Ben Kweller – Record Labels and Double Dragon: Music Interviews
With the launch of his new label, The Noise Company, Texan alt-rocker Ben Kweller is better placed than ever to deliver his unabashed guitar-driven melodies to a world that so desperately needs re-education on how the most primal elements of songwriting and performance are often the most effective – check Australian tour dates here.
But a new record label isn’t the only difference for Mr Kweller this time around. With five solo album under his belt, Kweller is taking a step back and taking stock. He also admits that he’s now more time conscious than ever, a reality that’s most apparent in the handful of years he’s now been a member of team fatherhood.
So as Kweller and co were standing ticket in hand, preparing to board a plane down under – with a quick stop over in Japan - Watch Out For were able to snaffle a quick sit-down with the shaggy-haired romantic to discuss the new album, guitar chord diagrams, and the not-to-often highlighted benefits of being your own boss.
What’s the feeling in Camp Kweller?
Yeah, Camp Kweller is good and happy – everybody is excited!
The album, you know, it’s obviously – we started a record label this year called The Noise Company. So it’s been quite an undertaking.
This is the first major project?
Yeah, this is the first major release for The Noise Company. And it’s been really fucking cool man, because you know, like, I actually get to make all the decisions and I get to just decide if we want to do something really crazy and weird, we can do it if we want. If we decide we don’t want to do it then we can decide not too.
Where before, I always had to, you know, you start to feel you work for your record label, you know? And you have to ask permission for every little thing. And I just – I wanted to just be in control of my life, really.
Where have you noticed a difference from before?
Well just like for the artwork, you know? Just something as basic as, you know, artwork design and working with the design company. And you know, we would come up with crazy ideas and then we would look into the cost of it and then we would decide ourselves. Like is it working spending money on this? Or should we save the money and print up posters for record stores. I mean, just basically being in control of that.
That stuff, you know, where on previous album we’d come up with a crazy idea and you’d take it to your record company and you’re like, “all right dude, check it out. We want to have, you know, hologram artwork. Like the album cover’s going to be a hologram”. And they’d just be like “No way dude. You’re on crack. You’re a crazy artist. No way.”
And like, and they would never even hear you out, you know? And so I think that happens a lot. And there’s nothing worse than being told no, you know? I can totally handle no, but I want it to be no because someone’s researched it and looked into it and actually discovered that going to be impossible to pull off.
Yeah, not just no for the sake of it.
Yeah. I don’t like when someone just says, “no that could never be done, dude”. You know what I mean?
So this time, we got to really make sure we got to just look into it. You know, and some things were too expensive or too hard to do. But at least it was us that decided it.
So the idea of the whole diorama and the dozens of pictures of Ben Kweller everywhere – that wouldn’t have been around otherwise?
[Laughs] Yeah, I mean the diorama, you know – to do those little tabs that go into the slits. It was actually pretty expensive to make. And I know that ATO Records would have never have paid this money for it because it doesn’t make sense. Like in the music business in America, there are certain rules that the record companies live by. And you know, your CD can never cost more than a certain dollar amount. And it’s just a rule. And if you do that, if you pay more than that you’re stupid. So I think that we must be stupid. [Laughs]
But like, for me, I believe that it makes a difference because look, people want to by digital music more than ever. So if you want them to something physical you might as well give them something really cool. And I’ve tried to explain that to record companies for years. So anyway, so now I have my own, so that’s okay. No need to fight anybody anymore.
No all you have to do is ask, “Hey Ben, is this a good idea?” And you’re like, “Yes Ben, it’s a fantastic idea”.
Exactly! Or I can decide and say no Ben, this is a fucking terrible idea.
What’s the significance of the ‘E’ chord on the front cover?
It came up as an accident because I was working on the chords for the lyrics list, and we didn’t have an album cover. And I was in Photoshop and I accidentally hit a button and blew up a guitar chord. And it was the ‘E’ chord, and I was like, “holly shit! – that’s amazing. You know, because as a guitar player you see those shapes a million times as a kid. And I never thought of it as something blown up really big.
