Turn it Down! Catching up with Monte Pride

Lansing folkie looks back at 2020 and forward to next album

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At this point, it’s still too early to tell when live music will return and music venues will revive. With that in mind, Turn it Down! will be checking in with local musicians to see what they’re doing to keep active during the pandemic. The first of this series features local folk troubadour Monte Pride.

Since his teenage years, a laundry list of songwriting icons has steadily provided stimuli for Pride’s own growing songbook. His record collection includes LPs from Townes Van Sandt, Nick Drake, John Prine, Jackson Browne and Joni Mitchell—plus newer albums from a favorite of his: The Tallest Man on Earth. And while Pride’s rustic sound tastefully echoes those inspirations, it’s delivered in his own authentic style. Since his first time on stage at a 2013 (at a high school talent show), to his first “real gig” at the opening of the Old Town General Store later that same year, Pride has steadily become a fixture in the Lansing scene.

Looking back to last year, in what ways did the pandemic affect your music? When was your last real show?

My last show was on March 7, 2020, at the Kalamazoo Fretboard Festival, just before the pandemic officially began. I had no idea it would be my last live performance for over a year, but it was a really special one to end on. I was looking forward to a busy spring and summer schedule in support of my album “Even in Absence” that was set to release in mid-April. When the pandemic hit, I made the decision to postpone the release of the new album to August. I hoped that everything would turn around by then, but quickly realized it would be a while. I ended up doing an album release livestream, and though it wasn’t anything like an in-person show, it felt great to finally get music that I worked so hard on out into the world.

There’s been an incredible mountain of emotion to process through the last year or so, but I think it’s a part of the job of musicians and other artists to do that work, creating things that might help others process or cope with everything going on around us. I felt lucky to have the chance to do that in releasing “Even in Absence,” giving listeners something that might help them through such a hard year, even if just a little. Also, though the songs were written well before the pandemic, I felt that album’s theme and sentiment were even more pertinent in 2020.

Has the pandemic affected your songwriting?

Definitely. Early on, having so much free time for the first time in a very long time allowed space to finish a few old ideas and have a few new ones trickle out, but things stalled for a few months as the reality of everything set in. I got out of that slump, somehow, and have written enough songs that I’m happy with for a third album. I plan to start chipping away at that third album this year. I’ve also been dreaming of recording an album of covers from other Michigan artists.

So far, what have you been up to in the new year?

I’ve mainly been working remotely, writing songs when they come, and booking a few safe, outdoor shows for this summer. I’m incredibly excited and feel lucky to have the opportunity to cautiously return to performing a bit. I turned down a handful of things in 2020, and feel that I needed to see folks pull off safe, distanced outdoor shows to feel comfortable doing it myself. I’ve also built a small home-recording rig, and hope to start producing some of my own music. 

When and how did you first get into songwriting?

My interest started early. I recently found a few notebooks from elementary school with song ideas, attempted lyrics and band names. I started writing songs in late high school, but didn’t get deep into it until college. I guess it just felt like something I needed to do. It was something that came easy to me, and though the early songs weren’t very good, I immediately felt the magic, mystery, and catharsis of the process.

I’ve found that forcing my songwriting at all is futile, and that my favorite songs have always come naturally, in flow. I tend to have no idea where these songs come from, and sometimes don’t even know their meaning. The feeling of all of this keeps me hungry, doing what I can to keep myself in a space to capture these ideas when they come.

Listen at montepride.bandcamp.com or wherever you stream music.

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