Ben Noble confronts fatherhood and 'nagging darkness' on 'Whisky Priest'

Ben Noble

Ben Noble Laura Nickel

Ben Noble’s music is a sonic sanctuary.

On his debut release, Whisky Priest, the Minneapolis-based self-taught musician pairs his folksy falsetto with ethereal strings. Noble invites listeners to lose themselves in an otherworldly reverie reminiscent of S. Carey and We Are the Willows. Originally from Denver, Noble followed his girlfriend (now wife) to Minnesota for college. After graduating from Bethel University, he became a father at age 23.

City Pages: One of the themes you explore on this album is a “nagging darkness.” What does that look like in your everyday life?

Ben Noble: I had my first kid three years ago now. That was largely what made this album come to life, feeling like, “I have to be a father before I feel like I’m ready. There’s a lot more stuff that I want to sort out in my life before I have to teach this tiny human how to live in the world.” I guess “nagging darkness” would just be unresolved issues and baggage from my past and not feeling that I’m good enough to raise this kid.

CP: Your song “Daughter” sounds like a prayer. Is it?

BN: I am religious but I don’t want it to be a religious song. I wrote it to be ambiguous enough that pretty much anybody can grab onto it. A more universal concept.

CP: It seems like there are some religious undertones to your song “Healer Might” as well. It sounds like a hymn.

BN: Yeah, totally. That’s part of how I grew up and it’s still part of how I live my life, but I don’t want to associate my music with that ‘cause that’s like career suicide. I want it to be open to whoever wants to listen to it. Don’t say that I’m a Christian singer-songwriter.

CP: You recorded this album in a cabin in Wisconsin. Why was that?

BN: I’m a huge Bon Iver fan and I was like, “Why not just copycat?” I went to a friend’s cabin on a few different occasions, just me, a microphone, and my guitar, and hashed them out.

CP: Do you think seclusion is conducive to creativity?

BN: Yeah, absolutely. I’m an introvert by nature, but especially just going someplace that’s foreign to you and that is secluded and just knowing that you have X number of hours to work on something without distractions, it’s huge. Being in the woods, it’s beautiful, it’s really inspiring. There are a few places on the album where I recorded sounds in the woods or in the cabin and I layered those in a little bit to make it feel like it was originally created.

CP: Your music is very quiet and delicate. Does that limit the venues you can – or are willing to – play live in?

BN: It definitely does, which I’m working through right now. I’ve always been afraid of playing live, largely because of how delicate a lot of my music is, but I’m finding that I just need to do it and get comfortable in my own skin. Sometimes I have a full band, and we kind of rework songs for those, and then sometimes I play just me and my guitar. After doing it more and more, I’m realizing that you just kind of got to step into what you’re doing and if you just do it really well, people shut up and listen. Getting to where you can keep a roomful of people engaged for 45 minutes to an hour is hard to do, but I’m getting to that point and it’s really cool.

CP: When I Googled you, a listing came up saying you play weddings. What’s that like?

BN: I’ve played quite a few weddings. It’s good money, obviously. I studied a lot of classical guitar and jazz guitar in college so I end up doing a lot of that at weddings. People just dig the acoustic finger-picking sound.

CP: On the title of the album you spell whisky without an “e.” Does that mean you prefer the Scottish version of the spirit?

BN: The whole album is based off of this book by a British author, Graham Greene. It’s called The Power and the Glory. It focuses on this character called The Whisky Priest. That’s why I chose to spell it like that. It’s a really powerful story and I feel like it really embodies a lot of what I was trying to say. It’s set in 1930s Mexico and there is an anti-Catholic church purge going on, so they’re hunting down all the priests and killing them or making them renounce what they’re doing. There’s one guy left and they call him The Whisky Priest because he has this debilitating drinking problem. But all along the way, there’s a lot of really selfless and amazing things.

It’s just inspiring to see how you can be labeled one thing and some people can define you by these things that they see and think are bad about you, but deep down, your heart can be really beautiful. It boils down to: do you care about other people? We get so caught up in shame and outward evils that we don’t just check ourselves.

Ben Noble
With: Bora York
When: 8 p.m. Sun. Dec. 17
Where: Bryant Lake Bowl
Tickets: $8; more info here