How did you get into Wicca?
Ben: Actually, when I was like about, I guess I was like 10. I must have
been 13 or something. I was hanging out with this guy at this party, like
a birthday party or something, and there was this kid that I met and he
was telling me about, he was telling me this story about how he went on
this campout with some older guy who was there and he was telling them
all about magic. And I was like, what do you mean, like card tricks and
shit? And he was like no, real magic, and I was like, no way dude. He
was like yeah, its so true, and he just started telling me all about
this stuff and he was like, you should get this book called A Century
of Spells and I was like no way. Cause Ive always been really
into Dungeons and Dragons and fantasy and just sort of like...I always
used to love watching Unsolved Mysteries.
Ben: You know what I mean?
PZO: Yeah, its a great show!
Ben: Totally! So I loved the idea that there could be like real magic
and sort of like folklore and stuff. So after that I discovered the New
Age section of bookstores. Id just try to go to a local bookstore
and read just all these books on ancient religion and stuff and I sort
of just studied about it just because Ive always been fascinated
with religion and God and the whole why were here, and just sort
of the whole big picture.
So I discovered Wicca, which means the wise, and its just sort of
like this nature religion that incorporates all these rituals and nature.
In Christianity or Judaism or like in a lot of modern religions you have
the Ten Commandments, in Wicca theres only one commandment and its
harm none. And I just always sort of thought that that was
so cool cause it sort of sums everything up in one fell swoop. Its
just harm none and its all about karma and doing the
right thing and as long as you dont physically hurt anybody or mentally
hurt anybody through negative reasons, then youll be fine. Its
just all about being a good person and it has that cool sort of ancient
mystery to it. But thats sort of how I got into it. I mean, I dont
practice it; Im not a Wiccan or anything. Although, theres
sort of a rumor going on about that...
Ben: Even if I was, I wouldnt deny it. Its not like a bad
thing; it has nothing to do with Satan or devil worshipping or anything
like that. But yeah, Im just fascinated by all weird stuff.
How did the performance go for Austin City Limits?
Ben: It was so fun! I mean, we were really nervous for it, you know? Cause
thats like the biggest thing. We did David Letterman, we did Conan
OBrien, and Carson Daly, and youre nervous for all that stuff,
but Austin City Limits is like the number one. You feel like youre
a part of this elite group of musicians and to be accepted into that is
such an honor. So we were just so nervous. I think this is definitely
the most nervous Ive been for TV. It was just so much fun. The best
part about it was this guy Carrie, the producer for the show, hes
been there for like 25 years and at the end of the show that night theyd
just sit around and go to the control room and watch the whole show and
sort of have beer and chips and salsa. Carrie and I and the band, we all
just sort of hung out and watched the whole show and it was so great to
watch it with Carrie. He said thats the best part; not a lot of
people stay late to do that much anymore. But he said that Stevie Ray
Vaughn and Willie Nelson and all those original Austin City Limit people
would like watch the whole show together and it was such a good vibe.
So yeah, that was like really memorable.
Whats the coolest compliment that youve received?
Ben: Ever ever?
Ben: Um, I think the coolest compliment...actually, just the other night
this guy came up to me and he was like, You know Im going
through such a rough time and my girlfriend just left me and she was with
my friend and you know whenever Im down I turn on your record and
it just makes me so happy. And thats sort of like the best
compliment that people give you when they tell me that my music gets them
through rough times. Cause for me thats what a lot of my favorite
music is for too, its just to make you feel good and remind you
of the light at the end of the tunnel. Im really into optimism and
referencing like, even though its a shitty day and everything is
terrible, at least tomorrow you know you can try and keep your head up
and then it might turn around for you. So I love when fans come up to
me and tell me they sort of get that feeling from my music. It definitely
makes me feel like Im sort of accomplishing something.
When you started to play shows as just Ben Kweller did you feel it was
harder to get noticed and gain a following than when you started out with
Radish, or would you say it was just as difficult?
Ben: You know what, its weird because I almost feel like it was
easier in a way. Which is kind of weird because I moved to New York, which
helped a lot, just being in New York. I would play with a bunch of bands,
like in between bands, and I felt like it sort of stood out. I sort of
would do this acoustic punk set and just go onstage all by myself and
sort of like take over the stage, and people were sort of like what the
fuck is this kid doing? And so I guess I sort of tried to win people over
by scaring them and sort of freaking them out and just letting them know
that you could break the rules. It was sort of easier, I guess. It happened
in a much different way than Radish did. Cause Radish sort of happened
within the industry, like where our producer heard us and recorded three
songs and sent it to different record companies. So it was a lot more
businessy, which really sucked. Whereas this way, where I am now, its
sort of because it happened on an underground level and just built up.
So Im much more proud of it.
Is there a performance that youve done that stands out from the
Ben: Yeah, actually the first show of our headlining tour ever, which
I guess was a week ago in North Carolina in Chapel Hill. That was probably
our best show ever, cause it was our first time to headline outside
of New York and it was just so fun and so amazing.
Whats your favorite line from one of your songs?
Ben: Let me see...probably from Falling. From off the top
of my head its probably the bridge: We could talk if days
werent so fast and mistakes just make it so unsure. I wanna hold
you like never before.
