Songwriter Interviews

Randy Montana

by Shawna Ortega

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Randy Montana's smile is as wide and engaging as his name suggests. With a raw-edged voice that's as invigorating as it is oddly peaceful, his songwriting talent is of the big-time variety and he's got the likes of country music icon Emmylou Harris harmonizing in his corner.

With all those mad vibes orbiting his atmosphere, it probably wasn't even necessary to mention his award-winning songwriting father, Billy Montana. But for a shameless plug, we decided to anyway. In addition, he told us how he really feels about Lynyrd Skynyrd, what his tattoo says, and how he managed to turn his self-penned sexist menagerie into an enduringly romantic love song.
Shawna Hansen Ortega (Songfacts): Let's start off with "1,000 Faces." What is your big contribution to the writing of this song?


Randy Montana: That day was really cool. Tom (Douglas) had that line, "love has 1,000 faces." And that's what we started with. He was just messing around on the piano and we had started trying to wrap our heads around that line, "love has 1,000 faces." And he did the opening line (singing), "Those brunettes, blonde girls, blue jeans, string of pearls," he just blurted that out and we just started going from there and making a list.

Tom had that soft groove, that feel, on the piano. But as far as who was in the driver's seat with melody or lyrics, that really was a very organic thing that day, just because, number one, it happened so fast. But two, that whole song is a list. If you listen to it, it's just a list. And we both just started typing out a list. Obviously, you've got to make it rhyme as a song. But just going through and making our own little deals and comparing and trying to piece the whole thing together, if that makes sense.

Songfacts: Did you find when you were making that list that you were thinking of people that you know? Old girlfriends or anything like that?

Randy: No, mine was more trying to cover every type of girl there was in a different situation. Not necessarily, all right, there's one with blonde hair, there's ones with brown hair that are short, tall, you know what I mean? But then you get into what they like, what they don't like, the "half-caf, two-pump, no whip in the coffee bean" type thing. We were going there with it, because you can start to sound like a sexist pig if you go the other route. (laughing) You really can.

Songfacts: I was just thinking, wow, to be categorized… hmmmm… (laughing)

Randy: And that honestly is the hardest thing I've ever found about having to answer questions about this song, is how not to sound like a sexist pig. (laughing) Because that's what it is. It's like, you decide to start thinking about all these different kinds of girls there are out there – you just can't do that. It comes out wrong every single time. Of course, somebody just goes, "Oh, wow, that's a lot of girls, isn't it? That's a lot of girls for a young man like yourself." (laughs)

Songfacts: That's right. You get yourself around there, don't you, Randy? (laughing) It didn't even occur to me until just now that that could be taken that way. That's funny, though. Okay, the first single, I believe, was "Ain't Much Left of Lovin' You." Where did that come from?

Randy: That started with a title, "there ain't much left of lovin' you." I wrote that with Josh Ragsdale, who unfortunately is not here with us anymore [Ragsdale died of cancer in July, 2010 at age 32]. He had that title. I remember he sat down, he said, "Hey, I got a title." We were just throwing titles back and forth, that's how a lot of writing appointments start. You go back and forth and you go with whichever you both agree is the best one that you threw out at the time. And I remember he threw out that idea, and it was one of those things were we're just like, "Oh, yeah, I think we should go with that." That happened really quick, too. That was one of those where we started at probably 11 o'clock and we were eating lunch by 1. It was crazy how fast we wrote it.

And we just started going back and trying to paint that picture of all the things around the house that are still there. Those are the only things that are left, the physical things, the objects are the only things that are left. She's gone.

Songfacts: You talk about songwriting appointments, and that has my curiosity. How does that work? Explain to me a songwriting appointment.

Randy: In Nashville it's a really common thing where you keep your schedule, you book days, just like, "Hey, do you have Wednesday the 19th open?" And your publisher's really hands-on helping set up appointments and things like that. Sometimes I like to keep my own book, but it all depends on how you like to do it. I write for Sony and they have an old firehall next door from the actual publishing building. It's around the time of the writing rings. You can go sit in the writing room. But with Tom, we always go over to his house because he's got this great little separate garage area, like a writing room in the garage, it's awesome.

Songfacts: Are these people that you know, or do you just walk into the room and shake hands, "Hi, I'm so and so"?

Randy: Sometimes. It depends. I mean, if you're starting out, a lot of times it's people you don't know. People you've never met. And that can always be interesting, but that's why it takes a while to really start writing great songs, until you find the people that you work well with, you find the people that you write well with. Sometimes there's just some people that you don't write well with, there's no rhyme or reason to it. But then you find that group… just like me, whenever I sit down with this guy, I know I'll get something good. And he feels the same way. So that's when you build those circles of people that you tend to write with a lot.

Songfacts: How long did it take you to come up with all the songs on this album, after going and meeting people and that kind of thing?

Randy: I signed a publishing deal in 2008. So it was really from 2008 all the way up until they recorded it - in 2010 was the last recording session. So it was about two years of songs.

Songfacts: Doesn't Sony climb all over you, "It's been two years, give me something!!"

