You might think public speaking would be easy for someone who gets up onstage and bares his soul in song. But Ben Kweller, who plays In the Venue on Monday, April 30, will tell you it's not.
"Public speaking, stories at weddings, anything like that -- uh-uh, it scares me" said Kweller, calling from his home in Austin, Texas. "So if I have to do it, I have to write it out, and practice it and practice it and get in front of a mirror and get prepared ... We celebrated my grandmother's 80th birthday, and I got up and did this big, long speech. And because I was prepared, I was OK, and even able to kind of go off the cuff and improvise a little."
Kweller draws the parallel between that and how he prepares to go into the studio to make a record. He's not one to finish writing songs as he records. He goes in with the material at the ready.
"I am still very traditional when it comes to that," Kweller said. "I am very big on preparation, and pre-production, and all that. And I work with the band on the material before I ever go into the studio.
"For me, I find when I am prepared for the songs, it opens us up for spontaneity, for those icing-on-the-cake moments that can happen in the studio. It is easier to kind of find those moments when there is no pressure for the guts of the thing to be made right there."
Flying a kite
Kweller's seventh album, "Go Fly a Kite," arrived last month. The music website www.popmatters.com noted that the "record is rich in craft -- from songwriting to intricate arrangements to whatever the spirit is that lifts certain music into inspiration."
Kweller said he started writing the songs for "Go Fly a Kite" while working on his previous effort, the acoustic-roots-flavored "Changing Horses," in 2009.
"I knew that, after that one, I was going to go in and make a rock record, so to speak," he said. "Well, this is the album I set out to make."
On his previous efforts, he paid for expensive studio time and, after the prep work, got it done in a short amount of time. This one was done in a friend's home studio in Austin.
"As a result, this one was on a much more laid-back schedule. We could go in whenever we wanted. For better or worse, I worked longer on this album that any other -- maybe a year and a half, though it was not an intentional thing to take that long. But when I was actually in the studio, I was very focused. I was really trying to make something very strong and focused and beautiful, you know? Something very compelling. And I am very proud of the results. I worked very hard on it, and to me, it does not feel like it is at all forced or overproduced."
Surf's up in Utah
Kweller recorded with, and is touring with, the same rhythm section from "Changing Horses" -- bassist Chris Morrissey and drummer Mark Stepro.
"Those guys have played together for a few years now, and they do great harmonies, too -- a lot of singing on the album. As a result, the live shows have been a lot of fun. There are so many harmonies, and we are pulling them off really well."
Kweller said the band is having a lot of fun playing new songs like "Jealous Girl" and the latest single, "Full Circle." And, he adds, he looks forward to bringing them and old favorites as well to Utah, one of his favorite tour stops.
"You know, Salt Lake has always been a special city for me. I have been coming there since 2001, when I opened up for Dashboard Confessional, when they were kind of on the rise. I made friends there, including this guy Joe, a magician. He and I are like lifelong friends now.
"And just something about you guys in Utah. The audience comes out and has so much fun. I have crowd-surfed only a few times in my career, and Utah was one of those situations. That's how much I trust and like them out there."