Go Fly a Kite – An Interview with Ben Kweller : Interviews
Everybody’s favourite Texan, Ben Kweller is back in Australia. Having almost completed a brand new album which is due for release next year, he’s found himself down-under once again – most likely because we love him so freaking much!
As an honourary Australian, Kweller’s songs deal with the complexity of human emotions in a highly developed and mature way, yet manages to cloak it with unabashed child-like innocense that makes it feel as though he’s talking to you as a close friend.
Here at WatchOutFor.com.au, we had the privelige of catching up with him for a few words about this ‘in-between’ tour that has Australia buzzing. At times throughout the interview, he discusses the finer points of friendships, drug infused herbal tea, and the genius in naming a band Triple Cobra.
How are you going?
I’m doin’ pretty good. How are you doin’?
Just surviving the cold weather over here.
Oh man, I’m surviving the heat over here.
Do you want to swap?
[Laughs] Yeah man!
Where are you just at the moment?
I’m at home in Austin (Texas) at my home studio. Just got home yesterday from a little road trip. We did a little two-week tour up the east coast up to New York and Boston. Then back down the east coast. So that went well. Now just getting’ back in the studio – gonna finish my new record.
How’s that going?
It’s goin’ great. I’m really excited about!
When you say you’re about to finish it off, exactly how far into it are you?
Pretty much all the music is done. I have a few guitar solos to lay down. Umm, maybe three lead vocals to sing and then mix it. So we’re almost in the home stretch – almost mixing.
Thematically, where is the record placed?
Well it’s called ‘Go Fly a Kite’, which I guess is an alternate way of saying “Go Fuck Yourself”. It kind of deals with some darker situations, you know, friendships gone awry, or love, or dealing with any superiors kind of holding you down.
Like, one thing comes to mind in particular is before we (Ben and wife Lizzy), moved down here to Texas from New York, my best friend and I had a falling out. I’m not sure if this has ever happened to you, but where you have this great friend, and a girlfriend of his comes into the picture and wants to push him away from all of his friends and all the people that love him – and kind of takes over his life. It’s such a drag.
There’s a few songs about that. One of them’s called ‘Jealous Girl’, and another called ‘Gossip’. It’s got the quintessential – you know – Ben Kweller optimism throughout – so you’ve got the light at the end of the tunnel you know?
I’m excited. It’s a lot of upbeat music. A lot of electric guitar and piano. It’s definitely a rock ‘n’ roll record.
Are there any appearances from the lap steel this time around?
There’s one track ‘I Missed You’ – that one’s got Dobro on it. But that’s the only one that gets a bit of a Changing Horses love. There is some folky stuff too, but throughout it’s pretty much a rock ‘n’ roll and pop record.
So does it have an ‘On My Way’ rock ‘n’ roll feel or more of a ‘Sha Sha’ type pop?
Kind of a mixture. It’s not quite like the power-pop of Sha Sha, it’s got some rawness of On My Way. It’s kind of hard to explain though. It’s a pretty big production but it’s very real and it’s kind of got my signature stripped down vibe to it I guess – if I have such a signature vibe [Laughs].
You’ll have to see for yourself. I’m always really bad at explaining what I do because it’s always changing.
When do you expect people to be able to hear it first?
It’ll probably come out March or April in 2011, so this tour becomes one of those ‘in-between-record’ tours. We’re gonna do everything from Changing Horses to Sha Sha – and everything in between. Not really gonna play any of the new material, just because I don’t want to get sick of it too soon, cos I know once the record comes out I’ll be on the road for two years.
Do you have any new covers that you’re going to hit us with? I distinctly remember a few years ago out at Ferntree Gully when you played Lithium and Jeremy…
Oh man, yeah I remember. I don’t have anything up my sleeve, but maybe on that long plane ride over something will come to my mind.
Have you ever had any thoughts on teaming up with anyone for a record? Sort of like Connor Oberst and Emmylou Harris?
I’ve thought about it. Nothin’s really hit me yet. I’m still kind of on my own little path with this new record.
