Ben Kweller strikes the right balance on his latest album, Go Fly a Kite.
Ben Kweller has American Airlines to thank for inspiration. It was on a flight from Dallas–Fort Worth to Los Angeles that the lyrics for “I Miss You,” a track on his excellent new album, Go Fly a Kite, came to him. “I was sitting in my usual spot, seat 21A, looking out the window of an MD-80,” he says. “The rain was hitting the concrete, the guys were out there putting the bags on, and I was thinking about a friend in New York who is out of my life now.”
Over the past decade, the 30-year-old singer/songwriter has built a following based on this type of introspective storytelling. And on his fifth studio release, he delivers again. Recorded five blocks from his Austin, Texas, home at a backyard studio called the Hideout, Kweller self-produced 11 tracks for what he calls a “real album” — in that, he explains, “it’s not a set of individual songs.” Adding to the instrumentation are longtime Kwellerheads (as Kweller affectionately refers to them) bassist Chris Morrissey, drummer Mark Stepro and Kitt Kitterman, who handles Dobro, accordion and organ on the album.
Where 2009’s countrified Changing Horses shone the light on Kweller’s Texas roots, he says Kite is the perfect blend of all his styles. “I think that people who discovered my music with Changing Horses will be satisfied,” he says. “But I think all of my fans that might have been thrown for a loop [with Horses] will be, like, ‘Awesome, he’s back.’ There’s something for everybody.” Indeed, you can hear hints of everything from Bob Dylan (“Out the Door”) and Elliott Smith (“Mean to Me”) to Jeff Tweedy (“I Miss You”) and the Jayhawks (“Jealous Girl”) in Kweller’s new compositions.
Along with the release of Kite, Kweller also started his own record label called the Noise Company, which he runs with his wife and two additional staffers. It’s yet another step forward in his ever-evolving career. “This record is kind of a new chapter for me,” he says. “I am really doing everything my way and just staying true to the music and going where that takes me.”
And sometimes, that’s on a westbound plane in seat 21A.
Ben Kweller’s Essential Texas Playlist
Growing up in Greenville, Texas, Ben Kweller says a number of Lone Star State performers shaped him as an artist. He gives us a sample, but notes the omission of local legends Willie Nelson and Stevie Ray Vaughn, explaining, “We already know how much they rule.”
1. Steve Miller Band “Rockin’ Me”
2. Centro-matic “Fidgeting Wildly”
3. Buddy Holly “Everyday”
4. ZZ Top “I’m Bad, I’m Nationwide”
5. UFOFU “People to the Air”
6. Old 97’s “Question”
7. George Jones “You Gotta Be My Baby”
8. Jerry Jeff Walker “L.A. Freeway”
9. Roy Orbison “You Got It”
10. Spoon “The Underdog”
11. Edie Brickell & New Bohemians “What I Am”
12. Willis Alan Ramsey “Geraldine and the Honeybee”