Hi-FiVE: Jimmy Montague
Posted: by The Editor
From the beginning of my preteen years spent scouring music websites and mp3 blogs, I was obsessed with my favorite artists talking about the music they love and the records that inform how they approach creating.
I still feel the pull of that curiosity whenever I hear new music that excites me, parsing out possible influences as I listen, wishing I could just reach out the artist to find out more about the records that have influenced and inspired them.
So I made a damn column so I could do just that.
You probably know Jimmy Montague as the unreasonably sensual, leopard-print shirt and Hunter S. Thompson glasses-clad singer/bass player for Perspective, A Lovely Hand to Hold. Their 2019 album Lousy is what happens when first-chair band geeks make an emo record: the fist-pumping choruses are interspersed with virtuosic noodling, jazzy breaks, and frenetic shifts between time signatures. It’s ecstatic and cacophonous and it rips.
Montague’s new solo record, The Light of the Afternoon, sounds nothing like that; it has captivating magic all its own. In a year dominated by emo bands who keep getting Louder, Faster, and Wackier, Montague has dropped a warm, lushly arranged album of classic pop/folk tunes inspired more by Paul Simon and Simon and Garfunkel than Mineral or Modern Baseball. I recently sat down with him (that’s a lie: I sent some emails) to talk about the five records that inspire and inform his new album.
Paul Simon – Graceland
Growing up, my dad had a massive collection of rock records that I loved, but my mother had this little sliver contribution of Paul Simon/Simon and Garfunkel records that I found myself playing way more often. It’s such a poppy record and his voice bounces all over the place so playfully. I love all of his absurd alliteration and wordplay: “A loose affiliation with millionaires and billionaires and babyyy,” or “Believing I had supernatural powers, I slammed into a brick wall.”
A favorite song that was a direct influence on “Your Full Name” is “That Was Your Mother.” For writing “Your Full Name,” I was in my apartment and I was just playing that little blues shuffle, something every intro to guitar book will have you learn, and it made me laugh and I thought it would make for a silly song, something Simon and Garfunkel will do for songs like “Baby Driver” or “Keep The Customer Satisfied.” When writing alone, throwing weird half-steps or cliched walkdowns keeps me amused when I don’t have anyone to play ideas off of. I don’t aim to be lyrically funny: I think I mostly get a kick out of some sort of choochy musical element. It takes guts to write some hokey shuffles or blueses, and I definitely think my own writing is lame, but if it makes me laugh, chances are I’ll just go with it.
There were some technical difficulties with recording this album because most of it was recorded in my apartment in New York. I had to make sure I found times where my neighbors weren’t stomping around or playing music. You can hear my roommates walking around in the quiet tracks and even stuff I left in, like forgetting I was making tea at the end of “Passing Taxi Cabs” or me singing to myself at the end of “If I’m Alone.” It made for neat little nuances that I like to think capture the feeling of apartment living. It was much different from the PALHTH record, where we had a budget for ourselves, more people to weigh in on how it should sound, trusting each other’s performances, and pushing each other. We really wanted that record to sound large and very clean, whereas for my own stuff, I personally love little Easter eggs left in on records, and was a little more okay with looser performances to give it a more fun and less calculated feel. Also, I’m lazy sometimes.
George Harrison – All Things Must Pass
One time in the car when I was young, I asked my dad why he didn’t blast rock on the radio and he said, “One day you’ll really learn to appreciate silence.” I thought that was so stupid. But the older I get, the more I think about it. George Harrison’s music, for me, is something I listen to that almost feels like meditation. All Things Must Pass was his biggest outburst of work that all carried messages of love and looking inward, which I think I’ve had to learn a lot about in the last few years.
I use this All Things Must Pass to reflect on the kind of person I want to be. I’m still convinced I want “If Not For You” to be my wedding song, haha. I routinely worry that writing about love all the time is a cop out, but something that this record helps me with is the thought that “If it’s on your mind, it must be important,” and you can’t really change what you’re going to write about once it’s there. As of late, I’ve been looking for quiet moments as often as possible. I think my writing reflects that I’m a person who is getting older and is very evidently in his own head, beating himself up for most of the day. Who knows, maybe all the indecisiveness about the future shows up too.
On the new record, there are a few mentions of relationships souring with friends and how I deal with them personally, mostly coming to terms with my own shortcomings. All of my favorite songs are love songs and writing in that vein has always proved to come naturally. Writing about friends has been harder. A lot of the time I’ll write something out, only to find I don’t actually feel that way anymore. Whether that’s therapeutic or just makes for a good hook is up in the air.
Andy Shauf – The Party
This is the big one. My friend Connor from The Most turned me onto Shauf because he knew I’d like the chromatic sort of play he does with his melodies. Hearing this record, as well as Bearer Of Bad News, retrained my brain to understand that the solos and leads and climatic parts don’t always need to be guitar-centered. Having played in orchestras and being schooled in viola, it reopened that world of arranging for me and made me want to be a much better all-around musician. Hearing this record made me pick up viola again, made me take my sister’s violin, made me borrow Connor’s cello, got me back into piano. “To You” might be my favorite track. Songs can be slow, songs can be soft, and still hit just as hard as some humongous rock song.
