Ryan Montbleau Talks About Sharing a House With Bandmates and Not Taking Yourself So Seriously

May 26, 2015

Tell us about your tour vehicle.

At the moment I am in a brand new, rented Ford Transit. It had 27 miles on it when we picked it up from the rental spot the other day. So far I have been pleasantly surprised. I have owned two Sprinters over the years and generally think they’re the greatest. When I picked up this Transit, I thought for sure it was a crappier vehicle made to look like a Sprinter. But I’m thinking I was wrong. It drives great and the gas mileage seems really good so far. I’m surprised because it’s not a diesel engine like a Sprinter. I’m also trying to avoid using trailers whenever possible these days. Those things can be such a headache.

How do you eat cheaply and/or healthy while on tour?

I’ve always tried to take healthy food options whenever they’re in front of me, because you never know when you’ll get stuck without those options. More often than not, we look for a Whole Foods in striking distance of wherever we wake up. It’s not cheap, but there are ways to not spend an arm and a leg and the quality is well worth it in my opinion.

How many strings do you break in a typical year? How much does it cost to replace them?

I used to have to change my strings every two shows or else I’d break them. I remember breaking three strings in a 45-minute set once, but that was years ago. I guess I’ve mellowed! Now I can go several weeks on the same strings and I know when to change them out so that I rarely break them anymore. I have an artist endorsement through D’Addario. They’re not free, but I can order them at 67% off retail. The retail price is marked up, but in the end I still get a really great deal on strings. They’ve been very good to me.

Where do you rehearse?

I still have a room in a big old house that started as our band house many years ago. It has changed over the years, but we still have my PA and a backline set up right in the main living room of this beautiful old Victorian house in Lawrence, MA. Nothing too crazy that I recall in that space, although it was an interesting experience to live with other band members for a while. We didn’t kill each other, that part basically worked out. But moving in together, I think I had this vision of us all walking in and out of different rooms, sharing ideas, jamming. But we were spending so much time together on the road as it was, that it really didn’t work like that. Mostly we were all behind our own closed doors until it was time for a rehearsal, which we’d still have to schedule like we always had.

What was the title and a sample lyric from the first song that you wrote?

Oh, man. I remember being in grammar school, maybe 9 years old and I made up a song in my head that I can still remember. Some of the lyrics were “You’re the only one I want, You’re the only one I need, You’re the only one I love, Why can’t the same to you be me?” What a classic.

Describe your first gig.

I was in college at Villanova and we got a gig at the Wayne Tavern in Wayne, PA. I was the second guitar in our jam band. One time I showed up late after coming back from a semester break and there was another guitar player in the band setting up, so suddenly I was the third guitar. I remember our friend Carlos playing a conga drum that wasn’t miked. We used to get really stoned on the way to gigs and would have a hard time setting up our equipment and the PA. I learned what a setlist was. I think we played The Needle and the Damage Done, Long Gone Day by Alice in Chains, Mr. Green Genes by Zappa.

What was your last day job? What was your favorite day job?

My last day job was substitute teaching at my old high school, which I stopped doing in 2003. I suppose my favorite job was working at the old original House of Blues in Harvard Square.

How has your music-related income changed over the past 5-10 years? What do you expect it to look like 5-10 years from now?

I’ve managed to crawl out of a ton of debt in that time. At times it just seemed like this insurmountable wall, but by continuing to work hard, I can finally see the light of day in that regard. My guarantees are certainly bigger and come from many different places than 5-10 years ago. The bulk of my income by far still comes from playing shows, but I’ve managed to write songs for other, bigger artists and that has been a huge blessing. I’ve gotten a few checks from the sky that really helped me out. I hope to continue to write for more people and make better records of my own. I know that recorded music is a far cry from the money maker that it used to be (to say the least), but people talk about it like it doesn’t exist anymore and that’s not the case. Sorry to say this for those who disagree so strongly, but I’m quite happy with my Spotify royalties and they are growing.

What one thing do you know now that you had wished you knew when you started your career in music?

I wish I hadn’t taken myself so seriously! I would tell myself: ease up a bit, tiger or you won’t enjoy this thing.

Montbleau began as a solo performer, appearing often on stage at the first House of Blues club in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and made his initial two recordings primarily with just his guitar. By 2006’s One Fine Color he’d formed the Ryan Montbleau Band and was branching out of the coffeehouse and folk scene into the jam world, spending much of each year on the road.

His next album, 2007’s Patience on Friday, brought his breakthrough song “75 and Sunny,” a reflective, brightly melodic celebration of maturity. Previous to 2012’s For Higher, Montbleau also recorded two live albums, one solo and one with his group, as well as the Martin Sexton-produced studio disc Heavy on the Vine, a title that reflected the musical depth, versatility and skill Montbleau and his band mates — bassist Matt Giannaros, drummer James Cohen, keyboardist Jason Cohen, percussionist Yahuba, violist Laurence Scudder (and eventually guitarist Lyle Brewer) — had developed together on the road.

Today Montbleau continues to maintain a busy touring schedule, dividing gigs between solo shows and concerts with various line-ups of the Ryan Montbleau Band. “I loved playing with my original band and still do, whenever we may get the chance. But touring with different musicians has taught me to be a better bandleader and forced me to be a better musician,” Montbleau reflects.

Montbleau’s latest release is Growing Light.  You can find him online and on the road.