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- Posted on Aug 17th 2010 3:30PM by Jason MacNeil
"I had been thinking about it for about a year," the somewhat quiet, reserved LaMontagne tells Spinner. "I felt that I was really ready for a change and I wanted to approach the entire process differently. I didn't want a producer in the room -- I wanted to do it."
Yet, with that decision out of the way a few things remained up in the air, including choosing a studio to record in. The musician decided on The Big Room at Apple Hill, his own home studio located in western Massachusetts.
"I'd never recorded in this space before, I wasn't sure how the room itself was going to react to music being played in it," he admits. "It has very high ceilings, it's a very deep room, there's a lot of glass. I just wasn't sure how it was going to work."
The doubt was quickly erased though by the time his band, the Pariah Dogs -- drummer Jay Bellerose, bassist Jennifer Condos, guitarist Eric Heywood and multi-instrumentalist Greg Leisz -- polished off the song 'New York City's Killing Me.'
"I had a feeling listening down to that that everything was going to be alright and that it was working," LaMontagne says. "By that point -- the second song we recorded -- everyone was just marveling at how wonderful the room sounded. I could just tell, the energy was just really good, really positive and it sounded amazing."
Perhaps what was even more amazing was the pace at which the material was recorded. With the album's running order in his head and the songs written, Lamontagne brought in two songs each day over the course of five days -- and none of the Pariah Dogs heard the songs before LaMontagne brought them in.
"In my mind it was finished. I knew how I was going to start, I knew how it was going to end," he says. "So with that we could just get right to work immediately. Everybody just came in, I played them the first song and then we just started rolling. Within a couple of hours we had it and then moved on to the next one.
"I had ideas and I explained certain guitar parts or lines that I wanted to hear but beyond that -- and just their own individual voices coming through -- it was really beautiful to me," he continues. "I couldn't anticipate what they were going to do. I just love playing with them, I think it's really special and I just feel really blessed to be able to play with those guys. I think we make a great, great sound together."
With that approach, 'God Willin' & the Creek Don't Rise' is a very sweet, timeless bit of work that could be described as "mountain soul" -- songs rooted in alt.country or roots instrumentation and steered by LaMontagne's raspy, heartfelt vocals. From the groove-soaked 'Repo Man' to the terribly tender, Neil Young-leaning 'Like Rock & Roll and Radio' (the lone song to feature LaMontagne playing solo), the album draws the listener in with no real hint of coaxing.
Although LaMontagne says there was a short discussion about 'Are We Really Through,' all of the 10 tracks came together smoothly. He's especially proud of 'Old Before Your Time,'' Like Rock & Roll and Radio' and 'New York City's Killing Me' -- the latter of which he describes as the album's high point, despite the title being less than endearing to the Big Apple.
"I just think being in New York City for too long... I mean I love to visit but in the end it's just a song," LaMontagne says. "I think there's just something about it that really works."
What also worked for LaMontagne was the shift in the writing process. After perhaps taking a bit more time than he needed to write previous albums, this time around LaMontagne forced himself to buckle down.
"It was difficult -- writing is always difficult but in such a condensed period of time it was especially difficult," he says. "I would make some coffee, go in the room, shut the door and I would start running through all the songs that I had, whatever stage it was in. And the first thing that caught my attention or I got excited about, I would start working on that one and make as much progress as I could before it ran dry."
LaMontagne will tour behind the album, kicking things off with a summer North American co-headlining tour this month with David Gray. He'll be opening for Gray, but he thinks the two will play together during the performances.
One huge question remains though: why is his band called the Pariah Dogs?
"That was it, I knew it was the one," LaMontagne says with a laugh. "It just rolls off the tongue nicely. I sort of sprung it on them. I didn't ask them for their permission. I just told them they could take it or leave it. I think they liked it."