An interview with Strangefolk guitarist Luke "Patchen" Montgomery.
By Tina Campbell
Since guitarist/vocalist Luke "Patchen" Montgomery joined Strangefolk at a tiny backwoods tavern in Waitsfield, VT for his first gig with the jamband veterans, they've toured several times, recorded a new CD (Open Road), and drew more than 5,000 fans to their annual Garden of Eden festival over Labor Day weekend. It's been quite a year and a half for the Brooklyn native, and like many fans, I was curious to know what he thought of it all. Before setting out for a national co-headlining tour with fellow grassroots groove-rockers The Big Wu, I asked Patchen if he wouldn't mind doing an interview by email. Needless to say, he was more than happy to, so I whipped up a few questions and sent them off not long ago.
Here now for your reading pleasure is what he sent back just before heading out to the left coast for the first show of The Far and Wide Tour in Seattle on March 11th...
Tina Campbell: So, let's start at the beginning... what was going on in your life just
before you joined Strangefolk?
Luke "Patchen" Montgomery: Well, musically speaking, I was trying to get my career going in NYC, where I live. Not exactly succeeding with my old band Folkstone, I had decided to stop doing the day job thing anyway. I figured I'd force myself to survive on music. Ballsy move financially, because the only steady work I got was playing music in the subway. That was the last gig I had before joining Strangefolk -- playing for millions! Though just one at a time.
Auditioning for them wasn't the first time you met Jon, Erik and Luke... when were you introduced?
My old band (Folkstone) played with them in NYC at a club called the Sun Mountain Café in 1995, which has since closed down.
Could you describe your first impression of their sound?
I remember the music sounding like everything I enjoyed playing myself, which is why I always remembered them. I love acoustic guitars and harmonies added to a killer jam. My old band had those goals and so did Strangefolk. Vocal harmonies are, in my opinion, the most pleasing sound in all music. They represent such power and solidarity, and that's beautiful to me.
So how did you wind up at the audition? Had you been following their career and knew about Reid leaving and that they were looking for a new band member, or did you just happen to stumble onto one of the ads they'd placed in the Village Voice?
A friend of mine had just turned me on to jambands.com after I got my first computer, and I saw the news in there. That's how I knew the gig was available. The audition in the local paper was anonymous, but it was kind of obvious to those in the know. "VT based jamband looking for vocalist/guitarist". I mean, who else could it have been?
No doubt a good many fans would love to have been a fly on the wall during your audition. Can you give us an idea of how that went... what songs did you play?
It was a pretty positive experience, overall. We played "Chasing Away" and "Sinner", and then they asked me to play something of my own, and we played my song "Day Job", which went on to be performed at our first show together at the Mad Mountain Tavern in Vermont. I was worried that learning two songs wasn't enough, and I didn't realize this until later, but I was apparently one of the few people who took the time to learn any Strangefolk tunes! People are strange. I mean, walk in and play what, Bon Jovi? The point that I really thought I was doing well was when it came time for the next audition to come in, and Luke Smith said, "No, I think we need some more time with this guy." Luke Smith is cool.
Some of Strangefolk's fans were quick to welcome you with open arms, and some were not. Did you encounter any harshness from the latter?
Well, yeah, I did occasionally feel some angry glares and crossed arms at some shows, like "show me what you got." I stopped reading the fan2fan (Strangefolk's email discussion group) almost immediately, it was too much to take. I was this eager guy who just didn't realize the LOVE, you know? I don't blame anyone, but I hope no-one blames me for what I'm not. I think my best route was, and is, to be myself. I'm not a copy, and I'm not a not-copy, if you get me. I'm just doing my thing up there. I think people appreciate that. If people don't like that, fine, that I can handle. But if people don't like me cause they think I'm a lesser Genauer, a mini-Reid, if you will, they miss the point entirely.
Switching gears a bit, what does your training background look like... formal, informal, how long have you been playing, etc.?
I've been playing guitar since I was 6 yrs old. I took classical lessons till I was 13, and from then on my method of learning was to sit in front of my old tape player and just play along with my favorite music until I learned it. Rewind, stop, play. Rewind, stop, play. And honestly, I think that was the most beneficial thing I could've done for my playing. It developed my ear to the point where I could SEE chords after hearing them. It helped me listen, and listening is the key to making music move. Singing just happened. I never had lessons. I'm a good faker.
