With “Goodbye Blue Sky,” premiering exclusively below, Ray LaMontagne's new album Part Of The Light would seem to be a peaceful, gentle affair. But appearances can be deceiving.
“There's a sense anxiety to (the songs),” LaMontagne tells Billboard about the nine-track set, “some kind subconscious reaction to how our culture feels to me, which is so strange lately. It feels so sad and so self-absorbed and shallow and mean. The world just seems so vastly different than it did 20 years ago, and not for the better. I know everybody feels it on some level, but I find myself in some ways really withdrawing. I find myself kind pulling in to protect what I have, meaning my wife and sons, into this little safe place we created for ourselves.”
But LaMontagne doesn't give himself over entirely to darkness on the album.
“I think as a writer a lot your work is almost like yourself talking to yourself,” he explains. “I know that's how I feel about the songs. It's trying to comfort me. I find myself thinking a lot about how important every moment you have is, how important your friendships and relationships are and how brief life is and how beautiful and wonderful it is and what a gift it is, and not allowing myself to be pulled away from those essential truths.”
Part Of The Light, LaMontagne's follow-up to 2016's Ouroboros, was recorded at his home studio, the Big Room at Apple Hill on his 19th century homestead in the foothills Massachusetts' Berkshires. It also marks his return to producing for the first time since 2010's Grammy Award-winning God Willin' & the Creek Don't Rise. “I know exactly what I want,” he notes, “so this time I felt I just wanted to go directly to the source and not have any filter between me and the music.”
Working at home was also conducive. “This is a really nice space to work in,” he says. “My studio is very nice, full natural light. You don't feel like you're in a cave. You bring the right musicians and the right engineer in the room and take it from there.”
Those right musicians, in fact, proved crucial to making the album. The corps included guitarist Carl Broemel, bassist Seth Kauffman, keyboardists Bo Koster and Kevin Ratterman, drummer Dave Givan, with Wilco's John Stirratt on several tracks. “If there was any forethought going on it was more in the production and bringing the guys together, in pulling the band together and thinking about the players and the overall sound the record,” LaMontagne says. “We have a relationship and we've all played together and they're very sensitive musicians and really good people to have around. I just enjoy being around them on a purely personal, friendship level, never mind the music.
“That's kind a bonus. The friendships are really important to me, finding people that you can communicate with easily and approach the music, or their life within music, the same way. That's important.”
With Part Of The Light out May 18, LaMontagne returns to the road starting May 27 at Sasquatch Music Festival and then plays dates with Neko Case as a “very special guest.”
“There are people who want to hear this music, and I'm very grateful for that,” he says. “I'm very grateful they've stuck with me, and they buy the albums and the live audience continues to grow, which amazes me. It seems like more tickets are sold every couple years when I go out and it just continues to grow slow and steady. I've really kind built this one show at a time — and I feel like that's what I'm still doing.”