Ben Kweller to Launch the Zev Award at the Chronicle’s Austin Music Awards – Austin Chronicle

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The Zev Award will be presented at the Austin Music Awards at Antone’s Nightclub this Sunday, Feb. 25 (Photo by Ben Kweller)

Alongside the Austin Music Awards’ annual Hall of Fame inductions, much-loved Austin artist Ben Kweller launches a new award in honor of his late son, Dorian Zev Kweller.

An accomplished musician himself under the name ZEV, Dorian died in a car accident on Feb. 27, 2023, at age 16. His family has launched the 501(c)(3) organization Zev United to support young musicians and skateboarders, reflecting Dorian’s two biggest passions. At the Austin Chronicle’s Austin Music Awards – happening at Antone’s Nightclub this Sunday, Feb. 25 at 7pm – the new Zev Award will be presented to an exemplary musician or group under the age of 18.


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According to the organization, the winner will receive a $2,000 cash grant “that may be used towards musical instruments, software and other tools that may help the young artists on their musical journey.”

“He was a shining light that still burns bright,” writes Ben Kweller. “Dorian touched more lives in 16 years than most people touch in 80! As someone who came up in music at a young age myself, I know how important it is to have love and support and even a little financial backing. I’m so excited that through Zev United we can give real support to artists at the beginning of their careers when they need it the most.”

Tickets are on sale now at austinchronicle.com/austin-music-awards, with all proceeds directly benefiting the SIMS Foundation, which provides mental health and substance use recovery services to musicians and industry professionals. The 42nd Annual Austin Music Awards, presented by CapMetro, will feature performances from winners, nominees, and special guests – including DAIISTAR, Pussy Gillette, S.L. Houser, Walker Lukens, and many more. Unlike in past years, all 51 award categories will not be announced live on stage, but rather unveiled ahead of time in a special issue of the Chronicle on stands this Thursday.

Read more about Dorian’s artistry in a statement provided by Zev United below, which has been edited for clarity.


The Zev United organization’s wolf (Designed by Mishka Westell)

Dorian Zev Kweller came into this world on May 30, 2006. He took his first breath in a tiny NYC delivery room while the music of Mason Jennings played in the background. Dorian received his first drum set at the age of 2 and played a 4/4 rock beat before his father could show him how. He was a wordsmith from the time he could speak – rhyming and freestyling from his car seat to the backyard to the bed.

In 2008, his family relocated to Austin, Texas. Dorian would sit at his drum set for hours making up song after song. When his mind was set on something he was unstoppable. His first mission outside of the house was to learn how to skateboard. Music and skating ultimately became his two lifelong passions.

He attended Habibi’s Hutch preschool and Zilker Elementary School, where he made many lifelong friends. During his time at Zilker, he received the “Friend to All” and “Do it My Own Way” awards. While these accolades became loving jokes inside the household, they were spot on. He truly was a unique, outside-of-the-box thinker and otherworldly “friend to all.” One of his strongest bonds was with his brother Judah. As the older brother, Dorian always protected and adored Judah. They were deeply intertwined and had a bond that is unbreakable.

Dorian was very spiritual and perceived deeper meanings in life. He was authentic, kind, and generous. He saw the good in everyone and was wise beyond his years. Dorian was never embarrassed to be his true self because he was confident in who he was. It was as if he’d lived many lives before.

In 2018, the Kwellers moved to Dripping Springs, where Dorian attended Dripping Springs High School (DSHS) and continued to expand his vast circle of friends. He was heavily involved in the local Drip Skateboarding Club and community. He cherished every minute he had with this group skating at Ranch Park, private residences, hidden skate spots, House Park, and other public skateparks.

ZEV (Photo by Liz Kweller)

Dorian was an integral member of the acclaimed DSHS music program where he played the bass drum and tenor drums. His expressive drumming helped bring DSHS to the state finals two years in a row.

His knack for wordplay came alive in highschool, as did his guitar playing and audio production skills. Dorian was a member of the duo B. H. 22, a musical project with his friend Ronny Rosenberg. This was a highly experimental, no-rules odyssey in which Dorian and Rosenberg played different characters and personas. Dorian cherished B. H. 22 because it was anonymous, eclectic, and musically liberating. The prolific duo released eight albums in the span of only 20 months.

2021 was the year that Dorian began exploring his personal side as an artist. He worked under his middle name, ZEV, which is Hebrew for wolf. Every day after school, he oscillated between hip-hop beats, acoustic ballads, indie guitar rockers, and lo-fi chillwave grooves. One of the last traits that Dorian developed, and perhaps the most stunning, was his lush singing voice. ZEV released music to the public for the first time on July 1, 2022.

On February 25, 2023, TikTok superstar, Masked Mortal discovered his song “SH3” and noted ZEV’s “voice that could cut butter.” Two days later on February 27, Dorian was coming home from a friend’s house when an oncoming truck swerved into his lane. Dorian was able to avoid the truck, but a broken branch from the freeze was in the breakdown lane and crashed through the windshield, killing Dorian on impact. ZEV was scheduled to make his live debut at the NoiseCo South by Southwest Showcase in March 2023, and a summer tour was planned where ZEV would open for his father, Ben Kweller.

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While those two things didn’t happen for Dorian, his legacy lives on through his music and the charity that his family have created in his honor. Zev United is a 501(c)(3) that supports young musicians and skateboarders (Dorian’s two favorite things).

Dorian Zev Kweller radiated positivity. As an artist he was unique and original. These are some of the main factors that will decide the winner of the Zev Award each year.

“We aren’t looking for the most virtuosic musician or the most classically trained. This award is for an artist or group that is truly original, creating their own music and marching to their own beat,” writes Ben Kweller.

“Often in our Instagram/American Idol culture we focus so much on musical technique, proficiency, and superficial traits like looks and how many followers someone has. When these things are the focus, it’s easy to overlook the gift of songwriting and originality. Those two attributes will be at the forefront of future Zev Award winners.”

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