When Ben Noeldner began writing music, he sampled chord progressions from a Rage Against The Machine song from the “Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2" soundtrack to create something all his own. (This was middle school, mind you.)
Next month, he’s releasing a folk album.
Noeldner, a junior majoring in philosophy at the University of Minnesota, will release his debut album "Far Off Gaze" under his stage name Ben David on March 8. The album reflects the identity he has created for himself since he started writing music.
“’Songbird Darling' on the album is one of the first songs I ever finished,” Noeldner said. “I was like, ‘Okay, this is actually a voice.’”
Noeldner pulled inspiration from a spectrum of artists running from Pete Seeger to Elliott Smith to create the album's warm, folksy sound.
“It’s pretty easy to tell when something isn’t from the heart,” Noeldner said. “I have two hands, a guitar and a voice, maybe a harmonica. How can [I] use those things as directly as [I] can [in songwriting]?”
Before recording the album, Noeldner worked as a camp counselor in northern Minnesota. While at the camp, he met musician John Munson, who mentored him in the recording process.
“When I listened to his stuff a little bit more closely, I was really impressed,” Munson said. “[It’s] much better than your average counselor sitting down and strumming for people on the edge of the lake. … These are actual songs.”
Munson had invited Noeldner to record a few demos using an old Tascam recorder to see if it would be a project worth pursuing.
After hearing the four demos, it became obvious that Noeldner’s folk and roots sound was unique.
“He left and went to go pick his kids up from school and I went to the library,” Noeldner said. “An hour later, he emailed me and was like, ‘I like what you’re doing,’ and then that finals week, we recorded.”
Singles “Blueberry Island” and “Rosealene” echo Noeldner’s originality. They also include candid reports of his own experiences.
“He’s writing something that’s just really honest and he’s not … trying to please anybody,” said Ethan Wiese, Noeldner’s friend. “He’s just writing music from his heart, which is super cliche to say but … it’s really cool to have that.”
Noeldner addresses romance, mundanities and social issues on the album, but he hopes to move forward and push his songwriting limits in the future.
“I don’t really want to write any more love songs with a capital L,” Noeldner said. “I’m just trying to have more fun I guess. Taking things less seriously, that’s been a big thing.”
This experimentation has widened the singer-songwriter image that Noeldner has carved out for himself.
“He’s definitely not of his age,” Munson said. “He wants to create something that’s timeless and stands outside of the current moment. But at the same time, I feel like he’s very much of his time.”
Although simple, the album carries a weight that resonates with listeners. This is partly thanks to its poetic lyrics, gentle finger picking and the occasional harmonica riff.
“One day he was asking me, ‘Is anyone going to get this? Just me blabbering about my own stuff?’” Weise said. “Some of [his] stuff speaks louder than he thinks, and I think that’s a really special quality.”