Progress Report

Progress Report: Ben Kweller

Today we check in with and share a brand new song from Texas rocker Ben Kweller.

NAME: Ben Kweller
PROGRESS REPORT: Changing Horses (ATO Records), in early February, recorded at Public Hi-Fi and Cedar Creek in Austin, Texas, and Smith Street Studios in Brooklyn.

Here’s something to make you feel old: Ben Kweller took a minute to talk to Stereogum about his next LP, Changing Horses, while shopping at K-Mart with his two-year-old son. The baby-faced 27 year old may have a baby running down the toy aisle, but it’s hard not to think of Kweller as forever 19. Still, even at that age, Kweller had more on his mind than asteroids and astronauts. One of Kweller’s favorite tracks on Changing Horses, “Ballad Of Wendy Baker” was written when Kweller was 19 and recovering from the death of a high school friend. “A few days after she died me and some friends went to a Chinese restaurant and my fortune cookie said, ‘No one loves until it’s gone,'” he says. “So I went home, sat on my bed and wrote this song.” Kweller held on to it, like others on the album, until he had enough to make a cohesive group of narrative songs, tracks that were darker than most others he had written.

Used to writing about himself, Kweller enjoyed telling other people’s stories on songs like “Sawdust Man,” a “sorta 70s, Leon Russell thing” about a guy waiting for his girlfriend’s Greyhound bus to pull in. Or “Gypsy Rose,” a story about a prostitute and her weekly regular customer. The shift isn’t just away from autobiography — Kweller says the record is more acoustic, more country and western and Americana than his other three solo albums. Unlike his previous self-titled record, where he played every instrument, Kweller recorded with a full band (including new pedal steel player Kitt Kitterman), live, with very few overdubs.

Maybe Kweller’s getting nostalgic for his childhood in Texas, where he listened to pop country like Garth Brooks before discovering Nirvana and punk rock. His longing to return to his roots is tangible in other ways too: six months ago Kweller left New York City (where he’d lived for almost ten years), to settle in Austin, Texas. He says he’ll never move again. “The second that we arrived in Austin and pulled into our driveway, I was just like, ‘Oh my God! This is home,’ you know? Just to even have a driveway is amazing.” Kweller says he and his family go fishing and camp, or road trip to local food festivals when he’s not on tour, which is to say, not often. He’s been playing small clubs to preview the songs on Changing Horses and is planning a bigger tour around its release the first week of February. Maybe his son could sit in: “He’s got ukuleles and a little mini drum set, and he’s got my guitars that he bangs on,” says Kweller. “He can keep such a good beat on the drums, so I already jam with him.”

Here’s the first taste of Changing Horses, a Stereogum premiere:

Ben Kweller – “Hurtin’ You” (MP3)

Dig that pedal steel. Here’s the album’s tracklist:

01 “Gypsy Rose”
02 “Old Hat”
03 “Fight”
04 “Hurtin’ You”
05 “Ballad Of Wendy Baker”
06 “Sawdust Man”
07 “Wantin’ Her Again”
08 “Things I Like To Do”
09 “On Her Own”
10 “Homeward Bound”

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INTERIM REPORTS: Lady Sovereign is still at work on the follow-up to Public Warning, but it’s too early to report on anything except that it’ll be out sometime in 2009. Death In Vegas broke up. Founding member Richard Fearless is focusing on Black Acid, his band that also includes members of Dirty On Purpose and Coyote.

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If there’s a band you want Progress Report to drag out of the studio, or bed, for an update, shout out in the comments or e-mail [email protected].