Ben Kweller

Silent Uproar: First off I wanted to ask what happened to Radish? Did you all just kind of decide it was time to move on, or was there a specific thing that caused the band to disolve?

Ben: Well you know Radish was my high school punk band basically, we were best friends growing up and we were together for six or seven years. Since we started it at such a young age, we really grew up together and as we got older we started finding things we wanted to do other than Radish. There was no hard feelings or anything. John, the drummer, wanted to stay back in Texas and open up a studio and sorta just start writing his own songs and then I fell in love my with my girlfriend Liz and I decided to move to New York so we could live together. You know, just different things.

SU: Right.

Ben: And it was really not like a big dramatic breakup thing. It was like you know this has been a lot of fun, let's try some different stuff.

SU: Well oddly enough I was a big radish fan and uh actually saw you play a couple times.

Ben: Wow, are you in Dallas?

SU: No I'm in North Carolina actually. You came through um at least one tour and then you also did a big Weenie Roast or something that the radio station had.

Ben: Yeah I remember all that. I think I smashed a guitar in North Carolina. Do you remember that?

SU: Nah, not really.

Ben: Shit man I remember I smashed one of my favorite guitars and I really regret it [laughing]

SU: That's funny. Ok, so how hard was it to get back into the music scene after dropping out for a couple years?

Ben: You know what, it really sort of just happened naturally. Like when I moved to New York it was never like, alright I'm going to move to NY to you know become a solo artist and try to get signed and all this, I never really thought like that I just really moved to NY so me and Liz could be together.

SU: Right.

Ben: And because I do write songs, it was just natural for me to keep writing. I ended up making a record called Freak Out, and when I looked around the room and realized I was the only fool in the room I was like alright, I'll call it Ben Kweller. [laughing] It was just um, a weird thing. So I made Freak Out as Ben Kweller and just started playing shows and...it feels like such a long time ago now but it was only like two years ago. The big break was when I got this call from Evan Dando and that was just so crazy. He got a copy of Freak Out and left me a message and was like 'Ben, this is Evan Dando calling. I just got a copy of your record, we can't stop listening to it, give me a call.' And I was like holy shit man. So that was it, I was just like, that was when I made it. I called him back and he was like we gotta go on tour. So we through two acoustic guitars in the trunk of my grey Volvo and hit the road. And so that's how it all started. It just sort of gradually started happening.

SU: That's cool. Do any of the connections that you had made during the Radish stage come through with this or did it basically...

Ben: They came through but it wasn't in the way you think they would. At first when I moved to New York, I tried to use all my contacts, you know. But then I just realized I need to start new, to start fresh and so basically everyone that worked with Radish I decided not to work with them anymore. This is a new project so I didn't want there to be any old sort of blood you know. I just wanted it to be new and fresh. The music was new, and everything about it, I just wanted it to be completely fresh and so that's what I did. I met a great group of people and um, it became a great thing.

SU: Has moving from a kinda smaller town to the big city had a big effect on you or your music?

Ben: Definitely. That has been one of the big focuses semantically on Sha Sha. You know, the fact that I come from a small town and now I, like here I am in the middle of this big city and I'm intimidated as hell but the same time inspired and excited. That's what the whole record is about, New York is such a great place, but it can be kind of intimidating at first.

SU: Sha Sha's got a very upbeat feel to it and has a tendency to make the person listening to it happy.

Ben:Right on.

SU: Was that kind of the goal when writing it to keep it upbeat or is that just how the songs came out or...

Ben: That's just how it came out. I feel like there are some dark songs on there you know. In Other Words, it's a sad song, but my whole thing is about optimism. Like if its a sad song at the end of it I want to at least put something in the song that represents the light at the end of the tunnel. That's when I'll throw in "oohs" or "bop b ahs" or something that makes you smile, because we've all had our bad days, but it's just important to remember the good ones. My whole thing is, yeah today fucking sucks, but we've always got tomorrow you know.

SU: Right, that's something I noticed, even if the lyrics may not be something real positive, with the tone and the feel of the song, you manage to keep it really happy.

Ben: Right on. Yeah that's the thing, Make It Up is kind of like that. We can't even look into each others eyes and I'm pissed off at who I'm talking to, but at the same time they are only words. They don't hurt. So it's like let's just talk about this, it's no big deal. Everything doesn't have to be so heavy you know.

