Singer-Songwriter Kristian Montgomery Transforms Tragedy into Catalyst for New Record
WALLINGFORD, VT – Singer-songwriter Kristian Montgomery is preparing yet again for the release of his latest album, Lower County Outlaw. If there’s any truth to circumstances in one’s life fueling the strength and impact of their creativity, Montgomery certainly provides proof for just that. Montgomery, an artist who fervently wears his heart on his sleeve, has crafted a record steeped in melodic and instrumental hooks, firmly embracing his rock and Americana roots. With many of life’s hardships endured, Montgomery transforms these events into genuine art, all through an artistic crucible.
I had a chance to sit down with Kristian this past week. We discussed the new record, influences, inspirations, and much more during our conversation. Continue reading to learn more.
Lucas Garrett: So, Kris, it’s great talking to you again; it’s been a minute. How are you?
Kristian Montgomery: I’m alright, thanks! Doing ok.
LG: Last time we talked, you had just come out with your album. Now that we’re talking again, you’re working on more material. Is that right?
KM: That’s right! My last album, A Heaven For Heretics, has been out just over a year. And, now my new one is done.
LG: How does that feel?
KM: Good! Good, I mean I guess I’m almost… almost ready… I have enough material for another already.
LG: You’re a busy man!
KM: It keeps me occupied!
LG: When we spoke last, I’d just started hearing of this “Kris” guy. A year later, it seems you’re much more involved in the scene – which is nice to see. I keep seeing your name a lot more these days.
KM: Yeah. I got to meet a couple of cool people. My first “initiation” in the upstate scene was the Sip-N-Stream show out of Johnsburg with Tim Ellifritz and Kelly Barker.
LG: They’re really nice people up there.
KM: They are. They’re just phenomenal people. Kelly’s become a really good friend; Tim’s a great guy. They introduced me to a bunch of people. Vito Ciccarelli from Radio Radio X heard me and booked me for Troy’s Rockin’ on the River event. He invited me to the Central Music Awards, and I got to meet many people there. It’s cool!
People dug the music, but I think I’ve done the networking of making friends, which is what music is supposed to do.
LG: You’ve mentioned your music. Tell us about the new album.
KM: Lower County Outlaw started out as a six-song EP. I was recording that at The Studio At Strawberry Fields in Manchester with the producer, Andrew Koss, who was formerly Alicia Keys and John Legend’s producer. So, he has a lot of major-label talent under his belt. When I finished the six songs, he laughingly said, “I really think you should do a full-length album because it won’t be Grammy-eligible unless you do.” I giggled and said, “I’m a fisherman that moved to the mountains. I don’t think I’m eligible for a Grammy, ever, no matter what I do.” I told him I couldn’t afford to do more than what I had, so we came up with a co-writing agreement. It seems to be pretty lucrative because the material flowed.
LG: On this album, one of the things I noticed is that there’s a lot more… guitar riffs really drive it. There’re a lot of catchy ones on there! In the writing process, how did that all happen?
KM: It was just me playing off of our new session player, John Clarke. He plays a Les Paul through a Fender Twin…
LG: Can’t go wrong with that.
KM: No. So, he’s a lot less Americana and a lot more alternative vibe. A lot of people who’ve played with me will tell you that I tend to play or write to other people’s strengths. I’ll be able to hear what the other person is shooting for and write something in their wheelhouse. That’s how it happened to me. John and I wrote the song “Lost in Memphis”– a story about how I’d met Johnny Cash in an airport in Nashville. He wrote the chorus, and I’d written that guitar riff. It’s cool to go back to my roots of that mid-to-late 90s guitar vibe.
LG: Yeah, I really enjoyed that part of it. When is the album coming out?
KM: We’re shooting to release Lower County Outlaw on August 5th. We have a show at Pauly’s Hotel in Albany and hope to make that our release party.
LG: Awesome. Where else can we see you between now and then?
KM: June 28th, I’m playing Rockin’ on the River in Troy, opening for Neon Ave; July 7th, I’ll be playing the Bondville Concert Series in Winhall, Vermont; on July 14th, I’ll be at Unihog in Hoosick Falls. After Unihog, I’ll be in Copenhagen, Denmark, from July 17th to the 24th. When I get back, we’ve got the Bondville Fair in August and Pauly’s Hotel in Albany on the 5th.
LG: You’re a busy guy!
