The Truth Behind Ben Kweller's Near-Death Experience

Looking at singer and guitarist Ben Kweller, he could be anywhere from 22-to-55-years old. It's difficult to tell his exact age especially when you put Kweller's big eyes, round cheeks, and general baby-faced appearance against the backdrop of an indie-rock career that spans nearly 30 years. One thing is for certain, Kweller has a natural-born talent as proven by his addicting laissez-faire lyrics and gritty guitar licks. It's easy to feel like his name has been around forever, but the truth is a near-death experience put nearly a five-year hold on Kweller's ability to make music and threatened his future as a musician altogether. 

To understand Kweller's inseparable connection to music, it's important to start from the beginning. According to The Los Angeles Times, Kweller was fifteen when his first band, Radish, started getting attention beyond local talent shows in their hometown of Greenville, Texas. He had only learned how to play the guitar a couple of years earlier at the age of 12.

Radish's three-song demo was so well received by industry bigwigs that it stirred up a bidding war between Maverick, Interscope, and Mercury records — the latter of which eventually won. Radish's 1997 debut album "Restraining Bolt," was championed by Mercury Records President Danny Goldberg, who had managed the late Kurt Cobain. The record, marketed as a post-grunge salve to the aimless alternative rock scene, put a lot of pressure on the mostly-teenage band. Kweller was positioned as an alternative rock wunderkind, here to change the landscape of the music industry.

Growing Pains

Both critics and rock fans alike were understandably suspicious of Ben Kweller's youthful inexperience and relative ease of entry into the notoriously ruthless music industry. Not much of a historical record remains from the relatively pre-Internet era music scene at the time, but Radish's debut album "Restraining Bolt," was panned by at least one critic who wrote the record had "very little joy or real rock 'n' roll spirit" per All Music.

After a record label merger and some natural growing pains, Radish decided to split in the late '90s. And so, Ben Kweller launched his solo career in 2001, consistently producing records from 2002 to 2012, the latter of which was released through his own label, The Noise Company, as reported by the New York Times.

"Music is all I've been good at it. I put all my eggs in that basket, and I've done everything I can to keep them as safe as possible," Kweller said, "The mistakes are going to be mine, too. That's a good feeling. I'd rather know that I tried and failed but knew we gave it 100% than hand it off to someone else and see what happens."

A year after this interview, Kweller's world turned upside down. A near-death experience almost severed his connection to music.

Ben Kweller nearly died of carbon monoxide poisoning

Ben Kweller's unintentional music hiatus happened in 2013 after an acute carbon monoxide poisoning incident on vacation in New Mexico almost cost him his life. "We were in this sweet little cabin and in the middle of the night, [my Wife] Lizzy woke up and said, 'Ben, get up! Something's wrong — I feel horrible,'" the singer detailed to Nashville Noise, " ... We instinctively crawled to the front door and opened it. ... I called 911. We grabbed the boys out of bed ... and managed to get everyone outside in the snow."

Kweller and his family were rushed to a hospital where they spent the next day on pure oxygen. Although everyone made a full recovery, the experience weighed heavy on his mind, "I just didn't care. I didn't want to play music anymore." A bout of depression followed, during which Kweller wasn't certain he'd make it back to the stage. 

However tenuous his relationship to performance, Kweller never stopped writing. After five years away from the stage, Kweller reemerged older, wiser, with life experience etched into his face. He had also amassed a backlog of 50 new songs. A friend, who also happened to be a producer, encouraged Kweller to get back into the recording studio. Heeding his advice, Kweller recorded a fourth solo album. Released in 2021, "Circuit Boredom," is an album that proves once and for all how resilient and talented Ben Kweller really is.