Noah Hoehn Shows That Marimbas Can Rock


Noeh Hoehn | Aster Cafe | Saturday, May 9

"I'm trying to get people to understand what I do with my life," Noah Hoehn says on the eve of his debut solo album release, Noah. Noah plays all the instruments himself on the new record, which draws from blues to pop, and translates it into a creation that spans many genres. There's a boundless creativity coursing through Noah, as well as a sense of humanity within that sense of experimentation. 

In the basement of W.A. Frost, nestled in one of the dark little alcoves, Noah's clear voice rings out as he opens up about trying to get people to listen to what he is saying through his music; his easy laughter punctuates every subject he touches on. Hoehn (pronounced "hane") has a way of touching on topics that fluctuates every few sentences, and we follow along as he illuminates his current musical journey.
Noah got his start in music banging pots and pans on the kitchen floor as a child, traits which eventually led to him playing in the MN All-State Band in high school where he honed his percussion skills. When he ran out of drums, mallet instruments, and triangles, he turned to the attic at home, where he found his grandmother's harmonica and turned to Blues Traveler as an influence during his college years. Moving out of his hometown of Worthington, Minnesota, Hoehn found himself evolving some more as he earned a couple of McKnight Fellowship grants to experiment, first with percussion, then with live looping in performance.

In his music, the singer's performance is much like a conversation with him — all over the place, yet honed with candor and ease that is ingrained in the singer. Onstage, Noah plays multiple instruments, from the marimba, to the harmonica, to the Indian Dhol drum, to live loops that he creates. Hoehn thought the live looping would be the factor that drew people in, but it wasn't so.

"The process-oriented side of me thought that was going to blow people away, but that part of the show never really grabbed people — which isn't terribly surprising looking back on it," he says. "People are more fascinated with the instruments. They want to know what the different instruments are. You have people who play piano, guitar, or bass, but when you're up there with a marimba, then a harmonica and then the Dhol ldrum, they're like, 'Where have I heard that before?' I don't know — chase scenes in the Bourne movies, I guess?"

The singer is tapping into something very different coming out of the Twin Cities these days. When he first starting playing live shows, Noah solely experimented with his instruments and looping. It was only in the last couple of years that he included vocals and lyrics to his show. Tracks like the "Hey! You" and "Looking My Way" mix in the blues infused with pop-rock that is reminiscent of Micheal Franti and Walk Off the Earth.

"The whole purpose of this album was to be pure to myself," Noah continues. "I had to stop myself from overdoing it and underdoing it. I had to strategize about what should and shouldn't be on there, and just finally say, 'I'm gonna put this out as me. If nobody likes it, if it doesn't fit the genre, or the wave of what's currently happening in the city, what am I going to do about it?' I just had to put it out. I'm very satisfied with what I did. This collection of songs is what I set out to achieve. I listen to it and realize that it was exactly what my vision was. Maybe no one will like it, but at least I did things my way."

Hoehn struggles with the same self-doubt that plagues artists who invest so much time in something that doesn't always yield the greatest financial results. "My younger self would have told me, 'No compromises.' In some ways, I still live by that, but as you grow older you realize you need to bend or you'll break," he says. "If what I was doing was really hurting me, I would have to stop. But every year, I have had just enough success to keep going. It's like the Sword of Damocles hanging over your head. I feel like my career is always going to fall apart, but somehow here I am. I'm still alive."

Noah Hoehn will release Noah at the Aster Cafe on Saturday, May 9, 2015.
AA, $15, 9 pm
Call 612-379-3138 for reservations.
More information here.

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