Be Here Now: Ray Lamontagne
Writer’s block? Call Elvis Costello!
By Abby Johnston, 4:20PM, Thu. Jul. 31
Ray LaMontagne’s fourth album, Supernova, zeroes in on the singer’s rock tendencies only hinted at in the past. For his performance Friday at the Long Center, we talked to about focus and Elvis Costello – among other things.
Austin Chronicle: Where am I reaching you?
Ray LaMontagne: We’re in Nashville.
AC: How’s this tour going to far?
RL: Oh, very well, thank you. Just rollin’ right along.
AC: How long do you have left on the road?
RL: Oh, another 13 weeks, I think.
AC: Your four previous albums seem to fall within a rootsier vibe, but I feel like Supernova is drawing from a lot of different influences. Is there anything in particular that led you to that?
RL: Not exactly, no. I think there were songs on the second record and songs on the third record that all would have fit very nicely on this record. I think “Be Here Now,” would have fit on this record, “I Still Care For You,” probably, “Gossip in the Grain.” I think it’s just that there were these melodies pulling at me. There’s been little hints of those kind of musical influences on my other records as well, but just not as focused as they are on this record.
AC: What led to that shift in focus?
RL: Melodies come to you and you’re going to have to decide which ones are the ones that want to be finished, or the ones that sound the best to you. That’s it, really. These were just the songs that sounded the best to me, so they’re the ones that got finished.
AC: I understand that while writing Supernova you reached out to Elvis Costello. Why him in particular?
RL: Because he’s the one guy I know who’s really been through it, who’s had a long career and been through all of the ups and downs. He’s also a really generous and gracious human being. I’d sort of hit this point where I was getting a lot of melody and song ideas, and they all seemed really strong, but it didn't quite feel right. I wasn’t really sure why that was happening.
So I’d written to him just to ask if he’d ever been in that place before, where songs were coming but for some reason they just weren’t demanding attention. Basically, he’s just a really gracious guy, and I knew he’d been through everything before and he’d have some advice for me.
AC: What did he have to say to help you settle into your writing again?
RL: It’s kind of personal, but essentially that I should just trust myself. And I just kind of waited. I trusted in that creative voice, and I just kept setting things aside for songs for potential records or other records because they didn’t feel like something that sparked my creativity or inspired me.
AC: How’d you hook up with Dan Auerbach to produce this album?
RL: I’d called Dan for a reference for an engineer. I was looking for an engineer to come out to my place, and I was going to produce it myself at my space. It was kind of in that conversation that we decided to do it together.
AC: At home, then?
RL: Yes, I have a space at my house.
AC: How was it working with him?
RL: It was great working with him. The reason you work with a producer is because you don’t want to have the hassle of finding a studio, of trying to book the engineer that you want and trying to find the players that you want. That takes so much time and energy, and I really just wanted to focus on the record and the songs.
That’s the producers role, to try and facilitate your vision. You have an idea of what you want, but you don’t want to have to go through the hassle of putting everything together. It’s a ton of stuff. I knew that Dan had been doing that and had his own studio space that was completely geared up for it. I’d also wanted to work with Dan in some capacity – we’d been talking about that for years. It just seemed perfect, timing wise.
So he took on that whole role. I just communicated to him what I was trying to achieve. I made sure he had demos way beforehand and we had a lot of conversations about where I was trying to go with it and what kind of sonic colors I was trying to paint with, all of that stuff.
He did what a producer is supposed to do and took it upon himself to find the players that he thought would help achieve that goal. And he did. He found a really great bunch of guys.
AC: How is it piecing together a setlist that incorporates both your rootsier tendencies and material from this new album?
RL: That’s just it. I just tried to build a set in such a way that it had a nice flow to it. I tried to pull from those songs that already lean toward this band that I put together for this record. So it really wasn’t that hard, honestly. It’s working out really nicely.