SU: I read somewhere that you don't like recording cover songs. You said playing covers live feels more spontaneous and you went on to say that the one song you do want to cover is Can't Help Falling In Love by Elvis. I think this quote was in reference to some big Elvis tribute or something that is coming up?

Ben: Yeah. You know what, we ended up recording it too and I was really happy with the way it came out. We actually added some stuff to it to make it my own thing which I'm pretty proud of. Pretty cool. Yeah, hopefully, we're going to put that out. Me and Evan Dando are doing a Split 7 inch in the UK so I think that's going to be on it.

SU: That's really cool. So what are some bands you are into these days?

Ben: Oh God. As far as new stuff, The Strokes, who I'm actually going on tour with in November. I like the White Stripes, Moldy Peaches, Adam Green just did a solo album which is so good. But you know what, the Violent Femmes just put out a 20th anniversary of their first record, and I can't get enough of it. I just love that band, and I'm always listening to Bob Dylan, Neil Young, the Beatles, Nirvana, Pavement all the same stuff you know.

SU: I read on your website or somewhere that your girlfriend Liz is a singer in a band called La. You ever thought about doing something musically with her?

Ben: Well you know she would tell you that band is sort of a joke. But she is actually a really good singer, I think. Of course. We are going to record the La record this month I think and that's sort of the thing we want to do. But I don't know if she'll ever be on any of my records, maybe.

SU: Are there any musicians you would like to work with on?

Ben: Evan would be great, and Adam Green. As far as dream people, it would be Gordon Gano from the Violent Femmes or Steve Malkemes, but that's all dreaming.

SU: If you and Ben Folds got into a piano playing showdown who would win?

Ben: Ben Folds.

SU: See I'd figure you'd say that, but I had to ask. [laughing]

Ben: Ha, you never know, I mean he's just a much better piano player than I am. Hell, you know.

SU: You pretty much made the late night tv rounds this summer. I saw you were on Conan and Letterman and I think Carson Daily too. Was there any one show that stood out more than the others?

Ben: Carson Daily man. He's such a good guy. I think because he's so new at it that too, it's less intimidating, and it's more down to earth. And then Conan is great too because he really hangs out. It was funny, after Conan I heard he went back to this dressing room and was just playing the solo for Let It Be over and over again. Like on the cd player, he kept repeating it and he was playing along with it really trying to learn the solo. He's a good guy. But, Carson is really cool, and actually he just invited me back for October 30th so yeah.

SU: From the concert goers perspective, your crowd interaction seems to be a big part of your live show. Is that something you try to do, get the crowd involved? Is that important?

Ben: Yeah I definitely try. I mean I don't do things like "Everybody say hey", you know what I mean. While at the same time I know they're there and I'm not one of these guys that close his eyes the whole damn time and pretends they're not there you know. And yeah, it's totally important to me that everyone's having a good time and I like to connect with the fans. I want them to know that I am there for them.

SU: Yeah, that's cool. And I think a lot of that comes from like I was saying before, because the music itself is sing-a-long happy music it's not sit there and stare at the guy and sit still in your seat.

Ben: Exactly, exactly. I wrote these songs for me, but I've learned they're for other people too and the best compliment for me was this guy came up to me after a show and was like man I'm going through a divorce but you're music has got me through it so well, and like makes me happy. So that's what it's all about you know, that's my one messages I guess...being optimistic.

SU: I know you just got back from overseas where you did a lot of press over there.

Ben: Yeah man I went to Japan and Australia for the first time.

SU: How was the reaction over there?

Ben: Dude it was crazy. I mean Japan is over the top. Kids found out the hotel I was staying in and would wait there. They're over the top. I'm psyched about going there with the band, because I went mainly for interviews, so I haven't played any shows in Japan. I played some in Australia and they went really well.

SU: So after being on tour for a while, what's the best thing about coming home?

Ben: Seeing your cat, and like raking leaves in your yard, and just chilling.

SU: Doing all the everyday stuff?

Ben: The best thing is being able to invite friends over for dinner and cooking. I got a grill dude, throw some steaks on the grill, haha and play Boggle after dinner and get drunk on wine and just have a good time you know. That's the best thing, seeing your friends.

SU: Right on. You mentioned you are getting to do some dates with the Strokes. Are you a big Strokes fan?

Ben: Totally man, I'm psyched.

SU: Do you think their audience will be into your material?

Ben: Um, yeah, I think they will. I think they have an open minded audience. I think a lot of their fans will know me too, because of the whole New York connection. I think it will work out.

SU: That's cool. How did you hook up with ATO?

