Singer-songwriter Ben Weaver
On being an urban woodsman, living in a yurt, and making a heartbreaking record
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Ben Weaver really likes camping. He has a beard. He knows how to make a fire, and he’s even lived in a yurt. He may be, whether he likes it or not, what the beatniks often term “an urban woodsman.” It just so happens that he also makes excellent records. His latest, Mirepoix And Smoke, came out earlier this fall on Bloodshot Records, and details a year-and-a-half period he spent working in the kitchens of sustainable food restaurants in the Twin Cities. In true urban-woodsman style, he learned how to both butcher a pig and make his own charcuterie. The A.V. Club recently caught up with Weaver, who opens for Langhorne Slim at the Varsity Theater on Saturday, and talked about how many flannel shirts he owns and whether or not he knows much about riflery.
The A.V. Club: New York Magazine did this story on the urban woodsman phenomenon, in which they said the stereotype “dresses like Bunyan, acts like Thoreau, and works in marketing.” Do you think you’re an urban woodsman?
Ben Weaver: I was talking to a friend about this, and I told her I didn’t know what I was supposed to say. She said, “Maybe Ben Weaver is cool right now, but you’ve always been Ben Weaver.” I’ve always had my beard. I spent five years in the woods using only a wood stove, but now I’m in the city, so I can be by my kids.
AVC: Okay, let’s test your urban woodsman cred. How many flannel shirts do you own?
BW: One, and it’s with me on tour. I mostly own striped shirts.
AVC: Is there a reason for that?
BW: Three years ago, I had a dream about myself where I was wearing a Charlie Brown striped sweater, and I felt totally at piece with the world and myself. I woke up and just remembered the striped shirt, so now that’s all I wear. It’s started to really follow me around, actually. People call me “the striped-shirt guy.” If I show up somewhere with my jacket on, people come up and unzip it to see if there’s a striped shirt on underneath.
AVC: How many woodsy sweaters do you own? Like anything cable knit or with deer on it?
BW: None. I have the standard-issue gray crew-neck sweater I wear in the winter.
AVC: Why did you live in the woods for five years?
BW: My girlfriend at the time got a job up in Northern Minnesota, so we moved up there together. I grew up spending tons of time in the woods in winter, because we’d go snowboarding out West, and then camping in the summer. Every year from when I was in ninth grade, I’d go on a really long wilderness trip with a group of guys I know.
AVC: Where did you go?
BW: We went to the Wind River Mountains, the Big Horns, the Rockies. I spent two months in Alaska the summer before my first year of college.
AVC: Where did you live in Northern Minnesota?
BW: I lived in a yurt. That were three and a half years when my only heat source was a wood stove.
AVC: So you know how to make a fire, then. Do you go camping still?
BW: I take my kids camping. My version of camping is just a sleeping pad, sleeping bag, stove, and fire. I’m not some purist where I need to go to a campground. I prefer to go somewhere that I know you can just drive your car into the woods, walk off, and go to sleep.
AVC: How many pairs of boots do you own? Every good urban woodsman loves boots.
BW: I have one pair of cowboy boots I never wear, one pair of Red Wings, and these Dansko clogs that I use as my kitchen shoes.
AVC: Tell me about your restaurant experience. Where did you work?
BW: I worked for a year and a half in two different kitchens. They were places like The Girl And The Goat, Blackbird, whatever. Local foods, everything from scratch. We butchered our own pigs. The second place I worked for, they specialized in charcuterie, so we’d make salami and all sorts of cured meats.
AVC: So you’re good at making charcuterie?
BW: People dedicate their whole lives to it. I know a little about it, but I’m by no means a professional.
AVC: So you said you’ve always had a beard?
BW: I don’t like shaving. I’ve always had one. No, that’s not right. I wasn’t really able to grow a beard until I was done with college. It came later.
AVC: Do you know how to tie knots?
BW: I know how to tie some knots.
AVC: Any good urban woodsman has good solid literary and art inspirations. Who were yours on this new record?
BW: I was reading this collection of poems by this woman C.D. Wright. She is amazing. Her writing definitely had somewhat of an influence on what I was doing, but more than anything, this record wasn’t about one specific thing. It was about my life, taking time off from touring, going back to work, getting a real job for the first time in a long time. It was just a different kind of percolation for me.
AVC: I sort of envision people listening to this record while they’re doing dishes or laying in bed reading the paper on Sunday morning. Do you have visions of how you want people to hear it?
BW: I’m kinda, “Hey, do whatever you want, man.” It is a record you have to actively listen to, so it’s nice to think of people doing something they really love and that makes them feel good when they’re listening, so they’ll really hear it.