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Published: 2012/07/14
by Glenn H Roth

Ben Kweller: Music His Way

On this album, what made you go back to the Indie pop sound as opposed to your last release Changing Horses, which was all country?

That’s my main bag [indie pop]. The country thing was just a side road for me. Country music is definitely part of who I am growing up in Texas. Roots music and folk music was always around and important to me. I had to get those songs out of my system. So Go Fly A Kite was the normal next step for me.

Is there a particular track or several tracks off the new record that you’re most proud of?

From a song-writing standpoint “Full Circle” is very cool. I love “Free.” That recording turned out dope, especially talking to a jam website right now. It’s stoney as hell – it’s a full-on outdoor concert song – lighters up, smoke a bowl. It’s the 1970s all over again. I like that because I don’t think there’s a lot of people out there doing that kind of music right now. That’s a sound that I grew up on – guys like Steve Miller Band. Music that makes you want to hop-in the truck and go out with your friends to the lake, drink some bad whiskey, smoke Camel Wides and try to get lucky. I guess that’s what I’m all about on that track.

What’s the chemistry like with your backing band?

We’re definitely tight knit in the way we perform on stage. They know all my songs and we played so much. I would say we have a lot of good chemistry and they’re able to jump genre to genre with me, whether it’s Changing Horses, Sha Sha, or On My Way.

Do you feel your song lyrics have matured over the years?

I think I have gotten more direct in my songwriting. I think a lot of lyrics in my earlier song were pretty stream of consciousness and abstract which I really like and I still do that. There are songs on Go Fly A Kite that were born out of that like Time Will Save The Day. But I think I have certain stories that I want to get across more now and I feel like I have something to say a lot more often than I did when I was 18. I think I use songwriting for different reasons now.

How much did your appearance at the second Bonnaroo help your career? I saw your performance and was immediately hooked.

I think I was on right before Sonic Youth. I remember that – it was the second year of Bonnaroo, so it was a pretty new festival. I think that same slot today would probably be even more impactful than it was then. It was definitely a big deal for sure. I’d love to have gotten fans from that performance. I’m not really sure if it was a career defining performance for me but if it got you to get into my music then at least one person it worked for.

You bring so much energy to the stage and sometimes you start running around. Is that something that just comes naturally to you?

I was four years old playing the guitar running around the living room. When I play my music on stage, I kind of still get that same feeling. I want to run around and rock out, just like I would, if I was listening to it.

What’s your kids’ reaction when they see you perform live?

I think Dorian was intrigued by it. At first we didn’t know if he thought ‘maybe this was normal,’ like everyone’s dad goes on stage. His response has really evolved because at first I think he was kind of jealous of me because I’m up there by myself and there’s all these people are cheering and yelling and he wanted to be up there.

What made you decide to create your own record label? That’s a pretty bold move.

The music business has changed and moving back to Texas, I kind of got back to basics, me and Liz, kind of brought more and more aspects to my career, so with my deal with ATO being up, it seemed like a normal progression for us to set ourselves up to be able to release music on our own, which today is a lot easier than it was 10 years ago.

What aspects about running your own record label have been easier than you realized and what aspects have been more difficult than you realized?

I think there’s been a lot on both sides of it. I think it’s given me a lot of respect for record companies – seeing everything from their point of view and how much work goes into just getting CDs on the record shelves on the same day of the year – on your release date – all around the country. There’s a lot of unsung heroes. There are a lot of people at the record label and distributors that a band wouldn’t even know about that has a hand in getting their record out in the store. I think the Thank You list on Go Fly A Kite is the longest one I ever had because there were so many people I worked with directly from printers to distributors and everything in between.

What type of artists are you looking for on your label? Is there a sound or genre you’re looking for?

Not really a genre. For me it comes down to song and having a voice. The sound of the voice is so important. We always say someone like Jeff Tweedy could sing “Row Row Your Boat” and it would sound amazing. The singer’s voice is always key and then the song they’re delivering.

Have you signed any artists yet?

No, not yet. We’re totally taking it slow. I think we’re talking about some 7-inch EP releases. I don’t think we’ll be doing anything this year as far as a full album release. We don’t want to make promises, we can’t keep.

Do you have talent scouts out there?

It’s kind of like you really don’t want to look because we’re not in a place financially to offer big record advances and things like that. There are a few baby bands here in Texas and New York that are cool that we might do a 7-inch release EP with.

And finally in 2003, you toured with Ben Lee and Ben Folds, would you consider doing that again?

Definitely … definitely.

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