29 Feb 2012 / Neil Evans
Music is something that has always been in singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist and San Francisco native Ben Kweller’s blood. Having made a strong name for himself over the past fifteen years, he was taught to play drums by his dad as a child and started off in the band Radish before going solo at the age of nineteen. Ben’s neighbour, legendary guitarist Nils Lofgren, most famous for playing guitar with Neil Young, was also a close family friend and undoubtedly a guiding light and influence.
As a solo artist, Kweller first really burst on to the music scene with the wonderful debut album Sha from 2002, most notable for the instant classic single “Wasted & Ready”. Kweller specialises in highly infectious and likeable pop music, reminiscent of everything from The Beach Boys to Scotland’s legendary Teenage Fanclub. He is a classic example of someone who is held in high regard in Australia, while having more of a cult following in his home land. Over the course of numerous albums and EP’s, he has always proven to have a wonderful way with music and wordplay.
“For me, the big musical moment, it would have had to been hearing The Beatles track “All You Need Is Love”. The moment I first heard that song was the moment I decided I wanted to be a song writer. I was eight years old at the time and listening to my dad’s turntable. It made me cry and the melody was so beautiful. John’s Lennon’s voice hit me so hard and made me cry. That’s when I thought ‘I want to do this, I want to write songs’. I realised that I wanted to write songs for other people at that moment in my life”, says Kweller with an enthusiasm to his voice that obviously hasn’t wavered or weakened since.
“With lyrics, the world around us is probably the best way to answer that question,” says Kweller of his inspirations. “Everything that happens in life, especially how one’s life progresses from being a child to becoming an adult. A lot of my music is very autobiographical. What I write about is inspired by my own life and things that happen to me.”
Go Fly A Kite, Kweller’s latest album, is the first to be released through his own label, The Noise Company. “Starting up The Noise Company been amazing and incredibly eye opening. I see how much is involved in the process of putting out an album. I really appreciate the hard work that good labels do for their artist now more than ever. Your perspective really changes when you take a look at the other side of the fence. I hope to sign other artists to the label, but I don’t want to rush into that aspect yet and have it all fall apart because I can’t give them enough time or attention.”
Kweller has made some really striking videos over the years. Kweller, like pretty much the rest of us, wanted to steal that big strawberry from the “Wasted & Ready” video. “I love working with people that have that cinematic point of view. I don’t readily have it myself, and am really impressed with directors those that do and how they visually interpret my songs.” Apparently, according to Ben, the big strawberry has been converted into a go-kart and is racing around somewhere in New Jersey as we speak.
“I take a very old school approach to recording. I don’t want things to be too polished or perfect, hence why I don’t use things like Auto Tune or obsess over every detail in the studio. If The Beatles had over-analysed and polished what they did, it wouldn’t be The Beatles,” says Kweller. “Recording and playing live are two completely different beings that I love. What is so attractive about the live arena is the way that, if you make a mistake, you can’t go back and fix it. It has that ‘in the moment’ feel that is incredible.”
There is a constant conflict that faces all artists at one point or another in their life. How does one balance the professional and personal aspects of their life? Kweller is a happily married man, with two young boys. “I try to do the ‘two weeks on, two weeks off’ thing with touring. It can become hard, especially now that my oldest, Dorian, is in school. We try to make it work the best way that we can, and I find avoiding long haul tours that keep me away from weeks on end is very beneficial,” replies Kweller.
Over a decade into his career, Mr Kweller still has that highly endearing and personable vibe of a choirboy who’s just discovered his first Beatles album. It is a sense of character and being that charms listeners to a really strong degree and set his musical endeavours apart.
– Neil Evans