Speaking of Connor, there’s one new song that I have that he’s been writing some lyrics for, so we’ve been doing some collaboration. You know there’s always a lot of talk of doing different things, but with everybody’s schedule it’s hard to get everybody together, you know?But something might happen!
Actually, I just produced a record for this band out of San Francisco called Triple Cobra. They’re kind of like T-Rex meets Guns n Roses and Queen. A lot of guitar and harmony – [insert Ben Kweller imitating Bruce Dickinson].
How did this come about?
Well, I saw them live and I was just blown away. We started talking after the show…one thing lead to another. They sent me demo’s and I just loved it. I started making notes and I had them come down to Austin. We went into pre-production and worked on the songs. Went into the studio and cut it all analogue on tape. It was really a fun experience. They had a great time.
That’s a wicked name!!!
TRIPLE COBRA!!! I know man! You’ll be hearing about ‘em [Laughs].
Another band you’ve come across is Delta Spirit. How did you end up hooking up with them?
Well they’ve been on my radar since the beginning because we have the same booking agent. I saw them play one of their first shows in New York. So we started talking about bringing them to Australia. I think it’s their first trip over, so it’s gonna be a good time.
What can we expect from your shows here?
Well it’s gonna be a mixture of all my records, stripped down with my trio. And, uhhh, a lot of sing-a-longs. I’ll take requests and that kind of thing. Whenever I put out a record and I come over I’m pretty much engulphed in the new material and everything’s got a theme to it. I kind of like these tours because they’re in-between records and you can really let loose and go with the flow of the night and just play whatever you want. The fans seem to like that a lot too.
Well I suppose no one’s really sure what they’re going to get…
EXACTLY! That’s part of the fun of it.
You seem like a pretty cool, calm and collected type of guy. Do you ever get flustered when thing aren’t going to plan exactly?
Well I guess I’m a pretty seasoned performer at this point. But things certainly piss me off, like when I break a string or something – I’m like “FUCK!”. Basically it’s just cos I get so excited and I wanna play so bad. But I think I play it off pretty well. It’s not the end of the world. It’s only rock ‘n’ roll – but I like it [Laughs]
If you allowed people to bring in a plate of food like Ween use to, what would you urge them to bring in?
Wait a minute! Ween use to have their fans cook for them?
Yeah, they wrote in the liner notes of one of their albums “Bring food. We like it”. Apparently people would bring cassaroles and lasagnes.
Maybe some kangaroo off the barbecue dude. That’s what I would ask for. But I like all food. I’m looking forward to get back over (to Australia); I love my vegimite in the morning – that’s for damn sure.
People do bring me cupcakes a lot. The girls bake cookies and stuff. Sometimes I’m a little nervous that they’ve dosed it with acid or pot.
Once a fan came up to me after a gig and was like “Hey man, do you like green tea?” And I was like, “Yeah, I like green tea. It’s pretty good”. And he was like, “Well here’s a bag of green tea man…and it’s also got a lot of magic mushrooms in there too!”
It was this one bag of green tea with all these magic mushrooms. That kind of thing happens from time to time.
On your promotional video, I saw a clip of a reference you got on the Ghost Whisperer. I bet you were pretty pumped to hear Jennifer Love Hewitt tell the world how much she loved Ben Kweller?
Oh yeah, isn’t that wild? I heard about that afterwards. I suppose they don’t have to get your permission to use your name. I’m really lenient about people using my music. I don’t really care. That was really a funny thing because people called me and said “Dude! Have you seen the Ghost Whisperer yet?”
I was so flattered that they put me in there. And the thought of a piano teacher, teaching a girl my music – what a thought.
What’s one song in history you wish you’d written?
Oh man – I would say Stand By Me. I love that song. It’s so universal, and it’s so fucking simple. Umm, you know, it could be a father talking to his son. It could be two friends. A husband and wife. It never mentions any gender or any persons name. It doesn’t even mention the word love. We all need somebody next to us to get us through. And uh, that song really speaks to me, and I really strive to make music like that. So that’s one of them for sure!