Nashville native Randy Montana’s journey has taken him from performing at college frat houses, to hitting the road as an aspiring artist, and finally, to the top of the charts as a co-writer on songs including the Luke Combs hit “Better Together,” which has spent five weeks entrenched at No. 1 on Billboard’s Country Airplay chart, and another Combs chart-topper, “Beer Never Broke My Heart,” both from Combs’ album, What You See Is What You Get.
“It’s the first track on the record and the last track on the record—that’s cool to me, because the songs are totally opposite,” Montana tells American Songwriter. He also co-wrote the Carly Pearce/Lee Brice duet “I Hope You’re Happy Now,” which earned a CMA nomination for Song of the Year and a win for Musical Event of the Year. Other Montana-penned songs on deck are Justin Moore’s “We Didn’t Have Much” and Riley Green’s “If It Wasn’t For Trucks.”
The idea for “Better Together” sparked after Combs invited several writers to a writing retreat in his homestate of North Carolina.“You stay for a few days and just write songs. What’s great about doing it that way is there are no other distractions—no other meetings, no other places to be,” Montana says.
The song, filled with images of complementary settings and things, like coffee and sunrises, or barbed wire and old fence posts, began with a single line Montana had jotted down—We go together like good ole boys and beer.
“I thought, ‘0h, that’s a funny way of thinking about a couple.’ One of the first lines we added was, A 40 HP Johnson on a flat bottom metal boat, and we just started listing those images that go together really well. The title, ‘Better Together,’ just fell out at the top of the chorus. It doesn’t end with the title, which is really interesting to me. We didn’t even plan on that, it just happened. The creative process just led us to that title, which I love when things happen unexpectedly.”
Montana was in the studio when Combs recorded the song, listening to the song’s evolution from worktape to the sparse piano ballad heard on radio stations and playlists across the country.
“I’ve gotten to be there when they recorded ‘Beer Never Broke My Heart,’ and when they recorded ‘Better Together,’ and it’s such a great thing that Luke does. I can’t speak highly of him enough for respecting songwriters. He’s very appreciative and I’m appreciative of him.
“We never demoed the song, we just recorded it on someone’s iPhone the day we wrote it up in the mountains,” Montana recalls. “I remember [album co-producer] Scott Moffatt going, ‘Why don’t we do this with just Luke and a piano?’ I never thought about it, because the way we wrote it had a mid-tempo thing to it, a bit of a power ballad feel to it, so I did not expect a piano vocal. It was truly one of those things where I called my dad after I left and I said, ‘I think I’ve just witnessed something really cool.’ I just had a gut feeling. I didn’t know it was going to be a multi-week No. 1, but I knew it felt special.”
Montana says the dual meaning in the performance of “I Hope You’re Happy Now” is one of his favorite aspects of the song.
“The whole idea of that song is summed up pretty much in the hook. What makes it so interesting to me is it is in two completely different songs. The girl is remorseful for breaking the guy’s heart and she genuinely hopes he is happy now, whereas the guy is singing it with angst, like ‘I can’t believe you did this.’ It’s two totally different takes on that phrase, and that’s what makes me love that song.”
The son of songwriter Billy Montana (“Bring On The Rain,” “More Than A Memory”) and the brother of Birdtalker’s Dani Green, Montana grew up hearing the sounds of Tom Petty, Jackson Browne, and the Eagles. He first picked up a guitar around age nine, though he didn’t begin writing songs until age 16. Even though the younger Montana was steadily being drawn deeper into music, he says he was well aware of the risks that accompany a career in songwriting.
“I didn’t want to tell my dad that I was playing music at first, and that I loved it. I had seen the struggle that was trying to make it as a songwriter. I knew it was hard. I knew we weren’t well off. We didn’t have a lot of money at the time. I started a band in college and we would go play fraternity parties, where I would mix originals into the set. I realized I loved how songs were written, and my passion was for writing and the creative process.”
Montana dropped out of college and gave himself a deadline—one year to land a publishing deal. His father introduced him to publishers and offered advice on the business side of things, but trusted Randy to make his own decisions. “He’s always been a ‘Go with your gut’ kind of guy. But he helped me realize how long of a road it can be to be successful in making music. I knew what I was signing up for.”
Montana got a deal writing at a major publishing company in town. While he focused on writing, his voice and artist sensibilities caught the attention of a few label execs and he garnered a few record deal offers before signing with Mercury Nashville.
“I was 23 years old and I thought, ‘It feels cool. Let’s try this.’”
After a couple of singles, “Ain’t Much Left of Lovin’ You” and “1,000 Faces,” cracked the Top 40 on the country charts and he made his eponymous debut project in 2011, working with producer Jay Joyce, the artist deal eventually fizzled, but by that time, Montana’s songwriting chops were already gaining traction. He co-wrote a single recorded by James Wesley, “Didn’t I,” as he was already beginning the slow transition from being on the radio to helping provide the fuel for other artists’ careers. He kept working, and kept writing.
“I lost the label deal and a lot changed at the publishing company. Transitioning from a guy that had a record deal and was trying to be on the radio, to ‘Well, now I want to write songs,’ that was a lot of what that period was. Trying to write my way out of it, essentially. You need a home, too, a place where you feel like you can flourish as a writer. Warner Chappell wound up being that place.”
In 2016, Montana met a young upstart, Combs, who had yet to release his first single. They penned “Houston, We Got A Problem,” which was included on Combs’ debut album This One’s For You and earned RIAA Gold status. “We hung out, went hunting, and hit it off as writers,” Montana says of first getting to know Combs. “He is great because he continues working with writers he met when he first moved to town,” Montana says. “Writing with him changed everything for me.”
Those career highs, lows, and stalls have allowed Montana an even-keeled perspective on his career thus far.
“I got to make an album with Jay Joyce—how many artists would love to make a record with him? I’m blessed to be on that list. I loved traveling and burning three years of my life in a van and staying at Super 8s and eating gas station food. To get a deal and then get dropped from a deal, it made me much more appreciative of where my career is at today,” Montana says.
Above all, he has had the drive to keep going, something he advises every aspiring songwriter.
“Treat it like a job and don’t ever stop writing, even when you feel like you’re just dropping the song into a wishing well when you’re done. If you want to be a songwriter, just don’t ever stop writing because you really don’t ever know what will happen.”