With speeches by Dr. Martin Luther King and Gandhi murmuring in the background, LaMontagne’s hushed voice floats on clouds of synthesizer swells to create an ethereal, sonic airiness.
“We went through a couple days of just layering all these weird speeches on top of each other, everything from like World War II bomber pilots’ radio communications before being hit, or before hitting someone else-to extremes like Hitler, Gandhi and people like Martin Luther King,” LaMontage says. “There were certain phrases that were so poignant in the King speech. We thought those little moments of clarity where it comes out of the dissonance before it goes back into distraction were so important.”
“Three More Days” is LaMontagne’s Stax single, replete with snappy horns, jazzy Rhodes piano riffs and tight electric guitar licks provided by Johns. “I tried and he wouldn’t let me keep it,” LaMontagne says with a laugh. “This is true. I tried to play it. I did play electric somewhere on there but not the lead stuff. That’s Ethan. I think I played the rhythm electric on ‘You Can Bring Me Flowers,’ and then the acoustic and the classical guitar parts. There is some gut-string guitar on there, some concert guitar that I played as well.”
LaMontagne is seemingly at his most optimistic on “Can I Stay,” his tender, whispered plea for love and shelter backed by a lush bed of strings.
“I was hearing pretty specific things for the arrangements on this album,” he says. “As far as the strings go, that’s Ethan’s realm. He’s an amazing arranger, and the string arrangements on this new record that he did I think are just beautiful. They’re subtle and just beautiful. I had a pretty good idea of the horn arrangements. On ‘You Can Bring Me Flowers,’ for instance, I didn’t write it down or anything. Between Ethan and myself, we just sang them to the horn players. I’d tell them I was hearing this descending part, and then I would just sing what we wanted to play. So it was pretty specific. The last two songs, ‘Till the Sun Turns Black’ and ‘Coda’-those were very kind of spur-of-the-moment, inspirational kind of things; they just sort of fell into place out of the air.”
The production experience and musical chops that Johns brought to both Trouble and Till the Sun Turns Black cannot be overstated. Beyond that, his friendship has bolstered LaMontagne’s confidence and opened the young artist’s eyes to his potential.
“At this point, I really feel like we’re brothers. Musically, I clicked with Ethan the first time I met him and he’s given me so much confidence. I can show him a song and without even describing how I’m hearing it filled out-or the rhythm section or anything-he’ll immediately jump on the kit and before the second chorus comes around, he’s doing something that is the exact thing that I wanted to hear but couldn’t express. [It’s] not all the time but very often it is. Like creepy often.