Kristian Montgomery and the Winterkill Band - A Return to Traditional Country
Country and classic rock are not two genres that are automatically grouped together. Kristian Montgomery has blended the two beautifully to create guitar solos with a bit of twang. Rock and roll mixed with classic Americana. With this new sound, lead singer Montgomery has released his first full-length album, The Gravel Church.
Montgomery began his career in music by singing in his church choir. Outside of the church, he sang sea shanties, Celtic and Scandanavian songs at local bars in New England. With such a range, the singer joined some rock bands and traveled before returning home to create music. While fighting for equal rights for fathers in Massachusetts, he was arrested and spent some time in prison. Upon release, he wrote The Gravel Church and used it to find hope in starting over.
I wanted to start off by commending you for releasing an album during this pandemic. It certainly can’t be an easy or traditional process. What have you found to be the hardest part of this release so far?
Honestly, making money. I can’t support it by playing live so it was a pretty huge investment to put out this record. And then to get stuck in a spot where we can’t start to recoup some of our money back. The whole process these days seems to be one album hopefully will support the next one, because I wanted to get enough material to go back in and get started on another record. It’s just been tough. It’s just tough sitting home. I’m also one of those people that my day job in construction hasn’t stopped, so it would be great if I was just staying home and getting paid, but I’m not. I’m a lowly worker bee, so I don’t have as much time as I’d like to put towards promoting it. It is what it is. Hopefully this is going to be over and we’ll all be able to get back to work.
Yeah, I completely understand. It’s definitely a hard situation.
Yeah, it’s not easy. The one thing I can say is that I have noticed that people who are out of work - who have been furloughed or laid off for the time being -- it’s been awesome. I come home everyday to at least a minimum of 20 emails of people reaching out about the record. People who have written reviews, articles that I’ve done and people seem to have a lot more time to listen to music, and turn to music again as a way of relieving stress. It’s been great, The connection I’ve had with people is better than it’s ever been. I just wish it could be a face to face connection, but I’ll take what I can get right now.
So, with your music you seem to have a unique style combining country with classic rock, so how did you develop that style and hone it to have a more personal feel?
Well, I’ve played in different bands throughout my life. I’ve played in some heavier rock bands in Boston that I got nominated for music awards with. I’ve traveled all around the world. In 2001 - I know that’s going back quite a bit - I toured in Nicaragua. It was right after the war was over in that country, and I went down there. My bass player at the time was originally from Nicaragua. I experienced everything that that music scene had. I’m a huge fan of Latin music so I was able to incorporate that into my style. I’ve played in alternative rock bands and used that into this record. I grew up listening to traditional country - Larry Gatlin and the Gatlin Brothers, Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson. I’ve always had that influence. It’s just worked out really well. I certainly don’t try to have a particular sound. Whatever happens, happens. The studio musicians were just fantastic. They came in and knocked out whatever projects we had for them. Growing up in the episcopal church, I was heavily influenced by singing in the choir when I was a kid. My reverend was a former tenor to the Boston Pops and when he heard me sing, he gave me vocal lessons at a very young age in the choir. He introduced me to Led Zeppelin and some heavier bands and it just took off from there. I’ve got a really well-rounded musical experience. My daughter’s grandfather was a former singer in a band and through this record - his name is Steve Lake - and he was nice enough to let me throw ideas at him and he always had some really good input. He and I were of course huge Beatles fans and we incorporated a little bit of that into one of my songs. I think I have a pretty good library of music in my head. My friends and family as well have always been making suggestions of new records to listen to and to check out this band or that band, so it wasn’t surprising that we incorporated so many different feels into this record. I think the traditional “She’s No Cadillac” on our record to “That Bird Won’t Fly,” which was inspired more by a Barry White, real, laid back groove. A little motown in there and it came out really cool.
Absolutely. All the songs had a different sound to them and I thought that was really cool.
A couple of articles I did in magazines last month picked up on the fact that each song sounds like us, but it takes you to a different place. My bass player, Tim Colletti, his brother had a great saying that a song should just be a nice place to stay for a while. In order to make that happen,we wanted each song to have it’s own story - it’s own vibe and feel. Wherever you’re at at the moment. One of those songs will be accessible in your head and say ‘hey, I’m having a bad day I’m gonna listen to this’ or ‘man, I just met the love of my life, so I’m gonna listen to this song.’ It’s kinda cool.
Yeah. I noticed that you drew a lot of inspiration from your own personal experiences. Do you find that you’re creating the music for yourself?
Absolutely. I was just talking about that in Limelight Magazine. They were saying that the stories are very personal. Part of this record was actually written in prison. I’m the father of many children and I went through a terrible divorce. As we all know, being a man in divorce court is detrimental to one’s health. I was trying to get to be a father half the time, instead of having to be an every other weekend dad. I’m also a Type 1 diabetic, so I asked the judge for a small decrease in child support so I could continue to be a dad and afford to stay alive. I told him it would be a death sentence otherwise and he just asked me to leave. He said I’m not signing anyone’s death certificate. A month later I was being brought back to life in the hospital and I made the mistake of telling him how I felt, and he threw me in jail for 6 months. I didn’t do anything wrong, or anything like that, but it was an awful experience. It was very stereotypical. I spent time in solitary confinement for having a fist fight. It was an awful place to be and a lot of the songs were born in Cell Black C1 and Cell 28. It was the first time I put pen to paper and wrote the songs out without having a guitar in my lap. When I got out, what started as a 5 song EP turned into a 16 songs album and it was all over from there. As long as it’s still art, as long as I’m still trying to be creative, and not trying to write stereotypical bubblegum country. Beach blankets and beer. I don’t know how country ever got to that place, but it’s there. It used to be the song of the working man and now it’s kind of like 90s alternative punk. How punk rock went from being the music of the street to being the music of the upper class kids and the college crowd. Country music’s kind of followed suit, except it’s lost more of itself. It used to be about very intimate subjects and now it’s about cold beer and good buddies and it doesn’t make sense to me.