LG: Your band name, Kristian Montgomery and The Winterkill Band, is interesting. Where’d that come from?
KM: I grew up down in Florida. When I moved to New England, I took a job as a fisherman in Plymouth, Cape Cod, those places. I got into hunting deer. I was hunting with a friend of mine, a Wampanoag Indian – they’re the ones that met the pilgrims. We were in a foot of snow, and we came upon twelve or so yearling deer. They’d not made it through the winter – the coyotes had gotten to them. My friend said, “Gosh, this is the worst winterkill I’ve ever seen.” I thought that was a cool name, and it became a metaphor for getting through the dreary New England winters while waiting for the spring.
LG: It rolls right off the tongue.
KM: It was like Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers – he’s a big inspiration of mine. It has that same kind of vibe.
LG: Your music reminds me of him a lot.
KM: Thanks! Between him and this guy named Chris Whitley. Have you heard of him?
LG: No, I haven’t.
KM: If you have a chance, check him out. He had a song called “Big Sky Country” that was big back in the 90s. It’s a really tragic story. He wrote five or six records. He was supposed to be the next big thing. He got addicted to heroin. Unfortunately, he cleaned himself up and got back on his feet but died of cancer a year later. A tragic life story; some of the music he wrote was the most emotional and beautiful. He incorporated blues and brought it into this modern way of presenting it. He’s a talented guy. So, it’s between Tom and Chris. I’m a big Peter Gabriel guy, too.
LG: I love his music.
KM: I try to incorporate some of that prog-rock there, too. I appreciate anybody saying they hear a little Tom Petty in my music. I think that’s awesome.
LG: Whenever I hear your music, it’s very clear that you have much life experience. I think that’s why it reminds me of Tom Petty. There’s this intrinsic, genuine thing about it, you know? A “no bullshit” attitude. It is what it is.
KM: Yeah, thanks! I grew up really poor and surrounded by rich people. I remember being in bands when I was a kid, and guys would show up with brand-new guitars, thinking to myself, “I’m lucky I got a pair of Keds from my folks.” We didn’t have much, and I grew up working very hard jobs. There was a lot of tragedy…
LG: Does that inform your songwriting a lot?
KM: Absolutely. I did an interview a couple of months back about the gentrification of different rock scenes. Coming from Boston… I moved up here to the mountains right after I got nominated for the music awards there. When I got introduced to the central Upstate Capital Music Awards, it seems like we have a really blue-collar scene. There are a lot of people here that are working class, normal… it’s not your college town or place of privilege. I immediately felt like I fit in.
LG: What’s one of the most unique life experiences that you’ve had happen to you that you want to share? From what I’ve come to know, your life is very interesting. Is there anything that was one of the most impactful – recently – that really defines who you are?
KM: Yeah. I’ve always had a very difficult family life. My younger brother and I were both tradesmen – he was a carpenter, and I did plumbing and fishing. He and I had lost touch, and I wrote a song called “A Warm Grave” that was off my record Prince of Poverty. It was about reconnecting with my brother. Shortly after reconnecting with him, he got diagnosed with terminal cancer. He passed away a year ago in November. I wrote a song off my last record, A Heaven for Heretics, dedicated to my daughter Taylor, who’s married to a woman. The record is about how far we’ve come in accepting people for who we are and not being judgmental. Letting everyone live their best life.
I wrote a song called “Come Carry Weight With Me” about my brother’s passing. He and I got to go out in a tropical storm in a twenty-one-foot boat. Just the two of us. That was a year before he passed. That really affected my songwriting; I really decided at that point to be as honest as I possibly can be. I miss the hell out of him. He was a great guy.
LG: I’m sorry for your loss.
LG: Do you find it hard to be that vulnerable?
KM: Nope! Hahaha. We’re only here for a little while. Who knows what we’re going to be or who we will be in our next life; this is a pretty temporary situation for all of us. We should let it all hang out and go for it. There may be consequences for it: we may go broke and die in a gutter…
KM: … but our story will be told one way or another. I think we’d all prefer to have our stories be the one of “Well, they took chances and went for it no matter what. They put their heart and soul into it.”
LG: I agree! Is there anything else you’d like to discuss that I may have missed tonight?
KM: I appreciate you covering this, and I appreciate you guys. You’re the lifeblood of the music scene.
LG: I can’t wait to hear more from you, and I hope you have a great night, Kris!
LG: I’ll be in touch.
KM: Take care.