You might know Ben Kyle as the frontman of the alt-country band Romantica. Or maybe you know him from his collaborations with Ryan Adams or Carrie Rodriguez.
But this fall, Kyle stepped out on his own, releasing a self-titled solo album featuring songs that Local Current blogger Andrea Swensson describes as "cyclical and meditative."
Kyle, who is performing tonight at The Icehouse in Minneapolis, spoke with Tom Weber about his decision to go solo.
Kyle: It was sort of a time where everyone was reconsidering what their involvement, commitment was to the band project. We had recorded an album together and I had, at the end of it, felt that it just wasn't a great album.
Weber: That's an honest answer.
Kyle: At least it wasn't the next thing that I wanted to put out into the world. I did have a group of songs that I had been writing over the last months and they felt much more heartfelt, much more of the moment. And I thought I wanted to give those songs some time. At that point, I sat down in the studio to record those with the guys in the band coming in and playing on them, not knowing that I would ultimately call this a Ben Kyle album.
Weber: Certainly I want to talk about a lot of those songs, but I do wonder if there are some fans of Romantica who wonder if we have seen the last of Romantica.
Kyle: I'm sure there are. I'd like to put their fears at rest and say no it isn't, but to be honest I don't know as I think about what's next. I don't really know, I seldom know what's two steps ahead. I just knew that this was the next step. I have no desire to put Romantica to rest but I have no compulsion either to keep it alive.
Weber: What did you find most exciting when you made that decision?
Kyle: Well, they were very personal songs and it sort of gave me the freedom to make a very personal album in a manner that was I think very patient or gentle. Certainly not fighting for airwaves.
Weber: We hear some of that. There are shout outs to Minneapolis.
Kyle: Places become very personal. They almost become like people to you in your life. And I know I've definitely experienced that with my relationship with Belfast and Northern Ireland and my home. And I think it's very true for my relationship with Minnesota and the cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul. We can have a relationship with places that is quite emotionally involved and we can have a lot of emotion about it. So I think when I was writing those songs it wasn't that different than writing a song to an old girlfriend or something.
Weber: And people who don't necessarily know your history - you grew up in Belfast, you moved here when you were a teenager. You were telling me you went to Patrick Henry up on the northside of Minneapolis.
Kyle: That's right. I come from a very musical family. My dad was a songwriter, my grandmother was choir mistress, an organist. I have a number of brothers who also write songs and have musical projects and although we're all cut from the same stone in one sense, we all seem to be cut from different stones musically. My older brother Robin has a band called Valet and they've tended to much more social-political commentary in their music. That's just not the way that my music playing and music making went. I don't know what I'd put that down to. It's not as though I don't have very strong political or social or cultural convictions. They never made their way so prominently into my music. Music for me has always been much more about feel.
Weber: When I listen to your music off this new album I struggle to come up with the right adjective to describe it. On the one hand, it's very mellow, but I don't know if mellow is the right word. What word would you use?
Kyle: I might use the word tender. When I was thinking about giving the album a title for a while that was a forerunner. But I agree with you, it is hard to describe. It's been fun to watch the reviews come in and hear all the different adjectives that people have landed on to really try to get at that. Because mellow, like you say, doesn't quite capture it.
Weber: I also enjoy hearing how people describe you. I've seen alt-country to describe the genre of music that you play.
Kyle: Exactly. What do you call this? At its very base, in a very basic sense, it is folk music. We always try to find a term that maybe works a little more in print or media.
Weber: But if you say alt-country you're going to abandon some people that maybe you wouldn't.
Kyle: Exactly. You're going to contain a little bit as soon as you give it a label.
Weber: What's next for you?
Kyle: I do know immediately the next project I'm working on is actually more of a production/arrangement job that I'm doing in my own studio. I'm currently making an album for my father and recording some of his songs, a lot of the arrangement, music and production for it. That's something that's, to be honest, has been on the back burner for a long time and he's been very patient with me.
Weber: Is he here in Minneapolis?
Kyle: Yes. It's something I've wanted to get to and finish for a long time. In a sense I feel very privileged to be able to have this opportunity to do this as a gift to him and a way to thank him for all that he's put into my life.
Weber: What's his name?
Kyle: His name's Paul.
Weber: You said he's a songwriter. Will he be on the album as well?
Kyle: Absolutely, yeah. He'll sing the songs. It will be his voice and his songs and I'll try to do most of the other things.