A near-death experience kept Ben Kweller away from music for years, then the death of a close friend brought him back.
As he releases a new album this month, called Circuit Boredom, he isn't afraid to talk about anything.
“I’m so excited,” he says with a joyful tone in his voice. “It’s been up and down, really crazy for me for the past few years.”
Kweller, now 37, was born in San Francisco but grew up an hour away from Dallas in Greenville. His teenage rock trio Radish caught national attention when they signed to Mercury Records in the late 1990s. Their only record for the label, Restraining Bolt, was put out as the major labels finally gave in to the alternative rock sound and focused on Creed and Matchbox 20. Radish disbanded and Kweller decided to move to New York and start a solo career.
With a string of heralded solo records on which he bounced between fuzzy pop rock and country, he was busy. In the late '00s, he and his wife started a family, moved to Austin and began a label/management firm called the Noise Company. His 2012 release, Go Fly a Kite, was nominated for a Grammy in the Boxed or Special Limited Edition Package category.
But in 2013, he and his family almost died while sleeping in a cabin in New Mexico. Kweller’s wife, Liz, woke him up in the middle of the night saying something was wrong. Turns out, the entire family was suffering from acute carbon monoxide poisoning. An ambulance took them to a nearby hospital. Doctors told them they were 15 minutes away from death.
“That changed everything,” he says.
Being on pure oxygen for 24 hours saved them. But the experience created a big fork in the road for Kweller.
“I came home and was so shook,” he says. “Up until that point, I never had any fear of dying, flying, traveling. I’ve always just lived life very free and carefree. I’ve never been a risk-taker, but I’ve always had this sense of, ‘It’s all gonna work out.’”
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Kweller put music on hold. He told his publicist, booking agent and manager he needed to take an indefinite period away from touring and recording. He had a constant in his life with his family, and occasionally, he’d write a new song. He had no plans to make another record, even though he kept writing songs.
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When his friend Anton Yelchin died in a vehicle accident in 2016, Kweller decided to get back into music full time. Yelchin was a promising talent, having been in three Star Trek movies as Chekov and a powerful leading turn in the punk rock thriller Green Room. Kweller and Yelchin had worked on music for fun in the last few years of Yelchin’s life. Knowing that Yelchin would want Kweller to return to making records and playing shows, he decided he had to get back into it.
With a full tour devoted to Circuit Boredom on deck, Kweller looks forward to making more new music and even re-issuing earlier solo albums and Radish material through Noise Company.
“Of all the things I can do,” he says, “this is really the main one I’m supposed to do.”
Ben Kweller and Modern Love Child play Monday, Feb. 11 at Club Dada. Tickets are $20-$25.