On a late January evening in Uptown Minneapolis, Ben Lubeck, the red-haired lead singer of Farewell Milwaukee, settles into an armchair in the back room of a coffee shop. As he sets down his drink, he ponders Glenn Frey, whose death was announced earlier that afternoon,
"I was listening to the Eagles on the way here, and I know they're a joke to a lot of people," Lubeck says. "But it was super raw to hear about Glenn. My dad introduced me to the Eagles. I remember the cassette and listening to it with my dad in his Stevens Point [Wisconsin] apartment."
Lubeck's emotional ties to his father run deep on his solo debut, Rented Rooms. Some of the tracks were written with the possibility of fitting with Farewell Milwaukee, yet they felt too personal. In December of 2014, in between Farewell Milwaukee albums, Lubeck met up with longtime producer and friend Brad Bivens.
The two pared down Lubeck's 40 songs to 10, bringing in Jake Hanson, Adam Levy, Alex Young, Jake Luppen, Andy Dee, Pat Mazurek, Andy Thompson, Guster's Luke Reynolds, and Ben Kyle to contribute their musical talents to Rented Rooms.
The resulting album poetically explores Lubeck's complicated relationship with his father, who deals with depression and has been in and out of his life.
"I haven't spoken to him in years, and it was really hard for me to write about," Lubeck says of his father, who currently lives Arizona. "Once you share it, you can't take it back."
With the blessings of his bandmates in Farewell Milwaukee, Lubeck recorded Rented Rooms in Bivens' Minneapolis home late last year. He says the process was surprisingly isolating, as sessions involved just the two of them most evenings. Even with guest musicians around, Lubeck often found himself recording upstairs alone as Bivens adjusted the sound, finding the most haunting sounds to go with the tracks.
The long winter nights influenced the songs. But, as the seasons turned, the album took on a new life, giving fresh hope to what Lubeck deemed "a dark and depressing origin of a project."
On opening track "Right Time," Lubeck gives up what every human being fights for: control. With primal howls and words that cut deep, his voice and music are reminiscent of Ryan Adams from the Ashes & Fire era, carrying years of heartache in the notes.
While Rented Rooms centers on Lubeck's relationship with his father, he wasn't spurred to go solo until his own daughter was born three years ago.
"A lot of the songs were me thinking of that parent/child dynamic," Lubeck elaborates. "The feelings I feel for her and the feelings I have for my dad. They're both loving, but they both contain a lot of heartache. I am my father's son. I see those tendencies and doubts in myself, and a lot of my writing was trying to navigate those relationships and trying to improve on those relationships."
Lubeck's father hasn't heard the album — yet. The singer-songwriter thinks the record, as raw and revealing as it is, wouldn't upset his dad.
"I think he'd be proud," he insists. "It would stir up emotions in him that he would have to look at, but deep down, we'd feel a connection. He's got demons and reasons for why he is the way he is. There's a lot of things going on."
Lubeck understands the struggles his father dealt with, especially considering the fact his grandfather also struggled mightily with depression.
"My dad would tell me stories where his father would sit in a chair with a blanket over him and stare out the window while kids ran around, because he was so mentally out of it. That's how my dad grew up," Lubeck says. "I know he tried to build on that and make a better life for me and give me more love and affection than he had. Each generation's been better. Forgiveness and love is the key to all of that for me, and with that, I'm trying to build a better world for my daughter."
Ben Lubeck album-release party for Rented Rooms
With: Silverback Colony and Mary Bue
Where: Turf Club
When: 7 p.m. Thu., Feb. 6
Tickets: $10-$12, click here for more info.
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