PZO: Yeah, thats a good line.
Ben: Thank you. <laughs> Just because its all about
when you sort of lose that person or whatever, that object, or anything
that you like. When you lose it you realize that its gone forever
and thats when you really wish that you had it the most. So thats
sort of what the song Lizzy is all about too. Its sort
of just counting your blessings. Its hard to remember what you have
while you have it and to know that thats enough. I think thats
probably one of the best times that I explained it, was in Falling,
just that sort of philosophy I guess.
Are you already working on the follow-up to Sha Sha, or are you trying
to focus more on touring?
Ben: Well the labels focusing on promoting Sha Sha and were
gonna be touring on it for a while. But you know, theres actually
talk of doing an EP like at some time, like in the wintertime. Actually,
just today I decided I kind of want to put out something thats really
low-fi, just a bunch of lo-fi recordings that Ive had lying around.
Just to sort of put something out until the next album. I think by next
summer were gonna go into the studio and make the new album. Were
gonna be on the road for a long, long time. <laughs>
PZO: <laughs> Yeah, thats good for the fans.
Ben: Yeah, and well get to come to Austin a bunch, which is good.
Whats something that you actually learned from your parents?
Ben: How to stay humble. They sort of taught me all about keeping your
two feet on the ground and not getting a big head. They taught me a lot
of that stuff early on just because I guess all that shit went down with
Radish, and it could have been really easy for me to become kind of a
snotty teenager. So they just taught me that everybodys created
equally and instilled these liberal ideas in me, and I actually still
have them today.
What question have you been dying to have an interviewer ask you, and
would you answer it for us?
Ben: God, I dont know. And actually, I dont even know where
Im going. Everyone hates me right now cause Im on the
phone.* But I dont know, I cant really think of anything that
Ive been dying to be asked. I dont know, Im sorry.
PZO: <laughs> Its okay.
Do you have a favorite childhood memory?
Ben: A favorite childhood memory...let me think...yes, I do. <to
Lizzy> Whats my favorite childhood memory?
Ben: I cant remember off the top of my head. She usually knows all
my favorite things. Um, I know that...hah, riding my bike around with
my friends, no, thats not it. Actually yeah, I think like I always
loved playing hide-and-go-seek. There was something big, though...well,
meeting Brian Wilson was huge, but I was sort of a teenager by then. I
guess my favorite shit was playing in the woods with my friends, like
playing down at the creek and getting really dirty. We would just build
forts and stuff and have B.B. guns and shit. That was great. Like when
I could pretend I was Rambo.
Ben: That was the best. <laughs>
What aspect of the music business would you like to change?
Ben: The fact that labels dont let you put out material as much
as you want, or I guess just the fact that record companies all they care
about is what the popular thing is at the time. Theyre too scared
to make decisions on their own and they think theres a formula for
everything. I think they should just let the artist be the artist they
want to be.
If you could be a superhero, what would you call yourself and what would
your costume look like?
Ben: I would probably be the Cobra and I would be able to be invisible
and I could totally fly and I would be really badass looking. Oh, and
you know what, Id have jet-black hair and my hair...it would sort
of like go over one eye and maybe be shaved up on the other side a little
bit, thatd be sort of my hairdo. And Id be really cool. The
Given the opportunity, who would you kidnap for a day?
Ben: Oh wow, well in a negative way or in a positive way?
PZO: Well, you can just pick one.
Ben: <laughs> Alright, well, probably Neil Young. Id
kidnap Neil Young. No, but see, I wouldnt cause I wouldnt
want to bum him out. Id love to meet Neil naturally. I guess probably
someone to where it would fuck up a lot of shit. Like the President or
Britney Spears or something. And then all their people would be running
around looking for them and then Id just talk to them.
What was your favorite Halloween costume when you were a kid?
Ben: I had a lot, but it was probably a vampire. My favorite costume of
all time was one that Josh had. <to Josh> What were you,
Josh? Yeah, Captain Selanity. And he wore these gray tights and had a
really big S on his tummy and it was a really good costume, and he played
bass and he played a gig as Captain Salinity. It was really cool.
Which 3 musicians do you think would form the perfect band when put together?
Ben: Which 3 what?
PZO: Which 3 musicians.
Ben: Oh, ever? Can they be dead too?
Ben: Oh god...wow...it would be Kurt Cobain cause he could also
play drums a little, so he could fill out the drums once in a while. Then
Jimi Hendrix would play guitar and then...I dont know, Dr. Dre.
PZO: Thatd be kind of weird.
Ben: <laughs> I know, that would be really weird. Itd
be kind of bad actually, I dont like that band. So like, probably
Kurt Cobain... <to bandmates> What 3 musicians would make
a badass band? Oh shit. <laughter and talking in the background>
That would be cool, 3 drummers! Keith Moon, Mitch Mitchell, and John Bonham.
That would be it right there.
Its kind of morbid, but what would you like someone to write in
Ben: Ooh, um, I would hope that someone would say Ben was a nice guy that...I
dont know. Thats a really weird thing for me to think of.
But I would just hope that they would say that I was nice to people.
* Ben was nice enough to do the interview while he was driving to Dallas