So you’re looking to do a return to that original country sound?
Yup. We have 12 new songs. Our next record is called The Princes of Poverty, and it’s all about that working class. I happen to have a second home in Denmark, where my dad’s family is from. Here in America, we don’t get to spend any time with our family. All we do is work and we’re constantly bombarded with the media that you’re supposed to work hard. That you need to work until you die. Life’s not supposed to be that way. We’re supposed to be able to enjoy our relationships with our friends and our family and be able to spend time with them. We shouldn't have to kill ourselves in order to be something we’re not. We’re not meant to be that way.
With your own personal experiences and writing your songs, is there any song that stood out to you when you wrote it or one that you’re particularly proud of?
Yeah, ‘Razor Wire Heart.’ I wrote that song for my kids while I was in prison. It was about not giving up and how hard it is to stay who you are while you’re there. To not become angry, to not become jaded, to not walk out of there with a chip on your shoulder. The last line in the song is ‘I hope someday you’ll find me and we can put all of this behind me.’ I had my own personal experience with parenting. I went on a cross country epic adventure to find my biological father when I was in my early twenties. I drove across the United States and finally found him. It was a pretty stereotypical story, my dad got driven out of the picture by a very angry mother who was upset that she wasn’t enough for him. It was a situation where they got married too young, and they could have been amicable and done the right thing by their kids. But the system let them destroy the lives of their young children at the time., It’s the same thing that my kids are going through right now.
Yeah, that’s definitely a tough situation. Is there any advice you’d like to give someone who is considering starting a music career from the ground up?
I certainly would. Depending upon where you come from. It doesn’t matter how talented you are. I live in Boston and there are a lot of college students here. I call them the children of privilege. They have more resources and half the talent that you’ll ever have. They haven’t had the experiences of someone who grew up not knowing where their next meal is coming from. They haven’t had to deal with life in its simplest terms - like when it comes to the things that make somebody happy. Like falling in love or being able to provide for a family, or even being able to afford to date. If you’re born with an extraordinary talent you have to be five times better than these people in order to get someone to notice you. No one’s going to give it to you for free. Nobody’s going to say ‘that guy’s so talented.’ That’s what it all comes down to. That’s what the music industry is all about now. It’s all about sales and marketing. It really isn’t about music as much as it used to be. You have to be ten times better than the next guy in order to get noticed. You can’t take anything for granted -- every little interview, every view, every second you can get your name out there, any way you can get your music heard. You have to make that opportunity work for you.
Speaking of sales and marketing, I noticed for this album you’ve been reaching out to a lot of smaller publications. Is that one of the strategies you’ve taken to get your name out there?
It has as a matter of fact. I have an interview with Rolling Stone in two weeks. We have had some larger publications that we have been successful in reaching out to. There’s something about these blogs that is awesome. There isn’t always a background in music journalism. It’s a very raw and honest review of what your music is like. Some of these larger publications don’t necessarily tell you that you’re horrible. They say things like ‘you’re good at what you do, but it’s not my thing.’ People from the blogs are super honest. If they hate your music, they’re going to tell you. I’ve sent a few emails out to different places that cover music, but are not my particular style, like a couple of metal magazines and rap blogs. They send me messages back like ‘why the hell are you sending me this shit?’ But I thought that they were reviewing everything. Thus far, we’ve had a great album review from this guy in England the other day. We Write About Music gave us a 5 star review. It’s cool. Everyone’s like ‘it’s country, but it’s not country, but it’s rock, but it’s not heavy rock.’ They’ve had a really hard time putting us in a genre, and that’s why I send it out to everyone. My manager sends it out to metal magazines and we sent out this one particular song with a guitar solo that is just out of this world heavy rock. It’s a country song, but they picked up on it. It’s definitely a strategy. My manager stays at home and sends our stuff out to everybody. She’ll send me emails letting me know what people have thought about it each week and that’s really cool.
It’s cool how you’re using this time to your advantage and getting your sound out there through everybody.
How did you decide on your band name? Kristian Montgomery and the Winterkill Band?
It was kind of a cool story. I used my grandfather’s last name. My name is Kristian Peterson. I have a very Danish last name, but my middle name is Montgomery. My grandfather was one of my biggest musical influences. He and I were both avid country music listeners when I was growing up. He was one of my best buds. It’s kind of an honor. For the Winterkill band, I am an avid hunter up here in New England. A winter kill is when you have a large population of animals or fish that die off because of cold weather and because of too much snow. The band name was formed when I was out looking for deer antlers and my friend and I came upon an area of small pine saplings. There were at least 12-13 deer, yearlings, that had passed away. He looked at me and said ‘Wow, this has been the worst Winterkill ever.’ I always thought of the winterkill was where we’re up here cold and hungry in New England looking for something to do. Quite often, we find that outlet through live music. The Winterkill Band was a metaphor for getting people out and enjoying themselves during these hard winters.
Be sure to check out The Gravel Church on Bandcamp here.