Ben Weaver – Working for a living room
The front porch has always been an idealized place to make music. But in Minnesota, front porch season is considerably short. For Ben Weaver, it’s all about the living room.
Six years ago, Weaver — still in his teens at the time — talked veteran musicians Peter Ostroushko, Greg Brown and Tony Glover into making cameos on his debut release, El Camino Blues. They ended up recording in his mom’s living room in St. Paul, Minnesota.
His fourth disc, Stories Under Nails (due out September 7 on Fugawee Bird Records), was recorded with Twin Cities indie-rocker Mike Wisti. Originally they planned to record in the basement of Wisti’s south Minneapolis home, but the vibe underground didn’t feel quite right, so the recording was moved to a more familiar place — the living room.
The relocation resulted in an organic mix of acoustic and electric sounds that set the mood for a batch of introspective songs covering a wide range of subjects from rocky relationships to mysterious characters to untimely death. Whether the songs are fictional, autobiographical or a mixture, when delivered by Weaver’s sluggish, weathered growl, they demand attention.
“There’s so much subconscious involved,” Weaver says. “You pick up a novel and it says these characters are fictitious or whatever and that’s total bullshit. You know he’s writing about his wife, his wife’s friends, the neighbor and the guy who works down at the bar.”
Weaver’s poetic words feel like stories that reveal the truth behind an unclaimed stack of battered black-and-white photographs. Among the observations sprinkled throughout the twelve tracks on Stories Under Nails: “I was born with these feet/Only so I could follow my heart” (“Grieve All You Want”); “It’s no wonder you run away/Like dust from the saw” (“40 Watt Bulb”); “The life was gone from his body/Like a pigeon stealing bread from your hand” (“Handed Down”).
Weaver saves his best for the closing track “Ragged Words”, singing what could easily be a self-portrait in his self-described “antique tongue”. In a little over three minutes, Weaver tells of “this dog lost heart” and “optimistic regrets” that weaken the heart, water the eyes and lead to a bittersweet smile.
To date, Weaver has received more attention overseas than he has in his home country — something not uncommon among roots musicians, he realizes. “I know a lot of people who have done really well in Europe and have said ‘Fuck it’ to the States and their hometowns,” he says. “When I first got over to Europe, it occurred to me that maybe I should just move to London and forget about the U.S. But that next couple of times I went over there, I realized that you can get stuck anywhere you go.
For such a young artist (he’s 25), Weaver is very focused and serious about his music. In the last half-dozen years he has written, recorded and toured relentlessly. (“I’m like a grizzly bear”, Weaver says. “I need thousands of acres — traveling is a good thing.”) His passion for creating music is matched by his bulldog persistence, and the lessons he has learned over the years have proved invaluable.
“It’s like I bought a new car in 1999 and I’ve put 350 million miles on it,” he says. “There are a lot of people who have come in and out of my life. They have all influenced me. I’ve gotten better and better at writing and paying attention to the things that allow me to write.”
After an August tour of Australia with Donna Simpson of the Waifs, Weaver plans to get back to traveling the sometimes congested, sometimes desolate roads of the States. Constantly being on tour can be perceived as a lonely journey, but Weaver wouldn’t have it any other way.
“My music is a lifestyle to me.” he says. “It’s not a hobby or it’s not something that I think I just want to write songs and be in a band. It’s pretty much my life.”