We haven’t heard from Romantica in a while.
The Americana band’s last album, Control Alt Country Delete, dates all the way back to 2009. But this month, the many-membered Minneapolis group will release Shadowlands -- a dreamy, 14-track album recorded over two weeks in a barn in southern Minnesota.
On Shadowlands, Irish expat/frontman/songwriter Ben Kyle breathes new life into Romantica with contemplative lyrics and velvety vocals while Tony Zaccardi (bass), Danger Dave Strahan (guitar), Ryan Lovan (percussion), Aaron Fabbrini (pedal steel guitar, dobro), Jayanthi Kyle (backing vocals), and Peter Schimke-McCabe (piano) create lush sonic layers.
We spoke to Kyle in anticipation of Romantica’s album-release show Saturday at St. Paul's Fitzgerald Theater.
City Pages: It’s been years since Romantica released an album. What was behind the delay?
Ben Kyle: Family life. I have five kids. As the family grew, I realized I didn’t want to be as active and be on the road as much so we took some time off.
CP: You decided to record the new album in a barn at Shepherd’s Hill Farm in southern Minnesota. How did you come to that decision and how did the structure of the barn affect the sound of the album?
BK: The barn I discovered on a weekend reflection retreat. I love the idea of recording on location, kind of creating a space around an album. It kind of gives it a personality. The structure, the aliveness of the space, a lot of wood, high ceilings, the natural ambiance and reverberation comes from the structure. The words just sort of blend and mix in the room around you and give you this sense of cohesion and unity, a sort of “oneness” about it.
A lot of studios have very dry recording rooms where the sound is being soaked up intentionally to prevent bleed, where the approach is to go for a very clean track. When the philosophy or ethos of the band is to go for this more live, organic ambient thing, being in a very live space like the barn helps contribute to that.
CP: You were all at the barn for about two weeks. At any point, did you feel that you were too close for comfort?
BK: There were a few moments of tension. I think that’s only natural. And it was creative tension. Obviously, it’s difficult to be in close quarters when there is tension, but in a band situation -- I suppose in any situation -- you want to break through that tension and hopefully that allows you to go deeper and coalesce the vision, really crystallize what you’re going for. It sort of forced us to do that quickly. You can’t live very long in close quarters with that sort of energy in the air.
CP: How do you maintain the spirit of Romantica even as the years pass and the lineup changes?
BK: I’ve always been the songwriting voice of it, so the songs have come from my heart and experiences. What makes it different from a solo project is you bring the songs to the band and you allow them to write the parts and fill it out.
You come with the basics, the words, the melody, but then you kind of have to give up control and let the band take it on and let it become what it is. The thread, then, is the songwriting and the voices. Although band members have come in and out, the songs become theirs as well.
CP: What experiences or emotions were you going through when you were writing “Harder to Hear”?
BK: It’s really hard to talk around songs when you feel like the song did the best job of expressing what you were feeling. I feel like there’s so many voices around us all, so many voices in culture, voices in my head that tell me I ought to act or be in this way, that I ought to have this opinion.
More recently, we’re often taking one side of a polarized argument. I realized that’s not my true voice or my true heart. What I really think is deeper than that. It’s not as simple as taking one side of a two-sided argument. I suppose that’s what I wanted to remind myself: to listen to my heart and not be so easily swayed by culture. It’s particularly relevant with our current political climate.
CP: You mention God in several of your songs. How do music and spirituality intertwine for you?
BK: My dad was a minister, so I grew up in a Christian family. More recently in life, I’ve come to a point of embracing that, but realizing that my sense or idea of God is not limited to a specific religion or a cultural way of relating or approaching it, but more of a sense of ultimate reality, of there being an ultimate energy in the Universe. To me, it’s still a personal relationship but I guess it doesn’t take the same form or definition as it did as a child.
CP: Your song “St. Paul City Lights” specifically names St. Paul and name checks the Turf Club. Why are those two places meaningful for you?
BK: I think we all have emotional relationships with places, and I love to put that into poetry and song. When Romantica was first starting out as a band, the Turf Club was a place we would go a lot to watch shows. A lot of our early shows, or our favorite shows, have been at the Turf Club. It had a great atmosphere that I always loved. It was so approachable.
For me, it’s very nostalgic. It’s not quite the same place it used to be, but you can still go in there now and have that memory of what it was at that time. There was a whole community of friends that used to hang out there and we would go see shows together or when we were playing, they would be there. It was almost like an extended family. For the band, the Turf Club has always been close to our hearts and something that we want to cement in a song.
With: "Special guests announced soon!"
When: 8 p.m. Sat., Feb. 4.
Where: Fitzgerald Theater
Tickets: $22-$45; more info here