Rarely is it possible to tell a person’s entire personality from the sound of their voice. As soon as I heard BEN KWELLER’s soft southern drawl crawl through my speaker phone, however, I was convinced that he’s the nicest man in the world.
I definitely wasn’t disappointed. Chatting to me from the hallway of a Connecticut hotel, where he is playing a show as part of his US tour, Kweller seems pretty chuffed with life.
“Performing live is one of my favorite things, I love being on the road,” Kweller enthuses. “It’s such a great release for me to get on stage and get my emotions out, like ‘Aaargh!’ It’s good for you. I crave it,” he laughs.
The loveable, red-headed singer/songwriter will be in Australia playing his cruisey folk melodies for the Great Southern Blues Festival in Bateman’s Bay this October, and he couldn’t be more excited. A slighter damper, though, is the inability to bring the brood along for the journey. Kweller is definitely a family man these days, with two kids under his belt (quite literally – Bossman) and many happy years of marriage to wife Liz. But touring can be tough with children, leading to inevitable time away from the family.
“That’s the only drag. I wish they were coming but I’m only going to be in Australia for ten days, and every day we fly to a different place so it’s just too much to bring the kids. Luckily, the family comes with me pretty much everywhere, though, except Japan and Australia. The flying is just too much.”
Homesickness aside, Kweller is intent on having an amazing time at the Great Southern Blues Festival. Having never been to Bateman’s Bay before, he’s hoping it’ll be like the other Blues fests he’s played here in Australia.
“It’s always a fun time, I always hear music that I’ve never heard before and meet new people. And that’s one of my favourite things about festivals, because I rarely get to see new bands!”
When not in the crowd, Kweller will be onstage enchanting one and all with both his dulcet tones, as well as material from most recent album Changing Horses. The album shows a swing towards country music for the previously pop/rock artist, and it’s been a natural progression for the man, made up of music he has been working on over a long period of time.
However, being the multi-talented, genre-hopping devil that he is, Kweller has no intention of letting the dust settle in any one place too soon. “Now I’m working on Go Fly a Kite; it’s a rock ‘n’ roll record, and it’s really poppy. It shows a lot of different sides to me,” he explains. “I think this next record is kind of going to bring all of my fans together. Like, all the people that came to me because of Changing Horses, for my folk stuff, or all the kids that like my piano ballads, and all the people that like the rock ‘n’ roll stuff.”
Although the album isn’t due to be released until next year at the earliest, Kweller is already excited about producing it. Having produced Changing Horses himself, it’s likely that the new record will get a similar treatment.
“I’ve always been so hands on with my stuff, whether I took credit for it or not. I’m definitely a control freak when it comes to my own music!”
Before he can get stuck into the album, though, he’s busy hopping from state to state, and country to country. His Australian tour is already promising to be a unique Ben Kweller experience.
“This tour in Australia is going to be a real blend of everything. I’m coming over with a trio, with my bass player Chris Morissey, drummer Mark Stepro, and me playing piano,” Kweller enthuses. The last time he played in Australia, Kweller came over with a four-piece, and the entire back catalogue was played in a way that was more consistent with the style of Changing Horses. However, as a trio, Kweller thinks they manage a more stripped back sound that gives all of the songs an even playing field.
“It’s kind of great, the way you get the lyrics, you get my voice, you get the big drums, and bass. It’s like concentrated Kweller!”
Being the frontman and a solo artist isn’t all fun and games, though. Kweller often wishes he could step into the beat section more often when playing live. “I love playing the bass. That’s the thing, actually, because I’m always the frontman, I’m always singing and playing guitar or piano, so whenever I jam with friends, I love playing bass a lot.”
But even he has to admit, the man’s a natural talent on both guitar and piano. Does he have a favourite? “I like them both equally, because they do different things for me. It’s like, someday you want a chocolate milkshake someday you want a vanilla milkshake, you know? I need them both in my life.”
After this interview, I’m pretty certain I need Ben Kweller in my life – be it in Bateman’s Bay or at one of his side shows. Luckily for me, he keeps an open door policy when it comes to fans – as we run out of time, I ask Ben if he wants to say anything to his Australian audiences.
“I’m looking forward to the show, and coming to a new place for the first time. If anybody’s reading this, come up and say hi, don’t be shy!”
Oh, I will, Ben. You can be sure of that.
Ben Kweller plays as part of the Great Southern Blues festival at Bateman’s Bay on October 1 – 3 alongside Todd Rundgren, Harry Manx and many more. Tix are $250 for a three-day pass from www.bluesfestival.tv. Day passes also available. Changing Horses is out now.