An Interview with Ryan Montbleau

Performing 600+ dates over the last three years, Ryan Montbleau Band has developed a passionate, coast-to-coast fanbase of Americana, R&B, soul, folk, blues and jam music fans. Their critically acclaimed debut One Fine Color (2006), has now been followed-up by a new album—Patience on Friday-- that weaves heartfelt, poignant and even somewhat humorous songs of loss and renewal, of growing up and moving on, into one cohesive collection of music.
By: Chris Robie

HGMN: How did you go from being a solo artist performing at local coffee shops to the Ryan Montbleau Band today?

Ryan: I sort of broke up the band "Palabra" that I'd started so I could go on a solo tour opening for Mountain of Venus in 2003. I went strictly solo for a year or two to explore and get better at that. I think the bio we have out there plays up the "coffee shop" thing a little too much. I defintely played coffee shops, but at that time I was really just playing anywhere and everywhere that would give me a gig. I played some little folk joints for sure, and I played at the House of Blues, but I also gigged at sports bars, Starbucks, TGI Fridays, on the street in Harvard Square, restaurants, just anywhere that would have me. Sometime in 2003, my old drummer James from Palabra was running an open jam up in Gloucester, MA. Each week he had to put together a house band. One week he put together me, his brother Jay on keys, our friend Jesse Ciarmataro on bass, and I grabbed our old sax player Aaron Gelb. That was pretty much the beginning of the band we have today. I had a bunch of gigs going on and had been throwing my name out there for a little while, so we just kept the band under my name. Eventually we replaced Jesse (who had so much of his own amazing shit going on) with Matty G on bass and that's when things REALLY clicked together for us. Larry had started sitting in on viola with us a little before Matty came along, and when we eventually lost our sax player, it was the five of us. Now we've been five strong for a few years and it feels like there's this great balance.

You have a new Album coming out. How do you feel about it?

Ryan: I've been telling everyone how excited I am about this record and I really mean it. We started tracking back in March in the same studio from "One Fine Color." Amazing place on a little farm outside of Woodstock, NY called Applehead Recording.

Has anything changed much from the approach you made with the first album 'One fine Color'?

Ryan: This time it just really felt like home. And while the band and the engineer and mixer were the same, I think we were all a little more comfortable with each other. I think as a band we knew how to go after what we wanted a little more. And although I didn't realize it until we were done, we actually had a ton of great guest musicians help us out on this one. Karl Berger, who arranged the strings on Jeff Buckley "Grace" came in and arranged/conducted three songs for us. Peter Prince came in and sang his crazy soul. Buddy Cage from New Riders of the Purple Sage just NAILED some pedal steel stuff. And there are many more. The album is still very much the five of us front and center, but we just had all these amazing people come in and help us with certain parts we needed. I'm really surprised at the way the writing all came together. I feel very strongly about the new tunes and they all relate to one another to make a cohesive collection.

Peter Prince is one of my favorite people. He's definitely an interesting character. How did the two of you meet?

Ryan: He's one of my favorite people in the world as well. My manager Tom Baggott has been working with Peter for years. Tom put us on the road together a few years back doing solo acoustic stuff. What a trip! HIs presence and his abilities as a performer just blew me away every night. And I never laugh as hard as when I hang out with Peter Prince. For all his craziness, he's just the nicest dude. Although, it wasn't until I got Moon Boot Lover's "Back on Earth" and then saw Peter with a Marshall stack and a rhythm section that I became an all out fan. Unbelievable, man.

HGMN: 'Patience on Friday' is the title of the new album. Where did you get the idea for the album's title?

Ryan: We were originally going to call it "Here and Gone" which sort of summed up a lot of the themes on the album but didn't cut quite as deep into them as I wanted. It's dedicated to our friend Denis Babbin, who passed away last year and was a great friend and an amazing drummer. The whole album is tied together with themes of loss and renewal, trying to grow up and move on (or, "Shine On," as it were.) "Patience on Friday" is a line from the song "Love and Love Lost," which I see as central to the record. It's a sentiment that you almost never hear, because Friday is normally everyone's go-and-get-crazy day. But patience is important and it's something that you don't just get, you have to learn it over time. It's about growing and learning. And that being said, it's still Friday so we're having some fun on there.

HGMN: Were you always a musician? What were you doing before you decided to play music full time?

Ryan: My father gave me a guitar when I was 9, but I didn't really start playing in earnest until I got to college. That's when I really started writing, too. And then I didn't start singing until my senior year of college, so it all sort of came later on for me. Before that, I didn't really know what I wanted to do. Villanova was an amazing experience in that way. It just sort of all came together there. I went in a chemical engineering major too sad and way too shy to talk to anyone, and I came out a guitar playing English major, poring over poetry and singing songs. The timing was perfect. As I was graduating, I realized I wanted to try to make music full time. I just had to figure out how the hell to do that!

So you didn't start singing until your senior year in college? How did that happen? Were you driving along in your car, singing in the shower? You have an amazing singing voice. Surely you must have realized that early on?

