Kweller talks about the influence of Napster on his early career and his decision to launch a new music label, The Noise Company.
This is part of an ongoing series, “How the Internet changed my life.” If you have a story to tell about how the Internet changed your life, email email@example.com
Rocker Ben Kweller, as told to Austin Powell
I totally remember getting onto the Internet back in the day. My dad had this old MS-DOS computer, and for my birthday got a 14.4 Kbps modem. There was this company back then in the early ’90s called Imagination. It was one of the first social network communities, but it was graphic-based. When you loaded it, there was this little village with a library, game room, and a school, and you could move your character in and out of these chat rooms and play games.
That was the first time that I ever communicated on the Internet with someone across the world, and I remember just being amazed at that possibility. Now we fast-forward to today, where I’m able to call you from Australia for one penny a minute and talk to you loud and clear through my browser.
Napster was huge for me too. As a fan and a consumer, it was inspiring to find these crazy recordings that were off limits before Napster came along—this open-source outlet for music. I would use it the same way that I use YouTube, looking for rare footage: weird bootlegs, the Beatles outtakes, Nirvana demos, and shit like that.
Around 1999 and 2000, I was living in New York. Radish had just broken up, and I had just started my solo career. I was making these little recordings. I was opening up for Evan Dando of the Lemonheads, and no one knew who I was. But there were kids singing along at the shows, and they would tell me after the gig that saw my name on the bill and downloaded a few live recordings on Napster.
This was happening while Metallica was totally pissed off and filing lawsuits, but I felt like it totally helped me. I wasn’t selling any music anyways at that point. I was just happy that anyone would be listening to my music. Don’t get me wrong; I’ve always been a believer that you should be paid fairly for what you do—whether you’re a painter, a carpenter, or a songwriter. But at the end of the day, it’s not about money.
I remember when I first decided I was going to write songs. I was about eight years old. I was listening to my dad’s Magical Mystery Tour album and “All You Need is Love.” I was sitting there crying because the song was so beautiful. And I said to myself, “I want to do this. I want to write songs that touch people.” I didn’t understand what was happening to me or even John Lennon’s words. But something about his voice and the melody affected me so profoundly that I wanted to do that somehow.
And the ultimate goal at the end of the day has always been to get my music to as many people as possible.
- SXSW showcase
- Austin Convention Center, Radio Day Stage
- Friday, March 17, 3 pm
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