In Conversation: Jimmy Montague Talks Growing Up, NYC, and His Rockin New Record Casual Use

One thing I’ve come to terms with living in New York City is that it’s a fantasy land as much as it is a real place. Living in Williamsburg and the Village in particular felt like living in EPCOT as much as they did a real American city. You become a background character in the projected realities of the way too hip teens and German tourists that litter the streets, eyes equally wide and awe struck by The Big City. Living here I’ve found it all too easy to get jaded. The smells alone can make you forget why generation after generation have come here to figure out what their dreams are and follow the hell out of them. Sometimes I need a fresh perspective from someone who’s actually looking for the silver linings in this place to remind me why I pay so much to live here.

Singer/songwriter Jimmy Montague wrote the entirety of his new record Casual Use while living in the most diverse place on earth, Queens, NY. He is also the bassist in emo stalwarts Perspective, a Lovely Hand to Hold, and while Jimmy dropped Casual Use via Fifth Wave Emo forefathers Chillwavve Records, Montague’s solo output sounds like he could have come out of the same Queens that gave birth to Paul Simon and Art Garfunkle. Casual Use is full of horn and piano laid rock and roll tracks that have garnered comparisons to artists from America to Crosby Stills and Nash to Wilco. Everyone who’s listened to the record seems to agree it sounds like something out of a time capsule, as the album both feels immediately familiar while sounding like nothing else coming out right now. Jimmy has a pep in his step that feels like a throwback to when people still had genuine hope in their hearts. While he certainly does have a melancholy streak, the New York City streets Jimmy walks are still ones where an adventure is around every corner waiting to be sought out, where stumbling into the right cafe or bar can change your life forever. Even as he laments his twin sized bed on “70th Ave Hustle” the song’s raucous horns could not sound more exuberant, like this would be the single that’d get him that queen mattress. Jimmy was inspired to write “70th Ave Hustle” after hiking his way back on foot from Manhattan to Ridgewood, Queens, and the entirety of Casual Use has the energy of a warm summer’s day where you have nothing on the agenda other than living in the moment and doing that moment right. 

Like a beautiful mountain, I find that New York City is often best appreciated from a far distance. Jimmy’s last record, The Light of the Afternoon, was recorded in his NYC apartment, with the buzzing streets and chatty neighbors that come with it. Casual Use was mostly recorded in his band Perspective’s New Hampshire headquarters, only to be brought back to the city for its finishing touches. To that point Casual Use will make for excellent vacation music for wherever you may find yourself away from the city. The breezy horns of “Long Long Lonely” were tailor made for a windows down drive out of Manhattan, and they’ll leave you feeling light and fresh once you get to the lake or shore or wherever tickles your fancy. These are tunes for appreciating the good times on a warm day with a nice cocktail and an even nicer sunset. 

Jimmy has garnered a reputation as a real chiller in the emo scene so I was particularly looking forward to this conversation. Fellow Jim and songwriter James Barrett had been telling me for ages how hilarious and what a good dude Jimmy Montague was, especially how he was always willing to lend an ear or a helping hand or a backing viola track for a friend in need. I had the pleasure of chatting with Jimmy Montague for this interview while I was at the beach enjoying his album. We talked about what exactly makes New York City so inspiring, what made him first want to start recording music, and what era of music he thinks Casual Use actually sounds like.

GSC: What is your name and how do you identify?

MONTAGUE: My name is James Palko (he/him), performing under the moniker “Jimmy Montague”.

GSC: What are your earliest music memories? Who was playing music around the house and what were they playing? 

MONTAGUE: Growing up was: a lot of my mom’s music played around the house, but CD’s i’d “borrow” (and promptly scuff up, as he likes to remind me) from my dad. Lots of Beatles and Led Zeppelin, a bootleg Ozzy cassette in a walkman, and a “Classic Rock A-Z” burnt CD compilation from my Aunt. Everything from Allman Brothers to Tower Of Power and back. My mom played a lot of music in the house while cleaning though, I can remember a lot of J Geils Band, Jesus Christ Superstar, and I broke my arm dancing on a table to “Conga” by Gloria Estefan. Pretty mixed bag at our house.

GSC: When did you start playing music yourself? What drew you to music early on?

