With a new album out and a national tour, Ben Kweller certainly is a busy fellow. Sacrificing valuable time for baby clothes shopping at a Cincinnati Old Navy, the one-man band takes a few moments to talk to Street about bloody noses, intellectual property, and even his music.
Street: On your new album you play all the instruments yourself, was that something you planned on doing much prior to recording, or when exactly was that decision made?
Kweller: It happened at the last minute. I was hanging out with the producer, Gil Norton, and he just said, "Dude, I've been thinking about it. These songs are so personal and so autobiographical, you should play all the instruments. I was like, "Whoa, well, let me think about it." But I thought about it and I realized it could be totally cool to play all the instruments, and really get in there one-on-one with the producer and just make the songs exactly how I wanted them to be. Thats what I did. I might never do it again, but it was fun.
Street: How different is the creative process for a rehearsal style album with a full band like you used for On My Way, and one completely dependent on overdubs like your new self-titled LP?
Kweller: I guess it's kind of like I've come full circle from being a kid. I remember when I was 13 years old I went to my first recording studio and I just put everything I wanted on the recording, any idea I came up with, I did. It was really free and sort of no rules, unlike the last album that had a lot of rules, like you couldn't use gear older than 1969, or you could only do an overdub if it was really important. This record, though, was just like made the best record you can.
Street: Critics often compare you to, and you've sited some of them as influences, 70's songwriters. Who would you say are some of your more recent influences?
Kweller: Probably a lot of my friends that also write songs, like Conor from Bright Eyes. He's always inspires me when I hear his songs and, you know, we play each others new stuff. I'm friends with a lot of guys who are doing it right and now and it is really good to sit with the guitar and play each other's new songs that make you want to write better songs and just really kick your ass. I'd say I also really like groups like the Kings of Leon, The Strokes, Adam Green is another one that I really think is great.
Street: I imagine The Bens were great for that sort of thing.
Kweller: Totally, that's a great example. I mean, Ben Folds is the best piano player I've ever met. So, you know, sitting down with him just makes you want to be a better musician.
Street: How did growing up in the music business sort of shape who you are now, especially as an artist.
Kweller: First of all, I feel super lucky that I got an early start on music because I've learned so much through the years about song writing, about recording, and about the business itself and what to look out for. I mean, I guess my only real advice, is as soon as you figure out what you want to do in life, start working on it, it because life is short.
Street: This is a bit off topic, but I was going to ask you if you had heard the Talib Kweli song to Lauryn Hill that sampled "In Other Words?"
Kweller: Yeah, I heard it but they didn't get permission or even give me credit.
Street: Yeah, I had read that, so I was wondering what your response was?
Kweller: Well, I was totally conflicted because he's like a really respected artist and it didn't seem like something he'd do. I mean I was honored on one hand, but on the other hand pretty pissed off. At this point I'm mostly pissed off, because it's just wrong. That was something I made, and I don't care about money, I just want some credit. You know, in the liner notes it's like, "Yeah, I wrote this song at a Lauryn Hill show and it represents all this and that, blah, blah, blah." And I just feel like he's always talking about how he's all about the artistry and being respected and shit, and I just think if the public knew he did that they'd be pretty bummed at him. I don't know, It's weird.
Street: Another interesting thing I just saw recently was footage of your set at the Austin City Limits Festival this past summer. Did you ever find out what could cause so much blood to come from a person's nose?
Kweller: The doctor said it was from the extreme dryness on the bus, which is true because for the five days leading up to that I was complaining about how cold and dry the air on the bus was. So right before the gig I got this bloody nose out of both nostrils, like from a capillary way up high. It wouldn't stop, so I had to go to the hospital. It was fucked up.
Street: You also did Lollapalooza this past summer, how do you feel about summer festivals and how do they compare to regular shows?
Kweller: I like summer festivals, but it's way different because you have to interest a lot of people who most likely haven't even heard your music before. We usually play our more rocking songs, and I don't get to play songs like "Thirteen," or "Lizzy," or "On My Way." So I prefer the others because I really do like my full repertoire. But it's all good.
Street: One last thing I'd like to ask: You were in a band [Radish] as a kid that received minor publicity from Rolling Stone, and your involvement in that group has seemed to follow you and your career longer than its relevance would warrant, especially in what critics write about you. Have you seen and heard less of that as you've released more albums, and also grown artistically?
Kweller: Yeah, I think it is only really lazy journalist that say, you know, "Um...Radish." The thing is like Radish never even had a hit song or anything. They only sold 16,000 records in America, and it's just kind of pointless to mention it. But really, I don't mind what people say at the end of the day, man. I just want to make my music the way I want to make my music.