The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University

The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.
Since 1888
The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University

The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.
The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University

The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.

Ben Kessler returns to his Vandy roots opening for Christian French’s ‘The Space Between’ tour

Vanderbilt alum Ben Kessler discusses life on tour and making music post-grad in an interview with The Hustler.
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Sara West
Ben Kessler sings into a microphone, as photographed on Sept. 18, 2023. (Hustler Multimedia/Sara West)

The Nashville stop on “The Space Between” tour marks Ben Kessler’s (‘20) first time back in the city since his graduation in May 2021. He walked around Vanderbilt’s campus with The Hustler prior to the show to answer some questions about how his life has changed since graduating. Kessler noted he felt nostalgic about his time at Vanderbilt, making the Nashville show special.

“It feels like I’m on a hop on hop off tour bus where the tour guide says ‘This is where Ben went to school,’” Kessler said. 

Kessler told The Hustler that it is disorienting to be on tour but also really great. After touring in Europe with Lizzy McAlpine last fall, he expressed his excitement to tour for the first time in the United States. He said that some of his favorite tour moments are when people know his music but do not realize that he is the face behind the song.

“Fans say ‘Cruise Control’ is my favorite song ever but I didn’t know you were playing this show,’” Kessler said. 

Ben Kessler sings while playing his guitar, as photographed on Sept. 18, 2023. (Hustler Multimedia/Sara West)
(Sara West)

Kessler started making music back in his hometown of Philadelphia. He chose to come to school in Nashville because he had other friends here who were making music. He also wanted a high-quality education in a city that supported his dreams. Kessler noted that since he left Nashville, so much has changed, especially in the West End neighborhood. He also reflected on how strange it is for physical places to stay the same even though all the people he knew in Nashville have moved away. On the way back to the venue, Kessler also showed The Hustler the building that used to be the studio he shared with fellow alum and artist, Theo Kandel (‘19).

One thing that makes Kessler unique is his interactive website. When asked, he noted that he made it himself when he had extra time on his hands during the COVID-19 pandemic. Kessler originally learned web design in high school and shared that he did it on the side to fund his musical career while in college. His current website is a user-friendly version of his own desktop that he uses to share updates about his music and creative process. 

Kessler shared that his current creative process looks very different from when he dropped his first single in 2019. Now that he lives in Los Angeles, he finds himself collaborating more. His many collaborations with McAlpine were how I first started listening to his music. He also has grown a lot as a musician and as a person since when he first started making music.

“I think I’m just better than I was,” Kessler said. “I’ve lived more life.”

Ben Kessler looks down in the yellow lighting while performing, as photographed on Sept. 18, 2023. (Hustler Multimedia/Sara West)
(Sara West)

Kessler has huge goals for his future, including playing venues like Bridgestone Arena and Red Rocks Amphitheatre. If his show at Exit/In on Sept. 18 was any indication of how his career will go, Kessler may need to start packing for Red Rocks earlier than anticipated. He took over the stage following another opener, Lisa Heller, with just himself and his guitar. After playing a few of his songs and a killer cover of  “Chasing Cars” by Snow Patrol, Kessler jumped into his most popular song, “Cruise Control.” His music combines indie pop sounds with electronic production and free-spoken lyrics. He finished up his set with unreleased songs “Do It Again” and “Bad Taste,” which left fans anticipating new music. 

As a former student, Kessler understands how difficult it can be for Vanderbilt students to make music. He encourages students to find people who are similarly interested in music and “rocking” with them. During his performance, Kessler joked about how he sometimes felt like a Belmont student because of the many friends he made through music there. He also touched on how Nashville is a huge city for the music industry and how important it is to get involved with the local music scene through open mic nights and writers’ rounds. The accessibility to music is something he misses about living here. 

“I love Nashville. I love Vanderbilt. Anchor Down,” Kessler said.

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About the Contributors
Bimi Ogungbade, Former Staff Writer and Photographer
Bimi Ogungbade (‘23) studied human and organizational development in Peabody College and psychology in the College of Arts and Science. When not listening to music or attending concerts, you can find her reading a book or giving tours. You can reach her at [email protected].
Sara West, Senior Staff Photographer
Sara West ('25) is majoring in psychology in the College of Arts and Science and human and organizational development in Peabody College. Sara loves going to concerts, thrifting and exploring new places. She was previously Deputy Photography Director and hopes to enter the music industry after graduating.  She can be reached at [email protected].
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