Ray LaMontagne Ouroboros interview
The soft-spoken troubadour reveals how My Morning Jacket's Jim James—and a prophetic vision—inspired his far-out new album 'Ouroboros.'
On most days in Ashefield, Mass. (pop. 1,737), Ray LaMontagne might pass the time taking a blacksmithing class, cruising the town on a motorcycle, or grabbing lunch at Elmer’s, a country store that even has a quesadilla (the Ray-sadilla) named after the town’s most famous musician. But when the opportunity came last year for him to record with one of his pals, My Morning Jacket’s Jim James, the Grammy-winning singer-songwriter headed south to Louisville, Ky., where the two holed up in the fabled La La Land studio. “It was such a generous, kind, creative, playful atmosphere,” LaMontagne says of those sessions that make up his sixth album, Ouroboros. “It was the best experience I’ve had in the studio.”
Since releasing his 2004 debut, Trouble, LaMontagne has become an anomaly in pop: His past three albums cracked the top 10, and he’s performed at the nation’s most prestigious concert venues (including New York City’s Radio City Music Hall), yet the soft-spoken ex-factory worker rarely gives interviews and played his first concerts from the side of the stage—with the lights off. LaMontagne’s latest is another unpredictable career move. It’s a sprawling, eight-track epic designed to be played on a turntable. “It’s the age of the single, and there’s no singles on this record,” LaMontagne says with a laugh. “I don’t think it works in any way except as a whole.”
While recording, LaMontagne and James revisited the sounds of LaMontagne’s favorite albums from the ’60s and ’70s: Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, and Willie Nelson. But LaMontagne’s biggest inspiration came from what he’s called a prophet-like vision. “I don’t regularly practice meditation,” he says. “But this is as close as I come. I get very quiet and talk to whatever energy is out there. ‘I’m here,’ I say. ‘If you want to play, let’s play!’ [Then] little melodies filter down. That’s how this record happened.”
Now LaMontagne is getting ready to hit the road, with a handful of My Morning Jacket members as a backing band. Each night, he’ll perform Ouroboros in full, along with earlier material. “I hope [the album] finds its way, quietly, into people’s lives,” he says. “I pray it does.”