Q&A With Ben Lee

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In 2009, the idea of a well-adjusted, self-realized pop star tends to boggle the mind of the American public. Ben Lee, a 30-year-old Australian singer/songwriter, has lately been on a mission to deliver music that challenges the notion of guilty-pleasure pop by creating radio-ready songs that also encapsulate ideas about politics, identity and gender. The Rebirth Of Venus (out in April on New West), Lee’s seventh solo album, is his ode to feminintiy in all its guises: muses (“Yoko Ono”), compassionate politics (anti-Bush Doctrine “Wake Up To America”), gender role-playing (“Boy With A Barbie”) and just wanting to have fun (“What’s So Bad (About Feeling Good)”). Venus is a brave and positive statement from Lee, a 16-year veteran of the music biz (he started out in teenage pop/punk outfit Noise Addict) who recently married actress Ione Skye (daughter of ’60s folk icon Donovan and iconic in her own right for her starring role in Say Anything).

Lee answered MAGNET’s questions from the green room of The Tonight Show With Jay Leno, where he performed on Friday. A man of spiritual depth and professional accomplishment, Lee will be guest editing magnetmagazine.com this week.

“Yoko Ono” from The Rebirth Of Venus:
http://magnetmagazine.com/audio/YokoOno.mp3

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Wrens Watch, Feb. 9, 2009

We’ve been fans of New Jersey’s finest since even before their first album came out back in 1994, so let’s just say we’re used to sitting around waiting for them to take their sweet-ass time putting out new music. (Three albums in more than 14 years makes the Wrens about as prolific as Boston, which is kind of like being as tall as Tony Cox.) As reported in a Wrens Watch Special Report, January 9 marked a huge milestone for the guys: guitarists Charles Bissell and Greg Whelan, bassist Kevin Whelan and drummer Jerry MacDonald. They issued “Pulled Fences,” their first new (well, sort of new) song since 2003’s The Meadowlands. Perhaps motivated by finally releasing something, the band convened—not in a real studio, but in Kevin’s basement—three weeks ago to begin work on its new album. And not only that, the Wrens recorded an actual song (which you can download for free here). We checked in with Bissell to see what the band has accomplished since.

:: Wrens Watch, Feb. 9, 2009
MAGNET: Last week when we talked, you pretty much said you guys hadn’t done anything other than the one new song, aside from breaking the computer you use to record.
Bissell: If you want to look at it that way, then yes, I guess so.
I know you recently had a birthday, so I’ll cut you a little slack about the lack of recording. So any other news?
Hmmm. I heard this Coltrane song for the first time the other day. It was really good.
All his stuff is really good. That’s why he’s John Coltrane. Plus, the man made more than 100 albums, and he only lived to be 40, which is younger than you are now.
So what are you trying to say?
Nothing, other than some people are slow starters, I guess. Geez, come to think of it, you’ve already outlived John Lennon by a number of years.
Your point?
Don’t really have one. I mean, Paul McCartney was already at Press To Play when he was about your age. And my friends and I thought he was a has-been then.
If you even so much as mention George Harrison’s Cloud Nine or Ringo Starr’s Old Wave, I’m hanging up.
How about Billy Preston’s You Can’t Keep A Good Man Down? I think he might have been older than you when he made that. No, I think he was actually younger
Later, asshole. [Hangs up]

Are You There God? It’s Me … Duffman!

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No, the topic at hand isn’t Springfield’s caped beer crusader (ah, if only … ), but the other famous Duff. Stumped? Here are a few hints: He’s from Seattle, he has a finance degree, his pancreas once exploded from substance abuse, and he races mountain bikes. Still confused? Maybe this book excerpt will give it away: “Duff was now living … in an apartment on Hollywood Boulevard, coincidentally, next to Sly Stone. I guess you could say that he and Sly had a tight neighborly relationship: Sly used to come by Duff’s place unannounced to smoke PCP, crack, or a mix of the two, alone, in Duff’s bathroom and then just leave.” This little tidbit is from Slash, by Slash with Anthony Bozza, a trashy, if highly entertaining, read. And as you’ve probably figured out, the Duff in question is Duff McKagan, former bassist for Gun N’ Roses (before they became known as the Axl Rose Debacle), current bassist for Velvet Revolver and frontman for Duff McKagan’s Loaded, which is set to release Sick this April. Put to tape by Martin Feveyear (Kings Of Leon, Crooked Fingers), the music from Duff’s side project is of a genre rarely heard these days: straight-ahead rock ‘n’ roll.

“No More” from Sick:

From The Desk Of Superdrag’s John Davis: “The World According To Monsanto”

johndavisc1John Davis wanted rock ‘n’ roll, but he didn’t want to deal with the hassle. The Superdrag frontman broke up his band in 2003, got religion and issued a pair of solo albums, putting a seemingly tight lid on the legacy of his Knoxville, Tenn., outfit. Apparently, Davis is willing to be bothered again: Superdrag’s original lineup reconvened to record Industry Giants, a new album due March 17.

This week, MAGNET celebrates the return of Superdrag by handing Davis the reins to our website, where he’ll share his favorite music, films, food, literature and more. Read our Q&A with Davis about the comeback here.

monsantomural5301Davis: The World According To Monsanto is French filmmaker Marie-Monique Robin’s mind-blowing exposé on Monsanto, the U.S. government-sanctioned corporate juggernaut whose “greatest hits” include:

• Genetically modified seeds (90 percent of soybeans grown in America are “Roundup Ready”)
• GMO (genetically modified organism) foods (contained in 70 percent of the food products on American shelves)
• PCBs (Polychlorinated biphenyls)
• rBGH (recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone, linked to breast, colon and prostate cancers)
• Agent Orange
• Aspartame
• Roundup (herbicide)

If you’re unaware of the toxicity of these products and the dangers they present to your family’s health, I strongly recommend viewing this documentary. The fraudulent means by which many of these substances have been granted government approval is another matter entirely. Try Googling “Rumsfeld aspartame” sometime if you’re interested in some light reading.

View the eight-part documentary here. You’ll love the scene where then-Vice President George H.W. Bush, during his tour of a Monsanto lab facility, tells a group of execs frustrated with ”bureaucratic hurdles” (i.e., health- and environmental-safety testing), “Call me. We’re in the ‘de-reg’(ulation) business.”

This concludes “John Davis Week” here at magnetmagazine.com. Thanks to John for writing about some really important and interesting stuff. Go to the store and buy all the Superdrag records and Industry Giants when it comes out March 17.

TiVo Party Tonight: Radiohead

tivoradioaEver wonder what will happen during the last five minutes of late-night TV talk shows? They let musicians onstage! Here are tonight’s notable performers:

51st Grammy Awards (CBS): Call us cynical, but we think In Rainbows got five nominations so the fantastically unhip Grammys could use Thom Yorke to promote the show and persuade Radiohead to perform. Other acts playing the awards shindig include U2, Paul McCartney & Dave Grohl, Coldplay and, of course, Lil Wayne.

Radiohead’s “Bangers + Mash” from In Rainbows bonus disc: