UC Berkeley student Andrew Montana discusses songwriting, love and his 1st studio album

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Name: Andrew Montana

Age: 19 years old

Hometown: San Bernardino, California

Current residence: Berkeley, California

What he’s been listening to: Smog, Palace Music and Tiny Ruins — “weird folky songwriters.”

Who he is: A UC Berkeley student majoring in art practice and an acoustic singer-songwriter who began composing at age 12. The first songs he ever released were recorded in his dorm room. His forthcoming debut album Azalea, Holly began at Tiny Telephone, a production studio in San Francisco where artists such as Spoon and Death Cab for Cutie have recorded. Montana ended up producing the final version of Azalea, Holly with Jim Greer, a producer from North Berkeley.

His voice: Andrew Montana and I meet in a steamy coffee shop on one of those days that’s too light to be stormy and too damp to be warm. He looks sort of the way you’d expect someone with the last name Montana to look — gray sweater, a mop of dark curly hair, maroon leather wingtip shoes.

His music is that way, too — folksy, his voice raspy and wide-ranging. But it would be reductive to imply that Montana is simply following in the well-worn (wingtip) steps of previous folk and country singers.

Montana’s songwriting is pointedly honest, and we spend some time griping about the generality of contemporary pop songs — at one point, he gets a little fired up about James Arthur.

“I feel like a lot of (songs) seem kind of shallow. … (Arthur’s) song ‘Say You Won’t Let Go,’ it’s his most popular song.” Montana sings the chorus to me. “It’s, like, such terrible writing. … Talking about getting drunk and her being ill from drinking too much — it’s so (not) romantic and just kind of gross. … It’s a love song that’s not really a love song. It’s a hook-up song.”

I ask Montana if he thinks pop stars evade honesty to maintain privacy, and he mulls it over for a few minutes.

“Can you write a good song that’s not honest? That’s so pretentious,” Montana concedes. “Like, can you write an honest song that doesn’t compromise your privacy as an artist? I’d say yes.”

“I have a degree of trust with people where I assume that they can relate to any issues that I’m dealing with, whether those are good or bad,” Montana says.

But Montana also tells me that outside of himself, he has a “very secure boundary” around his relationships with his family and his girlfriend, Sarah.

“I’ve always had trouble writing about things that aren’t about love, for some reason. … I do deal with really hard mental stuff like depression and anxiety and pretty severe OCD and stuff like that, and I could write about that stuff, but it would do nothing for me, I think,” Montana says. “You know, it wouldn’t really lift me up in any way, it wouldn’t be enlightening in any way. It would just be depressing.”

And so, Montana tells me, the songwriting that happens around his time being a student and working 36 hours a week usually turns out to be “(a) desperation-love-song kind of thing.”

“What comes out are these songs (is an awareness) of the fact that I’m deeply flawed … and this sense of, like, innate desperation for (others) not to leave (me),” Montana says. “But when you’re in a relationship for (over) a year or so, you kind of start to realize, ‘Oh, they’re probably not going to up and leave; this is actually OK.’ So if I’m going to change, it’s not going to be so that they don’t leave — it’s going to be so that they’re happy.”

Currently, Montana is in the longest relationship he’s ever had. As he talks about it, his voice moves into a quieter, confiding tone.

“I can only write about my current relationship … right now. … If I try to write about any abstract relationship, it feels disingenuous. Like … if I were to write a heartbreak song, it would … feel very weird,” Montana says. “What it’s causing me to do is to dive intellectually more into the relationship … to consider the impact of being in a relationship.”

I look at the clock — we’ve been talking for a while, and I’ll have to leave soon. I ask Montana about his favorite part of making music. In his answer, he compares his songwriting to the art practice major.

“Making art feels like you connect with someone at some point, and then you try to appropriate that in some way on a paper or canvas. Whereas music, when you’re performing it, that is the connection,” Montana says. “So you make this thing about a connection, and then you connect over it. So it’s just like this transcendental, weird, crazy experience … and I just love it.”

Andrew Montana recently released a new single on Spotify from his forthcoming album Azalea, Holly.

Olivia Jerram is the managing editor at The Daily Californian. Contact Olivia Jerram at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @olivia_jerram.