The University of Utah's Independent Student Voice

The Daily Utah Chronicle

The University of Utah's Independent Student Voice

The Daily Utah Chronicle

The University of Utah's Independent Student Voice

The Daily Utah Chronicle

Write for Us
Want your voice to be heard? Submit a letter to the editor, send us an op-ed pitch or check out our open positions for the chance to be published by the Daily Utah Chronicle.
Print Issues
Write for Us
Want your voice to be heard? Submit a letter to the editor, send us an op-ed pitch or check out our open positions for the chance to be published by the Daily Utah Chronicle.

Ben Kweller’s back with a brand new edition

Ben Kweller just might be a super hero.

Forget his uncanny ability to rock the roof off. Don’t consider his lyrical ex-ray vision. Get over his Clark Kent, boyish indie-appeal.

Above and beyond these lofty talents, Kweller also seems to have control over the very force of gravity that governs Earth’s existence-he’s that grounded.

As opposed to being a big-headed, egocentric rock star (which he could totally justify doing based on album sales, concert sell-outs and his Prevost tour bus alone), Kweller is instead a humble, excited songwriter eager to continue getting his feet wet in the music industry that has recieved him so well.

With the recent release of his new record, On My Way, Kweller steps out of the musical periphery and right into its spotlight. And no one deserves it more.

Before his show last week at In The Venue, The Daily Utah Chronicle sat down with the 23-year-old Kweller to watch the Republican National Convention broadcast live from the artist’s (now) hometown, talk shop, marriage and the top-five records to listen to when driving alone in your car…in Brooklyn.

On My Way to New York City:

Chronicle: On My Way really sees you growing into your own as a songwriter, but also as an individual…does this have anything to do with you becoming more confident in your songwriting abilities?

Ben Kweller: Yeah, I am much more confident as an artist. I moved to New York five years ago and that’s really where I fell into my own. New York is one of the only places-I think Audrey Hepburn has some quote, I don’t know it exactly-but she said it’s the only place with so many people where you can still feel alone. Instead of moving to a farm, she moved to New York to totally get away from everybody.

C: But, New York-alone is different from alone in the rest of the world. It’s not like L.A., where you feel literally isolated…New York-alone is more of an independent feeling.

BK: It’s an individual thing. You’re by yourself and with yourself, but also with all these opportunities around you. So, that definitely affected my songwriting by making me write much more autobiographical songs, about my frustrations, my hope, my dreams, things like that. So that’s really how lyrically I fell into myself. And, you know, it was the first time meeting people my own age, people who were like me and making music.

C: Like [producer for On My Way] Ethan Johns?

BK: Yeah, totally, Ethan. And, I mean, The Strokes were just starting out [when I moved to New York], too.

C: You and The Strokes are friends then?

BK: Yeah, totally bros.

C: In terms of actually sitting down and writing On My Way, did you take a freak-out, meticulous approach or did you try to let the songs just sort of run?

BK: Let it run, man! That’s also something that I sort of stumbled on when I moved to New York, I just found this new method of writing songs that is more stream of consciousness, and it’s just the best way for me to do it-not like sitting down and being like “Today I’m going to write about a dog, and the dog’s named Jojo and he runs away.” I just, like, let it come out, so a lot of the lines have different meanings for different parts.

Taking a classical approach:

C: When you recorded the entire new album in three weeks with Ethan [Johns], you didn’t do any serious post-production, you just tried to capture the sound of the songs at the moment they are played-

BK: Yeah, no pre-production either. I didn’t want the band to know any of the songs before we went in the studio because every time I showed them a new song on tour it would sound so great, we’d be like, “F***, why aren’t we recording this?” So I was like, “Alright, I can’t show them anything else yet.” And Ethan was so into that idea, I mean, that’s the way Dylan and The Beatles did it because they had to record that way, they just would go in and learn the songs.

C: You’ve cited Buddy Holly as a big influence on this record, but there are sounds reminiscent of everyone from Sonic Youth to The Beatles-

BK: To The Violent Femmes, The Velvet Unerground.