Ryan: It was definitely in the car that I first started letting it out. I always had a voice kicking around inside my head since I was little. And I did chorus in middle school because I guess I had pretty good pitch, but I never, ever really let it out. Even to myself--I could hear it in my head, but it never was anything real. College was this steady process of growth for me, and I think it couldn't have worked out any better. By senior year I was bursting at the seams a bit and saying to my college band members, "You know, I think I can sing." And they were all, "OK, yeah, so sing then, that's cool." And I started to let it out. And it was a little rough at first, but it got alot better by the time I was, say, six months out of college. And it's been a learning process ever since. I'm still trying to figure out what I can and can't sing. I hear some recordings of shows and I just cringe. It's good to learn your limits.

HGMN: Do you have a particular song you like to play live?

Ryan: I almost never make a setlist and I really try to read the room wherever we go. It's fun to call a set on the fly sometimes and just try to react to what you think the room needs. There are staples that we definitely play on most nights. "Honeymoon Eyes" is a fun one that just feels good to play and sing. It's hard, sometimes you just get this sort of quasi-want-to-be-Phish mentality like, "Oh, my god, we have to play completely different songs every night." But we're still a young band and you definitely have to stick with what feels good and what works in the beginning. That being said, every show and every set is definitely different from night to night. And more songs are on the way all the time.

How would you describe your music?

Ryan: I still have trouble describing it quickly to people who ask. And I'm fine with comparisons, labels, whatever, I just think there's alot going on in what we do. We're not a rock band. There's definitely a folk/roots/Americana element in there--lot of two-beat almost rag-time stuff. And the other side of the spectrum is this kind of throwback soul, funky, R&B thing. We kind of bounce all over, but I believe that we tie it all together somehow. When asked what our band name is and what kind of music we make, I get all self-concious. Sometimes I just want it to be like Prince when he changed his name to that symbol. They asked him how to pronounce it and he replied, "You don't." I wish it was that easy and that cool because we don't have a catchy band name by any means and we don't have a satisfying description for what we do.

HGMN: Has anything changed much since you first started performing?

Ryan: I think this music has most certainly evolved over the last few years. All of us are on a mission to get alot better. We still have so far to go, and we'll never quite get there, which is fortunate.

HGMN: Do you write most of your music on the road? What inspires you to write the songs that you do?

Ryan: I'm pretty much always on the road, so I have to do some writing while I'm out there. And I write at home too, of course, when I'm there. I'm sort of always trying to squeeze things into poetry or song ideas. And it usually comes little by little. I keep my little journal with me and I write any little interesting line that comes to mind. My platform from the beginning has been one of honesty. I just try to be as honest as I can, including with myself, and that's a daily mission. One thing that has inspired me in the last year or so is the big festivals that we're starting to get to play. I've written a few things with those shows specifically in mind. It can be fun to talk to a crowd!

Who has been the most influential person in your life?

Ryan: Hmmm. Well, my dad gave me a great home environment to grow up in and he was always there for us, so maybe him. My mom too, though. And my brother Bill, he's a musician with a genius IQ and has taught me so much stuff over the years.

HGMN: If you were to suddenly stop playing music right now what else would you be doing?

Ryan: Probably still driving, wondering where the hell I'm going and why I have this huge blue van. I could see myself teaching. I used to substitute teach for a few years, but never quite threw my hat in the ring. Teaching or something with writing.

HGMN: What's a hot topic for you right now and why?

Ryan: Whether or not we can make it to Toronto tonight in time for the Red Sox game! I turned 30 over the summer, so I've been thinking alot about getting older and what it means to grow up. Haven't gotten any big answers yet, but I do feel pretty good these days. Like some of the useless worrying is behind me. Of course, I'm still broke and in more debt than ever, but that's turning around and besides the point. Life is good! I've also been thinking about the music industry and how most of the old big behemoth labels are crumbling. Everything's changing fast. When the dust clears this will be a very good thing.

HGMN: What's your personal life like? What do you enjoy doing whenever you have time off from touring?

Ryan: Time off? Hmmm. Not sure what that is. When I do have a few days at home I like to skateboard or snowboard once in a while. And females are nice. Some of them are very nice. Some of them are VERY very nice. I would like to have bit more time off in the future. But I believe in what we've been doing over the last few years, just go, go, go. It's necessary, but it can't keep up forever.

HGMN: Did you really wrestle a raccoon & contract rabies?

Ryan: I have to assume that this came from my webmaster Jon Adams, who is a very creative soul indeed. Contrary to what he may have written on the website, no I have never restled a raccoon. Although I did run over a squirrel once in the dead of winter and it was terrible. Ever heard of Ted Wilson, the trombone player from our band with his own website? Yeah, Jon made him up too, out of thin air. Jon's weird. But he's a pretty damn good artist, and he makes a wonderful art slave. Look for his work on the cover of "Patience on Friday," due out in October. But that wasn't a plug for the new album.