Getting to know Ben Kweller

jamie.reed

In 1991, Nirvana released their second and most popular album, “Nevermind,” which featured the hit single, “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” That same year, 10-year-old Ben Kweller listened to the grunge anthem and gained musical inspiration, all while strapped in a pair of roller skates.

“The first band from our generation that was really my band was Nirvana,” Kweller said. “I first heard them in 1991 when ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ came out and I was at the roller skating rink.”

The now-26-year-old Kweller, who has since gained fame as a rock musician, will perform Saturday, March 22 in the Great Lakes Rooms of the University Center. The Texas native has recorded three albums, with his newest, “Changing Horses,” expected to be released later this year. Kweller said his passion for music stems from the days of elementary school, when he was writing songs and listening to The Beatles on his dad’s turntable.

“I remember standing in front of my dad’s record player listening to ‘All You Need is Love,'” he said. “I was about nine years old and it made me cry. I was only nine; I didn’t know what they were talking about. But I could tell it was so emotional and I wanted to do that. I wanted to touch other people like that music was touching me.”

Six years later during high school, Kweller and his then-band Radish landed the big break that every high school garage band only dreams about: Kweller and his bandmates were given the opportunity to make their music heard worldwide.

“We got a record deal and got to tour around the world so actually — this is kind of crazy — my parents let me basically drop out of high school to pursue rock ‘n’ roll. But it all worked out, luckily.”

When the days of Radish were over, Kweller took the plunge and headed east to New York, where he didn’t know a soul and experienced his first taste of being on his own. While the switch from band member to solo artist might be nerve-wracking for some, Kweller said the transition was surprisingly smooth.

“It was really natural,” he said. “It was at a time when I decided to leave Texas and move to New York and try something new with my life. So when I first got to New York I didn’t know anybody and I didn’t have a band or anything.

“I was writing all these songs in my apartment and they were very autobiographical. I made a little CD in my apartment and when I looked around the room and realized that nobody was there with me I said, ‘Well, I guess I’m Ben Kweller then.'”

Now, even with several nationwide tours under his belt, people still seem to have a hard time describing his sound, a subject that Kweller himself still ponders.

“I try to think about if I ever meet someone in an airport or at a grocery store and they ask, ‘Oh what do you do?’ and I say ‘I’m a musician’ and if they ask what kind of music I play I usually just say classic rock,” he said.

“Like really melodic, sort of rock ‘n’ roll. That’s really the most simplified way that I can describe my music. People have gone all over the place with describing my sound from pop-punk, to acoustic-punk to alt-country. I don’t know. To me, it’s all rock ‘n’ roll.”

And while his musical genre remains somewhat of a mystery to some, even more baffling are some of his lyrics, which range from, “Sex reminds her of eating spaghetti,” to “Won’t you be my friend? Won’t you be my neighbor?”

“I don’t really think about what I’m saying,” Kweller said. “I just keep spitting out lyrics. It’s sort of like stream of consciousness. It is the most satisfying thing to start a song and finish it and have it be so good where it’s like 2 a.m. and you want to call all your friends and play it over the phone because you love it so much. That’s the best feeling.”

And while Kweller has played and belted out his lyrics on some impressive stages in front of thousands of fans, he said he still likes playing for smaller audiences on campuses.

“I love playing for college crowds,” he said. “I think maybe some of it is the fact that I never went to college and I feel like it’s really fun to go to a college and perform.

“There are a lot of progressive thinkers out there on our college campuses right now. They usually tend to be really open-minded and smart. And they like to have a good time because they’re in college and they have to always study and that’s a pain in the ass.”

The show will start at 7 p.m., with indie group Company of Thieves, indie-pop band Inspector Owl and solo artist Cory Phare opening the show.