Ben: I was playing a lot of shows with Evan Dando and after a New York show this guy came up to me and was like I'm starting a label called ATO Records with Dave Matthews and we would really like to sign you. I was like alright cool. He told me all about the label and it just seemed like the right thing man.

SU: Are there any dreams for anything bigger in terms of a bigger record deal, or are you pretty happy staying that with that label?

Ben: No, this is it. I'm psyched.

SU: Cool. So which would you rather hear, the Strokes covering a White Stripes song of the White Stripes covering a Strokes song?

Ben: Ehhh, the White Stripes covering a Strokes song. Cause I think that it would be a little more crazy.

SU: Your website has a really different, scattered feel to it, how much input did you have in the design of it?

Ben: Dude, I'm completely into it. It's one of my main things. I love that website. The only thing that I'm sad about is that I can't work on it all the time. And all I can do is send ideas to my friend Luke and he puts them up you know, but yeah I love it. It's my favorite thing.

SU: Do you think it's an important medium as far as keeping in touch with the fans?

Ben: Yeah, it's so important. So many bands neglect it. I think that nowadays the website is just as important as the album artwork you know. It's such a representation of you. And if you don't give a damn and you let your record company put together a website, you are doing yourself an injustice cause so many people go to these things.

SU: And so many of them now start to look the same with the major label bands where it's just kind of their little team of designers are cranking out these things and they all look the same.

Ben: Exactly. That's why I threw the damn First Aid merit badge up there you know.

SU: Right on. Ok, the video for Wasted and Ready. I saw it the other day on MTV2, and that's pretty crazy too. What's the deal with the big ass strawberry?

Ben: Dude that's the same thing. Just the scattered shit, you know. Like just random juxtaposition, these strawberry and these skulls. I don't know. I came up with the idea because I have these shoelaces with strawberries on them and I was wearing one of my favorite t-shirts, it is a skull t-shirt. So I was just like, why do you have strawberries and skulls, you know what I mean. That's so my personality salty and sweet. And then we got the director who did all the early Divo videos, so get that early 80's vibe.

SU: Everything from the imagery in your album artwork to the pictures of your family members on your website gives you a really personal down-to-earth vibe. Do you realize that this is everything typical of what a rock star is not?

Ben: It's just like a homepage. I don't know. Yeah, I just like to be straight up with people. You know, I'm not trying to be fucking a gap model.

SU: It's very refreshing to see that. It's not like you are trying to set yourself apart like hey, I'm this big rock star guy.

Ben: And like I don't have a Grandmother dude, you know what I mean? Fuck that man I've got a Grandma like everyone else.

SU: So I think that's something that people really appreciate, the lack of attitude.

Ben: Awesome.

SU: If your music career ended next week, do you have any idea what you would do?

Ben: Um, I would probably fucking become a professional bass fisher bro. I would like to move back to Texas and work on Lake Fork and take people fishing. I would also open up Benny's Baseball Cards. And we'd also sell comic books and play Dungeons and Dragons in the back. Haha...that would be the shit dude, I almost want to do that, hell... Nah.

SU: So what do you think it will take to revitalize the music industry? It's in a bit of a slump right now.

Ben: Dude I think as long as the Strokes around around, the Strokes have opened up doors for me, and the White Stripes and other bands that don't sound like Britney Spears and Limp Bizkit you know. As long as that kind of music keeps coming out, I think we are going to be pretty good.

SU: So you think it's more about better music being out there? Needing better music?

Ben: That's the thing, we need more artists that are artists you know. I think the industry has gone through a phase where the A&R people are the artists because they were the ones saying you need to sound like this and that and they were the ones who were making Christina Aguilera. And in the 60s it was the fucking musicians, and so I think that needs to happen again, and I think it's happening.

SU: And I think that's what people need to focus on more. There's so much talk about file sharing and all that stuff and how it's killing the industry and this and that. People aren't looking at, what do we have to listen to right now, you know. It's been in such a big slump, that's where it's all coming from.

Ben: Exactly man.

SU: We just need better music out there. Well that's all I have man. Do you have any shout outs or anything you want to say.

Ben: No, I'm pretty good man. I'm ready to come to North Carolina. I love playing in Chapel Hill. If any of your readers know of a place where they can take me bass fishing tell them to come and tell me at sound check, and maybe the next day they can take me fishing.

SU: Well thanks very much man and good luck out there.

Ben: Rock on.

Oct 7 2002