It's the year 1990. Friday night in a small east Texas town called Greenville. Boys are cruising Wesley Street in their Chevy S10 pickup trucks, searching for action. They pull into Sonic, order cheese tater-tots and begin to socialize. Everyone's dressed up in cowboy hats. The cool kids are wearing Justin Lace-R's and competing to see who can lace them the fastest. A Ford F-250 sits at a red light. The driver rolls down the windows as a DJ says, 'That was the latest hit from Travis Tritt and you're listening to 93.5 KIKT FM!'
Over at the roller rink, couple-skaters float to the pattering 'November Rain' and sway to 'The Dance', by Garth Brooks. Up front, youngsters eat rectangular pizzas and drink Crystal Pepsi. There's a middle-school girl with hair-sprayed bangs and red Wrangler jeans on, tucked in the corner making out with a boy named Ben Kweller. Tomorrow Ben will be walking down the Sabine River with his pal Wade, fishing for bass and smoking Camel Wides near the dilapidated moonshine still. In town, country music is inescapable and follows Ben wherever he goes, but when he comes home, he hears The Hollies' harmonies from his dad's turntable. And in six months, Ben will be skating that same rink as the chords of a new sound are played through the PA, a song called 'Smells Like Teen Spirit'.
The schizophrenia of music that hit his ears at that early age created the rainbow that critics have written about since his New York arrival in '99. He's been called everything from balladeer to punk rocker, anti-folker to indie-popper. His ability to weave together opposites that coexist happily on the same album is something few can do.
"2:00AM" (The Meat Purveyors cover) on While No One Was Looking: Toasting 20 Years of Bloodshot Records