C: Sure. Was this all stuff you were into before you moved to New York or was it a new thing?

BK: No, I was into it before, but certain times…like, you go through a Doors phase or you go through a Velvet Underground phase, and for On My Way, I was really listening to the first Violent Femmes record a lot, that really raw, simple sound.

C: What do you think prompted you to go from just liking these bands to really looking to them as inspiration for your new album?

BK: I really don’t know. I guess just as a fan of music, certain records just hits you and you’re like “Man, I just love it so much,” and then you naturally want to go a route similar to that. It’s just all about energy, you know?

C: That’s a good point. Sha Sha [your first record] had energy, but it’s a very different kind of energy than On My Way does.

BK: Yeah, it’s a little different because, on Sha Sha, the material was a little less focused from song to song, I think partly because half the songs were written living in Texas and the other half were written after I moved to New York. That record is all about change, leaving the small town for the big town, you know, like Sha Sha, woo-hoo!

Keeping the focus, feeling the love

C: It’s interesting to hear you describe Sha Sha as being disjointed because, when that record came out, everyone was all about Ben Kweller and his “eclectic sound,” a lot of which came from that sort of incongruity among the songs. But, I don’t think you lost any of the eclecticism on the new record, I think you just kind of focused it.

BK: Yeah, I focused it. You still have songs from [the raucous] “Hospital Bed” to [the softer] “Living Life,” so there are still differences.

C: Like between [the ultra-loud] “Anne Disaster,” to [the melodous] “Believer,” which is really one of the most beautiful songs to come out in a little while, but it’s beautiful because it’s so hopeful.

BK: Totally.

C: It’s this love song that, as opposed to pining for unrequited love or whatever, instead basks in the happiness of love.

BK: Man, totally.

C: Speaking of love, things are good then with [Kweller’s new wife/ long-time muse] Lizzy? Word is, you recently bought one of those important little rings?

BK: Totally, totally. When you find that person, man, that teammate, you got to go for it, you know?

C: You met Lizzy in New York, right?

BK: We met in Boston, actually. We moved to New York together for the first time, we’d never lived there before, we moved there from Connecticut, that’s where Lizzy grew up. Actually, Josh, my bass player, introduced us five years ago.

C: The electric energy and the vibe of the new album were obviously important to you while recording. Is that emblematic of what you feel is “right” in music, and if so, what would you say is “wrong” in music these days?

BK: What’s wrong with music is there are too many bands that just want fame and just want to be on TRL and they just want to do the Warped Tour and get big and have spikey hair. It’s all about getting your free Vans, you know?

C: I feel like people don’t really see that, either, and I think that’s part of the problem, too.

BK: It’s part of the culture now. Kids expect it.

Stop, collaborate and listen:

C: So you worked with Ethan Johns on this new record, and you’ve toured with everyone from Death Cab for Cutie to The Kings of Leon, so you’ve built this sort of repertoire of awesome artists who you’ve worked with, but who haven’t you had a chance to work with that you would like to hook up with?

BK: Well, producers, I’ve never worked with Rick Rubin and that’s always been a dream, Brenden O’Brian too. I’ve never met John Fogerty from Creedence [Clearwater], and I would love to. I’ve always wanted to do the Bridge Benefit Concert with Neil Young, but I haven’t done that. One day I’ll do that hopefully.

C: What about more contemporary artists?

BK: I’d love to play with The White Stripes. I mean, we’ve done festivals, but we’ve never toured together.

C: Have you listened to the country stuff Jack [White] has been doing lately?

BK: I listened to the Loretta Lynn record and I didn’t love that record as much as I wanted to. It wasn’t as great as I thought it would be.

C: You are a relatively recently legal drinker [Kweller, now 23-years-old], got any good drinking stories?

BK: Let’s see. Well, the other night, me and Nick from The Unicorns stayed up all night in San Francisco, The Cure was playing, and there was a big after-show party, and apparently The Cure was going to be there, but of course they weren’t, so we just ended up in a big, loud bar where everyone was dancing. And I love to dance, but I wasn’t feeling it that night, so we just drank and hung out and decided we wanted to go to a diner because a lot of people I hang out with, like me and Nick, we don’t like the real big, loud places-we’d rather play some scrabble or boggle with some friends. Then, after the party, we just hopped in some dude’s car and went to this house and ended up meeting the bass player from The Pretenders! Then we went home.

