'Beannachtam na Feile Padraig!' Celebrate St. Patrick’s Day with SCHS and Minneapolis’s Romantica, led by Irishman Ben Kyle. Romantica will be performing at the Steele County History Center on St. Patrick’s Day, Saturday, March 16, 7:00 PM, 1700 Austin Road, Owatonna.
Romantica are an Americana band formed in 2002 by Ben Kyle. The band's members, past and present, have come from the Minneapolis-St. Paul, Twin Cities area of Minnesota. Mixing together elements of folk, rock, and Americana, Romantica creates a rich and unique sound. The original line-up consisted of Kyle (vocals and guitar), Luke Jacobs (bass and keys), Mark Hedlund (drums) and Christopher Becknell (violin). While the group's members and contributors have changed over the years, Kyle's vision, vocals and songwriting have been the consistent thread throughout the different iterations.
"It feels like a resurrection," frontman/songwriter Ben Kyle says of Shadowlands, Romantica's fourth album and first new release in seven years. Shadowlands was released on Last Chance Records in the US and At The Helm Records in The UK on February 10th, 2017.
Indeed, the emotion-charged set marks a creative rebirth for the sprawling Minnesota-based ensemble, with Kyle's evocative vocals and vivid songwriting illuminated by his bandmates' organic instrumental rapport. Romantica's lush, melodic songcraft has won considerable attention in the Americana/alt-country community, but the Irish-born Kyle's unique perspective resists easy categorization. While the band's personnel has shifted and evolved over the years, its unique musical vision has remained consistent.
Shadowlands' 14 lovingly crafted originals encompass intense introspection and celebratory uplift, with such heartfelt tunes as "Let the Light Go Through You," "Harder to Hear," "Give Your Heart a Shelter," "Here It Comes" and the heartfelt Gram Parsons tribute "Cecil Ingram Connor" reflecting on life's trials and triumphs in a manner that echoes the album's title.
"I've been through some very deep shadowlands in my life in the last few years, and this material comes out of that experience," Kyle explains, adding, "I feel like a lot of the content of this record is about the fruit of the darkness in life. There's a line in the song 'Give Your Heart a Shelter' that goes 'Sometimes the night and the darkness know better, and in the heartache we find that's where the heart breaks through.' Sometimes the most difficult things are the things that purify and coalesce and crystallize our true selves, where we really discover what we're about and why we're here."
In order to capture the songs' stirring sense of place, Kyle and company cut Shadowlands in a barn in the wilds of Southwestern Minnesota, which the band and engineer Brad Bivens converted into a recording studio.
"I think it's the first real band record we've made, in the sense that it was a pure collaboration, in a way that our earlier albums maybe weren't," Kyle asserts. "This time, I brought the songs in skeletal form, and we all put them together in the same time and space and played everything live. We'd wake up in the morning in the little farmhouse where we were staying, and we'd make a plan for what songs we wanted to approach that day.
"One of the reasons I really wanted to do the album this way," he continues, "is that we'd had a long hiatus from recording, and this version of the band had never really had a chance to form an identity. I felt like, if this band was gonna continue, it needed to be organic, and each of us needed to own it as something that was part of our identity. So let's find out what that is; lets go and make a record that we're all bringing our character to, and let the band find itself."
The search for musical truth has been a life's work for Kyle, who moved from Ireland to Minnesota with his family when he was a teenager.
"My journey, and the perspective of having lived in one country and then moving to another, has been a very big influence on how I approach music," he states. "The music environment in Minnesota, with bands like the Jayhawks and Soul Asylum, made a deep impression on me. At the same time, I grew up playing Irish folk music in pubs with my family. And at some point, I realized that those two kinds of music were not that different."
After studying painting and fine art at Bethel University, Kyle formed Romantica with some like-minded locals. Within a few months, the band had signed with a local indie label and released its 2004 debut It's Your Weakness That I Want, which received substantial regional attention, winning a Minnesota Music Award as Best Americana Album. 2007's America raised Romantica's profile considerably, winning widespread national acclaim.
2009's Control Alt Country Delete was an audacious experiment, recorded on the cheap in a single day following a successful stand at Austin's South by Southwest music festival. Despite its humble origins, the raw, unadorned Control Alt Country Delete earned much favor with the band's fans.
Romantica's extended hiatus—during which Kyle released a self-titled solo album as well as a collaborative effort with Carrie Rodriguez, pointedly titled We Still Love Our Country—was a product of the band's disputes with its former label, as well as the realities of family commitments."
"I have five children, and between us there's about thirteen kids in the band," Kyle says. "We needed those years to ground ourselves and our families, so now we're coming back together with a little more life experience."
Now, with Romantica back on track and ready to hit the road, Kyle is decidedly enthused about the band's future.
"We're not taking ourselves too seriously, and we're doing it for the right reasons," he says. "We're doing it for the joy of it, and because we love it. We're a community of friends who like being together, and it's valuable and fruitful for us to continue making music. It's not about being successful in the generic sense. It's about bringing the gifts we've been given and giving them to each other and the world in the way that only we will."
Tickets are available at the Steele County History Center or can be purchased online at www.steelehistorymuseum.org. Available in advance or at the door, space is limited, SCHS member $15 per person, non-members $20 per person. Doors open at 6:30 PM, music begins at 7:30 PM. Wine, beer and soda cash bar available.
This event is sponsored by Mohs Contracting.