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RIP Jason Noble

You may not recognize his name, but his bands helped change the sound of modern rock.

Monday, August 06, 2012 - 09:21 AM

I was not planning on blogging while on vacation here in Saratoga. But news arrived this weekend of the death of guitarist/bassist Jason Noble, and I felt he deserved at least a few words.

Jason was the founder of the post-rock band called Rachel's. In fact, initially, he WAS Rachel's. And back in the mid-90s, there was no such thing as "post-rock," but along with Tortoise (in Chicago), Rachel's was one of the trailblazers of an instrumental style that melded rock and classical sounds. If you're a fan of bands like Godspeed! You Black Emperor, or Mogwai, then you're hearing the long-lasting echoes of Jason's work.

When I first met Jason, back in '98 or '99, I'd been playing Rachel's music (not sure how to write the possessive form of that name) for several years. I asked him how the band came together. Jason, typically, said that he had started in a band on the Louisville punk scene... neglecting to mention that his band was in fact Rodan, itself a fairly important post-hardcore group that released a single but influential album, 1994's "Rusty."

Rachel's quickly grew to be a surprising combo of classical strings and piano (played, coincidentally, by Rachel Grimes, which inevitably gave rise to the idea that the band had been named for her), with bass and drums and occasional guitar. Lyrical, rhythmic, and evocative, their music showed the influence of Minimalism, late Romanticism, and rock. The band released five full-length LPs, an EP, and a split LP with the band Matmos. They never officially broke up, but their final performance - though none of us knew it at the time - was at one of my New Sounds Live concerts at Merkin Hall on May 25, 2006. I had booked Rachel's and the group Clogs, the like-minded ensemble that shares members with the top-shelf indie-rock band The National. One of those members, guitarist Bryce Dessner, told us onstage how excited he was to be sharing a bill with Rachel's, a band that he said was hugely influential to him.

The members of the group were all doing different things by then - dance scores, other bands, etc. Jason had formed The Shipping News, a decidedly noisier band, with his former Rodan teammate Jeff Mueller, and they released several discs too.

Then, in 2009, Jason was diagnosed with a very rare form of cancer. He entered an experimental trial that had him going back and forth to Houston for treatment. He began a blog on Caring Bridge, which takes us from the early days of treatment to his death on Saturday and makes for gripping but heartbreaking reading.

But he never stopped working, and would occasionally tout the work of others too. He sent me one-off projects as they came up, but he'd also send recordings by other bands from Louisville that he thought I'd like - bands like Sandpaper Dolls and The For Carnation - and his choices were almost always spot on.

In 2011, Jason and fellow Rachel's members Christian Frederickson and Greg King wrote and recorded a wonderful score for a Louisville production of Shakespeare's "Tempest," which I thought was simply one of the best albums of the year. It was like the long-lost Rachel's album we fans had always wanted to believe was coming.

Two weeks ago, it occurred to me that I hadn't heard from Jason in a while, and I wrote an email just to see how he was feeling. Then I thought "better" of it - if he was doing well I was afraid my note might seem ghoulish, and if he wasn't, I didn't want to intrude - so I hit "delete" instead of "send."

For some reason, this made the weekend's news feel doubly bad. Jason, who was 40, died on Saturday. Louisville's music scene, which, as I've learned over the years (largely thanks to Jason), is a surprisingly vibrant and diverse one, has lost a major player and booster. And the music world has lost a quiet pioneer.


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Comments [13]

Rachel Leah Greene from New York and Knoxville, TN

My friends and I were big fans of that "Louisville Sound". Jason Noble even scored a low budget graduate student film that we produced. He also gave us permission to use a few tracks from The Rachel's "Handwriting" album. His work was very important to us. Thank you for your wonderful tribute.

