When we entered lockdown in 2020 it left a lot of people with time to reflect and create. For Jimmy Montague, it yielded an album, Casual Use. It touches on themes of growing older and the reluctant acceptance of yourself that comes with that. He talked to us about his creative process, making the album, his influences, and where he is going.
W+: Can you tell us a little about your band for those who might not know you are in a band called Perspective?
Jimmy Montague: Perspective, A Lovely Hand To Hold is an emo/indie rock band from New Hampshire. I met them while touring with friends in 2016 and started playing with them in late 2017. I've been in the band since and released a record called Lousy and a record coming out this
summer called PHANTASMAGORIALAND. It's been a really fun outlet for me to get to play loud rock and roll.
W+: How did this project come about?
JM: The JM stuff started a little before, I had moved, left a bunch of Connecticut bands I had been playing in and had a back catalogue of half-finished material. At first, it started out sounding like Weakerthans/Into It Over It worship, but over the years I've become a little more honest in what I genuinely enjoy and I think it's reflecting in the music. I was convinced, at the time, that I was done playing in bands and that if I was going to make music, I'd have to get used to making it all myself. 5 years later and I’m writing this from the road with a band, so I suppose I was being a little dramatic but I’m still glad I took on this endeavor.
W+: For this record, you had to learn to arrange horns. What was that process like?
JM: It was difficult! I relied heavily on my two good friends Matt Knoegel of CT band The Most and my roommate at the time Ben Barnett. I had some experience with arranging strings, but the voicing for that is obvious. Low to High, Cello to Violin. With horns, it was super new to me to pitch an idea and have them show me how you can choose the arrangement and assign different instruments accordingly and have it change the timbre so drastically. They played a huge part in me plucking out an idea and turning it into what it finally became. It was a lot of me communicating via “here’s this song, check out how this stack is, that's how I want this part to sound” and them saying “okay you need this on top, this in the middle, this on bottom”. It was a very cool experience. One of my favorite moments on the record, the end of Unfamiliar Record, I completely gave over to Matt. I wrote the progression with Ben, asked Matt to “go wild” and honestly didn’t even hear it until tracking day. That’s one of my fondest memories from making Casual Use, was hearing that part for the first time.
W+: There are a lot of instruments on this record, what was it like working with so many musicians?
JM: For Casual Use, I took care of the majority of the backing myself. I played Drums, Bass, Guitar, Piano, and Viola, Cello, and Violin. When it came time to embellish the arrangements, I got to call in the hired guns. My horn ensemble was almost entirely friends from high school; Mike and Matt Schmidt on Tenor Sax/Flute and Baritone Sax respectively, Matt Knoegel on Tenor and Alto Sax. Ben Barnett, a friend from college, on Trombone/Trombonium, and Josh Bruneau, an NYC/CT session trumpeter who is a friend of Ben and Matt’s. I also employed Matt Walsh from New Hampshire/Massachusetts for additional trumpet. To bolster the string section, I had my friend Michela Christianson to double the violas and violin parts. Another longtime friend Connor Waage, also of CT band The Most, performed the guitar solo on the eponymous track which features Bongos performed by Seth Engel from Chicago band Options, and finally, my roommate and bandmate Jacob McCabe played Hammond Organ. When I buy records, I scour the session player lists, and I can only hope I do my due diligence to credit all my musicians who have helped me. All of these musicians are exceptional players in their own right, and working with them was super comfortable. It is a massive sigh of relief to be behind the board, give a musician the section, and feel excited to tell them Play What You Feel, knowing that no matter how it goes, it will be good.
W+: There’s an obvious 70’s influence on this album, what bands influenced you the most?
JM: When writing Casual Use, a huge influence on me was Andy Shauf’s “The Party”, George Harrison’s “Dark Horse”, Steely Dan’s “Royal Scam” and Paul Simon’s “Graceland”. I knew I wanted the dense feel of a large ensemble, I knew I wanted the song structures of the late 70’s, but I wanted to stay true to my contemporary lyrical style without adopting a dated schtick that wasn’t my own. I spent a great deal of time pouring over Doobie Brother’s arrangements as well, specifically on “One Step Closer”.
