NASHVILLE — It may be hard to recognize Ray LaMontagne behind all the reverb and distortion on his new album, but the singer-songwriter says it’s the most exposed he’s ever been on a record.
LaMontagne, known for his acoustic folk ballads, let the songs for Supernova lead him to a new sonic palate reminiscent of 1960s psychedelic rock, with airy layers of electric guitar, keyboards, drums and echoing background vocals.
“These songs, something about the way they came to me, it feels like it’s a very unguarded Ray,” LaMontagne said. “Maybe before I would have been hesitant to put it forward, even to the band I was playing with.”
Following his Grammy-winning album, God Willin’ & The Creek Don’t Rise, LaMontagne said he felt more creative freedom to let his instincts carry him toward the songs on his fifth studio album.
“This time, for some reason, I just feel like I am at a place now in my career where I can just be less critical when I am sifting through things,” LaMontagne said from his home in western Massachusetts.
So it became a good fit as well to get producer and Black Keys guitarist Dan Auerbach to record the album in Auerbach’s Nashville studio. Auerbach picked out LaMontagne’s backing band, none of whom had met or worked with the singer.
Richard Swift, a producer and musician who plays with The Shins and now The Black Keys, was brought in to play drums. He helped Auerbach with some of the arrangements since they both were heavily influenced by older musical styles.
“We don’t want to just regurgitate what’s already existed, but we do love old records,” Swift said. “The idea is to make it timeless-sounding.” But he says the sounds were a departure from his previous records. “I can understand how people might have to disassociate what they normally think is a Ray LaMontagne record,” Swift said. “But it’s completely Ray.”
The singer seems to stand out further when pushed into new places by the music, as on Airwaves, in which he matches Swift’s bongo drumbeat with short breathy shouts. Hard to imagine from a guy who was a reluctant performer early in his career.
“As far as performing goes, it just took a while,” LaMontagne said. “I had to go to a very interior place to get to it. I’m no poster boy, as everyone knows.”
The overall upbeat tempo may not be what fans were expecting from the singer of emotionally heavy-type fare such as Jolene, or his most well-known song, Trouble. But LaMontagne said those kind of songs don’t reflect him personally.
“When you deliver something, when you sing it, you want it to come from an honest, sort of emotional place so it translates so people can latch on to it,” LaMontagne said. “They are not really personal songs. Not personal to me. But you want them to be accessible to people so they can make it their songs. That’s what songwriters do.”
With Supernova, LaMontagne may have finally revealed a bit more of his personality.
“And I am not concerned whether anyone gets it or not,” LaMontagne said. “’Cause I really get it. It just feels right, this one.”