Ray LaMontagne on Supernova: "I Just Allowed Myself to Write a Different Kind of Song"
Photo by Samantha Casolari
Don't try to pigeonhole Ray LaMontagne.
While critics have been quick to compare him to any number of rarified and rootsy icons -- the Band, Van Morrison, Tim Buckley, and Steven Stills among them -- his only muse is the inspiration that strikes from within.
"I always let the songs lead the way," the soft-spoken, sometimes testy singer-songwriter maintains. "If something catches me, then I say to myself, 'Wow, I've really got to pursue this further.'"
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The dusty patina this New England native preferred on his first four albums -- 2004's Troubled, 2006's Till the Sun Turns Black, 2008's Gossip in the Grain, and 2010's Grammy-winning God Willin' & the Creek Don't Rise -- has been somewhat blown away for his latest effort, Supernova, a set of songs that finds him connecting with producer Dan Auerbach of the Black Keys and taking more of a psychedelic spin.
"It's always kind of the same process," LaMontagne says of his songwriting. "A lot of times when I'm just walking around, I hear all these melodies. I'll think, that's a weird little change, where did that go? It just has to be interesting for me to want to pick up the guitar and define it."
Even with Supernova, the singer-songwriter followed his usual routine, despite the record being a slight departure from previous work.
"I really don't know anything about music or music theory or anything like that," LaMontagne insists. "I was hearing stuff that was really speaking to me. This batch grabbed my attention. I just really allowed myself to write a different kind of song. Something very concise.
"When I heard [the Supernova songs] in my head, I just really heard them. If I hear it in my head and it works, then I go with it. And that's where all these songs come from. I heard it and I trusted it. I've been writing songs now for fifteen years and so I think I can trust my gut at this point."
See also: Ray LaMontagne Talks Supernova: "I Can Trust My Gut at This Point"
He's also learned to tune out others' opinions. Though he has a Grammy to his credit and numerous other awards -- not to mention a catalog of songs that have been tapped for television and films -- LaMontagne claims that none of the accolades have influenced his creative process. "I thought people might not like it," he says of Supernova. "Not that that's ever been a factor for me."
Yet one has to wonder, haven't all the critical kudos set a high bar? "No, because I haven't focused on the praise," he contends. "I only focus on the negative stuff. Maybe because you can use negativity, but you can't use praise. When somebody says, that's great, it doesn't stick. When someone says, that sucks, it's so boring, that sticks. That pisses me off. And then the scrapper in me comes out and I put that much more into it the next time."
If that seems a somewhat combative -- dare we say, negative -- way of viewing things, LaMontagne also concedes that his perspective has gone through a transformation of late.
"That's changing as I'm getting older," he admits. "It's something I realized a couple of years ago, after the last round of touring, that I can't do that any more. I can't use that negativity because it was kind of affecting me in a bad way. I was feeling really uncomfortable in a number of ways, not only mentally, but physically too.
"So I think I'm kind of done with that. I'm enjoying the fact that I'm able to make a living doing what I do."
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Ray LaMontagne. With Jenny Lewis. Saturday, July 12. Fillmore Miami Beach, 1700 Washington Ave., Miami Beach. The show starts at 8:30 p.m. and tickets cost $37.50 and $47.50 plus fees via livenation.com. All ages. Call 305-673-7300 or visit fillmoremb.com.
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