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In the Studio: Ray LaMontagne

Songwriter ditches producer, traditional writing process on 'God Willin' & the Creek Don't Rise'

July 13, 2010 3:23 PM ET

Recording music has never been much fun for Ray LaMontagne. Making his first three albums was a lengthy process complicated by LaMontagne's increasingly volatile relationship with his longtime producer Ethan Johns. For his fourth album, God Willin' & the Creek Don't Rise (out August 17th), LaMontagne decided it was time for a major shake-up: he ditched Johns in favor of self-production and forced himself to record the album live over just five days.

"We cut it in a giant old barn on my property in Massachusetts that was built in 1811," LaMontagne says. "Every morning we had breakfast at a place called Elmer's in Ashfield and then drove a mile to the barn and stated working around 11:30 a.m. The band never heard the songs until the day we cut them, but we always got two songs a day."

His wrote the songs this past January — again, completely reversing his standard process. In the past, writing took nearly a year of procrastination, but this time he locked himself in a room for 14 hours a day and forced himself to write in a notebook. "Some days I didn't make any progress at all and I was horrible... just hellish," he says. "Then I had stretches where I would just get a bridge or a verse and I would lay them out on a table and work on that song until it got dry."

The finished LP is similar to his previous work — a unique blend of soul and folk. Many of the tracks, like "This Love Is Over" and "New York Is Killing Me," are written in the voice of a highly depressed narrator, but LaMontagne says they aren't autobiographical. "They're just songs — they have nothing to do with me," he says. "I just channel emotions into lyrics. It bugs me that people think my songs are personal because it means I have to explain myself all the time."

This summer, LaMontagne will hit the road with David Grey for a 17-date American amphitheatre tour that launches August 15th in Columbia, Maryland. Still painfully shy, LaMontagne loves playing the gigantic, impersonal venues. "I always hated playing clubs," he says. "I need space between me and the audience — and the more space the better. Intimate shows feel weird. People want to know you and that sort of feels like folk music, where you want to artist to be your friend. I just can't stand it."

LaMontagne's success over the past six years has meant a lot of uncomfortable time in the spotlight, but he says it's all part of reaching his ultimate goal. "I want to write music that will outlive me," he says. "I haven't done it yet and I don't even know if I'm getting closer, but I think I'll know when I've done it."

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