Randy: (laughing) That's just part of the process of being a new artist and when the time is right to get your album out there. When you feel like enough people know who you are that will buy your album.

Songfacts: When I talked to your dad a while back, I didn't know who he was. "Billy Montana," I thought, "this is the quintessential country music name." Now we've got Randy Montana. It's perfect.

Randy: (laughing) That's so funny.

Songfacts: Tell me about the tattoo. What lyrics are on your shoulder?

Randy: Oh, yeah, I got "House of A Thousand Dreams" on my shoulder, which the lyric is, "I'll keep praying, hope we'll go on living in this house of a thousand dreams." And that's a song my dad wrote about my family. It's my favorite song he's ever written. It just kind of goes on everybody's different perspective in the house. It's the same house, but Dad sees just the cracks in all the walls and all the windows, and flies find their way in through the screen. Then it gets to the wife and it's kind of in that same thing, she goes, "I'm just gonna support my husband, I know he's doing what he loves." And then it comes to the kid, and the kid loves the way the wind blows through the screen, and he loves to hear the crickets outside the window. And so it's just a different perspective on the house, everybody's got a different perspective on living there.

Songfacts: Is that how you grew up?

Randy: It's exactly how I grew up. I love it so much. I grew up in a little itty bitty house where everything was going wrong, but me and my brother and sister loved it. And I always tell people I didn't know I was poor till I was 12 years old. And so it was just one of those things.

Songfacts: Mom and Dad did something right. Okay, back to your album. Do you know what the next single is going to be?

Randy: I don't.

Songfacts: Is there a particular song on here that you hope it's going to be?

Randy: I can't really narrow it down to one. I would love to see "Assembly Line" be one. I would love to see "Last Horse" or "Back of My Heart" be a single, also. Even "Burn These Matches." I've got a bunch of songs on there that I would love to be singles.

Songfacts: So you're obviously very proud of all of them. Is there one that stands out for you?

Randy: "Last Horse" really stands out for me on the whole entire project. "Last Horse" is one of my favorite songs I've ever been a part of writing, and that was one of those where everything just kind of comes together; the track is my favorite track on there, and I wouldn't change a thing about it. Then to have Emmylou Harris sing on it, there's the icing on the cake as far as that goes. I love that song.

Songfacts: It is a gorgeous song. Do you think that part of that may have to do with the fact you co-wrote it with your father?

Randy: For sure. To sit down with your dad, and Rodney Clawson, who are two of my favorite writers, there's another thing to it. I was always jealous of the songs that my dad and Rodney would write, because I felt like they just got really cool stuff and I was like, "You all have to let me in on one of those." And so that's kind of how that panned out.

Songfacts: I'm guessing this wasn't the result of a random songwriting appointment?

Randy: It was. What was funny about that one, I remember, we started late that day. I remember I don't think we walked out of there till 9 o'clock that night. It wasn't your typical writing appointment, which usually lasts between 10 and 4 or 10 and 3. We really labored over that lyric, because there's not a lot of lyric there. It's not a very wordy song. And to get that point across and that point of view, and I remember it was like 9:30 before we walked out that night and we had finished the song. It was cool.

Songfacts: They say the best things in life are the ones you work the hardest for. If you were going to compare that songwriting session to, for example, "1,000 Faces," because that one was so quick and the other took so long, but the one that took so long was with a relative and another person that you've probably known for years and years, which one would you say would be easier by that standard?

Randy: I don't know. It's funny, because every song is different. Every song is totally different. To hear Tom talk about "The House That Built Me," I think they had to work on that song over the course of a long period of time, where they'd keep coming back to it and changing stuff up. And that's just it, it's like there's no real rhyme or reason to how they come about, it's just totally different every time. That's what makes the songwriting cool; you never know what's going to happen that day in the writing. And that's why I've never wanted to ever miss a writing appointment or have to cancel one, because you never know what you're going to come up with that day.

Songfacts: And you might just meet the one person that's going to really click with you.

Randy: Exactly.

Songfacts: Can you tell me about a song on here that is the most of Randy, that Randy came up with the idea for this and it just means a lot to you?

Randy: Man. That is tough. I'm trying to go back and figure out how all these songs came about. That's tough to do just in that I feel like all these songs really are me. All of them are really me and all the things that I felt. I feel like I had a lot to do with "Hit Me" on there. I remember that day it was kind of the last song… That was me and Jay (Joyce) and Jerry Spillman. Jay is great, because he's so cool-minded. So we actually wrote a track, just a bass/drum/ guitar track, kind of like a real brokedown thing. But you still have an idea, you got the groove already, you understand where the song's going and how it's going to turn out. It's a really cool way to write a lot of times, because most of the time you're writing on your acoustic, a couple of guys sitting around with acoustics, sometimes there's some guys on a piano. But that track, you really know the groove already, and it's a cool way to write. And I remember Jay was really into the music side of that, whereas me and Jeremy were trying to write the lines along the way and just filling it in. That was a fun write. That was a really fun write.

Songfacts: This is probably going to be a silly question; you're going to roll your eyes. But what is this "swampy shuffle"? That's got to be a Lynyrd Skynyrd reference.

