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conducted on:
July 2002
by: Rocio Villalobos
official website
shout-out to PZO


PZO: 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, it’s 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 I’ve always been really into Dungeons and Dragons and fantasy and just sort of like...I always used to love watching Unsolved Mysteries.
PZO: Yeah.
Ben: You know what I mean?
PZO: Yeah, it’s 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. I’d 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 I’ve always been fascinated with religion and God and the whole why we’re here, and just sort of the whole big picture.

So I discovered Wicca, which means the wise, and it’s 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 there’s only one commandment and it’s “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. It’s just “harm none” and it’s all about karma and doing the right thing and as long as you don’t physically hurt anybody or mentally hurt anybody through negative reasons, then you’ll be fine. It’s just all about being a good person and it has that cool sort of ancient mystery to it. But that’s sort of how I got into it. I mean, I don’t practice it; I’m not a Wiccan or anything. Although, there’s sort of a rumor going on about that...
PZO: <laughs>
Ben: Even if I was, I wouldn’t deny it. It’s not like a bad thing; it has nothing to do with Satan or devil worshipping or anything like that. But yeah, I’m just fascinated by all weird stuff.

PZO: 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 that’s like the biggest thing. We did David Letterman, we did Conan O’Brien, and Carson Daly, and you’re nervous for all that stuff, but Austin City Limits is like the number one. You feel like you’re 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 I’ve been for TV. It was just so much fun. The best part about it was this guy Carrie, the producer for the show, he’s been there for like 25 years and at the end of the show that night they’d 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 that’s 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.

PZO: What’s the coolest compliment that you’ve received?
Ben: Ever ever?
PZO: Yeah.
Ben: Um, I think the coolest compliment...actually, just the other night this guy came up to me and he was like, “You know I’m going through such a rough time and my girlfriend just left me and she was with my friend and you know whenever I’m down I turn on your record and it just makes me so happy.” And that’s 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 that’s what a lot of my favorite music is for too, it’s just to make you feel good and remind you of the light at the end of the tunnel. I’m really into optimism and referencing like, even though it’s 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 I’m sort of accomplishing something.

PZO: 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, it’s 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, it’s sort of because it happened on an underground level and just built up. So I’m much more proud of it.

PZO: Is there a performance that you’ve done that stands out from the rest?
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.

PZO: What’s your favorite line from one of your songs?
Ben: Let me see...probably from “Falling.” From off the top of my head it’s probably the bridge: “We could talk if days weren’t so fast and mistakes just make it so unsure. I wanna hold you like never before.”
PZO: Yeah, that’s a good line.
Ben: Thank you. <laughs> Just because it’s 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 it’s gone forever and that’s when you really wish that you had it the most. So that’s sort of what the song “Lizzy” is all about too. It’s sort of just counting your blessings. It’s hard to remember what you have while you have it and to know that that’s enough. I think that’s probably one of the best times that I explained it, was in “Falling,” just that sort of philosophy I guess.

PZO: Are you already working on the follow-up to Sha Sha, or are you trying to focus more on touring?
Ben: Well the label’s focusing on promoting Sha Sha and we’re gonna be touring on it for a while. But you know, there’s 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 that’s really low-fi, just a bunch of lo-fi recordings that I’ve had lying around. Just to sort of put something out until the next album. I think by next summer we’re gonna go into the studio and make the new album. We’re gonna be on the road for a long, long time. <laughs>
PZO: <laughs> Yeah, that’s good for the fans.
Ben: Yeah, and we’ll get to come to Austin a bunch, which is good.

PZO: What’s 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 everybody’s created equally and instilled these liberal ideas in me, and I actually still have them today.

PZO: What question have you been dying to have an interviewer ask you, and would you answer it for us?
Ben: God, I don’t know. And actually, I don’t even know where I’m going. Everyone hates me right now ‘cause I’m on the phone.* But I don’t know, I can’t really think of anything that I’ve been dying to be asked. I don’t know, I’m sorry.
PZO: <laughs> It’s okay.

PZO: Do you have a favorite childhood memory?
Ben: A favorite childhood memory...let me think...yes, I do. <to Lizzy> What’s my favorite childhood memory?
PZO: <laughs>
Ben: I can’t 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, that’s 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.
PZO: <laughs>
Ben: That was the best. <laughs>

PZO: What aspect of the music business would you like to change?
Ben: The fact that labels don’t 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. They’re too scared to make decisions on their own and they think there’s a formula for everything. I think they should just let the artist be the artist they want to be.

PZO: 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, I’d 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, that’d be sort of my hairdo. And I’d be really cool. The Cobra. Yeah...
PZO: <laughs>

PZO: 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. I’d kidnap Neil Young. No, but see, I wouldn’t ‘cause I wouldn’t want to bum him out. I’d 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 I’d just talk to them.

PZO: 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.

PZO: 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?
PZO: Yeah.
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 don’t know, Dr. Dre.
PZO: That’d be kind of weird.
Ben: <laughs> I know, that would be really weird. It’d be kind of bad actually, I don’t 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.

PZO: It’s kind of morbid, but what would you like someone to write in your obituary?
Ben: Ooh, um, I would hope that someone would say Ben was a nice guy that...I don’t know. That’s 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

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