By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Alice Laussade
By Scott Reitz
Ben there, done that
When Ben Kweller moved to Connecticut with his girlfriend in April, it looked as though his band, Radish, would be moving as well, leaving Mercury Records after releasing one album, 1996's Restraining Bolt, and not being able to release its significantly better follow-up, Sha Sha, which was originally due out on March 23. Now, Kweller is on the road again, leaving Connecticut for Brooklyn on November 1, possibly a sign that his relationship with his label bosses in New York has improved.
Radish, however, has already moved, though it was more like leaving a cramped apartment for a bigger one in the same building. Mercury no longer exists: It was folded into the Island Def Jam Music Group in the aftermath of Seagrams Company Ltd.'s much-debated takeover of the music business earlier this year. Kweller insists that now that the band's status with Island Def Jam has been secured (as much as anything involving record labels and musicians is secure), Sha Sha will be released eventually, one way or another.
He's hesitant to discuss the situation at first, as if he'll jinx the deal if he says anything out loud. But it's not long before Kweller's talkative nature gets the best of him, the side of his personality that can make a simple phone message sound more like color commentary on the trivial details of his life. Whether or not he should put on a pair of shorts, for instance.
"I don't know if I'm really prepared to talk about anything right now," Kweller says before doing just that. "I mean, everything's really good. I've been having meetings with Island Def Jam, and everything is in place now with their employees. Their staff is really excited about the band. And we definitely are still on the roster. It just took so long for everything to come out. It's been almost a year and a half since we recorded the record. I've written so many new songs that I might go in and record some of them to maybe add to the record. But a new record will be coming out."
That's good news for the lucky few who have heard Sha Sha, an album that is assured where Restraining Bolt was tentative. Sha Sha isn't the sound of Kweller growing up on record, but rather proof that he already has, even though he hasn't yet hit his 20s. From the sudden bang that kicks off the disc (the scattered-in-a-good-way "Launch Ramp") to the gentle piano bounce of the title track ("How it Should Be -- Sha Sha," which has enough ba-ba-bas for a flock of black sheep), Sha Sha could be one of the best records of the year. Or maybe next, depending on when the label decides to release it. No matter when the album finally sees the fluorescent light of a record store, Kweller is content with his band's new home and excited about moving into his.
"It's so much more artist-friendly at Island Records," Kweller says. "They're building a little studio for the artists at the company [headquarters], and they're also building an artists' lounge. Just little stuff like that that's going to make it a good environment. And they only have 30 acts on their roster, which is really nice. There's definitely attention given to each artist. It's just sad that record [Sha Sha] didn't come out when it should have. It was such a great record. But you've gotta stay positive. You know, that's the music industry. My job is to just keep writing songs and hope for the best, and record great records. They'll come out eventually."