Randy: The what?

Songfacts: The "swampy shuffle." That's a quote on your Web site, supposedly from you.

Randy: Shit, somebody made that up. (laughing)

Songfacts: (laughing) Oh, no, really? Well, I saw a video clip where you said you think that all country music today derives from some strain of Lynyrd Skynyrd.

Randy: Oh yeah, I want to say it was more on the lines of "country music fans today were definitely Lynyrd Skynyrd fans in the '70s and '80s," when Skynyrd was really rocking, and I totally believe that. It's the feel, that groove. I feel like Lynyrd Skynyrd - they were a Southern Rock band, and the album, it's very southern rock-ish, with that crunch guitar that he's got all over everything. So yeah, I loved Skynyrd growing up. It's definitely got that kind of swampy thing to it there at the end.

Songfacts: And there it is. (laughing) How old are you?

Randy: I'll be 26 here in a month or so.

Songfacts: You weren't even alive when Skynyrd went down. Your music to me doesn't sound really country-ish. I think you're maybe subconsciously going towards the whole Lynyrd Skynyrd thing, because Southern Rock is what your music sounds more like than anything. It has not got a country twang to it. Are you thinking that maybe you could do a crossover at some point?

Randy: I don't know. I never have shopped for anything, if that makes sense. I don't have a target for it, and it's like hey, this is the sound. I've always known what I've liked and how I've felt a song should sound. And that's the thing about country music - it is all song based. It's all about the songs. You can't listen to a country song and not understand what they're talking about. And that's what I do love about country music now. I know my stuff is raw and rough around the edges, and it is very guitar driven, and I think that just kind of comes from the music I grew up listening to, which was Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, and Jackson Browne, and the Eagles, and guys like that. And I've always loved the singer/songwriter. And all those guys, they're singer/songwriters, they would write the songs and then sing them. They had something to say. And I think that's where all my influences clash together.

Songfacts: All of the songs on your album are co-written. Have you ever written songs just by yourself?

Randy: Yes, I have. But I'm my own worst critic when it comes to writing a song. I have to learn to just say, "All right, that's good, live with that at least for now until you can beat it." Until you can beat that line, or beat that idea. But when you're always criticizing yourself you can't get very far. So it's actually just over the last couple of years that I've been able to really sit down and just say, "All right, if it's good, it's good, if it's not, it's not. I'm gonna write one by myself."

Songfacts: So maybe on the next album we're going to have some Randy Montana originals?

Randy: Maybe so. Just ones that I wrote by myself. That's tough to do, I think, for anybody. It's just like a lot of writers in town - it's very few, I think, that can sit down - I mean, I can only list a handful of songs… there's a Scooter Carusoe song called "Anything But Mine" that was on that Kenny Chesney album.

Songfacts: I have wanted to ask Scooter about a line in that song that just drives me bananas. The one where it says, "There's still so many things that I wanted to do to you."

Randy: Yeah. Sex sells. (laughing)

Songfacts: To me, from a female point of view, I think it should say, "There's still so many things I want to do with you," not to you. I want to ask him about that. What the hell? So you'll need to talk to Scooter for me and get some answers. (laughing)

Randy: I will. (laughs)

Songfacts: Just one last thing, Randy, and that is if there's any particular song on this album that you would like to highlight.

Randy: From a songwriter standpoint?

Songfacts: From any standpoint.

Randy: Yeah. "Assembly Line." It's one of my favorite songs on there, too. I wrote that with Natalie Hemby. We tried to get inside the head of a guy working on the assembly line. And what I find about that song to be so cool is that it's not just about a guy going in on an assembly line; I feel like it's any line of work. Whether you're sitting in cubicles or going to wait tables. You punch in every day and do your thing and come home. For me, it's kind of like the music industry; you put in your time and try to pay your dues and just try to make something happen.

Songfacts: I never thought of the music industry as being assembly line-like. But I know you've been a roofer, and my significant other is a roofer. So I know all about roofing now. (laughing)

Randy: Yeah, it was on a roof when I decided to try the songwriting and singing thing. Roofing was fun for a summer, I will say that I did enjoy it. There's something to be said about being able to turn around at the end of the day and look at what you did. There's that sense of satisfaction there. Where a lot of times with the music industry, at the end of the day, oftentimes you've got a song, but that's all you've got. You can't turn around and look at it. It's an interesting concept.

Songfacts: I have to respectfully disagree.

Randy: Do you really?

Songfacts: Yeah, you can look at a roof and say, "I did a great job." But when you write a song, that is going to affect people worldwide, not just the homeowner. So that's quite an accomplishment.

Randy: Well, that's a good way to look at it. (laughing) I like that.

July 18, 2011
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Comments: 1

  • Jean Stallings from Franklin, Tn.Love Randy Montana ! I believe he is the real deal...that his songs,music artistry will pass the test of time! Crazy about his album,love every song. In our lives & home this is country music ...heartfelt,soulful,rockin tearjerkin,twangin,give it all to us Country Music & we Thank You Randy Montana ! Lookin forward to many years of excellence & enjoyment from Randy & his band. Thanks for the article.
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