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Published: 2009/08/26
by Fady Khalil

Ryan Montbleau Sets His Pace

There’s silence on the other end of the phone. Ryan Montbleau, known for his prophetic, delving lyrics, can’t seem to find the words to answer a rather plain question: “What do you do, when you’re not doing music?”

“It’s been tough, because it’s all rolled into one,” he says. “It’s tough to justify doing anything else for very long, without my head being like ‘you know what, we’ve got to be working on other stuff right now, I got to get these emails out, or I got to learn this tune for practice, or continue writing this song.’ The voice in the back of my head always brings me around to music, eventually.”

But it wasn’t always that way for the Bostonite, who actually came to music much later in life. Growing up in Peabody, Massachusetts, a nine year old Ryan was excited to receive a Fender Squire electric guitar as a Christmas gift from his father. He’d grown up hearing the sounds of his dad practicing bass with random bands, for even more random gigs throughout the years. And yet, Ryan never did quite seem to come around to picking up that guitar too often. In fact, by the end of high school, Montbleau had mastered bits and pieces of “Crazy Train” and “Back in Black,” but little more. He even went so far as to sell his axe so absurdly cheap that the person who bought it threw in a beat up acoustic to even out the deal. Fate? More like guilt.

But at least Ryan always sang, just not out loud. Ironically the artist known for his Martin Sexton-like croon and melismatic charm, did all his practicing within the safety of his own thoughts. “I had the voice in my head probably my whole life,” he recalls. “I could sort of hear the way I would sing something, but I never had the guts, or whatever it was to sing it out loud until I was 21.” Ryan was by then attending Villanova University in the suburbs of Philadelphia, PA. For the first time in his life, he was away from family, friends, and his girlfriend back home. He struggled emotionally. Depressed and lost, that guitar which never seemed to make much sense before, finally did. Moreover, that voice which never seemed to make much sound before, finally was.

Within six months, the man who hadn’t ever even sung out loud to himself was now singing to packed bars throughout the Philadelphia area. He’d found his outlet, he’d found his voice. And it quickly became obvious that he had a gift, with a fan base that seemed to grow with every passing show. In time, as musicians are wont to do, he enlisted help from some old friends, and made some new ones, and the Ryan Montbleau Band – James Cohen (drums), Jason Cohen (keys), Matt Gianarros (bass), Laurence Scudder (viola/vocals), and Ted Wilson (tuba/harpsichord) – was born. And they seemed to fit in, no matter where they went.

The band’s lush, orchestral ballads, anchored by Montbleau’s unnerving candor, resonated loudly amongst his peers – a demographic consisting largely of disillusioned, confused 20-somethings – within both the indie and folk scenes. Then again, the group’s appetite for instrumental jamming, and their ability to do it so well, immediately earned them an eager following amongst jamband lovers as well. Still, Montbleau’s warranted comparisons to Martin Sexton drew crowds from different generations who could appreciate his music. In short, it was happening for them, very quickly, and remarkably without any label support. Ryan realized, “at this point, there’s no turning back, I got to keep going.”

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