Magness Lake, in Heber Springs, is a magnet for swans
Searcy native Bonnie Montgomery moved back to her home state in 2009 and quickly became one of the most active and industrious musicians around. Her opera "Billy Blythe" earned national attention and was staged in Little Rock and New York City. She began collaborating with Gossip co-founder Nathan Howdeshell on her country and rockabilly inspired songs, touring the U.S. and Europe opening for his band. Montgomery has released one vinyl EP on Howdeshell's Fast Weapons record label, with a follow-up out this weekend. She and her band perform at a record release show at 9:30 p.m. Saturday at White Water Tavern.
Tell me a little bit about your new EP, "Joy."
I'm really excited about it. It's just two songs, but I feel like they're very strong. They're the first songs where we recorded everything all the way through with Jason Weinheimer at Fellowship Hall Sound. I'm really, really pleased with the quality and production and engineering and everything. That's who we want to keep working with. We brought in some amazing musicians. Of course Nathan did all the guitar work and he writes the parts for that and I love that he does that. We got Alex Piazza on the steel guitar. He plays with The Good Time Ramblers. And then some guys I work with through the opera played some string instruments and laid down some extra parts on the slow song, "Daddy's." I just feel like it is really strong and I feel like Jason captures my voice, which has been a long process for me in the studio. I was really, really pleased with that.
You've been working a lot with your fellow Searcyite Nathan Howdeshell. Are y'all collaborating on songwriting at all, or is it mainly a production and performance collaboration?
It's mostly production and performance. He writes the guitar parts on the songs I write, and since we've been working together I've written a handful of new ones. Usually I just go through my same process and then bring the song to him and see what he wants to add to it.
Are you planning for an album anytime soon or are you planning on filling a jukebox with singles first?
I am dying to do an LP. We're waiting to kind of see how this goes and where this EP might take me, and then we're definitely looking forward to doing an LP, because I have enough material. I'm dying to do it.
Tell me about some of the highlights from your globetrotting tours with Gossip.
It was such a thrill to share the stage with them and there were many shows that were amazing. One of the big highlights was in Madison, Wis. My very new Martin acoustic had a problem with the pickup, which is very unusual for Martin. Luckily Nathan has a really sweet guitar tech who took care of that for me. But before he could get to it we had to play a show and no one had a backup acoustic. So I got to play Nathan's Firebird and plug in and go electric. That was so thrilling and fun and scary, it was really one of the big highlights because the audience loved it and it worked. It actually made me wonder if I should go electric, but really it's just a matter of hauling an amp around. And I love the acoustic, it keeps me grounded in my roots, the folk and country roots that I love so much. And then Brooklyn, all of New York was just a wild, fun show. Then in Europe it was just unbelievable because [Gossip] plays in these enormous arenas as big as Verizon Arena. And there we were, just two people on this enormous stage. I would go sell my merch afterwards and I got so many sweet French people and German people who really loved it. It was so exciting.
Were you well taken care of over there?
Yes. Of course, being with Gossip I had it made in the shade, because I was with them and they're so well loved over there. Basically their backstage was my backstage, so we were definitely taken care of.
Do you think that experience has opened doors for you in terms of getting your music out there and touring?
Definitely. I definitely made a lot more fans, everywhere I played. I was surprised, that part was really good and it's opened up opportunities for touring too. Making friends with bands that want to go out on the road together, and meeting booking people and venues and finding out which parts of the country and the world are receptive to what I'm doing is really cool. Toronto was amazingly excited about what we were doing.
Are you working on anything opera-related these days?
The country music has kept me so busy that I have to put opera stuff on the shelf, and honestly I hate that. I wish that I were steamrolling ahead on something. But I started on this idea of an opera about the West Memphis Three. I wrote three themes and we did a showcase with those three themes and some singers April before last. Out in Seattle, I met up with Jason Baldwin and Holly, his girlfriend. They were really excited about it, so I don't know. That might kick start me. If they want to share some of their story, that could be really cool. I think what's interesting are the love stories in the whole case. But I had to switch gears, honestly because of money. Opera is just not doing so great with funding, so with country music I get paid most of the time, so I just had to go with that. Which is not bad at all, I'm loving it.
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