Basking in The Shadows
by Loy Bernal Carlos
BEN KYLE'S ROMANTICA: ABOUT THE MAKING OF SHADOWANDS AND THE DEBILITATING DISEASE THAT THREATENED THE ALBUM AND HIM.
“I had a significant dream before my solo album (self-named, 2012), that gave me permission to wait,” he recounts. “ I knew we were coming back.” Kyle then goes on to explain the significance of “timing” and “getting it right.”
The band actually recorded an album prior to Kyle’s solo, which they later “canned.” “It didn’t feel great,” he confesses, “It didn’t feel right to muddy everything and put out material to the world that isn’t great.” Only a handful of that work would make it to Shadowlands.
This philosophy minimized the compulsion to produce an album for the mere sake of doing so. After all, in his ever “conscious effort to deflect such pressure” he aptly named his studio “Slow Studio” to remind himself that it was okay to take it slowly, or as he puts it, “to wait for the good stuff versus to just produce and consume.”
The songwriter offers a refreshing breath of fresh air in a culture that demands constant manufacturing of and incessant updates. Social media and online marketers demand that we tirelessly churn out new things in order to remain relevant. We see it in music, fashion, restaurants, etc. In music, thousands of EPs, singles, videos and albums are released daily. Ironically, however the multitude and variety, most are limited to the same overused chords. Meanwhile, lyrics often fall into either of two categories: the obscure or the absurd. So by patiently waiting for things to coalesce naturally, Romantica has allowed to happen what many of its contemporaries do not: proper, ample time to reach maturity. And with maturity comes wisdom.
“I have five children, and between us there’s about thirteen kids in the band,” Kyle says. “We needed those years to ground ourselves and our families, so now we’re coming back together with a little more life experience.”
While the band was taking a recording hiatus, it continued to play together despite some changes in membership (Among others, original guitarist Luke Jacobs had moved to Austin to be with fiddle-playing, fiery singer-songwriter Carrie Rodriguez with whom Kyle had also recorded and performed). It was losing its original identity and Ben Kyle was afraid it might begin to sound like a cover band of the old Romantica. He felt that if the band had any chance of success in continuing as an entity, first they “needed to dissolve.” “It needed a new life for the people who are now making up the band,” says the frontman. It needed a “resurrection.”
Still, Kyle felt the album was not going to organically evolve while surrounded by the same day to day individual and familial pressures. So in 2015 he sequestered the entire Romantica community for close to two weeks in Shepherd’s Hill Farm located in the wilds of Southwestern Minnesota. The barn recorded Shadowlands captured the spirit of the place. The ambiance, design, materials, construction and acoustics of the space, which the band and engineer Brad Bivens helped convert into a studio, lent its own je ne sais quoi, giving it vivid clarity and depth.
photo by Nicole McCoy Photography
“I think it’s the first real band record we’ve made, in the sense that it was a pure collaboration, in a way that our earlier albums maybe weren’t,” Kyle asserts. He knew that going away was the only way an album was coming together because it provided an opportunity to “channel energies.” “This time, I brought the songs in skeletal form,” Kyle recalled, “and we all put them together in the same time and space and played everything live. We’d wake up in the morning in the little farmhouse where we were staying, and we’d make a plan for what songs we wanted to approach that day.
But the days and sessions weren’t always easy. By this time, the artist was already showing ominous symptoms of a mystery illness that was slowly wreaking havoc in his body. Productivity was already slowing before the trip, hours were shortening as he struggled with fatigue. The probability of completing the album was growing grim.
Kyle explains, “I was aware that this could be my last song, or this could be my last project. I knew that I was losing strength and energy…didn’t have a lot of passion or inspiration, it was more of a struggle to move forward.”