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Nici Eberl 20240410 Ricky Montgomery TLBF 15

Ricky Montgomery is holding onto local fandom

10 May 2024, 09:00
Words by Kelsey Barnes
Original Photography by Nici Eberl

With Rick(y), the deluxe edition of his sophomore album, Ricky Montgomery is pushing against the TikTokification of the music industry, he tells Kelsey Barnes.

Ricky Montgomery has been anything but complacent with his music, working away at it for more than half his life. He started singing and songwriting at 14, using both as an escape from everything, eventually moving back to his native L.A. after garnering success for his debut EP in 2014.

Two years later, Montgomery Ricky, his debut album, dropped. It didn’t take off as he had anticipated, leading him to quit music for good. Although it took a few years to resonate with audiences, it was clear music wasn’t ready to let him go. 

“When I first got signed, I hadn't worked on my solo project for years”, the 31-year-old Montgomery tells me. “At the time, I was pretty broke and working a lot of Craigslist jobs and just trying to survive. There was no time to put together a big idea for my first album — I did a Kickstarter so it was a heavily crowdfunded project. It wasn’t as successful as it is now, so it wasn’t easy to just jump back into the studio. I came back to it only because my solo project was going viral and I had to jump in and write an album. At the same time, I had to remember how to be a solo artist and how to make music that’s just me and not a band.”

He put out an EP called It’s 2016 Somewhere just as a means to buy time — a way of signalling to the growing fanbase that there was new music being made behind the scenes. He’s grown a lot in the decade since his first release. “I’m better at every part of my job, for sure. For starters, my debut EP would’ve been out in 2014, which makes me feel old. I’m not afraid of ageing, by the way,” he laughs. “It'd be easier to say what I wasn't better at, I think. I’m better at guitar, singing, writing and producing. I wish I had spent more time hunkering down and improving, but I can see significant growth from then to now. I'm relieved to report that is not always the case for people — they get complacent or they like to smell their own farts a little too much to improve at their job. I’m lucky I’m not one of those people.”


Which brings Montgomery to the release of Rick(y), the deluxe counterpart to his previous record, 2023’s Rick. Rick(y) includes some tracks that Montgomery feels are relevant for the “full scope” of the project he wanted to create. “I’m bringing back some songs from earlier releases that I want firmly placed in the context of this second era,” he says.

Something that Montgomery and I speak at length about is the TikTokification of music — how frustrating it is to be both an artist and a marketing machine at once, when all he wants to do is the former. Bringing up a series of posts he made on X (formerly known as Twitter), I ask how pushing back against “TikTok infinity” influenced the release of Rick(y). “What I meant by it was how hard it is to be in a reactive moment online,” he answers. “Make the art that you want to make because, at least for people like me, art requires a lot of time once you finish something. It seems like the more successful you become, the more pushback you receive, especially when you're at a certain tier of artists. This thing I'm trying to do now is showing the project that is more conceptually fleshed out.”

Nici Eberl 20240410 Ricky Montgomery TLBF 11

After wanting to quit music to every label itching to sign him after going viral on TikTok, Montgomery says my description of it being “jarring” didn’t exactly summarise his feelings. “It was more enraging or depressing,” he laughs. “A lot of people got into social media because it felt like a step toward becoming an artist. Sometime in the last four years, the step on the ladder is just making TikToks. Even if you’re big, you’re at the mercy of endless content. It’s just not sustainable for anybody, especially for labels. I view it as remarkably naive of the industry to think that this is going to be a sustainable model or lead anywhere good.”

Rick was Montgomery’s way of saying that he’s a grown-up — he turned 30 right before it came out — by using a more ‘serious’ version of his name. With Rick(y), he taps into the same childlike creativity that made him first want to be an artist. “I don't need to be all trauma dumpy, so here’s some fun stuff. It’s tying a knot on everything and making sure it's at least understood by my fans what I wanted this era to be. I wanted that more than any other thing.”

Touring shifted the relationship Montgomery has with certain songs. “It certainly changes it a lot,” Montgomery states. “In particular, what parts have resonated with certain people. Maybe you have an idea of where the cheers will happen or something similar to that. It’s a test to see what works, too. My girlfriend was on tour with us and she said she could see our set evolve day after day, almost like a stand-up comic perfecting their set.”

After combing through Montgomery’s Instagram, there’s a post he made about his song “Black Fins”, a track written about his father’s suicide. It was the first song he released about it and he spent months debating whether he was ready to discuss it or not. Again, speaking to the push to go immediately viral or “go unnoticed”, Montgomery was frustrated that little to no press picked it up — and rightly so.

“I'm happy you brought this up because I can now talk more about it,” he says when I ask how that must’ve felt. “Everybody thinks that that post is me complaining about it not being popular — I don't know if they have bad reading comprehension or if they just don't give a shit and they don't read anything at all. I want to clarify: I don’t verbatim remember what I said on the post, but the benefit of hindsight is that I can say that I didn't plan to put out a lot of very vulnerable stuff for it to not be able to exist in an environment where anyone could focus on it for more than a swipe. That has, at least for me as an artist, kind of catalysed this sort of belief that we're just crafting this world around us where there's no possibility for depth to occur.”

Where depth can be found is through Montgomery’s own fanbase. Although there was a lack of press pickup for “Black Fins”, fans immediately took to the song — so much so that the comment section was full of listeners declaring what it meant to them. In San Francisco, fans lifted paper fish while Montgomery played the song. With that aforementioned hindsight, a question is posed: is it comforting to know that there are people out there listening even if the press aren’t picking it up? “I'm not at all new to the slow receiving of content by my fans — case in point: my whole career,” he replies. “The fan project was really amazing. Now there are other fan projects happening in places like Germany and Paris. I am beginning to really see this local ecosystem of fandom happen. That’s refreshing and a development for sure. The fish thing was tremendously special when it happened and continues to be for sure.”

Nici Eberl 20240410 Ricky Montgomery TLBF 8

After the press incident (or lack thereof), Montgomery declared that his goal for 2024 would be to shout out other artists. “Kid Sistr is a band I’m letting use my studio right now which I like to do because I’m out of town all the time and someone should use it,” he says. “The first thing that came to mind was this lo-fi dubstep song a friend sent me. It’s the latest thing I’ve heard that sounds like a new thing. I don't know if it’s because I'm getting older or what but I'm having a harder time finding new music. [That song] is really refreshing for me. I know a lot of artists now more than ever, but I almost never hear anything where I'm like, ‘Oh, I've never heard that before.’”

After a solid three-month block of touring, Montgomery is happy to have a bit of fresh air ahead of his tour dates in the fall, and is already working on his third studio album. As our chat comes to a close, I ask him what iteration of his name could he use for his next album. Laughing, he says, “We’ll see if I continue. I’ve been saying it's gonna be a trilogy but now I can’t decide if I will or not. You’ll just have to wait and see.”

Rick(y) is out now via Warner

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