C: Speaking of The Curiosa tour, know who is really great? Cursive. Are you a big Saddle Creek Records fan?

BK: I do like Saddle Creek, man. I’m really good friends with Connon [Oberost, from Bright Eyes and the founder of Saddle Creek Records]. Actually, he called me up a few months ago when we were both in New York, because he just moved there, and was like “Hey man, I’m playing a show at the Knitting Factory, you want to come play keyboards and sing harmony?” And I was like, “Sure! I’ll be in Bright Eyes for a night!” So, we rehearsed every day in his apartment, he had a keyboard on his bed, and we just learned the songs…Connor is such a fun, happy person.

C: You once said that on Sha Sha, you felt like you got eight out of the 10 elements together that make up a complete record, and that on On My Way you got one step closer. What are some of those 10 elements that make up a great record or a great artist to you?

BK: I think the reason I said that is because I can never feel completely happy with something because, as an artist, I am always striving to better myself. I’m really hard on myself. On an emotional level, I think I did 100 percent of what I needed to do on both those records because they are who I am, they are documents of my time. But, on a basic song level, you always want to write better songs and make it better. Those elements are always, like, lyrics, emotion, spontaneity, self-realization.

MoveOn in my car:

C: You decided to use hard-panning on this record [an infrequently-used recording technique that sends different parts of a song through different channels]. Why?

BK: I used hard-panning because I love driving around in my car and fading front to back, side to side. I love listening to Hendrix and turning it to the right and you don’t even hear his vocals, you just hear the band. I wanted to make a driving record and I wanted to use stereo. People don’t use stereo for stereo’s sake anymore.

C: Speaking of records for your car, can you think of your top-five driving recrords?

BK: Definitely: 1) Belle and Sebastian, Tiger’s Milk, because when I first moved to Brooklyn, I’d drive around the neighborhoods trying to learn my way around and I’d always be listening to that record. 2) The first Violent Femmes record. 3) Neil Young, Everybody Knows This is Nowhere. 4) Bob Dylan, Another Side of Bob Dylan. And then…5) Johnny Cash, Unchained.

C: Classic. You had lunch with Brian Wilson [of the Beach Boys] a while ago. What did that do to you?

BK: That was heavy-duty, man. That was definitely a trip. It didn’t make me realize anything other than confirm how much of a bad-ass he is. I’m actually a big Dennis Wilson fan, too.

C: Last question: since we’re watching the Republican National Convention, and since you contributed to the [highly political] album, do you feel that, as a musician, you have an obligation to make a statement to your listeners?

BK: More and more, I do. Right now, where we are in the country, about to make such an important decision for ourselves, I just feel like I’ve never really wanted to be political before because I’ve never really had the need to, since I grew up in a generation and in a time when it was felt that voting was for old people, and now I just feel that it is so imperative that young people get out and vote. I just ask that everybody goes out and learns about both parties and figures out for themselves where they fit, and don’t bash people if you don’t know what they’re about. I mean, I don’t like George Bush, but I’m not going to bash him just out of hate.

[email protected]

Leave a Comment

Comments (0)

The Daily Utah Chronicle welcomes comments from our community. However, the Daily Utah Chronicle reserves the right to accept or deny user comments. A comment may be denied or removed if any of its content meets one or more of the following criteria: obscenity, profanity, racism, sexism, or hateful content; threats or encouragement of violent or illegal behavior; excessively long, off-topic or repetitive content; the use of threatening language or personal attacks against Chronicle members; posts violating copyright or trademark law; and advertisement or promotion of products, services, entities or individuals. Users who habitually post comments that must be removed may be blocked from commenting. In the case of duplicate or near-identical comments by the same user, only the first submission will be accepted. This includes comments posted across multiple articles. You can read more about our comment policy here.
All The Daily Utah Chronicle Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *