Ryan Montbleau unveils first of four new EPs
On the first track of his latest record, Ryan Montbleau celebrates imperfection. “If things don’t have to be perfect, it’s a lot easier for them to be right,” Montbleau sings, quoting his therapist.
There’s a lot of self-care on the new EP Wood, the first in a series to be followed by Fire, Water and Air. Montbleau tends to look on the bright side of things, like his upcoming gig at Portsmouth’s Music Hall on March 19. True, social distancing rules will reduce crowd size, but performing in the storied Historic Theatre instead of the smaller Loft space is a big plus.
“I’ve always wanted to play there; all it took was them limiting capacity to 20 percent,” Montbleau said with a laugh in a recent phone interview.
Similarly, the Massachusetts-born singer-songwriter managed to turn his pandemic year into a growth experience.
“It kind of sped up the process of life,’ he said. “It’s weird, but in some ways I’ve almost never been happier.”
Montbleau purchased his first house, in Burlington, Vermont. He took piano lessons, did weekly Facebook Live sets and the odd solo gig, and appeared on a local music talk show.
“I’ve been very lucky through all this; it’s kind of allowed me to stay in one place for once and start to build a home life,” he said.
Spotify and other streaming services provided a cushion as well.
“I’ve been building this thing for 20 years, and I don’t have to tour my face off like I used to,” he said.
One bit of good fortune: He completed the basic tracks for the new music in summer 2019, playing with a rotating cast that included jazz jam legend Martin Medeski. Montbleau worked with producer Adam Landry (Deer Tick, Rayland Baxter) at Guilford Studio in southern Vermont.
“I had just amazing people coming in and out,” he said. “Turning it into a record [is] what’s taken the last year and a half … a lot of tweaking, taking things out and putting them in.”
He divided the collection’s 15 tracks into four themes. Wood is rustic and down to earth, while Fire rocks hard. Water is calm, reflective, with songs inspired by time Montbleau spent doing medicine work in Peru.
“I would sit in the jungle in a tent for 10 days and work with different plants,” he said, calling the experience “pretty life-altering. … It points you in a different direction. … I feel like some of those songs were gifts; that’s why they ended up on Water.”
The final chapter, Air, offers a sense of closure and peace. It ends with “The Dust” and Montbleau singing, “just know that you are not alone, and that’s all you get to know now.”
Wood, Fire, Water and Air’s songs reflect a long and sometimes difficult period for Montbleau.
“My old band split up around 2013 and I lost my management at the time; I had a long relationship end and I’d been on the road for 10 years,” he said. “I had a lot of growing to do. Since then, I’ve been searching for who I am, how to heal and how to be better.”
Wood was scheduled to be released on March 12; the others are expected to arrive over the next three to four months.
The just-released EP includes the charming “Ankles,” an autobiographical song that touches upon his first tour, where he suffered a burst appendix and a busted van. Montbleau soldiered on in spite of that nightmare, becoming a festival staple along the way.
“If I could survive this, I could survive anything,” he decided.
“On the road I found my muses, off the road I lost my mind,” he sings, concluding with, “off the road I lost my uses, on the road I found my shine.” For most touring musicians, Montbleau explained, standing still is where the trouble begins.
It’s also where his growth had to start.
“You get so used to being on stage and having people appreciate what you do… when you get home finally and you’re just sitting alone in a room, it’s really daunting,” he said. “What is my purpose? What are my uses? Back on the road, I would find my shine under the lights, and find my purpose again. So I think the years leading up to now have been me digging deep and figuring out who I am, and who I was before I started doing this.”
An Evening With Ryan Montbleau
When: Friday, March 19, 8 p.m.
Where: The Music Hall, 28 Chestnut St., Portsmouth
Tickets: $38 at themusichall.org
Featured photo: Ryan Montbleau. Photo by Shervin Lainez.