Crowds of people gathered on the dock waiting to board the Ryan Montbleau concert cruise. Two separate lines form, and mine moves in a steady pace but stops when I am next to board. The second line effortlessly moves past mine while the couples in front of me talk about the bands performing on the Rock and Blues cruise.
“We’re groupies of the first band,” says the short-haired brunette of the older couple. “My nephew is playing in the opening band and we’re here for support.”
The second line continues boarding and a man behind me asks the event staff, “Can you only let a few more people board at a time? Why is that line moving?”
“They are going whale watching.”
Aboard the boat was a different atmosphere. People were socializing and taking in the view, all with beer and other alcoholic drinks in hand, waiting for the main doors of the cabin to open for the performance. Hey Mama opened with songs from their self-titled album, Hey Mama.
Celia Woodsmith’s voice is sultry and enchanting, which matches the group’s musical tones perfectly. Their sound captured the energy within a certain couple—whose passion for the music was so intense, their dancing seemed to be synchronized to the music; it was quite beautiful to watch.
Leaving so much energy in the room for the headlining performance only made the audience crave the act that much more. The once filtered room felt claustrophobic. Screams of happiness seemed to shake the room as the Ryan Montbleau band assembled on stage. Memorable songs from their set included: “The Boat Song,” “Seventy-five and Sunny,” and a song from their newest CD “Love Song.” During “Seventy-five and Sunny,” an introspective look on growing up, the audience sang along to “rather be seventy-five and sunny/ not twenty-nine with a chance of flurries all the time.”
After the performance, when the raucous crowd had cleared from the boat, I was able to speak with Montbleau about the band, their new album, and plans for the future.
BLAST: I enjoyed your show so much. How does the experience compare to playing in coffee shops and venues?
RYAN MONTBLEAU: Thank you. I haven’t played in a coffee shop in a while, but I imagine that shows on the boat are about the exact opposite of that listening—folk sort of vibe. There is something about a boat where people just get out on the water and sort of lose their minds. We play a lot of different kinds of shows still, some are [in] seated listening theaters, some are jam festivals, and some are [in] raucous clubs. The boat cruises would fall pretty far on the side of a raucously upbeat party show.
BLAST: How long have you been doing the concert cruises?
RM: Five years, I think.
RM: Well, I remember making up songs in my head when I was very small. And my father gave me an electric guitar when I was nine, and I could do some stuff on that. But I never took any of it seriously until college.
BLAST: You played the guitar a lot in college. Was playing a way to deal with being depressed and away from family and friends?
RM: Definitely. I had a few years there when I was very sad and extremely shy. Quiet as a mouse really. I barely spoke in social situations. That’s when I got the nickname “Blue”, which my friends still call me. And the guitar was there as this amazing outlet. As I always say, the bug just bit me…I would just play and play and play for hours every day; listening to the blues, playing the blues, certainly feeling the blues. Music just started to surge up from somewhere deep, and the guitar was the only way to express that. I was so shy, I couldn’t even play in front of anyone—for a while anyway.
BLAST: At what point in your life did you realize this would work as your career?
RM: Right as I was about to graduate from college in 1999, there was of course all this talk among friends—I was talking more by then!—about what they were doing after graduation. Time to find a career. I had ended up an English major, and studied and had written a bunch of poetry over those last two years [at school]. I also kept playing the guitar all the time, and during the last semester of my senior year, I started to sing. So it literally just dawned on me right at the end of college, “I think I want to try to make music.” My parents were surprised!
RM: I started off playing solo after college but was in a band relatively quickly after that (I named it Palabra). That band lasted a couple of years, but I eventually went back to playing solo for another few years. Then James, my old drummer, was running an open jam up in Gloucester, Massachusetts, and had to put together a house band every week. That was basically the beginning of the band we have now, seven years later. It all has really developed and evolved naturally over the years. I didn’t really make a conscious choice like, “OK, now I need a band.” I just kept playing with the guys who were good and who were into it, and eventually the band just took over the solo thing. I still love to play solo-acoustic, but I don’t do it nearly as much as before. The band is greater than the sum of its parts. I’m still learning how to be a good player in the band context.
BLAST: Was it a challenge to blend everyone’s musical tastes to form the bands rock and blues sound?
RM: It’s a constant challenge and constantly fun—when we’re doing it right—to create music together. Everyone brings something different to the table. Some of the guys are classically trained, some have jazz training, and some are much more up on contemporary music than others. And for whatever reason, we make it work. I just love to write songs. So it’s a blessing to have guys around me who want to embrace the tune. Whether it’s a folk tune, funk, reggae, rock, whatever…we just try to stay true to the song, and true to ourselves as we do it.
RM: Paul Simon, Stevie Wonder, The Black Crowes, Deb Talan, Paul McCartney, Surprise Me Mr. Davis, Martin Sexton, De La Soul, Django Reinhardt, and many, many, many, others.
BLAST: Your first album is titled Begin and the second is Stages. Are your album titles of any significance?
RM: Sure. I think a title really needs to sum up what’s going on in that particular collection of music. I also like to have [titles] make reference to the band or where we’re at, when it’s possible. That first album title I deliberately named, and I wanted it to be the beginning of a long career.Stages referred to the live stages that the album was recorded on, but also as stages of my own development as a performer and musician. With the band records, I’ve been using a line from one of the songs that only shows up once on the record. And that has worked so far. With this new one, Heavy on the Vine, it does make some reference to where we are as a band. We’ve been on the road kicking the hell out of ourselves for years, developing our music, working hard. Things hang heavy at times, and if I may say so, I think we’re ripe for the picking. Something like that anyway…
BLAST: Heavy on the Vine—your sixth CD—comes out in September. How is it different from your previous albums?
RM: Martin Sexton produced it. We’ve never worked with a producer before this, so that alone was just different. The actual recording of it was similar to how we’ve done records in the past, recording much of it live and overdubbing later. Martin really brought us deeper into that. We tracked more live than we might have on our own. We left things in that we might have taken out and polished up on the previous records. Those last few albums we made on our own—to me they get sort of polished and stuffy at times. I believe this album breathes more. And other than a few minor additions, it is only us on the record. It’s our band in a room. That may sound obvious, but it’s easy to get away from that when recording sometimes. Martin did a great job of setting a nice relaxed atmosphere and allowing us to trust in each other, and play to our band’s ability. Ultimately, we had his ears to trust too, which was amazing.
BLAST: What can we expect next from you?
RM: We’ll do another big tour in the fall in support of Heavy on the Vine. Then the plan is to take a few months off, which we’ve never done. But we need it. We need to decompress, charge the batteries. It’s been seven long years on the road doing upwards of 200 gigs a year. The goal now, as always really, is to keep making better music. We still believe that we can get the art to be whole lot better. I have a zillion more songs I want to write. To do that, I need a short break to stop the spinning in my head, first.