Ethan helps Ben on his way
Jewish Telegraph, June 2004
WHEN it came to recording his latest album, On My Way (RCA), Ben Kweller took the advice of his new best friends, Kings of Leon, and hired producer Ethan Johns.
It was a major coup for Kweller, who despite celebrating his 23rd birthday on Wednesday, has been in the music business since he was 14.
Johns was certainly qualified for the job, being the son of Glyn Johns, who was involved in landmark albums for The Who, Led Zeppelin and the Rolling Stones.
“Kings of Leon told me I had to meet Ethan,” Ben told me. “They told me that he made their album sound so good.
“We hit it off straight away and he was into my ideas. I had a real vision of what I wanted to do on the album.”
New Yorker Ben added: “I explained to Ethan how I’d been writing songs while on the road for the last two years and playing the new songs with the band.
“But I didn’t want to show them any more new songs until we were in the studio. So Ethan made us set up like we were rehearsing. It was a really vintage 1960s style of recording.”
On My Way, the follow-up to the critically acclaimed Sha Sha, has a distinct Velvet Underground sound to the guitars, which Ben puts down to using small amps.
Ben burst onto the music scene in his early teens with rock group Radish. The group released three albums before going their separate ways.
When I spoke to Ben two years ago, he explained how his was the only Jewish family in Greenville, Texas.
“Being a Jew in a small town helped me form my identity,” he said at the time. “It was cool; everything in my life has been different.
“I am proud to be Jewish. I was barmitzvah and continued to go to cheder and talk to the rabbi. He was a cool, modern-thinking rabbi. I fell in love with the ideals that the rabbi talked about.
“I’m not religious now but I like to go to shool.”
Sha Sha and the single EP Phone Home received great reviews from the music press in Britain and America.
And his new album has also had the media drooling.
“He said: “I’m fortunate that the critics have taken a liking to my music. Many musicians dream about good reviews.
“But once I’m in the studio I forget about the press and the fans. I’m on a mission to get out my feelings and stay true to what I do.
“Bob Dylan, Neil Young and Lou Reed have lasted so long because they didn’t give a **** about anything but music.”
The cover of the new albums sees Ben surrounded by wolves, but he says you can look for metaphors — but you won’t find any.
“I had the image in my head and I thought it looked cool,” he said. “It’s an appealing visual effect.”