him for 10 months! It was kind of concentrated, but we bonded so much that when we did get back together, we would immediately pick up where we left off.
It was kind of awesome because I’m a person who changes a lot—I think we all change a lot—so whenever we’d get together it was more about catching each other up about what has changed. That kind of became out relationship.
How much give and take was there in the filming process as well as the editing process? Were you very involved/hands on?
We kind of did a little contract: I had the right to pull thing that I didn’t want in there, but I think there only ended up being four little shots that I pulled out. But he wasn’t out to make a scandalous film or anything.
The things I pulled were just things that I thought could be taken out of context—mostly with regards to spirituality. I think that’s a provocative subject for a lot of people and while this film deals with it head on, you still have to approach it very carefully. I can’t even remember those moments specifically, but I do remember being a little bit protective. Otherwise, I really did want him to make an interesting film.
Throughout the film you seem to be incredibly open about your past, your present, your music, your art, your spirituality and just about everything else! Is this something that you have been learning and practicing or has this always been your way?
Since I have become way less concerned about becoming a pop star, the stakes have become…well very low. Like it doesn’t make sense to have me pretending that I am something that I’m not. It’s different for someone like Beyonce who has to keep up a certain image so that her market value stays very high, but for me, it’s not worth the energy to pretend.
I don’t know if that answers the question, but I guess there is just nothing that I find that I need to protect.
Do you think that since your music and personality have been changing, that your audience has been changing as well?
Yeah, I think you see this a lot with solo artists because they aren’t as brand-able. Like, you might wear a Rolling Stones t-shirt, but you wouldn’t really wear a Bob Dylan t-shirt. It just isn’t as cool. Solo artists just aren’t really as marketable, they are just people. Our art is changing with us. And that’s what you see with my fans.
Like I have some fans whose lives have seemingly paralleled my own and we’ve grown together. I’ve definitely had fans who have been listening to my music for 20 years, but on the other hand I have fans that have either gotten off, or gotten on the train at different points and only resonate with a portion of the work and that is always a little bit—I don’t quite get it. I don’t quite get any of it, but I just have to keep moving forward.
I guess the people that want to listen at that point are the right people. F