Singer-songwriter Randy Montana’s debut album clings to the rough edges of country’s musical highway with its compelling storytelling and vivid imagery combined with a raw but rocking guitar-driven sound.
Montana’s boundary-free music captures the yearning of restless young men who are in a hurry to take life as far as they can, men who are sometimes too caught up in the moments of passion to have thoughts of regret. His raspy voice, which sounds older than his years, tells of temptation and consequences while painting musical portraits of wheels turning, fires burning and women scribbling phone numbers on matchbooks.
“With a debut record, you’ve got to come out and be like, ‘Man, this is me. Here are the things that I want to say through a song that maybe will let others get to know me as a person, where I stand on things and experiences I have gone through,’” he says. “There are heartache songs, those love-lost songs, but there are some that are just good-feeling songs that just feel right. With this album I would like to give people a little glimpse into my life and feelings that I’ve felt and things that I want to tell.”
Montana is a songwriter’s son who has found his own voice and quickly earned respect as a tunesmith on Music Row. He co-wrote the bulk of his eponymous album, and Montgomery Gentry recorded the Montana-penned “Can’t Feel the Pain.” Emmylou Harris was so impressed by Montana’s talent that she harmonizes with him on “Last Horse.”
His father is Billy Montana, whose hits include Garth Brooks’ “More Than a Memory,” Sara Evans’ “Suds in the Bucket” and the Grammy-nominated Jo Dee Messina hit “Bring on the Rain.” Billy grew up dreaming of owning an apple farm before his musical aspirations took over and he worked on a New York vegetable farm to support his family of five before becoming a successful songwriter, so perhaps it’s not surprising that he received national acclaim for his accurate portrayals of rural life. But Randy’s urban reality is much different, and it’s that world – interstates instead of back roads, bars instead of barns – that he explores for life’s truths. Yet he’s a true guy’s guy who loves hunting, the outdoors and riding motorcycles.
The common thread the Montanas share is that they both are driven to examine universal themes and create musical montages that have such a strong impact on the senses that listeners believe they can hear the lovers whisper and rain softly thumping on the windows.
“Growing up around it, it took me awhile to come into my own,” he says. “I never worried about being in a shadow or anything like that. But I also wanted to achieve that same kind of songwriting level that my dad achieved.”
Randy was born in Albany, N.Y., and moved with his family to Nashville in 1988 when Billy signed a record deal with Warner Bros. “I always grew up around music, watching him do it,” Randy says. “He was always playing gigs or writers’ nights. I kind of grew up next to a stage. Anytime the family got together, the guitars came out.”
“We grew up listening to Bruce Springsteen, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers and Jackson Browne for road trips. I grew up around that stuff, listening to that, and I think that’s a pretty good place to start.”
He started playing guitar at age 10, writing songs at age 16 and performed his first song publicly at one of his father’s writers’ nights at age 17. “When I was young, I remember really, really wanting to do it,” he says. “It kind of intimidated me though, because you grow up watching your dad do it.”
He was the high school quarterback and goalkeeper in soccer and landed a football scholarship but instead opted to play college soccer. After a year at Nashville’s Trevecca Nazarene University, he transferred to Middle Tennessee State University, but left after two years when music beckoned.
During college he played in a band called Homestead that was frequently booked at fraternity parties and Middle Tennessee bars. “That was a great way to just get your chops up and understand how a crowd works and how to keep them entertained,” he says. “The only way you can learn is to just get up there and screw up for the first 10 times, but then once you get the hang of it, then you remember how it goes and you just get better and better.”
He worked odd jobs, including roofing houses, waiting tables and bartending, while writing songs in hopes of landing a publishing deal. Inspired by the music of Steve Earle, Chris Knight, Hank Williams, Jr., Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, The Wallflowers and Counting Crows, he eventually came into his own with a sound that’s a little left of country’s center.
He signed with Sony Music Publishing in 2008 and began writing with its team of established writers. His burgeoning catalog caught the attention of Universal Music Group Nashville’s Joe Fisher. “He always encouraged me, ‘Bring me any new demos you’re doing’, and stuff like that,” Randy says. “It was cool because he loved the songs that I loved. We were really on the same page with what we thought were good ones that I brought to him. I spent maybe five or six months bringing him new songs.”
Word spread about Randy’s talents and several other labels invited Randy to perform for them in their offices, but Randy knew he wanted Universal to be his home. “I’d always had a good feeling about it, so when I came in and played acoustic for the second time and they offered a deal that afternoon, I didn’t even think twice. I thought, ‘Yes! Yes!’ and we got the paperwork going.” Randy was signed to Mercury Nashville, a division of Universal Music Group Nashville.
The project’s debut single is “Ain’t Much Left of Lovin’ You,” a tale of love lost that he wrote with Josh Ragsdale. “It’s a guy who is looking around at the pieces that are left over from what once was a relationship, kind of pointing out specific things, like pillows on the bed and a dress in the closet and flowers out front,” he says. “He’s looking over the things that were there, but that’s all that’s really left of loving her. Everything else is gone; she’s gone.”
Another standout on the Jay Joyce-produced album is “Last Horse,” a song co-written by his father that’s about a man clinging to a dying relationship. “I don’t want to be the last horse left in this one-horse town,” Randy sings with Emmylou Harris. “When you hear a legendary voice like that singing along with your own voice, it’s a little surreal. At the time, it’s kind of tough to realize the magnitude of what just went down. But then once it does sink in, it’s like, ‘This is going to be a tough thing to top.’”
He co-wrote “The Back of My Heart” and the high-energy “Reckless” with his father and Brian Maher. “Sonically, there’s definitely a theme,” he says. “We’re using 12-string all over the record, which is kind of Tom Petty-ish. It’s also B-3 heavy and has a very roomy drum sound, kind of like the Wallflowers.”
Randy’s goal is to have enough success that he can keep doing this. “I just love this,” he says. “I wouldn’t have it any other way – the live part of it, the songwriting part of it, the studio part of it. I truly love it all.”
“Like they always say, ‘Find something that you love to do and you’ll never work a day in your life.’ So far, I feel that way. There’s nothing I would rather do. I want to take it as far as it can go.”