Ray LaMontagne Says Elvis Costello Helped Inspire 'Supernova'
For most recording artists, when your latest album picks up two Grammy nominations, itās a sign youāre on the right track and shouldnāt change the formula of your success. But then, Ray LaMontagne is not most artists.
In fact, LaMontagne has decidedly mixed feelings about his critically acclaimed fourth record God Willinā & the Creek Donāt Rise. āThe last record was tough for me, it was sort of bittersweet, because I was proud of it, but I felt like I was making a record that Iād been trying to make before,ā LaMontagne says from his home in the Berkshire Mountains of Western Massachusetts.
As he began working out the material for his latesth album, Supernova, the 40-year-old songwriterās obsession with not repeating himself became so marked that he began shelving dozens of songs and questioning whether he could ever truly find creative acceptance. āWhen youāre first starting out you have so much to prove,ā he says. āYou get up on stage and thereās maybe 50 people in the audience, and 49 of them hate you, just hate you, and want you to get off of the stage, but thereās this one person who gets it. Every year the shows were getting bigger, but Iām still going out there as if Iām in the club where 49 of the 50 people in the audience hate me. That mindset was ingrained in me.ā
Battling the urge to ditch his music career altogether, he composed a long and rambling email to one of his heroes, Elvis Costello, asking for advice.
āI need to talk to someone who has been through this,ā LaMontagne says. āAnd I wrote this long exhausting email to Elvis saying, āI donāt know what Iām doing, I donāt know who I am in the music world, I donāt know if Iām relevant.ā And he wrote back this beautiful email that was so thoughtful and gave me a lot of advice and was so supportive and things turned around for me creatively.ā
After reading Costelloās words, LaMontagne turned to one of his favorite Costello albums for more inspiration. āI went and listened to This Yearās Model start to finish and thought, OK, letās get to that place,ā LaMontagne says. āI used it as a template. Itās fun, itās super creative and playful, and Elvis never makes any apologies for what heās doingāhe just does it, as all my heroes do, like Neil Young.ā
When the songs started clicking, LaMontagne contacted producer and Black Keys guitarist and singer Dan Auerbach, with whom he had long hoped to work. The pair spent two weeks last fall cutting the tracks at Auerbachās Nashville studio.
Along with his signature vocals, LaMontagneās rhythm work on his Paul Reed Smith guitar anchors the record, but thanks to the generous layering of organ, electric guitar, drums, ukulele, and background vocals, Supernova is an explosion of new sounds. If that experimentation is too much for some of his fans, LaMontagne says, so be it.
āThereās this core group of my fans, well, they call themselves fans, but they really hate me, but they love the first record, and they want Otis Redding,ā he says. āThey want me to make an Otis Redding record and every new record is a disappointment. But Iām a 160-pound white guy, you know, Iām not a 250-pound black man who was born wherever. I mean, come on. I never claimed to be a soul singer and I never wanted to be a soul singer.
āIām a songwriter.ā