Friday, Aug. 20, 2004 | 4:57 a.m.
August 21 - 22, 2004
Who: Ben Kweller and Camper Van Beethoven.
When: 6:30 p.m. Wednesday.
Where: House of Blues at Mandalay Bay.
Read into the cover shot on Ben Kweller's latest CD if you want, but the young singer-songwriter says he surrounded himself with real, live wolves purely for aesthetic reasons.
"I just thought it was a cool image," Kweller, 23, said of the photo that adorns his April release, "On My Way," during a phone interview while walking through his Brooklyn, N.Y., neighborhood.
"The same thing with the photo from (first album) 'Sha Sha.' I just thought instead of just my head on the cover like every other solo artist, I wanted to do something different, hold onto this big bright red toothbrush wearing a Holden Caulfield hat."
Upon reflection, however, Kweller realized the pack of wolves actually worked as a symbol for a key theme running throughout "On My Way."
"Looking back, it is sort of metaphoric," Kweller said. "Wolves travel in packs and a lot of the lyrics on this album are family and friends related. Wolves mate for life and they take care of their families."
Kweller co-headlines a show with college rock veterans Camper Van Beethoven Wednesday night at the House of Blues at Mandalay Bay. Doors open at 6:30 for the all-ages event.
Though he may not have intended it, Kweller's wolves could also represent music industry executives who began encircling him eight years ago.
That's when the Greenville, Texas, native and his former band, Radish, signed with major label Mercury Records. Soon after that, the 15-year-old Kweller was the subject of a New Yorker article hailing him as the future of rock 'n' roll.
But Radish failed to live up to its tremendous hype, releasing one album to relatively poor sales and leaving a follow-up disc in the can.
Still, Kweller, who reemerged as a solo artist with 2002's "Sha Sha," looks back at the experience as a positive one.
"I feel so blessed that I went through that because I learned so much," he said. "I couldn't be where I am today as an artist if I hadn't recorded with all those different producers and in those different studios and toured around the world at such a young age. It was the best education I could have had."
Kweller even values his previous dealings with record executives.
"I learned a lot about the kinds of people that I wanted to surround myself with this time around," Kweller said. "Radish, we were just young kids from a small town who wanted to play rock 'n' roll, so we jumped at any opportunities that came our way.
"But really, at the end of the end, you should treat a certain amount of it as a business. You've got to be on top of your (expletive), or at least on top of the people that are on top of your (expletive)."
Where "Sha Sha" rang out with boyish exuberance, "On My Way" sounds more assured. The hooks are still there, but this time the lyrics reflect the life experience Kweller has gained since leaving his hometown for New York.
" 'Sha Sha' was all about change and leaving a small town for the big city and living on your own for the first time," Kweller said. "I've been settled here for a while now, and all my friends live here, so this album is definitely a New York album."
Kweller also experienced two major events during the past year, both of which had a significant impact on his songwriting.
The first was his marriage to his longtime girlfriend, Liz, almost a year ago.
"She's been with me throughout my solo career and by my side through everything, so getting married was such a great thing," Kweller said.
The second was the death of Kweller's grandfather.
"I was faced with death for the first time in my life," Kweller said. "It was the first time I saw my own father cry, and that's when I realized that one day I'm going to be crying because he's dead, and then my kids will see my crying.
"And I started thinking about the whole cycle of life, and keeping friends and family as close to me as possible."
Just like a pack of wolves.