By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Alice Laussade
By Scott Reitz
After more than a year, as well as numerous pleas by the Dallas Observer and meetings between label and band, the speculation can finally end: Radish's Sha Sha will not be released. And in the end, it's not so surprising, but a plot twist everyone saw coming as soon as the opening credits rolled. After all, the disc has been on the shelf since the group finished it in 1998 -- which, in the music industry, is a lifetime ago, long enough for the label Radish recorded it for, Mercury Records, to be merged out of existence. It's more than enough time to forget about one album, even one as sparkling and startling as Sha Sha. The music business is full of whores, people who go against every principle they once stood for as long as the check clears. Having a good memory can be a liability.
But Radish singer-guitarist-songwriter Ben Kweller hasn't forgotten about Sha Sha. He's been selling copies of the album (unofficially, of course) at the solo shows he's been playing around his new home of New York. And he plans to resurrect the disc -- some of it, anyway -- when he records his next album for his new label, the Island Def Jam Music Group, the company that swallowed Mercury whole when mergers and money made music almost irrelevant last year. Kweller, however, realizes it's important to look to the future instead of dwelling on the past. That's all he ever wanted to do in the first place.
"They seem like a really great company," he says of Island Def Jam, on the phone from the Brooklyn apartment he shares with his girlfriend, Liz. "It's all new people, and I've been meeting all the people, getting to know everyone. I want to get 17 songs together, and then we'll go in and make a record. I plan to use four or five of my favorite songs from Radish's Sha Sha record. Their whole thing was, you know, 'Mercury recorded that record, and we want to do something from scratch. We want to totally be with you, from the beginning to the end.' And I can understand that. It kind of sucks, because I love that record so much. But at the same time, the recording is like a year and a half old. So, I'm ready to move on. The good thing is, since I wrote the songs, I'm free to keep using them."
The record he uses them on may or may not be released under the name Radish, however. Since he moved away from Texas last April, he hasn't performed many shows with his band. It was simply too difficult, with his bandmates here while he was living in Connecticut and now New York. He's been playing acoustic shows instead, learning how to write songs with the sound turned down. He likes not having any place to hide, getting onstage with only a guitar, a harmonica, and whatever comes out of his mouth.
The time on his own -- away from his family, away from his band -- has helped him grow up, as both a musician and a man. Well, it's probably a little soon to refer to Kweller as a man: As he talks about making Valentine's Day plans for him and Liz (reservations at a nice sushi restaurant in Manhattan, a fancy car to ferry them around), he sounds like an adult, but he still has the voice and vocabulary of someone much younger than his 18 years.
If nothing else, Kweller has proved that he's old enough to make his own decisions and make them work. Moving to Connecticut with his girlfriend seemed like a disaster in the making, yet he flourished there, and he's done even better in New York. And he's been dealing one-on-one with the executives at Island Def Jam since he moved up there, as well as booking his own tours. Of course, some of those tours, such as the one that brings him to Dallas this weekend, haven't been all that difficult to come by.
"I met this guy Ryan Miller, and he's the lead singer for this band Guster," Kweller says. "[The band] met at Tufts University in Boston, but he's actually from Dallas. I met him at this party, and we just, like, tripped out that we were both from Dallas. He knew all about the Deep Ellum scene and everything. I got a call from their manager about four days ago, and he was like, 'Hey, Ryan wants you to come down to Texas and play two shows with him.' So I was like, 'Hell, yeah.'"
Even though Kweller is excited to be playing in Dallas again, he's not homesick at all. His only regret about moving to New York is the fact that he didn't do it sooner. And hearing him talk about it all -- the people he's met, his neighborhood, the shows he's played -- you can hardly question his enthusiasm. You certainly can't contain it.
"It's such an amazing place," he says. "This has been one of the best things I've done, ever. This is one of the best decisions I've made. Living out here, it's like there's so much energy. Everyone you meet is doing something completely creative. It's amazing, and it's really inspiring. Every day is something new. You just find out something new out here in New York, there's so much going on. It really gets you up and going."