Earlier this month, Ray LaMontagne released his seventh studio album, Part of the Light. Comprising just nine tracks and clocking in at 46 minutes, there’s not an ounce of fat on it.
The singer-songwriter's voice alternates between soaring as high as ever on “As Black As Blood Is Blue” and cozying up in your eardrum on “Let’s Make It Last," boasting quite a bit of range despite the record's brevity.
Ahead of his visit to Houston in early June, LaMontagne spoke with the Houston Press about his new album and his quest to bring some positivity to the world during these bleak times.
“It just feels like the world is so ugly,” he says. “Not all of it of course, but you don’t have to look too far.”
LaMontagne doesn’t watch the news. He says he checks in every few weeks to stay abreast of developments in the world, but the overwhelming negativity of it all has caused him to turn inward.
“I turn these things off because I can’t handle it,” he says. “I feel like all I can do, personally, is try to be a part of something positive every day.”
Instead of spending time his days attached to his phone or computer, LaMontagne immerses himself in life, avoiding online interactions and focusing on his real-world relationships: his family, his friends and strangers he interacts with in person.
“A lot of these songs are me talking to myself, trying to focus on how beautiful life is,” he says. “Because we really just have this moment, so I just want to be present for it.”
Every track on Part of the Light feels personal, but “It’s Always Been You," which he wrote for his wife of 29 years, sounds especially intimate.
“We’ve known each other since we were eight,” LaMontagne says. “There’s this feeling that somehow our souls have known each other forever, before there was anything, and I think I was trying to express that in the song.”
The New Hampshire native says his latest album is no more or less different than any of his others, even though it was recorded in his home studio.
“It’s nice to be able to wake up, make a cup of coffee and walk straight into the studio. To wake up in your own bed and be three steps from the studio, but… every batch of songs is different,” he says. “Albums are like paintings. I paint them then I walk away and start thinking about the next thing.”
Speaking of the next thing, LaMontagne may be weary of the world but he doesn’t think things will be bleak forever.
“The pendulum always swings to one extreme before it goes the other way," he says. "It feels like maybe we’re just hitting that extreme and it’s going to go the other way with this next generation of kids."
And while the singer-songwriter admits that there are many factors contributing to the ills of American culture, he attributes at least some of it to social media specifically.
“I think social media is making people feel so isolated,” LaMontagne says. “It makes people feel like they’re not good enough, like they don’t have real friendships. It gives a whole platform to ugliness, for people to be cruel to one another because they’re not looking at them.
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"Would you look someone in the eye and say, 'You’re fat' or 'You’re ugly'? You would never say that to somebody. But online, people say it every day. And worse and worse, because they’re not seeing that this is hurting somebody. It’s a cultural illness," he continues. "I have no answers, absolutely none other than that I don’t participate personally because I don’t want to be a part of it. It’s gross."
He's hopeful for change but, in the interim, plans to prioritize the things in his life he can positively impact.
“I focus on the things that are real and tangible: Real friendships, real connections, real conversations,” he says. “And I just hope the pendulum is going to go in the other direction for the next generation of kids.”
Ray LaMontange and Neko Case are scheduled to perform at 7:30 p.m. (doors open) on June 10 at Smart Financial Centre 18111 Lexington, Sugar Land. For more information, call 281 207-6278 or visit ticketmaster.com, $59-$89.