Ben Kweller: Music His Way
Ben Kweller wears multiple hats these days: husband, father, rock ‘n’ roller and record executive. Kweller, once nicknamed by music critics as “Boy Wonder,” released his fifth studio album Go Fly A Kite this spring. It was the first full-length recording released by Kweller’s label The Noise Company.
The singer-songwriter has been on and off the road since February, making multiple stops home to Austin, Texas to spend quality time with his wife Liz, and sons Dorian and Judah, who are 6 and 2 respectively.
When Kweller was 14, there was a major-bidding war to sign his garage-band Radish. Then at 19, as a solo act, Kweller was opening for the likes of Evan Dando, Jeff Tweedy, Julianna Hatfield and Guster.
Now 30, Kweller is unsure if there is a new nickname out there for him.
“I don’t know,” he said in a telephone interview. “Un-Jaded Survivor or Invincible but that sounds like a superhero. I don’t know. I’ll leave that stuff up to people like you. “All I have patience for is trying to name my songs and albums, which is hard enough to come up with. It’s a funny thing – there’s probably some nickname out there for me. Who knows what it is? Maybe you can come up with it and it will be cool, maybe.”
How’s life in Texas and what do you miss about New York?
I love New York City and I had a great time living there and started my career up there. I think that as the years went on, I just stopped taking advantage of all the great things the city has to offer – all the nightlife because I was touring so much and then me and Liz got pregnant with our son Dorian. Once he was born, it changed our day-to-day situation and we each wanted a different a place to raise a family and Austin was always one of our favorite cities. It’s more of a laid back existence. I’m in the major cities most of the year on tour, so to come home to the plus-major city New York, got hard for me. So we chose Austin – we’ve been here for 4 years and it’s been great. It’s a great balance. It’s so funny because I used to hate it when people would tell me like, “New York City is a great place to visit,” and I was like, “No. It’s a great place to live.” But now I can finally understand why so many people say New York is such a great place to visit. It depends on where you are in your life. I feel everybody should give New York a shot and live there. There’s no place like it.
Is it harder to go out on the road now with two sons at home?
It is man. It’s one of those things – they always went with me everywhere and now Dorian started kindergarten this year, so we’re slaves to the public school system now. You can’t be absent more than 10 days in a year, so that means they don’t come on the road with me. I’m just kind of figuring out that perfect balance between being a dad and being a rocker. It’s a weird thing. Rock ‘n’ roll is in my veins and I can’t hide that and I got to get on stage, and I got to get in the studio, it’s like part of who I am. No tour is longer than two weeks so I come home and then I go back out on the road. So it means that I work more but in shorter spurts.
And your wife must be used to your schedule.
We’ve been together for so long – from the beginning. Our whole thing is very much like a family-run business and we’ve really created everything together. So any of the booking decisions, we do together. We kind of create our own little reality so to speak.
Can you talk about the influence your father had on your musical career.
My dad is a huge influence on me. He got his drum set out when I was 7. He was like, ‘Hey Ben, come here, I’m going to teach you how to play a beat.’ He played guitar and we would jam everyday when he would get home from work. I can’t even tell you. I would not be where I am, if it wasn’t for him playing music around me and getting me all fired up about it. I don’t know what I’ll pass on to my boys but they love music just as much as I did. I can see it at least being a hobby for them. We certainly have enough guitars and instruments around here to get started. But as far as being a profession for them, who knows. I’m sure they’re going to be talented in a lot of different things. I felt like music was my only hope. I didn’t have much of a backup plan or an interest in anything else. It was music, music, music for me, so I wouldn’t accept anything else.
Was Nils Lofgren like a musical uncle to you?
He was always a close family friend and the only person we knew in the music business. So when I started writing songs and making cassettes, I would send it to him because he was our one friend that would be into hearing original music. He was a great mentor for me and whenever I would hang out with him, he would show me a new trick on the piano or on the guitar.
What’s the meaning behind the title of the new album, Go Fly a Kite ?
It’s kind of a rebellious album. Go jump in a lake, go fly a kite, so it’s some kind of kiss-off statement for sure. Kind of like us against the world kind of thing; and just kind of telling to anybody that’s held me down before.