Posted On 17 Jan 2019
Get to know the acclaimed singer, songwriter and guitarist Ryan Montbleau.
On October 26th, he released ‘Woodstock Sessions.’ It was recorded during a December 2017 live session in front of an audience at Applehead Recording, where the first two Ryan Montbleau Band albums were recorded. He’s joined on most of the tracks by the electro-folk duo Tall Heights, running through a repertoire of previously released songs in fresh, stripped-down arrangements, plus three songs ever before released.
‘Woodstock Sessions’ captures Montbleau in his element at an exciting time in his career, with over one million monthly Spotify listeners and plans to embark on a cross-country solo acoustic tour in support of the new release. Montbleau’s cover of Tracy Chapman’s classic “Fast Car” has become a Spotify hit too, with over 31 million streams and counting.
Touring relentlessly for 15 years, both with a full band and solo, Ryan has shared the stage with Mavis Staples, Tedeschi Trucks Band, Ani DiFranco, The Wood Brothers and more. His intimate songwriting prowess and dynamic voice channel fellow troubadours Ray LaMontagne, Josh Ritter and Shakey Graves while also playing with the pop sensibilities and storytelling of early John Mayer, Amos Lee and the Avett Brothers.
Listen to the new album ‘Woodstock Sessions’ here:
Learn more about Ryan Montbleau in the following All Access interview:
Thanks for your time today! Where does this interview find you now? Is there music playing in the background?
I am currently in a chain bagel shop in Phoenix, AZ. There’s some pop music playing on the speakers.
Now that we are on the back end of the year, how do you think 2018 has treated you and your career? What has been one goal that you have had this year and how close are you to reaching it? Or did you already reach it?
2018 has been great to me. We made and put out a record with my duo Yes Darling and I put out a solo record as well. Also I signed on with new management, it has been an eventful year. My bigger goals have revolved around my sense of home though. I moved to Vermont and rent a place there that I love to come back to, so that has been a big step for me personally.
Growing up, how important was music to you? Can you recall the moment when you decided that you wanted to be a musician? Was it an easy or difficult choice to make?
Music was huge for sure, but more for listening and feeling it than playing it. My two favorite groups as a young kid were New Edition and AC/DC, so I guess my tastes have always had a range! Not until I was graduating college did I realize that I wanted to be a musician. Guitar, poetry, and suddenly singing all came together and I was sure that I wanted/needed to do it. I was 21.
What has been the biggest surprise so far about making music your career? What has been an unexpected or welcome challenge to it all?
Everything seems to take much longer than you think it will when you start out. I believed early on that there are no shortcuts. But even that being said, you have to really live into this long timeline of a career. At least that’s been my experience. It hasn’t been a rocket ship, it has been more like watching the grass grow. And I do have a nice lawn nowadays. (A metaphoric lawn, I don’t have an actual lawn.) The biggest challenges are in my personal life: loneliness, isolation, lack of connection to a community. That has been a byproduct of being on the road for years. But it’s all getting better.
How do you think you and your music have been influenced by your hometown and where you live today?
That’s a good question, I’m not really sure. I wasn’t taught into any real tradition. I get the sense that R&B and blues had some pretty strong roots near Boston where I’m from. And folk of course but I wasn’t necessarily exposed to that until much later. I was probably more affected by the radio, MTV, my brother and I buying tapes at the mall. I live in Burlington, VT now and am inspired by a ton of my musician friends there. And I like that Vermont has jam-band roots. I’ve found a home in that world over the years.
What did it feel like recently releasing your new live album, “Woodstock Sessions”? Why did you decide to release this live session that you did last December? What was it about this particular show that made it so special?
The Woodstock Sessions is a series done by Applehead Recording studio in Woodstock, NY. It’s a beautiful place and I did my first band records there in 2006-7. Mike from Applehead asked me to do a show for this series and having my friends Tall Heights involved is really what made it special and made it all click. They just so happened to do their last record there and I had already made music with them so it all just fell into place. I wasn’t planning
on making a live record right now, but once I heard the mixes from Applehead I was sure glad I did! It’s a pretty special thing: a live show recorded in front of a live audience inside a beautiful studio.
While it’s difficult, can you pick out a few of your favorite tracks on this album? What was the inspiration for them?
“Looking Glass” was the most powerful track for me going into it. It’s a new song and it was still buzzing out of me when we made the record. The writing initially came out of a faltering relationship and picks up themes about modern communication, staring at our phones, etc. “Ships in the Night” deals with some similar issues. It feels like we’re all just missing each other these days. I’m still really feeling those songs in my gut.
Do you have plans to release any brand new music in the year? Are you currently working on new material?
I’m always writing little by little, chipping away at songs. I’d like to start making my next studio record in the next few months. Right now I’m collecting my song ideas and trying to hone in on an appropriate producer for whatever it’s going to be. The plan is to get something out by next fall, but I have to see how the ideas develop.
Since the beginning of music, people have turned to it for support and as an escape from their realities. How do you want your music received and appreciated?
Well, I would hope that my music is a source of truth and strength for people. I want to promote peace. I would think my music is more about facing truth than it is a form of escape, but then it’s not really up to me how people receive it. I just want to make the best tunes I can. The ultimate goal is to draw in people’s heart strings and minds with lyrics, while at the same time moving their bodies viscerally with the music. That, to me, is the ultimate. But if it helps people in any way, I’m doing my job.
What do you think of social media? What has been your experience so far using it to promote your music and interact with fans?
I think I’m on it too much! But as a tool, I do love interacting with fans that way. I love the directness of it. With friends too it can be helpful. But in general I think it’s a bit of a mind warp and we don’t really understand what it’s doing to us. Everyone is putting up these digital billboards of their lives, myself included. If you look at that for too long in regards to other people, your sense of your own life can get pretty distorted. At a certain point, social media is not good.
Who are some of your favorite artists or rather, what musicians have continued to inspire you and your music? Who would you absolutely still love to work with in the future?
Martin Sexton has always been a big inspiration. Deb Talan (now of The Weepies) will always be a favorite. Paul Simon still operates at a masterful level. That Andy Shauf record “The Party” still blows my mind. I sat in with The Wood Brothers once and would love to do anything with those guys again. Derek Trucks is in the dream somewhere.
If you were going to be stranded on a deserted island forever, what musical item would you take with you and why?
An acoustic guitar with an endless supply of food and water in it.
If your music was going to be featured on any TV show that is currently on right now, which would you love it to be on? Or if you prefer, what is a movie that you love that you wish your music was featured in?
This is a boring answer but I honestly don’t know. I would love for just about anyone to collaborate with my music in a creative way.
Do you have any tour dates you would like to tell our readers about? How will you be spending your winter?
I’m finishing a tour now (as soon as I drive home to Vermont from this last gig in New Mexico), and I have some time off after this. I’m looking forward to actually being home a little. Snowboarding, sleeping, being a human being, maybe meeting the love of my life, who knows? But I get busy touring again in February. Northeast stuff and a run through Florida and Texas. I’m doing a festival on St. John with the band in March, followed by a retreat I’m helping to lead in Costa Rica. Not bad.
At the end of the day, what do you hope your fans take away from your music? I’d like to know more about how you want your music to be timeless?
I hope the music helps. I hope that it elevates you and lets you know that you’re not alone. I have poured my entire adult life into this and I still feel I have so much more to create. Knowing that you listen and that the music makes a difference for you means the world to me. As far as timelessness, I still feel like I’m a beginner at making records. I want to get better at that and I will.