Few songwriters have shaped the modern musical landscape as much as Ray LaMontagne. From 2009’s soulful “You Are the Best Thing” to the profound melancholic beauty of “Jolene,” LaMontagne’s sublime voice and masterful songwriting continues to resonate with audiences 15 years since his 2004 debut album, Trouble.
LaMontagne’s work has always been difficult to categorize. Throughout the New Hampshire native’s seven albums, he’s explored everything from surreal rock efforts to haunting folk ballads marked by reverb-drenched vocal melodies that would easily sound at home on a Radiohead record. Self-described as the “perennial new kid in school,” LaMontange was raised by a single mother who constantly moved him and his five siblings around to different cities in search of employment and housing.
“I don’t think you can separate yourself from your life experiences. That’s what makes you who you are,” says LaMontange when I ask him if his unconventional childhood has an impact on his diverse work. “It’s all part and parcel, I guess. I’m just kind of a mixed bag.”
Compared to 2016’s brooding and psychedelically-tinged Ouroboros, LaMontange’s latest album, Part of The Light, embraces a sound that’s far more minimal, yet not subdued in any way. LaMontange describes the creative decision to explore less rock-heavy material as something that wasn’t intentional: “It’s always kind of a mystery what inspires my albums. I’m always collecting melodies throughout the day, little bits and pieces of songs. And then I get a sense of when I need to make myself available for the right ideas to float to the surface, and what the album wants to be.”
Whereas LaMontange entrusted heavy hitters like Dan Auerbach of The Black Keys and My Morning Jacket’s Jim James to produce his previous two albums, he took those duties on himself exclusively for Part of The Light.
LaMontange’s spontaneous, unforced approach to music-making is much different than it was when he began making music in the late 90’s. “I worked myself to death back then,” he says. “Now I let the music reveal itself to me. When the songs want to live, they live. It’s about trusting the music to show you what it needs and what it doesn’t. Sometimes you get it right, and sometimes you don’t.”
In his mid-twenties, LaMontange quit his job in a Maine shoe factory after hearing the Steven Stills song, “Treetop Flyer,” and decided to pursue a music career. Two decades later, he’s counted among the most successful songwriters in the world – with a Grammy Award for Best Contemporary Folk Album, songs in dozens of films and TV shows including: The Town, ER, Parenthood, and Law and Order, and seven critically acclaimed and commercially successful albums.
This fall, LaMontange will embark on a national tour led by just him and his acoustic guitar. The songwriter describes pairing down his songs acoustically as “surprisingly easy.” It’s a process that recalls the way he usually writes all of his music, no matter how instrumentally layered and produced his songs eventually become. “The song ‘It’s Always Been You’ was written very differently than the way we recorded it. When I play it solo, I play it the way I first demoed it. The first tone and color of it didn’t work for the album, but it works for these shows.”
“Playing in theaters acoustically is a lot different than playing outdoor festivals,” LaMontage goes on. “It’s certainly a whole lot more intimate.” This is Lamontagne’s third acoustic theater tour in a year and a half – one that the songwriter calls his “last for a while.” While LaMontage’s unmistakable voice and acoustic guitar will lead these shows musically, they’ll also feature a visual component of a painted 3-dimensional set design. The shows will take place in 1200 to 2500-seat theaters – far smaller venues than the musician is used to playing.
LaMontange says he’s been spending his time lately gearing up for his national acoustic tour, but also working on something fans of the celebrated artist should be ecstatic to hear. “I’ve been busy getting things set up in the studio over the past couple of weeks so that when I come back, I can start working on a new record.”
Ray LaMontange will perform two shows at the Paramount Theater in Denver on November 9th and 10th. Canadian folk duo Kacy & Clayton will open.