DRIPPING SPRINGS, Texas (KXAN) — Austin music icon Ben Kweller is set to release new music starting Friday, seven years after his last album and more than five years after a family vacation nearly ended in tragedy.
Now living in the Hill Country with his wife and two sons, Kweller told KXAN it took him a long time to feel like he’s ready to start recording and touring again.
The songwriter has been living the quiet life the last few years, rebuilding the house on the property he bought with his wife, Liz, near Pedernales Falls State Park and enjoying the private swimming hole it came with.
His boys, Judah and Dorian, are getting into music themselves — a drumset in one room, a piano in another — and Kweller relishes playing with the two of them. “That’s one of the best things,” he said, “because it goes back to me with my father.”
Family has been a part of Kweller’s musical life from the beginning, as well as the reason he left that life behind for the last half-decade.
The cause of his distress came in 2013; Kweller, Liz and the boys were in the mountains of New Mexico on vacation. “My wife woke up in the middle of the night and said, ‘Ben, get up. Something’s horribly wrong,'” Kweller said. “And I stood up and immediately collapsed to the ground.”
The pair got their two boys out of bed and together they crawled to the front door and out into the snow.
“The ambulance came and said, ‘Oh my God; you guys were 15 minutes away from not waking up. You’re suffering from acute carbon monoxide poisoning.'”
After a full day on oxygen and a month of feeling like a “zombie,” Kweller told his team — his publicist, his booking agent — it was time to take a few steps back. “I said, ‘Cancel everything. I’m done.'”
“That was the first time where I was really, like, rattled to my core and realized just how special my family is,” the normally go-with-the-flow musician explained. “And it just put everything in perspective.”
Depression set in over time, and while he was still playing and writing from time to time, the songs that came out were dark, not the poppy guitar rock that took Kweller on world tours. Fans would stop him on the street and ask what he was doing, when he’d come back to the stage; he’d tell them it would happen someday, “but I didn’t know how much I believed my own words.”
After five years, though, Kweller indeed has a new album, called “Circuit Boredom,” that he plans to release a song at a time throughout the year. The first song to be released, “Heart Attack Kid,” will debut Friday with a video to accompany it.
It took two separate pushes for Kweller to return to the studio in earnest: First, a longtime friend and music producer Dwight A. Baker called him and told him, in so many words, it was time to get back to work. Kweller found a new energy when the two started playing together, and the new album came to life.
But it also took the death of a close friend for the singer to start ramping back up toward a new phase in his career. Actor Anton Yelchin was killed in a freak accident in California in 2016 when his car rolled down his driveway and pinned him against a brick pillar. It was a “turning point” for Kweller. He realized life is short, he told KXAN, and he shouldn’t waste his gift.
“So, it’s time,” he said.
Kweller and his band will follow up the release of the first new song with a mostly-East Coast tour, opening for the band Houndmouth, which starts next week in Dallas. His first Austin show won’t happen for a few more weeks. “I got to get my band good before I get to Austin, right?” he joked.
He’s planning to play during SXSW at the Hotel San Jose on South Congress Avenue, though he’s not sure when exactly it will be.
Meanwhile, Kweller is working on turning another building on his land into a proper recording studio, a space for his music to thrive. It’ll take some time to get things up and running, to get back to business after years off the road, but that doesn’t bother the musician.
“Time rolls on,” he said. “I’m just lucky I have more of it to go.”