And so the album opens up with an ‘E’ chord - [imitates intro]. Also, ‘E’ is the first chord I learned on guitar. So yeah, it just has significance to me. It’s a magical chord in a lot of ways for me personally.
Gossip is really fun to play. My favourite lyrically is Full Circle. My favourite recording on the album is Free. And I live performing the guitar solo in Mean to Me because it’s just so fucking crazy.
Yeah, it’s pretty nuts.
[Laughs] Totally man!
What happened there? It’s a little bit more unhinged than usual?
Oh yeah, it’s you know, go fly a kite, man. Go fuck yourself. Be crazy. Be a freak. You know, like do it yourself. I mean, these are all things that kind of go into this album. It’s very rebellious for me.
You’ve mentioned that you’re rebelling. But at the same time it sounds as though you’re taking stock of your life and having one of ‘those’ moments where you’re standing back and just appreciating the things around you.
Yeah, well see, that’s it. But that’s kind of, that’s rebellious too, for me personally. You know what I mean?
That’s the thing, because taking control of your life – like when you’re an artist you grow up believing that you shouldn’t care about money or about – you know it’s kind of frowned upon if you’re actually kind of responsible or like, give a shit about you know, having manners or being a nice person. You know what I mean? Like, you’re supposed to just like live for the art. And I did that for a long time. Then I realised I was getting older and like, now I have a family and I just realised, at the end of the day man, you’re by yourself, you know. You’re alone. And like, nobody’s going to care about my music more than me, you know. And like, so I might as well be in control of it.
And so taking stock, and I think you know, bands are doing this more and more now. And so responsibility now in the music business is like the new punk. You know, it’s the new rebellion.
What’s your relationship with your band mates Mark Stepro and Chris Morrisey? Do you see a lot of each other back home?
Well Stepro lives in LA and Chris lives in New York. And they all play in other bands – I think Stepro was on Letterman recently with Butch Walker. You know, they’re really busy. When we’re home they’re working.
So we’re really good friends, you know. And we see each other all the time. We’re always on an airplane or on a bus or in hotel rooms together. So when we’re home, we don’t usually hang out that much. But again, we live in three different cities so it’s a little difficult.
But you know, I love playing with those guys. They’re so fucking talented. And they can sing. They’re such great singers, you know which I think is probably they’re biggest asset. I would rather have like, a shitty bass player that could sing really well. But the thing is, I got really lucky because Chris Morrissey is a fucking amazing bass player. So he kind of does everything.
You tweeted about teaching your son about the wonders of Double Dragon.
[Laughs] Double Dragon! Yeah!
You sound like you’re having a lot of fun being that little bit older and more responsible. How’s Ben Kweller dealing with that side of life?
Well you know, playing Double Dragon with Dorian is fun because he loves video games. He’s very similar to me. You know, he’s very,very creative, but he’s also kind of aloof and in his own world. I think that that can frustrate his mum a lot. But I kind of understand it, you know, because I’m very similar and I see myself a lot in him.
And it’s funny, like hanging out with my mum and dad with Dorian, they’re like, “he’s a little you”. And it drives people crazy.
But I’m able to kind of channel his like, creative outlets, you know. So it’s like – I love being a father. I love teaching and I love inspiring people and I love just showing people new things. And so, I really enjoy that.
As far as my personal music life, you know, that’s the hard thing that I need to learn how to balance because you know, travelling around the world all the time, and now that he’s started school he can’t come with me, you know? And so it’s a whole new world for us. I think, I just hope – I want to able to just hold on and stay strong because I have to play my music for people. I mean, that’s the other part of me personally. I have this need to play music and bring it people. It’s the other side of me, you know? It’s a conflict though, definitely.
Ben Kweller – Australian Tour 2012
March 2 – Hi Fi Bar, Sydney
March 4 – Hi Fi Bar, Brisbane
March 5 – Hi Fi Bar, Melbourne
TICKETS ON SALE 9AM, MONDAY 19 DECEMBER