Local Arts: Musician, Poet, Bicyclist
Artist's Corner with Ben Weaver
UNL: Could you give us some background on how you started creating as an artist? Were you writing or making music first? Did they emerge at the same time?
BW: I was interested in music from a very young age but my family wasn’t musical and my mom wouldn't let me learn to play guitar. We didn’t have a lot of money and she was a single mom so I think that was the road block for her. In the mean time, I started writing poetry and painting.
Then when I was a freshman in high school I found out my aunt had an old guitar from summer camp she didn’t use any longer. I asked to borrow it and this was what I learned on. This is actually the guitar I now carry around with me on my bike. Even though I wanted to write songs and sing I didn’t really believe that I had anything special to offer.
I was in a punk band for a while throughout high school, but at that point was still more drawn to painting and visual art. In college, I discovered Townes Van Zandt. He was the one that made me realize I didn’t care how I sounded. There were songs that I wanted to write, places I wanted to see, and it was time for me to go find them.
UNL: Your website clearly showcases your love for biking. Would you consider that a form of expression in itself? It seems to be a great source for material.
BW: I've always loved bicycles and, in one way or another, they have always been a part of my life. The reason it is so prominent on my website is because it has become the main method of my travel. I do believe it is its own means of expression. From the way you ride it, to where you ride it. There is a tremendous amount of art involved in putting together a good route, learning that route and understanding how it fits into and relates to your own body and the surrounding landscape.
And yes, it's an endless source of material because you are constantly forced to interact with things. I also believe that when we are physically active our brains are sharper and we are more creative.
UNL: Did you grow up in the Twin Ports? What does the Northland mean to you creatively? Has it affected the style or content of what you create?
BW: I was actually born on the west coast. I moved to Minnesota when I started third grade but previously lived in Texas and Wisconsin before settling here. Ever since I was very young I have been coming up to the Northland and in my early twenties I lived in Grand Marais for about three years.
The big pull for me is the lake. Lake Superior has my heart. I also have deep appreciation for the story of the people both native and non who have made this place their home. There is something in the land, rock, and water here.
UNL: Was there a moment where you knew you wanted to pursue these works professionally?
BW: I would say pretty much around fifth grade I knew that I didn't want to participate in the world the way everyone I grew up around did. I didn’t want to be a wage slave. I didn’t want to perpetuate the grind of nine-to-five. Since then, my life has been an ongoing puzzle to find my own path and create a life where there is no work-life separation.
I think work should be our life and life should be our work. We should do the things we love and live simply. This doesn’t mean that there aren’t struggles and unknowns. The difference is the struggles I face are mine, and not someone else's, and I face them on my own time.
UNL: Since you express through multiple platforms, is there any overlap in your work? Would you ever take inspiration you feel works better in one medium and try and transform it in another? Or are you pretty good about keeping it separate?
BW: Yep, this happens all the time. I write poems that turn to songs and the other way around. I think language is an ecosystem. I like it when there are lines in my poems that also appear in my songs. Again, I don’t see separation. I believe all things are related and all are a part of a larger greater-than-human conversation. As an artist, I see myself as a medium thought which the work passes. The less I touch it the better. If that makes sense?
UNL: We know nature is obviously a big pull for inspiration living in the Northland. Are there any other things that you tend to see yourself writing or making music about other than that?
I think relationships are a big one. Not particularly romantic relationships, but relationships in general. Between myself, but also others. How we relate to the natural world, the civilized world, the spirit world. The path for curiosity here is endless and in it I find much inspiration. The unknown is also very inspiring to me. I like to take a walk and not really know where I'll end up. I like to just find things along the way and let them dictate where I go. This speaks to my creative process as well.
UNL: A lot of people got to see you at Bent Paddle’s Festiversary last month. Have you always been a good public speaker and performer or did that take some getting used to? Can people in the Twin Ports expect to see you at any other events in the near future?
BW: No, I was dreadfully afraid for a long, long time of facing people or addressing a crowd. I used to mumble into the microphone and be full of self deprecation. Then there came a time where something greater than me or my music had come out. It was like becoming a father. Ten minutes before I was a dad I had no idea how to hold a baby and then suddenly I did.
UNL: What advice would you give to a young, aspiring artist, whether they are a writer, musician, photographer, or someone following some other creative pursuit?
If you truly want to do something, you will do it. There is nothing that replaces the work. If you want to make art then you have to commit to the work. I had a very well known write who always refrained when asked to teach. He hated it because he said, “You can’t teach someone to sit down at a desk and write. They have to want it bad enough.” I believe that.
If you do sit down and do the work, show up everyday, then in time you will make and discover beautiful things and the rewards will be more satisfying than you can imagine. But there will be many hardships. But here is the important thing. Life is full of hardships. Whether you are an artist or a logger or a welder or a doctor or a teacher.
You have to decide where you want to put in your work and then you have to give your heart to it. In short, each one of us will struggle in life no matter what we do, the difference is in deciding which struggle you will decide to give your heart.
UNL: Where can someone find out more about your work other than benweaver.net? Obviously your website has a lot of content, but are you featured on any other social media sites/publications people can find you?
BW: I try and keep an active Instagram @benweavermusic and the other social medias but I don’t use them as much. I also try and send out a newsletter a few times a year that you can sign up for on my website. Other than that… I guess its up to the wind.
UNL: Is there anything else you’d like to share with local high schoolers looking to create or with the Twin Ports community as a whole?
BW: Never have we needed more young people following their hearts, making art, and asking complicated and unusual questions. If you have something to say or express, find a way to let it out!