He's been called introverted, intensely private, interview-shy, even reclusive, yet here is singer/songwriter Ray LaMontagne talking to me by phone from a Cleveland hotel room. I'm asking questions, he's answering. With pauses. He speaks just above a whisper, a sort of gentle murmur that belies the raspy bite in his singing voice.
LaMontagne, who plays Tampa Theatre on Wed., April 29, attributes much of his social awkwardness to a childhood that was transient and impoverished. His mother, he says, "had a really, really, really, really difficult childhood - horrific, really. She was completely unprepared for life."
She regularly moved Ray and his sisters to new towns, to Tennessee, Utah, Minnesota, New York, Nebraska, New Hampshire and elsewhere. His father, a musician with a tendency toward violence, left the picture when Ray was very young.
As a result, he was the perpetual new kid, bashful and reluctant. "It was hard," he says. "I think you just become an observer, always stay on the outside of things. It's funny how that stuff sticks with you. I don't like to go to shows 'cause I don't like crowds. I don't like festivals. They bring something up. I don't know exactly what it is, maybe the fact that I'm not the one dancing in the sprinklers with my shirt off. Funny how that stuff stays with you."
The solitary child did not seek solace and meaning in music. "I was more of a reader," he says. "I don't want to be overly dramatic, but we moved so much that we didn't have a stereo. We didn't have anything as far as those kinds of possessions go. I was sort of in my own world."