W+: The theme of this album seems to be reluctantly accepting adulthood, was this an intended theme, or did it just work out that way when writing the songs?
JM: It definitely was intended, the songs were all written during a period of forced self-reflection. I wouldn’t say it's reluctant though, more so of “you’ve tried all these methods of escape, some more harmful than others, it’s time you realized that you are who you are, its time to move on in a direction that you choose mindfully.” It happened to be a very pivotal time in my personal life and required a lot of letting go. I’m good with it though, I think it has grounded me immensely.
W+: Have you always been interested in music? Was there a particular song/performance that made you say "Woah! I want to do that!"?
JM: I started playing Viola in 3rd grade. I wanted to do snare drum, but they made you wait til 4th grade for Band for some reason and I didn't want to wait haha. I played viola through college, but I started playing guitar in 6th and started playing in bands very soon after. I think there are two moments of that exact feeling on very different ends of my quote unquote career: Seeing my friend Nick’s high school band play the peace cafe in our hometown made me want to join a band that gigs, and then years later after all the emo and punk, hearing Andy Shauf’s The Party and saying “wow, this is what I’m Actually into, and I want to make records like that”. Over years there have been plenty of odds and ends that have shaped my playing and writing, but those are two moments I can distinctly remember thinking “well that's just about the coolest thing you can do, I’ll do that”.
W+: If we were to peek over your shoulder, what does your studio look like? What gear do you typically use?
JM: I co-run a studio with Jacob McCabe and Paul Piwowarski in New England. While still in its early stages, we prioritize having the real instruments. With virtual instruments getting better and better, sometimes it's hard to justify the expense, but there is a very real physical and emotional difference when playing on an old Wurlitzer 200a, or Fender Rhodes. With my records, having a 60’s Japanese bop kit, the Hofner bass, the 67’ Fender bassman, etc just makes me feel like I’m making the records I grew up listening to. Using a collection of old ribbon mics and about 90% of all outboard gear on the way in, we’re able to get the sounds we’re looking for right away. It's often that we get very far into making records and realizing we haven't touched a single plug-in yet haha. If I could afford it, I would ditch the computer altogether and just hit 2-inch tape from here on out. maybe one day. We’re all idolizers of Abbey Road and Ascot Sounds and Trident and all the photos of ’60s and ’70s recording sessions, I think that the experience of making a record should feel as dreamlike as that same feeling you got as a kid finding those records for the first time. It's a small operation at the moment, but it's a lifelong endeavor, and I think we’re in the right mould from the get-go.
How has your sound evolved over the last 5 years?
JM: in the last 5 years I would say my attention to detail has most improved. I would attribute a lot of that to making music with Jacob McCabe (who performs solo as Chet Wasted). Like it or not, he doesn’t let me slide by doing the half-ass job I'm prone to do with no supervision. But also I think I've broadened my palate for reaching for different things in my arranging. I think a lot of that comes from just obsessing over minute details in the music I've explored. I work very slow through artists, and I think that helps me personally. I’ll spend months on individual records until I know it inside and out. Records with meticulous arrangements like Gaucho or The Nightfly have totally reshaped the way I write and assign instruments. It's given me a new appreciation for writing a simple song, complicating it, and then resimplifying it in a way where it doesn't sound pretentious, but the more you listen, the more you pick up on the little intentional nuances that tighten a song.
W+: What’s in store for this summer?
JM: I’m currently on tour with Rochester Punk outfit Taking Meds, so when I get back, I’ll be resuming work on my new record. It's looking at being finished by the end of the year, but coordinating the brass and strings always proves to be the most time-consuming. I’m very excited to finish this one, as some of the songs were being shaped while making Casual Use, so I've had ample time to obsess over the arrangements. I’m at my best when I have something to work on.
We want to thank Jimmy for taking the time to sit down and answer our questions. Be sure to listen to Casual Use available on all streaming platforms and check out Jimmy playing with Taking Meds this summer.