RAY LAMONTAGNE: Centered by Solitude

Videos by American Songwriter

Videos by American Songwriter

“Nothing’s really hit me that hard since Jeff Buckley’s Grace,” Haynes says. “It’s just very timeless. I feel like when we look back 10, 20, 50 years from now, it’s gonna still mean as much or more than it does right now. I love the way his voice, the lyrics and the music all connect and come together in a way that’s more than just the sum of all the parts. He’s one of my favorites, for sure. I listen to his record as much as I listen to all the great records that are staples from my past. That’s as high a compliment as I can give someone.”
Buckley, Kris Kristofferson, the next Bob Dylan-the comparisons of a young talent like LaMontagne to the pillars of American music over the past half century are simultaneously flattering and a disservice. With the expectations of fans, critics and the label pegged so high, how could LaMontagne possibly deliver the masterpiece everyone expects, much less avoid the sophomore slump? Could Van Morrison top Astral Weeks?

LaMontagne’s answer was to refuse to play into anyone’s expectations, shunning the impulse to create Trouble II while continuing to follow his muse.

“The first record-I wasn’t signed. So there was really no one looking over my shoulder at all,” he explains. “This time, I felt a little pressure and even Ethan felt a little pressure. There were quite a few songs that the label wanted to hear on the record that I just felt would take away from the album as a whole, even though the songs are fine on their own. They wanted to hear certain songs, and there were some songs that would have been a more obvious bridge between Trouble and this record. I just didn’t feel like they fit so well this time.”

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“I knew that after making Trouble, immediately after hearing it, that I wanted to do something completely different for the next one,” LaMontagne recalls. “I wanted to have a more complete picture this time around.”

If Trouble was so heavily influenced by the classic vinyl LaMontagne spun throughout his 20s, then Till the Sun Turns Black-his new album due out August 29-is an auspicious snapshot of where the singer/songwriter is today, a portrait of an evolving artist. Entering Allaire Studios in upstate New York with Johns once again on the knobs, LaMontagne had more than 30 songs prepared.

“We had three batches and Ethan and I were like, ‘Whoa, well we’ve got three records. What are we gonna do?'” he recalls with a laugh. “After the third week or so, it started to reveal itself; I began to realize that I didn’t want to just have a collection of songs that didn’t really connect with each other or relate to one another. I wanted to try to have a more complete piece, a record that was greater than each individual song on its own. I guess I was just trying to find something that felt like you could put the album on and just listen to the whole thing through, easily moving from one song to the next. At least that’s what I was trying to do.”

Till the Sun Turns Black opens with “Be Here Now,” which may be the most ambitious and socially relevant song LaMontagne has recorded to date.

“I feel like the blinders are kind of off on the first song. It’s a broad song, a broad sentiment of distraction, but trying to center yourself-even though you’re constantly under this barrage of the way the world feels these days. [It’s about] all the advertising, information and everything the world just kind of shoots at you constantly-and never feeling centered and in tune with yourself or where you’re at, never feeling like you have your feet on the ground and never feeling sure of yourself or comfortable with yourself. I sometimes feel like we’re almost not allowed to. You’re always being told that you don’t look right, you don’t dress right, you don’t smell right-whatever. There’s all this uncertainty about who we’re supposed to be, so I told Ethan that the song needed tension and distraction. There’s got to be something kind of pulling your attention away from the song itself in a way-some form of dissonance.”

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