Aug. 09 2012 03:09 PM
Martin from NYC

Sad news indeed. I remember standing in a record/CD store in the Village in 1992 or 93 listening to this hauntingly beautiful music, not wanting to leave. The owner told me that he was closing, so I asked what he'd been playing for the last 30 minutes. Turned out it was "Handwriting". I was hooked. Memories of some long forgotten club listening to Rachel's and watching the films that accompanied the music (did Greg King make those?). I was even lucky enough to bring our young son to see Rachel's and Clogs at Merkin Hall on the evening John mentioned.
For a while now, there's been a compilation called "In Pleasant Company" at which states that the proceeds go to Jason and his family.

I know what I'll be listening to this evening.

Aug. 07 2012 09:27 PM
worst_1_yet from Brooklyn

Oh, this is sad to hear. Had the pleasure of being on the Touch and Go mailing list for promotional copies in the late 80s and early 90s. Rusty was amazing! "The Everyday World of Bodies" is one of my favorite songs, maybe ever. Had the pleasure of seeing Rodan play it live and then heard Rachel's shortly thereafter. Beautiful music. Also! The Shipping News wrote a line I think of often: "I had a dream, that I always had, five dollars, in my pocket. With cigarettes and magazines to last a whole life through." Talented man, thanks for the write up.

Aug. 07 2012 05:20 PM
michael galinsky

wanted to share this short interview with jason and jeff and kyle from 2000 re the shipping news.

Aug. 06 2012 11:35 PM
Sarah Kirkland Snider

Thank you for this beautiful write-up, John, one of the most satisfying I've read. Jason's work played a deeply significant role in my musical life. Of all the bands I loved in the 90's, Rachel's had perhaps the greatest influence on the kind of music I would go on to write. At the time, there was no one like them, no one who combined those influences with that particular blend of lyricism, immediacy, thoughtfulness, and edge; they opened up a whole world of possibility for me. But I also admired Rodan and The Shipping News, and was tremendously inspired by Jason's ability to express himself musically in such diverse ways while maintaining a consistent voice; even his grittiest screams had a certain darkly poetic streak. He was a true artist with something to say, with unusually open ears and heart. I feel very grateful for all of it.

Aug. 06 2012 11:17 PM
Steve from Detroit

John, thank you for the best write-up about Jason. I have a Rachels coffee mug that I still use at work everyday - looking at it now as I type. It's a cartoon black humor graveyard with all of the members names on tombstones. His name stands out a bit happier than the others now.

Aug. 06 2012 03:47 PM
Greg King from Los Angeles

Hi John, thank you so much for this post. It would have meant the world to Jason. You have been such a gracious and steadfast supporter over the years, I really just can't thank you enough. All of us in Rachel's have seen our inclusion in your work as a real highlight in our careers, and it just has great poetic resonance that our last show was with you, a night I will never forget. Thank you.

Please don't grieve over not having sent the email a couple weeks ago, I know Jason would have totally understood. We were all actually looking forward to this new step in his treatment at NIH because it held great promise, so he would have written back sounding upbeat and hopeful. It's just strange and tragic how it ended up, because other aspects of the treatment were going well.

Be well, keep up the amazing, amazing work, and know you've had a huge impact in our lives.


Aug. 06 2012 03:41 PM
Producer Katie B.

Thanks for the correction, Jeremy.

Aug. 06 2012 02:58 PM
Alec Bemis

Excellent John. Thx for the remembrance, and all the work you've done to get this music heard.

Aug. 06 2012 02:27 PM
marco leone from Rome

Thanks for the blog . Terrible news from Louisville... RIP huge humanity man Jason Noble. His music will last forever. A fan from Rome

Aug. 06 2012 11:27 AM
marco leone from Rome

Thanks for the blog . Terrible news from Louisville... RIP huge humanity man Jason Noble. His music will last forever. A fan from Rome

Aug. 06 2012 11:25 AM
Jeremy deVine from Brooklyn, NY

Thank you for the lovely piece, John. Jason was 40, he would have been 41 in October.

Aug. 06 2012 11:18 AM
Justin from Chicago

Good write up, man. RIP, Jason.

Aug. 06 2012 10:27 AM

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