In fact, he is so beatifically pleasant, that it is easy to assume his recent forays into India are responsible.
However, some of that internal glow must come from the success of his fifth album, Awake Is The New Sleep. Released last February, it produced a US hit with the infectious Catch My Disease, took home three ARIAs, and touring it is such fun that Ben has no plans to return to the studio yet.
It is packed with feel-good mantras, a few predatory knee-tremblers for the ladies (“we call Get Gotten the stalker song”), and that amiable intimacy he’s famous for. Now, at 27 and after half a lifetime in the game, he has given up his baggage to focus purely on the music.
“When a lot of bands start out they’re basically out pillaging around the world, seeing what they can take,” he says in distaste. “That’s not the headspace I’m in.”
Hang on – does that mean he is not looking over his shoulder to see how Powderfinger are doing? “Well, I think there’s always a little bit of competitiveness,” he chuckles.
We are talking about the “precocious little c***” comment Powderfinger’s Bernard Fanning made about Ben after the boy wonder had declared his third release to be the best Australian album of all time.
Undeterred, Ben made T-shirts up bearing that very slogan. “I enjoy the game of pop music, and I love seeing who’s on top. There’s an athletic element to it.”
As well as tending to his own career, Ben’s been a one-man hit machine for Waikiki, Gelbison and Blake Babies. The next project is an album of Lee-penned tracks sung by Kylie, Neil Finn, The Eels, Gomez, Ash and more, each song written in a style to suit the artist. “I haven’t arranged it yet,” is all he’ll reveal of its release.
His own label, Ten Fingers, is also a shadowy beast. As an imprint of Dim Mak he’s putting out a record from Montreal band, Pony Up, but he’s not yet sure if it will be a functioning label or just a stepping-stone for new talent.
“When I was more punk rock I thought the business side wasn’t credible,” he says, “but now I realise business is an energy like anything else. You learn a lot about which battles are worth fighting and which aren’t.”
Although homeless, Ben’s based in New York these days, and he persuaded keyboard player Lara Meyerratken (“She’s my Keef!”) to relocate there with him, joining the US nucleus of the band: Gawain Mathews and Nick Johns.
It is not that the Bondi Boy is bored of his Aussie roots – at one point he opens his jacket to show his Grates T-shirt, and he namedrops countless up-and-comers – it’s just that he’s stopped worrying about being seen as a traitor in his home country and started enjoying writing as an outsider.
“I think a period of exile is something artists have to go through, and this goes back to James Joyce,” he opines. “When I first toured America I understood something about the big game. If I’d stayed in Australia being a big fish in a small pond I might not have learned those skills.”
And how does England rate on his list of desirable locations? “I don’t think I’ve yet had the moment where England and me have ‘got each other’, you know what I mean?” he grins. “What I do goes against the grain of what’s accepted in England musically. I’ll keep coming back though – I love visiting the crop circles.”
Oh dear… they’re done by hoaxers. “It doesn’t matter who they’re done by!” he retorts. “It’s not about that. Sometimes you hear a beautiful song and then you find out that the singer was a paedophile or something, but it doesn’t change the song. I’m a big believer in the transformative power of art.”
While Ben’s become more business savvy, the flipside is his increasing interest in spirituality. He’s enlisted an Indian teacher, Narayani Amma, and fills us in on his blog. “I was doing Qigong for about six years,” he begins.
Wow. Could he take anyone on? “It’s actually an internal martial art,” he laughs kindly. “I could meet you on other planes in battle and we’d see how we do. I had this Chinese master, Nan Lu, who introduced me to Amma. I wouldn’t say I recognised him as a holy person, it was just that I knew whatever he told me to do, I would do it. It was love, I guess.”
I hope you take this the right way, I venture. “Yeah.” Do you find this has the Tom Cruise effect in repelling people? “Absolutely. I think a lot of people mistakenly connect spirituality and religion, which to me are totally different. In no way do I feel like the way to find some kind of truth is to go to India and meditate in a temple. That’s just my path. Hopefully if my music does anything, it can inspire people to find their truth.”
Does this mean the Dolly pin-up is planning to get ‘em while they’re young? “I don’t have the roguish good looks of Jake Gyllenhaal,” he guffaws. “I’m not symmetrical! But I do think my music represents the beauty of the human heart. If there’s a place for that in a very aesthetic world, that’s a pretty cool thing.”
Ben Lee is playing at Manchester Life Cafe on 1 Feb, London Islington Academy on 3 Feb, and Glasgow King Tuts on 4 Feb.
For more info see www.ben-live.com, or buy tickets by calling: 0161 832 1111 (Manchester); 0870 771 2000 (London); 0870 169 0100 (Glasgow).
We have two pairs of tickets to see Ben Lee at his only London gig at the Islington Academy on Fri 3 Feb. The lucky winners will even get to go backstage and meet Ben after the show.
For a chance to WIN this great prize, just tell us the name of his new album.
Email your answers to: [email protected]