Things have been busy for the Peabody singer-guitarist-composer Ryan Montbleau, with a live band album released last year, and a new studio one, "For Higher," a few months ago, along with an often hectic touring schedule.
Singer-guitarist-composer Ryan Montbleau’s musical career has gone something like this. He got an electric guitar when he was 9, switched to acoustic near the end of high school, started writing around the start of college, played – his words – "tons of guitar" there, started singing during his last year in college, formed a band soon after, went into solo acoustic mode, and now fronts the Ryan Montbleau Band, but still does the occasional solo performance.
And things have been busy for the Peabody, Mass., native, with a live band album released last year and a new studio one, "For Higher," a few months ago, along with an often hectic touring schedule.
Unlike so many other young kids, Montbleau, 35, didn’t have to do much convincing to get that first guitar.
"My father gave it to me for Christmas," he said. "He plays bass, and he was in a rock band in college, and they opened for the Lovin’ Spoonful and Sam & Dave. So I do recall wanting a guitar, but I think my father was more excited just to get me one."
Montbleau’s love for the instrument and of words really kicked in during his time at Villanova University.
"I went into college as a chemical engineering major, but I was writing poetry in the back of chemistry class," he said, chuckling. "Something wasn’t right."
His first post-college job was working in the box office at House of Blues in Boston. Around that time he did his initial solo acoustic gigs, the first one on the Mashpee Common. Before long he was playing solo sets at House of Blues, as a warmup act.
"I did have a band together before that," he said. "But I wasn’t really ready for it then, so I went solo for a couple of years. Then the band kind of came back together."
But whether he’s doing shows alone or with the band these days, there’s always plenty of original music to choose from – with a Kinks or a John Sebastian number thrown in now and then. Most shows will have audience members singing along to his best-known song "75 and Sunny."
"I write them little by little," he said. "In general there are some songs we’ll probably do every night with the band, but we also change the set around every night, just to keep it fresh."
Yet Montbleau admits that writing isn’t quite as easy as it used to be.
"Lately it almost feels harder, because this is how I make a living now," he said, pointing out that he’s been doing some writing for other artists, too. "Years ago I wrote because I got the urge to write. I still do, but my challenge these days is to do it without putting too much pressure on myself."
He’s even found ways to put new twists on old songs. Case in point: "Just Perfect," an autobiographical piece he wrote about a former girlfriend that he included on his first live acoustic album, is now a band number on "For Higher."
"When I was going into the session I was trying to figure out what I’d bring in for material," he said. "I was trying to think of some heartfelt material I already had, and that’s a song that’s always resonated with people. And I’d never done it in a studio. So I reinvented it a little bit. I had enough distance from it that it wasn’t so personal anymore. I sang that song for years, completely living the story, just missing that girl and singing about her every night.
"I’ve gotten over her," he said, laughing lightly. "But it took me a while."
The album’s songs range from ballads to rock to soul. But more amazing than the scope of the music is how fast it was recorded.
"We did 10 songs in two days," said Montbleau. "There was some overdubbing later, and other vocal sessions. But most of it was done in two days in New Orleans."
One thing that sets Montbleau and his band apart is that they stream all of their live shows.
"We have our own Website for that – RMBlive.com," said Montbleau. "People can listen every night if they want. We have live streaming, and we have archived concerts, and you can pay whatever you want. You can pay a dollar, or nothing ... whatever."
So why is Montbleau just giving it all away?
"Part of it is because we figured out how to do it. We have the technology," he said. "But the main impetus is to get more people listening. We’re asked if we think people won’t come to the shows, and will just listen at home. But I think it’s going to affect it the other way. I think if anything, it’ll create more interest, and more people will come to the shows."