Music Notes

Ben Kweller brightens quarantine with new project, plus more Austin music notes

Ben Kweller brightens quarantine, plus more Austin music notes

Austin City Limits Ben Kweller
It may be a while until Ben Kweller can play to a packed room, but it hasn't stopped the prolific musician from creating during COVID-19. Photo by Daniel Cavazos

There’s still no indication as to when shows will return, but that hasn’t stopped Austin’s music scene from staying busy. This month's column, in lieu of our show listings, you’ll find a variety of interesting livestreams and a few recent releases worth diving into.

We also caught up with Austin's own Ben Kweller, who in addition to releasing a great new song, "Starz," has also just launched a tiered subscription service called Bright and Early. We chatted with him about quarantine and creating community amidst a global shutdown.

Editor's note: This conversation has been edited and condensed.

How have you been holding up during the quarantine? 
"
I've been holding up okay. It was weird for the first three weeks when all my future plans went down the drain, but now I'm almost busier than ever.

What have you been doing to stay busy? 
About six months ago, I launched a really cool program called Bright and Early. It's basically my own SAAS platform — like a DIY Patreon or something. ... Once COVID became a reality, I kicked it into high gear and put all my resources into building it out and basically learned how to live on the internet. Now my fans can stream and download my entire catalog, even the rare, out-of-print releases that aren't available anywhere else. I've been doing a bunch of private Zoom hangs for fans who are celebrating birthdays or anniversaries, or for upcoming artists that just have questions and need advice. Every day I'm reminded just how rad my fans are and how magical the power of music is.

What was the motivation to launch Bright and Early? 
Well, anyone who follows me, knows that I've always had a deep connection with my fans. Once I learned how big tech serves only a fraction of an artist's subscribers, I realized that something had to be done. It's discouraging to have 75,000 followers on a platform, yet when you post, only 7,500 followers get the message in their feed. I get how this intentional throttling creates lots of ad revenue that the platform needs to survive, but it also alienates small businesses who can't afford to promote every little post. So basically, I started to bring everything back home, which seems to be a recurring theme in my life. I literally sat at my Macbook for a week, personally reaching out to my most active followers across all platforms [and] telling them that I'm starting something new at benkweller.com — something just for us.

How has the response to Bright and Early been so far? 
Dude, it's been amazing! I'm learning so much about my community and finding new ways to serve them every day. We're still very much at the beginning of this thing. Just passed the 250 subscriber mark last week and that's really just from the 100 or so DM invitations, word of mouth, and organic traffic to benkweller.com.

What else do you have planned for Bright and Early? 

One of the big requests has been live bootlegs. We have about 300 live show recordings in the archives. We're slowly going through and cataloging everything, so the live show roadmap is definitely in the works. My top tier members get a personally curated box of goodies every November, so I'm starting to put that together. It goes beyond just BK stuff which means we can get other cool local products into the hands of new people around the world, whether it's Yellowbird hot sauce, a leather product from Bykowski Tailor & Garb, or a Ft. Lonesome patch. 

Tell us about your new song, "Starz."
“Starz” is all about being in the moment with another human, that feeling you get when you're with someone special and the world just peels away. It's kind of a love-at-first-sight song I guess. Like, you've just been hit over the head by love and now you're drunk by it. It's also a total upbeat rocker which was fun to release during all this sitting at home. The Noise Company put it out two weeks ago and didn't think much of it, but it took off on all the streaming services. Spotify added it to four of their big "Alternative" playlists out of the gate. In the past, I never paid much attention to commercial radio because it seemed so unattainable for an independent artist like me. These days, playlists are kind of the music business' gateway drug, so now NoiseCo is talking about pushing "Starz" out to the airwaves. That's an exciting thought 'cause I'd love to have a real radio song!"

When do you think you (or anyone else) may return to playing live?

Ugh... the question on all of our minds. Sadly, I don't see concerts resuming the way we knew them until 2021. I hope I'm wrong, but even when everything reopens I think a lot of people will be scared of large groups in tight spaces. The silver lining though, is people [in the music business] are starting to make moves that are really exciting. NoiseCo Presents, recently partnered with a top Austin venue to begin ticketed live streams for local bands. I'm excited to see how that plays out because it might just be the thing that gets us through until the new year. I could sit around and worry about a second wave of the virus, but since all I know is music, I better focus on this second wave of live entertainment.

For more info on Ben Kweller's Bright and Early, go here. 
To hear "Starz" on your favorite music platform, head here.

Notable Livestreams:

Molly Burch
If you’re in search of music and advice, then look no further than Molly Burch! The talented singer/songwriter is hosting Love Line sessions on her Instagram every Monday in May. You can submit your questions by texting LOVELINE to 31996.

DJ Mel
Boogying in the comfort of your own home (and far away from anyone else) has never been better than it is with DJ Mel’s jam-filled “Living Room Dance Party.” There’s one on every Saturday for the rest of May.

Jimmy Eat Wednesday
Jimmy Eat Wednesday, an evening of emo music that usually happens at Barbarella, has pivoted to hosting Streamo Night. Subscribe to their e-blasts to receive a link to the primo emo/screamo party that’s every Wednesday.

3TEN at ACL Live
3TEN at ACL Live has put together a series called “Stream Come True” and the diverse lineup features the likes of Mobley, Jonathan Terrell and more. Below is the full schedule:

  • 
5/15: Jonathan Terrell

  • 5/19: Pat Byrne

  • 5/21: Folk Uke
  • 
5/26: Miles Zuniga (of Fastball)

  • 6/18: Mobley

Notable recent Austin releases:

White Denim World As A Waiting Room
White Denim challenged themselves to write and record an album in 30 days, and they pulled it off! The result is World As A Waiting Room, a solid slice of rock n’ roll that just hit streaming services everywhere.

Pure X Self-Titled
Pure X officially ended their lengthy hiatus with the release of a new album, their first in six years. The self-titled effort is a sprawling set of indie rock that you should definitely spend some time with.

Shakey GravesLook Alive EP
Shakey Graves (aka Alejandro Rose-Garcia) has been busy as of late. He just wrapped a web series, “Hello Gorgeous,” and put out an EP titled Look Alive. The four-song release features some of his most adventurous work yet.

Walker Lukens "Adults Only"
Similar to Ben Kweller, Walker Lukens has launched a monthly record subscription service. It’s called “Adults Only” and each month he is sending out an all-new album that’s fully exclusive to the service. April’s was titled Teenager, and for May it’s Corona, Don’t Touch My Baby. Get in while you can.