For Sam O’Connell, who grew up playing in a folk band with his religious family members, any music besides Christian music was forbidden.
“In college, Paul McCartney’s ‘Band on the Run’ came on, and I said, ‘What is this?’ ” O’Connell recalls. “My friends said, ‘It’s Paul McCartney, you idiot!’ “
While O’Connell was introduced to rock and pop music later than most, he’s been making the most of it. He recently released an EP called “Jesus Didn’t Take” under the moniker Noxen, the name of the tiny, rural municipality near Dallas, Pennsylvania, which is outside of Wilkes-Barre. Known for an annual rattlesnake roundup, the town is inhabited by “some pretty rough customers,” O’Connell says.
Moving with his family to Noxen from Wilkes-Barre “was really big” in the development of the songs. A younger sister’s health issues also served as “an eye-opening experience for me as a brother and a family member.”
“So that was kind of a big inspiration for a lot of the familial themes throughout [the EP]. I was raised in a very strict Christian household and more recently we have gone on different paths. I’m on a path of rediscovery and not religious anymore.”
The 7-song release opens with a track called “Marilyn,” which is essentially the voice of O’Connell’s grandmother, Marilyn, telling some family stories. Great-grandfather Frank O’Connell was a prominent area businessman.
“She’s a music teacher from Dallas,” says O’Connell, who was home-schooled until ninth grade. “She’s retired. She kind of instilled that love of music in our lives. She’s a very genuine and loving woman.”
The EP draws from singer-songwriter, ambient and indie-folk influences. Sound effects, like a howling coyote (the animals are sometimes seen in the Noxen area) in the song “Change,” help create the atmosphere. O’Connell recorded the album at home with the help of his brother Jonathan, who played guitar, and Will McHale, his friend from the band Rosary Guild, who added bass and helped mix and master.
Noxen will make its live debut Saturday at Karl Hall in Wilkes-Barre, playing a set at Rosary Guild’s album-release show. O’Connell’s youngest brother, David, 16, will join him on bass.
“I think it’ll be pretty emotional,” says O’Connell. “Even the practices. I’m a pretty easy cry.”
Asked if his secular journey has created any tension in the family, O’Connell is candid.
“It’s interesting because my first reaction is to want to share the things that I’m discovering because I feel like I’m a pretty tribal person and in a big family,” he says. “The cornerstone of the whole family is religion and faith. Some of my younger brothers are 16 or 18 and still involved in church and ask about [his music]. My mother is sad, and that doesn’t feel good. Other than that, I just have my circles outside of family where we have discussions about it. But I try to keep a separation of church and family.”
Rosary Guild, Doghouse Charlie & the Buck Knife will perform at Karl Hall (57 B N. Main St., Wilkes-Barre, Pa., 18702) on Saturday, Oct. 27.