Ben Kweller is not supposed to be this good this soon.
Singer/songwriters are supposed to come along and develop over time, and somewhere around age 30, the perfect combination of cynicism and romanticism collides with a catchy three-chord sequence. Within three weeks, a middle eight is added, and out comes a perfect pop song.
It’s actually quite simple, but it shouldn’t come this easy to someone who’s only 26.
“The weird thing is that I feel like I’ve lived so many different experiences because I got thrown into this thing when I was so young,” Kweller said in a 2002 interview with NYRock.com. “I’m really writing songs that are about me and life. I’m not practicing anymore.”
If Kweller’s hardened musical-sage-at-26 vibe comes across as contrived, look deeper. Kweller, along with his former band Radish, released their first EP in 1994, when Kweller was at the ripe old age of 13. After weathering the “next Nirvana” hype and the breakup of Radish, Kweller finally came into his own as a singer and a songwriter with his 2002 release Sha Sha.
His self-titled 2006 solo album helped establish Kweller as not only a pop wunderkind, but as a viable performer. In fact, Kweller is so passionate about pop music that he’s trying to take it back from the pre-fab boy bands and reality-show winners who have made the word pop an insult in some musical circles.
“If you go back to a Bob Dylan album or a Beatles album, like, the Beatles were a total pop band,” says Kweller. “They were the equivalent of the Backstreet Boys, but the difference is, it wasn’t made on a conveyor belt. Even though the songs were crafted just like ‘Genie in a Bottle’ [by Christina Aguilera] with your perfect chorus, perfect build-up, and verse and all that, it still had so much heart and so much emotion, because it wasn’t pitch corrected and the guitars were slightly out of tune, because they didn’t have electronic tuners.”
From the sounds of his latest album (the aforementioned Ben Kweller), Kweller is already headlong into this rather daunting task of reclaiming pop music. In an age where the quality of an artist is, as often as not, based around how funny he is to his followers, or how nonthreatening he can be to people at home, Kweller is cheerfully devoid of such trappings. Whimsical without being a self-parody, and unwholesome without all of the tired, bad-boy trappings, Kweller is an original.
[Jason Bugg is an Asheville freelance writer]
Ben Kweller performs at The Grey Eagle, Saturday, Aug. 25. 9 pm. $15 ($16/day of show). Tim Fite opens. 232-5800.