No one tells Ben Lee what to do!

Andrew Hampp

Ben Lee, seen going to a very Zen place after coming to the harsh realization that flowers have to be put in water once you cut them.

Credit: Andrew popik

If there is one thing I learned from talking with Ben Lee, it’s that the man does not like to plan.

The Australian pop maestro — back with his fourth album Awake Is The New Sleep but perhaps best known for his five-year stint as Claire Danes’ arm candy at movie premieres — may have accomplished a lot in his 26 years, but he insists it was through no ambition on his part.

“I have no aspirations to do anything,” Lee said. “I make all my decisions in the moment. That’s just my intuition, not like a goal or anything.”

Lee’s laissez-faire attitude came in handy during the recording of New Sleep, which reunites him with longtime producer Brad Wood, with whom he collaborated at the age of 14 on an album of demos that eventually led to his first record deal.

The album bristles with personality, particularly on the infectious first single “Catch My Disease,” the jangly “Apple Candy” and the noisily experimental “Light.” A welcome return to alterna-pop form after 2003’s experimental, techno-y Hey You. Yes You.

Awake Is The New Sleep also plays host a number of guest stars such as Rushmore star (and ex-Phantom Planet drummer) Jason Schwartzmann, touring partner Har Mar Superstar and Rilo Kiley’s Jenny Lewis.

Lee insists the guests’ presence on the album was through no advance thought or preparation, either.

“When I make records, who’s ever around can be on it if they want to,” Lee said, evidently leaving the door open for long-out-of-work Superman actress Margot Kidder to come crashing the party a la that one episode of “Family Guy.” “We needed some buddies to lay down party vocals. Sometimes you just need other textures, other personalities. They’re useful collaborations.”

Prior to the new disc, Lee also worked with fellow Bens Kweller and Folds for a project called, appropriately enough, The Bens in 2003. Although the musicians produced a four song EP from their four-day recording sessions (available for download on iTunes), Lee said he has no — surprise! — plans to reunite in the studio with his friends anytime soon.

Lee did, however, team up with fellow Aussie popster Kylie Minogue on a 1998 remake of “The Reflex” for a Duran Duran tribute album, an experience that Lee recalled fondly.

“We spent a few days together,” he said. “She flew in from London to New York to record it, and we hung out at my apartment and looked at porno magazines.”

And how would Lee even begin to describe leafing through smut mags with the woman who bared three-fourths of a breast in her “Can’t Get You Out Of My Head” video?

“That’s all right, isn’t it?” he said simply, tongue surely planted firmly in cheek on the other side of the phone line. “Everyone should have that experience.”

And speaking of things people should experience, Lee said his tour, which comes to Cleveland’s Agora Ballroom this Sunday, has been going quite well thus far. Not that he was planning on it or anything.

“It’s been really fun,” Lee said. “People seem to really be responding to my new record. It’s so rewarding — you go out there and people actually notice things.”

So a new album, a fun tour and celebrity friends galore, could Ben Lee, one of the most carefree guys in pop music, possibly have any goals for himself?

“I don’t. The only one is to help as many people as I can help. I aim for the world.”

Sure, Lee’s made a number of fans through the years, but certainly there are times when he feels his brand of smart pop music goes underappreciated?

“Am I not famous enough?” Lee asked in mock horror when this reporter asked him that very question. “Someone once said, ‘Every idea first started as a blasphemy.’ The idea is when you make art, the idea is to change the game. You just gotta do your thing, then you bring the masses to you.”

Contact Pop Arts editor Andrew Hampp at [email protected].