I played and recorded all the guitar, bass, drums, piano, viola, violin, and cello on this record. I wrote (using that word loosely) the main horn parts and dictated what I wanted to Matt Knoegel (sax for the band The Most) and my roommate Ben Barnett (trombone). Then I had sections I knew I’d want them to take a solo in, and just let them rip what they felt. With the PALHTH record, Jacob and Ben and Matt have a good handle on that, and while I got to write my bass parts and play some strings and piano on the record, the songs are mostly guitar based and set by the time they get to me. With my own records, it can be all trial and error from start to finish. I can try things out on guitar and maybe move the melody to piano or to strings if I decide it’s fitting. The great part of it being no one to say “no” when I think something sounds good; the bad part being no one to pull me out when I’m obsessively layering something to the point where the part is lost.
It takes a lot of listening to my own demos over and over to put arrangements together. I’m not sure how other musicians feel, but I feel like you have to be pretty into yourself to listen to your own music all the time. I don’t necessarily feel good about it, but it definitely causes waves of “Damn this is sick I’m the greatest musician that ever lived holy shit” and “Wow this is completely unbearable I should never make music again,” so: who knows.
Paul McCartney – Ram
Another Paul, but there are gems in all decades of his career. Ram is definitely my favorite. I pull inspiration from him to the point where it annoys my friends. With someone like him whose work spans decades and different styles and crazes (his synth stuff in the 80’s is bizarre), it’s so inspiring to see someone continue to make music their entire life. I want to write a hundred records. It really doesn’t matter if anyone likes them because it’s just me.
This record in particular, although it’s not technically his first solo album, is the first one where I think he made serious strides to taking all the arranging into his own hands. This was a huge inspiration for me when i decided to make music by myself. If someone can leave the biggest band on the planet at the time, and put out some solo music like his first record that, in all honesty, was shoddily scraped together, but STILL DO IT! That’s, like, the most empowering thing. Ram is where he hones it in, and starts letting out some rippers that are definitely the result of no one telling him “No.” My favorite song is “Back Seat Of My Car,” or the single “Another Day.” Ram has some serious chooch components, but I think a thick helping of unabashed cheese draws me to particular artists. I really believe that current artists should be less afraid of being cheesy because, if done correctly, it can be really endearing.
I’ve been in and out of emo/adjacent bands since high school and what I’ve always found is those band is the desire to put out songs that remain in the same genre. It makes for a cohesive album in that scene, but I think it’s the safest way to play and lends to forgettable records. I love hearing a new band who will try something that they know for a fact their fans will hate, but THEY THEMSELVES love. The most true to that is Weezer.
I’ve never seen a band blatantly disregard their fanbase more than Weezer. They’ll straight up put out some songs I cannot listen to, but I absolutely respect them for going all out for some shit they think is sick. For me personally, I just stopped thinking “I should write something people like,” and switched to “I’m going to write what comes naturally, and if i like it, cool. If people like it, even cooler!” That’s the fun part of writing alone: if I want to do something cheesy, I can just do it.
Steely Dan – The Royal Scam
Steely Dan will say anything. Some of the lyrics are insane. “Don’t Take Me Alive” is my favorite cowboy song, but “Caves of Altamira” feels like it was written by some sort of wizard, or apparition, or who even knows, haha.
I won’t ever claim to be able to write like they do, but my biggest takeaway from Steely Dan is: you don’t always need to be a band that tours constantly and is this whole big parade. There’s nothing wrong with just being in the studio and writing. As an audio engineer, I will always favor writing and recording to performing live. Steely Dan had a complete disregard for conventional music. If they wanted to do something, they just fuckin’ did it. Two nerds holed up in a studio writing insane music is the exact inspiration for me to lock myself in my apartment and write.
This is actually my second solo record, the first being a collection of songs I’d written over the years that never got used for bands I was in. Sometime after my old emo band Guest House fell apart and before joining PALHTH, I had gotten kind of tired of waiting around for people to make an effort. I love working. It keeps me busy and focused and, honestly, it’s all I really care about. I started writing these songs around March, and just routinely demoed them until they were ready for basic tracking in May. From May-September, I wrote the arrangements and tracked everything but drums in my apartment. Final edits and prints were sent to Zach Weeks for mixing by the last week of September. Doing this myself expedited the process because I could work at my own pace and schedule, but also coincided with my own moods and periods of feeling like it wasn’t even worth doing. Working on something that I base my entire self esteem/worth on can be disheartening.
I have no idea why these records from the 60’s and 70’s sound so timeless. Could be just some sort of brain synapse response to the tape machines. Maybe it’s just because it was the first time the sounds that we consider now to be cliched were being made. Could also be that you had to get the backing tracks together live and play tightly. I don’t want to sound boomerish and say that we’re spoiled with Pro Tools and it breeds lazy musicians but…we’re spoiled and it breeds lazy musicians, myself included. I try not to Melodyne or correct too many of the takes I do. In fact, most of those drum takes are wildly unedited because, engineering by myself, I can do as many takes as I want.
But I also think that musicians of that specific time were less self-conscious and more open to trying new things, since so much wasn’t done yet. There was a ton of low hanging fruit for them to slam out of the park that musicians nowadays have to be like “wait is this the same progression as that old famous song?” At the same time, I feel like there may not have been as much pressure to stick in one genre to make it. More people should try things that they want without fear of it not sounding like everything else on the same record.
You can find Jimmy Montague on Twitter @jimmymontague69. Nice.
Keegan Bradford | @FranziaMom
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