MONTAGUE: I started playing viola in the 3rd grade, and continued through college, with some rudimentary theory classes sprinkled in. I didn’t start playing guitar until 6th grade, when a neighbor’s cousin happened to be around and showed me the solo to Smells Like Teen Spirit. Looking back that is probably how a lot of my age bracket started haha. When I expressed interest in guitar, my dad showed me the chords for “Good Lovin’’ by The Rascals and “I’m Lookin Through You” and then said “Good Luck”. I think I was drawn like any kid is, the idea of Looking Sick Playing Guitar.

GSC: When did you decide to start playing as Jimmy Montague? What were the goals for the project at the time?

MONTAGUE: I started doing the solo bit around 2017ish? Pretty much every one of my emo/punk bands had run its short course, I had just moved to Jersey City with some friends trying to start working in New York, and I just had a back catalogue of music I had written that had gotten nixed by the old bands. I’m pretty impatient with people and waiting for people to show interest or contribute and I pretty much decided “well screw it, i’ll try to just do this myself, that way no one can tell me they dont wanna do this tune” haha. My goals were pretty small, I would just upload the demos on bandcamp and toss them out there. Even that *First record “Last Dog On Earth” is a pretty shoddy accumulation of songs that span like, 3 old bands.

GSC: Casual Use seems like a massive step up from your previous efforts. It has similar inspirations but I loved all the piano and horn touches that populate this record, you’ve had strings on previous records but this felt like a step up. What kinda record were you seeking to make with Casual Use? How did you conceptualize this record in your head?

MONTAGUE: Each record kind of feels like finding new footing. When I finished “Last Dog On Earth”, I looked back and thought, well If I can do this and play all the parts, then I can focus a bit more on the arrangements. With “Light Of The Afternoon” I started adding string sections, definitely worried that they would be terrible. I got through that and thought hmm well that’s not too bad, maybe this time I can try horn arrangements. With “Casual Use” I figured, well I’ve done most of the heavy lifting to get me here, now let’s add piano to the mix. It all feels like a big learning experiment, and I’m thankful to the many musicians in my life who have not only inspired me to want to be a better player, but also helped me learn how to write songs like these. To be honest when I started writing “Casual Use” I had every intention to make a soft lush album like Andy Shauf’s “The Party” but from the minute I hit the drums, I knew it was going to be way too loud haha.

Photo via Jamie Vree

GSC: Me and my mom both think Casual Use sounds like America (the band) where rock critic Stephen Hyden said it sounded like Wilco, though everyone agrees it sounds like nothing else coming out right now. Who were your sonic inspirations for this record? 

MONTAGUE: “The Party” was a big one. It was the first time in so so long that I had heard someone doing an album like that. I had been buried in emo and punk from like, Junior Year of Highschool until I was 24 and I was burnt out. It wasn’t even stuff I enjoyed listening to anymore, let alone making. It was a very big “oh my god you can make music like this?!” moment for me. I thank Connor Waage from The Most for laying that on me. After that, I just went back to all the records I had grown up listening to; Jackson 5, Steely Dan, Tower Of Power, Sly and The Family Stone, Earth Wind And Fire, just all stuff I’d been listening to but sort of rationalized “well you’re young and you’re punk, you gotta write super emotional angsty songs or everyone’s gonna think you’re a cheeseball”. I wanted to make a Classic Rock record at that point.

GSC: What era of music does Casual Use sound like it is from to you, and what would be a dream Jimmy Montague show line up from that era?

MONTAGUE: Most of what I listen to is late 60’s and some solo careers of early 70’s. I like to hope that “Casual Use” sounds like it could have come out on George Harrison’s Dark Horse label in the 70’s among all the Billy Preston records haha. God, a dream line up would just be even seeing: Wings, Steely Dan play “Countdown” in full, Sly or maybe EW&F, and like, Doobie Brothers with Michael McDonald. I’d open haha, or maybe just sit and watch to be honest. I just like Big Bands.

GSC: I think “Long Long Lonely” is my favorite jam on the record. How did that come about and what was its inspiration? 

MONTAGUE: I had the verse guitar lick for a while and was sitting on it, just a fun thing to play. That organ slide up is just from listening to Billy Preston, or any soul of that era, I’d always wanted a song that opened that way. I’d gotten that song arranged in my head and demo’d out fairly easily, and had an instrumental version I could playback, but didn’t have a melody or anything for the longest time. I finished that one up on the train up to my brother’s college. It’s a pretty honest song, I had a pretty hard year of looking in the mirror after screwing things up with friends in The Pursuit Of A Good Time. It just came to a head of “what’s the point of doing this to yourself?” and it came out in a song. Just an age-old story of repressed Catholic Guilt haha.

