For Monte Pride, Michigan’s placid sights, sounds and scents invigorate and soothe the soul.
The Lansing folk singer-songwriter and fingerstyle guitarist beautifully encapsulates the state’s sonic sense of tranquility on his latest album, Even in Absence. With magical, pastoral references to the Grand River, Lake Superior, Pictured Rocks and other Great Lakes gems, Pride paints a seasonal, insightful canvas filled with introspective themes of loss, resilience, growth and change.
“I grew up spending a lot of time outdoors, and I’m still big into camping, fly-fishing, hiking and all that. Northern Michigan has always been a really special place for me, so it just kind of naturally makes its way in. Whether I know it or not, I process these experiences in nature and in different parts of Michigan. I think they just all kind of fall into place, and they relate to each other somehow,” he said.
Pride intricately stitches personal, transcendental moments through 10 serene Even in Absence tracks, including the calming title track. Twirling acoustic strums, glistening piano, peaceful violin and Pride’s warm vocals soothe listeners as they quietly reflect on a still September night, “Even in the ebb/The flow of going I pine/I strive to mend the losing/To know we won’t/Be parting then/Even in the changing/The fraying thread/In the almost lost/A sentiment sought/A golden friend.”
As Pride’s latest single and album title, “Even in Absence” establishes a timeless, acoustic-centered sonic quality that instantly appeals to folk music aficionados across all generations. Think hints of Simon & Garfunkel, The Tallest Man on Earth and Nick Drake fused with special musical seasonings from a Michigan-made singer-songwriter.
“When I wrote the songs and recorded them, I was only listening to old Simon & Garfunkel, Joni Mitchell and Nick Drake albums. I think their songwriting style and instrumentation came through in Even in Absence because I had been listening to them so much during that time,” Pride said.
Pride magically captures his vintage folk aesthetic through a contemplative, poignant “Even in Absence” video directed by Shaina Mahler, who also created the album’s artwork. The thoughtful video reflects Pride’s delicate performance as crystal sea-inspired ornaments and hand-held mirrors depict a quiet, dreamy world beyond the looking glass.
“She has an incredible, amazing eye and style. One day we were sitting outside in our backyard, and she decided to start taking some photos, and I just sang along to the song. She brought so much to the video and the album artwork and embroidered all of the writing on the album cover. It was really special that we were able to collaborate on both of those things,” he said.
Michigan’s Song and Queen of the West
Another standout Even in Absence track includes, “Michigan’s Song,” a majestic love letter to Pride’s home state as hypnotic acoustic guitars, soaring violin and lush harmonies sculpt vivid Michigan scenery while lulling the mind and spirit. Pride softly sings, “Sing with me now if you call this place your home/Apple blossomed fields, they’re all I know/Just weaving and winding/Driving north on two lane roads/Michigan, can I call this place my home?”
“That one took me a few years to write. I got the initial idea for the chorus of that song before I released Hawthorne Morning Sound in 2016. I kept it in a notebook and finally finished it sometime before I started recording,” said Pride, who wrote Even in Absence over three years.
Pride effortlessly glides on Even in Absence’s scintillating rendition of Red Tail Ring’s “Queen of the West, And Other Stories” from 2013’s The Heart’s Swift Foot. Somber acoustic guitars surround listeners as Pride quietly recounts down-home tales of Josie, Donald and Annie from Red Tail Ring’s Michael Beauchamp-Cohen and Laurel Premo as he sings, “Oh, when it changes in the middle of the night/Your friends have not left you/They’ve just taken flight/Taken flight/Taken flight.”
“I discovered Red Tail Ring’s music during the recording process, and I fell in love with that song. I went to see them live once or twice, and that song immediately stuck with me. The themes of impermanence and change in that song really fit with the other things I was recording, so I asked Michael, and he said ‘Yes,’ and I said, ‘Thank You.’ It was such a cool opportunity to be able to record such a great song,” said Pride, who also invited Premo to play violin and banjo on Even in Absence.
Even in Absence’s graceful closing track, “By the Memory,” uplifts the soul as swirling acoustic strums, wailing pedal steel, delicate piano and soft strings embrace listeners. In tandem, Pride reassures tender ears as he sings “Even in absence/The dimming light flying/We’ll hold on hope/In love worth everything/We’ll press on together/Remember our neighbor/Empathy unassuming/In selfless giving.”
“I liked how ‘By the Memory’ came out as well, and that one features Bethany Turner-Foote on piano, Drew Howard on pedal steel and Max Lockwood on bass. I wrote it the day we recorded it, and I finished writing it as a closing track for the whole album. It was fun to record it spur of the moment, and as soon as I finished writing it, I hopped in the car and drove to Ann Arbor to work in the studio,” Pride said.
Pride spent a year recording the 10 Even in Absence tracks across five studios, including Ann Arbor’s Big Sky Recording, Grand Haven’s Third Coast Recording, Lansing’s Troubadour Recording Studios, Kalamazoo’s La Luna Recording & Sound and Fort Worth Sound in Fort Worth, Texas.
He also teamed up with co-producers Ian Gorman and Timothy Monger and musical collaborators Benjy Joung (cello), Samantha Cooper (violin, vocals), Mark Lavengood (dobro), Lily Talmers (vocals), Brandon Foote (electric guitar), Turner-Foote (piano), Lockwood (upright and electric bass), Premo (violin, banjo) and Howard (pedal steel) for his sophomore album.
“I saw their work over the years and wanted to work with all of them. Some were good friends before, but I was excited to get to know others better through the process. I was just so grateful to have everyone willing to be part of it and interested in the songs. It felt really special and was a great experience,” Pride said.
Finding His Folk
Pride explored his initial folk music experience with two stripped-down EPs, Hollows on High (2014) and The Soul Sender (2015), after graduating from Michigan State University. The Okemos native opted for a simple, serene style filled with honest vocals and delicate fingerpicking acoustic strums before releasing his emotive full-length debut, Hawthorne Morning Sound, in 2016.
“When I recorded Hawthorne Morning Sound, I was still stuck in sort of how I was taught to sing. I feel like I learned a lot of breathing techniques and diction in choir, but there was also a tone of voice that I had, and I found a way to sing between Hawthorne Morning Sound and Even in Absence,” he said.
Pride started his musical journey at age 15 playing guitar and later wrote songs in college while absorbing Simon & Garfunkel, Nick Drake, The Tallest Man on Earth, John Prine and Gillian Welch. Those influential folk heavyweights inspired Pride to create and hone a serene folk sound filled with deep revelations, hopeful anthems, majestic musings and rustic imagery.
“A lot of my songwriting isn’t super intentional, but no matter how sad a song is, I try to make it at least a little hopeful. It was a fun album to record, and it sets the tone for how I want to record my music. I’m always working on the next batch of songs for a full-length album, and I’m going to keep chipping away,” he said.
“In the meantime, I’ve thought about releasing a home-recorded, stripped-down album of cover songs. There are so many songs that have been helping me through this time, and I’ve been thinking about how cool it would be to take a swing at them. I’m looking toward the next album as well, and I don’t have any idea of the timeline. It’s an ongoing process; the work never really stops.”