Portrait of an ordinary rock star

Jinae West

Ben Kweller abandons his dark side, rails against Bush and looks to the future

Credit: Jason Hall

Ben Kweller puts his pants on one leg at a time.

Just like everyone else.

Kweller is a bona fide rock star, yet somehow manages to stray from the title’s implied stereotype with a touch of boyish charm and a hint of approachability. Void of a pretentious perspective and an overblown ego, Kweller seems unaffected by his burgeoning popularity.

And despite impressive record sales, the 25-year-old remained modestly reserved about his claim to fame.

“I consider myself successful, but I still feel like I’ve got a long way to go, ” he said. “I’m really blessed and really grateful. I’m at a place where I can just travel around the world and have 300 to 2,000 kids wherever I go, and that’s a huge achievement for anybody. But at the same time, I still have that fire burning inside of me to keep promoting my music.”

Kweller began his career at an early age. When most kids were learning the non-toxic hazards of Elmer’s Glue as a mid-morning snack, Kweller was busy honing his craft with help from his father and “first real musical influence.”

“My dad taught me how to play the drums at 7,” Kweller said. “He turned me on to The Beatles, The Doors, British Invasion bands and 1960s rock ‘n’ roll. It was all sent to me through my dad, and as a person, he’s really been a great friend and a great inspiration.”

As a father himself to 8-month-old son Dorian, Kweller said he had always wanted to become a parent, describing his “nostalgic” nature; however, no white picket fences and Dodge Caravans are in his immediate future.

“I haven’t done this complete 180 of being this rocker to suddenly being this dad going to the Home Depot,” he laughed.

The Greenville, Texas native said The Beatles’ “All You Need Is Love” helped him realize his passion for performing.

Ben Kweller

Playing with Gomez

Where? House of Blues Cleveland

When? Saturday, March 3, 8 p.m.

How much? $20-25

“That song made me cry,” he said. “It made me think that I want to do this, I want to touch people in this way. It’s so powerful to me, and I knew in my heart that that’s what I wanted to do.”

Kweller’s sound is unique; it’s disarmingly honest and difficult to dismiss into just another cookie cutter genre.

His third album, the self-titled Ben Kweller, shows the artist’s maturity in simple and stripped-down terms, through powerful chord progressions and double-edged metaphors.

Kweller admitted his music has changed since his debut with Sha Sha.

“Sha Sha is na’ve,” he said. “It’s like this young kid that moves from a small town to a big city and is just really excited for life. On My Way is about this guy living in the big city and makes friends, and it’s a little darker. You can feel the subway running underneath. It has a real gritty city vibe. And my new album is more carefree and sunny. All of the songs were written while I was in the country. It talks about the dark side of love, but there’s a lot of hope about freedom and traveling.”

Optimism plays a prominent role in his music and lyrics. Even his piano-heavy ballads are upbeat.

So, what makes Ben Kweller tick?

“Our current situation with our government in Iraq. I think it’s a totally pointless war, and George Bush in general,” he said. “I feel like he’s just pulled the war over America’s eyes, giving people false hopes. He’s fighting for more money in his pocket and Dick Cheney’s pocket.”

And then right on cue, like a beacon of rose-colored sunshine, Kweller added lightly, “But there’s light at the end of the tunnel because (Bush) can’t be elected again.”

For more information, visit http://www.benkweller.com.

Contact ALL correspondent Jinae West at [email protected].