Ryan Montbleau’s latest venture to New Orleans culminated much better than did my last, and only, trip to the Big Easy.
Montbleau left town with a kick ass new record.
All I have are a two year old’s vague memories of a trip to the Superdome for the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus and the now four decades old story of a violent regurgitation at a Picadilly Cafeteria that is still the stuff of family legend.
I Was Just Leaving, Ryan Montbleau’s soulful, introspective new record, follows on the heels of his 2015 release, Growing Light, which established him as one of my favorite songwriters.
I recently chatted with Ryan about the new record, working with Anders Osborne, and recording in New Orleans.
BRO – Was there a certain synergy that developed while recording this record in New Orleans?
RM – Yes, absolutely, although I’d say it was more about the people working on the the record that it was a synergy with the city itself. This was a small project in terms of the number of people involved. I had the songs ready to go and they were coming from a very real place that had developed over the course of years. Anders Osborne produced it and he brought his decades of experience in songwriting and making records to the table. He made sure that every note was as heartfelt and genuine as possible. Mark Howard was the engineer, and he also has decades of experience and possesses a very special way of recording and mixing. I think Mark was the only person who could make the vocals sound the way they do. So, to me, it was the perfect storm of synergy for capturing some heartfelt songs. We worked quickly and didn’t allow overthinking to seep into the process.
BRO – You bring up Anders, an incredible songwriter in his own right. How was it working with him as a producer?
RM – He’s tremendously gifted in his ability to tap into the spirit of the music. It’s all about feel. He doesn’t seem to play a single note that he doesn’t feel deeply. As a producer, he has the same way of listening. He would close his eyes and listen intensely to every note that I played. Not in a nitpicking way or to change things, but more to hear the voice of the song as a whole coming through. He was making sure that the the feeling was getting across. More often than not, it was the very first or second take of a song that made it on the record because they were the most raw and happened before my brain got in the way to polish things up. If a song needed added instrumentation, he usually added it himself, again with the same approach of feeling every note. I’ve never seen someone put so much feeling into a shaker track! But he did that! He’s a special dude.
BRO – Favorite place in New Orleans to visit when you wanted to duck out of the studio?
RM – I stayed at Anders’ house on that trip and that alone was very inspirational to me. It’s hard to find a lot of guidance in this business, so staying in a beautiful little home – the home of a great singer/songwriter – with his wonderful family gave me a vision of where I would like my own life to go. Some days, we would ride bikes from the house to the studio and back. The great thing about New Orleans is that it almost doesn’t matter where you go. You’re going to find little bits of magic everywhere. There’s just no place like it.
BRO – We are featuring “Bright Side” on this month’s Trail Mix. What’s the story behind the song?
RM – Thanks! All of these songs were written in the Northeast, where I live, primarily in New York or Boston. But “Bright Side” was written in New Orleans during Jazz Fest, several months before I made this record. It started on guitar and I immediately had a melody that I need to sing over and I could not get the tune out of my head. I was staying in the Bywater at my friends’ house and it was just running on a loop over and over in my mind. I needed to write it through and figure out what it was all about. My buddy. Cris Jacobs, was in town, so I called him over and we sat on this little roof deck and worked it out. He had the idea to add the chorus, which it really needed. I tend to write verses really well, but choruses and hooks usually come later. He came up with the chorus changes and then I came up with the line, “My light shines brightest when I see the bright side of you.” I remember that Cris didn’t think so much of that line! Maybe rightfully so . . . But I knew, in the context of the song, it was making a broader statement. It was a big moment for me, actually. All of these years writing songs and exploring my feelings, and then I reached a line where I acknowledged fully that the way YOU shine makes me shine the brightest. It was a bigger moment for me than you might think. The philosophy of that really clicked everything into place and resonated with me.
BRO – You titled this record I Was Just Leaving. When you get where you are headed, will you send me a postcard?
RM – Yes! Of course, but where do I send it on the trail?
Ryan Montbleau wraps up a swing out west with a show in San Diego tomorrow night before heading back home for some dates in the Northeast next week. Come mid-April, he’ll be down in the Mid-Atlantic, with shows in Washington, D.C., Georgia, Tennessee, and both Carolinas on tap.
For more information on the new record or when Ryan will be on stage near you, please check out his website.
Be sure to check out “Bright Side,” along with tracks from other great artists like Will Johnson, Bill Scorzari, Taarka, and Danny Barnes, on this month’s Trail Mix.