What kind of guitars and strings do you play?
I have a Fender Stratocaster '54 reissue (until I can afford the real thing) and a Gibson Chet Atkins solidbody acoustic. I use DR strings.
Can you describe your typical song writing process from inception to completion?
Whew! I've tried a few different paths. The one that works best is just sit down with my old acoustic and play. The melody always comes first, and I'll even record jibberish lyrics on my 4 track if I don't have any written to keep the flow of the song intact. Sometimes its just a part, and I save it for later. And then sometimes there's that magical session where a whole song comes out in one big rush. "Escalator" was like that. There are other methods. Writing lyrics first usually makes for an interesting song. "Criminal" was written lyrics first. But that's too convoluted a process for me most of the time. That song I mentioned earlier, "Day Job"? That one I wrote in my head on a bus. No instrument in sight. I want to try that way more often. I think using the old standard guitar and vocal thing, as much as I love it, can limit a songwriter sometimes.
Some of Strangefolk's songs seem to have endings and beginnings that sound as though they'd fit like puzzle pieces, yet you guys rarely seem to go there. Are you consciously trying to steer clear of creating any segues where it could come to be expected (i.e. the Dead's Scarlet->Fire or Phish's Mike's->Hydrogen-> Weekapaug), or has the similarities in endings/intros in songs like "Paint" and "Float" just simply gone unnoticed?
I don't know. I like surprises. I think it's a big part of this whole scene; the unexpected. So I think consciously saying, "Ok Paint is over, here's Float" might hurt both tunes, if it were to be expected. There's other tunes that beg to be melded (and have been), but the fun is lost after the 4th or 5th time, you know? We want to keep it exciting for ourselves too.
Your newest album, "Open Road" came out this past October... it's received rave reviews from fans and critics alike, and was even a "Featured Album of the Week" at WNCS, "The Point" out of Montpelier, VT. My question, however, is about your next CD. Most of the fans I've talked to would love to see a live compilation disc where exceptional tracks were selected from several different shows. Considering how drastically the songs change in both depth and length when played live, have you guys given the live CD idea any thought?
Funny you ask, we're in the process of picking out tracks from the past few months of shows for a live disc. That'll be fun. I'm thinking we should put out a live version "Open Road", track for track, and show exactly how different the vibe is from studio to live show. Just an idea. Won't happen, but it'd be fun. Like I said earlier, there are new songs popping up all the time. We could make a new studio CD already.
Your current venture is a national co-headlining tour with The Big Wu on The Far and Wide Tour ... that sounds like it'll be a great time considering the similarities in where you're both coming from musically and the family atmospheres of both your fan bases. How did this collaboration happen; whose idea was it to put Strangefolk and The Big Wu on the same bill?
Our manager Steve Smith got that one actually. I've heard their stuff, and I think it's a great match. I'm really excited to get our scenes together, more than just the music will gel, in my opinion. Like you say, there are families getting together here. A huge sit down dinner amongst the two families, kinda like the Godfather, but much, much nicer.
So now that you're not "the new guy" anymore, looking back, can you give us a glimpse at the highs and lows from your first year with Strangefolk and maybe a little bit about what you hope the future will bring?
True, I'm not the new guy anymore, but it still feels new, you know? I guess by that I mean that I'm still excited about the whole thing, the same way I felt a year ago. I hope that never goes away. I can't imagine that it will. In some way, the new guy image has worn off for the audience as well, which I like. It kinda gives me the freedom to answer the question, "Now what?" Because in a way, this is now the opportunity to really show what I am, and what I can do. No preconceptions. There's a saying in Japan- "May your life be interesting." And that doesn't necessarily mean good or bad, just interesting. This last year with SF has been exactly that. There's been some amazing, wonderful moments that I'll never forget. Eden, Mad Mountain. And some not so wonderful, at points quite difficult times. But I'm still here. And I'm prepared for many many more years of "interesting" times. I'm not going anywhere.
Strangefolk are currently out on "The Far and Wide Tour" with The Big Wu; the first date of the tour was March 11th at Graceland in Seattle, WA. The tour continues across the US and will wrap up on April 13th at the Cotton Club in Atlanta, GA. For tourdates, MP3s and further information, visit Strangefolk's website and also Strangefolk on JamBase.