Inimitable songwriter Ryan Montbleau just released his new record, I Was Just Leaving. Deeply personal and moving, the record is another big step forward for an artist who’s constantly on the move.
We were lucky enough to chat with Ryan before he kicked off his tour dates and we’re excited to give away a pair of free tickets to a lucky Thrillcall winner for each show.
Thrillcall: Congrats on the release of I Was Just Leaving. The record feels like a culmination of years on the road. How did that influence your writing and recording process?
Ryan Montbleau: Thank you. Let’s just say I had a lot of personal space when I made these songs, often to the point of extreme isolation. After 10 years on the road with the same band, followed by a few more years working like crazy to continue a life in music, I found myself finally with time and space to sit and reflect on it all. It was one of the darker periods of my life, actually. I was more or less wondering “Wow, what just happened? Where did everybody go?” And of course I had to acknowledge how my actions had brought me there. That’s where the title from the record comes from. I had thought I was building a home but it turns out I was just leaving.
Though the record was written in a period of seeming instability, you talk about being more sure about this record than ever before. What about this record feels so definitive to you?
These songs came out of a very real place. Some of them came quickly, and yet some of them took years to write, almost like I had to live through them first before they were finally a song. It’s taken me 15 years of dedication to songwriting, singing, and playing the guitar to be able to lay down my truth like this. And that pursuit will continue. But I’ve also learned more about making records over the years. Teaming up with Anders (and Mark Howard) to make this record was like the perfect storm for capturing heartfelt songs. Those guys made it sound the way it does and I think the rawness is exactly what was needed. I just don’t doubt anything that’s on there. We worked quickly too, they did a great job of not allowing me to overthink things. It took just four days to make, but in a sense it took me 15 years to make. I searched my heart and worked my brain for a long time to be able pour out these songs in a burst that those guys captured brilliantly.
There’s a juxtaposition between isolation and connection with people that plays throughout the record. What are you looking forward to when performing these songs with a new band and to new audiences?
I’ve always played both solo acoustic and with a band over the years. But in recent years it has gotten to a point where I’m either playing a listening room and it’s pin drop quiet (which I love), or else I’m playing a festival with an 8-piece funk band with horns. I needed to bridge those worlds a bit and bring the band closer to where my heart is as a songwriter. I knew early on that I wanted to put this record out first and let it sink in a little before touring behind it. Some of this stuff is heavy and it runs deep. At least it does with me. So I really want to pull people in by listening and connect more that way as opposed to sort of beating them over the head with an uptempo beat right away. Then we can bring it up and anywhere we like from there. My goal is to move your mind AND your body. This record sets the table nicely for that I think.
As you kick off another tour, what’s life on the road like for you? What are your favorite venues and cities to play?
It’s different than it used to be, when we basically lived on the road. Now it’s a bit more focused and the runs are shorter. I keep very busy in general but it’s more like a bouncing ball these days than a speeding train. I still party sometimes but it’s a lot different being the 39 year old guy in the van as opposed to the 25 year old guy. You can’t bounce back like you used to! I try to eat well. I lament that I don’t get any exercise. (Then again, I don’t much at home either…) The connection to people is the same though. I’ve never had massive exposure, never had a record deal, but I do have fans all over who connect very strongly to this music. The roots run pretty deep and they are strong. Boston will always be hometown so I get the most people out there. All over upstate New York and the northeast in general there are many great places for me. Denver’s outstanding. Austin. Charlotte. Too many to name. If I could get to the Blue Door in Oklahoma City more I would. The Flying Mango, the Brown Baer, The Sinclair, Infinity Hall, Tupelo, the Mauch Chunk Opera House. So many more. In general I like when people listen, as opposed to them partying too much and hooting and hollering. I can do those kinds of shows too, but for me the more you’re listening, the better.
What’s in store for the rest of 2017?
I have a project called Yes Darling with my friend Hayley Jane (of Hayley Jane and the Primates) and we’re going to make a record this year and start doing shows more regularly towards the end of the year I think. We’re a duo and have a ton of original songs and a clear vision of what we’re doing. There’s something really special happening there.
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