As Jil Gates, head advisor for Union Board, walks me backstage before the performance, we find Ben Kweller on the phone with his family. After waiting a few minutes, he greets us while on speaker with his son, Dorian. After listening to his son mess around on the piano, Kweller says goodbye to his son and greets me with a friendly, “Hey! Nice to meet you!”
The Knox Student: How long have you been here in Galesburg?
Ben Kweller: We just drove in, just for sound checks. We flew into Peoria, so that’s where we’re staying now.
TKS: Cool. How do you like Knox so far?
BK: I like it.
TKS: Have you heard of it before Union Board contacted you?
BK: No, I’ve never heard of it [laughs] but I’m really excited because I like that this town is the train capital of the world. That’s cool. And I was reading an interesting article about Knox College—I’m trying to think of the professor’s name, but anyways he found like all these Masonic symbols in the architecture here.
TKS: Yeah. I remember reading about that too.
BK: Yeah. I can’t think of his name, maybe his last name was Harper or something? Anyway. I wish I could meet him and talk to him.
TKS: What inspired you to become a musician?
BK: Well, when I was about seven years old, I remember my dad playing The Beatles around the house and I remember listening to “All you Need is Love” and like looking at his turntable and putting the needle back to the beginning as soon as it would end. I just remember listening to that one song and it would just make me cry. It was so beautiful. It was something about the melody.
Well, actually I was about eight because I was already playing the drums and he taught me how to play the drums when I was about seven, and that sound, you know, would just put me to tears and I decided that I wanted to do that. I wanted to make music and touch people that way. And so I started playing the piano. Someone taught me to play “Heart and Soul” and so I just changed the chords and made my own song with it. And so I went from there.
TKS: What has been your biggest struggle being on the road?
BK: The biggest struggle probably being on the road is that it’s hard to feel like you have a normal life, I guess because it’s not a normal life? [laughs] Right now I’m in the middle of recording my new album, but I have to be in the studio for a few days, plus I have two boys, so me and my wife try to have a routine for the family. So I’m trying to make my album, but then I have to fly away and do a few gigs because that’s how we pay our bills and everything, playing concerts, and so you know it’s just kind of a drag. I really want to finish my album, but I have to take gigs too. I guess that’s kind of the big struggle—trying to balance family and some sort of normalcy with this kind of lifestyle.
TKS: How old are your kids?
BK: I have a four-year-old named Dorian, who you just heard playing piano, and then we have a little one named Judah who’s six months old.
TKS: So you obviously love The Beatles. What other musicians influence your music?
BK: I really don’t think anyone influences my music anymore. But, when I was starting out I was very influenced by other music because that’s really how you start. Like all art forms you kind of find things that you like and try to do those things, you know? And then at some point you just come into your own sound or look, you know, if you’re a painter or something? In the beginning, as a teenager, I was really into Nirvana, Jimi Hendrix and a lot of music from the 60s: Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Tom Petty, Steve Miller band…and now I feel I’ve created my own way of writing, lyrics and melodies…I make music that’s inspired by life, what happens around me and things that I see, stories and people I know…I love your hair by the way.
TKS: Thank you [laughs]
BK: It’s, like, way curly!
TKS: It’s very similar to yours!
BK: Yours is, like, more curly though [laughs]. Do you, like, scrunch it up?
TKS: Yeah! [laughs]
BK: That’s the key, right? I just met this hairdresser and she told me that’s the key! But, gosh do you do anything to it?
TKS: No, nothing beyond scrunching it up really. [laughs]
BK: Do you like shampoo it?
TKS: Only like once every week.
BK: Oh, wow, so it doesn’t get greasy? That’s really lucky!