Ryan Montbleau Takes It Higher
It’s been a busy year as you also released a live album in the fall.
We’ve been feeling better than ever about the music we’re making, so it felt right to release a live record for sure. It’s from a special little show that we did in Boston in September of 2011 in conjunction with the good folks at Life is Good. Those people are amazing. And yeah, we’re busy, busy as always.
In 2010, the entire RMB lineup served as Martin Sexton’s backing band. What was that experience like?
It was great. He’s always been a hero of mine. So to go from just completely idolizing a guy to being in his band, playing with him at Bonnaroo, the Fillmore, Jazz Fest— it’s just beyond words. He also produced our record that year. He’s been amazing to us, such a great dude. And to get to hear him do his thing every night is a blessing for anyone.
Did that opportunity help RMB become a tighter band musically?
I think so, sure. Every year I think we get tighter and we’re certainly always trying to get better. The guys all love Martin too so we certainly wanted to play great for him on that tour. And it was the first time we had to play someone else’s material, which was very different for me. We definitely grew from that experience. Martin would also throw us curveballs every night. All of a sudden we’re playing “Oye Como Va” for the first time in front of a thousand people, things like that every night.
How did you get hooked up with Martin?
I suppose in retrospect I’ve been gunning for him for years. I used to go to his shows and hand out my CDs to people on the way out. I thanked him twice on my first record and had never met him. I finally did meet him through Assembly of Dust at Gathering of the Vibes in 2007. Later that year, we opened some shows on his Seeds tour as a trio. In 2008 I opened his entire solo tour. It just kept evolving.
When I first saw you perform solo in 2004, I think you had just quit your job as a substitute teacher.
It was definitely a pretty good gig at the time, allowing me to continue to pursue music at night. I actually stopped subbing in 2003 and have been only playing music ever since. I can’t say I miss those days! But I certainly wouldn’t change it. I think may have helped train me as a performer. If you can face a classroom of high school kids at 7:30am, you can face any audience in the world. Back then the goal was just to make a living from music. Now the goal is to keep going. You’re always clawing for a little more stability in this whacky business.
Tell me about the Cohen brothers.
I’ve been playing with them for so many years – it’s hard to image life without them. James has been the only drummer I’ve ever had. I’ve been playing with him for well over ten years. And Jason in many ways is like the musical director of our band. Both of these guys have practiced so much and worked really hard to get where they are.
How about Matt?
Matty’s the most trained jazz player in the band. He’s also been writing more and more and brings a lot of creativity and high level of musicianship to the band. He’s also a hilarious dude. He keeps us laughing all day long.
And Yahuba, I’m sure you’re thankful that he’s a full-time member now?
It’s tough to imagine doing anything without Yoobs too. He just adds to the music in a million ways. Beyond percussion, he now plays the glockenspiel, a sampler pad with all kinds of sounds and samples, and also brings great back-up vocals.
How has the band changed with the addition of Lyle on guitar, and the departure of viola player Laurence Scudder?
We all love Laurence and when someone leaves the band it seems like the end of the world when it happens. But over time, you see it’s all for the best, you have to embrace the change. Lyle has made us a much better band than we were. We all feel like he’s the best musician among us. I’m telling you, he can hang with anyone. I think people’s first impression might just be that he’s some kind of shredding guitar slinger or something, but it’s so, so much deeper than that. It’s all about his parts and his knack for finding the right space. He brings a great energy.
How important has it been for the band to have a great relationship with the guys from Assembly of Dust and moe.?
It’s been a blessing to know any of those guys for sure. Even just on a practical, professional level, those are guys that have done what we’re trying to do. They’ve been through it all, and for many more years than we have. I think it’s rare to find those kinds of mentors in this business.
Do you feel your audience is predominantly jamband fans?
Honestly, I think we’re still figuring that out day by day. And as they say, “You don’t choose your audience, your audience chooses you.” So there’s only so much I can think about that. We’re very lyrically driven, and when you’re all about the lyrics it tends to lend itself to the folk/Americana world. But because we’re not just a singer/songwriter and some side players, because we’re a full-on band that covers different genres and with an element of improv, we can play in the jamband world. Time will tell what we are, but at the end of the day we just want to make the best music we can.