GSC: You grew up in the tri-state and lived in NYC while writing this new album Casual Use. New York City as a place seems to be a consistent source of inspiration for Jimmy Montague, from “215 Park Ave South” to “70th Ave Hustle”. What do you find so inspiring about NYC? How does NYC specifically and places you’ve been in general affect your music?

MONTAGUE: To lay all my cards on the table here, I was born in NYC on Governors Island, moved to CT and grew up there. I had moved to Jersey City after college, was there a long and miserable year, and then moved to Queens. Both “Light Of The Afternoon” and “Casual Use” were written while I lived in Ridgewood. During Covid, I lost my job and my apartment and I moved up here to New Hampshire to be closer to Perspective, and unfortunately probably won’t be making my way back soon. At the risk of sounding like an idiot, I will say it is truly a place of massive inspiration. There is just so much around you. You can completely dissolve into yourself and become a fly on the wall to millions of people, so many neighborhoods. Even switching up one street on a walk back home feels like stepping into an entirely new universe. You spend a lot of time in your own head, and it felt like the well was never dry. I really miss the feeling of total cosmic anonymity that I got living there. To sum it up, There’s Just Somethin’ About It. 

GSC: You are the bassist in Perspective, a Lovely Hand to Hold, a fantastic NH based emo band, which sounds a great deal different from your work as Jimmy Montague. How do you approach working in Perspective versus your solo work? Is there anything about working in one that informs the other?

MONTAGUE: I met PALHTH while on tour with a band called The Most in 2016, and that friendship stuck around through multiple tours and meetups and one-off shows. It wasn’t until 2018 that they asked me to fill in on a run playing bass. Jacob and I have very similar work ethics when it comes to music, and whether they liked it or not, I’ve sort of latched myself onto them haha. The feeling of being an outsider has sort of diminished, and on the newest material I’ve begun writing more with Jacob, but the approach to that music has become very communal. Jacob has a solo project as well, under the moniker “Chet Wasted” which is also very dialed back indie music, and I think PALHTH satiates our needs for Playing It Loud. I think more so than ever, though, we’ve been allowing the same influences that pique our solo projects to find its way into new PAL music. 

GSC: If you had to pick a Jimmy Montague song to represent each of your Perspective bandmates which would it be?

MONTAGUE: At the present moment, PALHTH writing crew has just been Jacob (McCabe), Matt (Cook) and myself. Jacob, I would pin at maybe a “From Time To Time” type person, he’s been known to bust out a stink-face dance to something of that tempo. Matt’s a wildcard, I’d clock him as more of a “Casual Use” type person; a little wry and sneaky to start, but liable to pop off haha. If I reach back though, I’d clock Ben (Walker) and Andy (Dwyer) as “Always You” sort of Wham/Hall & Oates- type lads.

GSC: What is a passion of yours outside music? Anything you are really into that might surprise people?

MONTAGUE: I try as best as I can to be an avid reader. I’ll go through bouts of slamming through books for 3 months straight and then I’ll pick one up and be unable to read english and have to sit it out for a while. I like coffee. I like crap movies about lads in tracksuits robbing people and saying funny outlandish things in accents. I like stupid cars and riding motorcycles and gambling. At the heart of it, I’m a pretty big idiot. I like things that are Dumb. Pretty much everything to me is funny, and if it can get me into trouble, I’m usually on board. And I suppose that anyone who knows me is aware of my crippling chocolate addiction. It’s truly debilitating. 

GSC: What hobbies, activities, movies, tv shows, video games, podcasts, ect have helped keep you sane during the past year of the pandemic?

MONTAGUE: Looking back, the minute I lost my job to this pandemic, I packed up all my gear and moved up into the PALHTH studio spot. We made a new PAL record, “Casual Use”, Jacob’s debut “Chet Wasted” LP, an EP of slacker rock music under the name “Pretty Rude”, and co-wrote another 20 or so songs with Jacob on the side. I kept myself moderately busy with recording, I’m not much of a TV or Video Game person. Once in a while I’ll hop back in and rewatch The Wire or Peaky Blinders, but I mostly try to keep writing. Oh, I’ve rekindled my record collection this year. Found a lot of new music and some hidden gems that I’ve really been enjoying. But I try to keep busy.

Follow Jimmy M on twitter and insta, listen to Casual Use on Spotify, Apple Music, or BandCamp, and buy it on cassette through Chillwavve! Thanks to Devin R for the photo at the top of this article.

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