By Jim Schutze
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"I've always said to myself that all this hype and stuff could kill me," Kwellar says. "I want to be left alone, and I'm just as happy being alone in my bedroom playing my songs. If we had never gotten any of this attention, I'd still be putting out these same records and writing these same songs. I'm a real humble person, and I never expected any of that stuff to happen, like The New Yorker. Sometimes you want to show people we could be the next big thing, and you wonder how come it's not happening, but in a way, I wanted to show people you can't just say something's going to be successful and have it be successful. There was a lot of mental and emotional stuff I was going through.
"I mean, I really love a lot of local bands, and that had a lot to do with it. I saw Tablet's last show and UFOFU's last show, and I didn't want to be big because I didn't want people to say, 'You sold out.' All the kids hate all that bullshit. I didn't want any of the musicians to hate me, and I thought they would because of my success. I thought maybe if Buck Jones wasn't as successful as Radish, they wouldn't like me. I felt bad."
But Kwellar never had to worry about alienating his friends in Deep Ellum: In October, Goldberg canceled Radish's planned U.S. tour in favor of breaking the band in Europe, and the band completely vanished. Now, Radish is back playing the clubs in Greenville and Deep Ellum and, this Saturday, taking the stage at the 21st Annual Greater Southwest Guitar Show and Music Fest. To make matters worse, on the surface, Radish isn't even headlining in its hometown: That honor belongs to Stevie Ray Vaughan-abe Kenny Wayne Shepherd.
Maybe it's all for the best: Kwellar learned the hardest way possible how easily the hype machine will chew up and spit out its young and impressionable, and perhaps he's grown up a little. It could only help his songwriting, which needs more of him and less of everything else he's digested in his young life. For his part, he says his music is now more "experimental and intricate," more "mature." We shall see in September, when the band is scheduled to release its second Mercury album, which Radish will begin recording next month in Muscle Shoals.
Before you write off Radish completely, there's also a slight twist to this yet-unfinished story, and his name is Joe Butcher.
Until late last year, Butcher was one-third of UFOFU, one of the finest bands to call Dallas home in many years. Butcher, UFOFU's co-songwriter-vocalist-guitarist, is now in the running to join Radish as the band's new bassist, replacing Bryan Blur. He's one of a handful of potential bassists in line for the gig, but already Joe has performed once with the band and will again play with Radish on the Guitar Show stage.
Make no mistake: Having Butcher join Radish would be the best thing that ever happened to the band and, especially, Kwellar. Butcher, a veteran of myriad bands before forming UFOFU with Brandon and Ben Curtis, has the rock and roll experience and breadth of knowledge Kwellar can only dream of; he could broaden his musical horizons, teach him there's more to this world than Kurt Cobain and Weezer's Rivers Cuomo, Kwellar's real idol. In addition, Butcher brings to the band an indie-rock credibility Danny Goldberg could never buy: UFOFU's debut on the Medicine label was an astonishing record, a prog-punk-pop extravaganza that gets better with every listen.
And Butcher was once in a band Kwellar adored. Indeed, he used to wear a shirt on stage that said "UFOFU + Radish=Love"; it also read, on the front, "Ben Curtis Is My Friend," referring to UFOFU's young drummer, now with Tripping Daisy.
"Ben's a cool kid, and he's really mature for his age," Butcher says. "I'd really love to play with them. He writes good songs. Really. I mean, at first I wasn't sure. I didn't know if it was grunge rock or whatever, and he gave me a tape of 30 new songs, and they were good. That was my main consideration. If the songs were terrible, I wouldn't want to play with them."
Kwellar says he'd like to hire Butcher--he can sing, play more than one instrument, and write, which is more than what Ben's looking for in a bassist--but says the label and management are concerned about hiring a guy who's well into his 30s. Butcher, though cute and cuddly in his own special way, don't look like no 16-year-old.
Also, were Butcher to join Radish, it raises one intriguing question: Would this be the first time in history a band featured a 16-year-old frontboy and an openly gay bassist who's more than twice his age?
"Hey, anyone who knows me well knows I don't like young boys," Butcher says, waving off any potential Fleetwood Mac-like problems. "I like truckers. I like old men."
When asked if the label has a problem with Butcher's sexuality, Kwellar sort of laughs. No, he says, it's cool. Besides...