If you have gone to an open mic night at Paul Smith's College lately, you would be aware of, and extremely impressed by, a 24-year-old up-and-comer who is reaching out to the local scene.
I was fortunate enough to sit with him in the Paul Smith's College library recently to discuss how his environmental rhymes and flows have been inspired, and really what his message is about. Wherever you meet him, this guy is down to earth and positive. His smile, as you first greet him, enthralls you and lifts your spirits. If you can't guess who he is by now, his name is Lawrence Montague, aka "Fluent" - a stage name given to him by one of his best friends.
Originally from Westchester County, he has been living in Queensbury for the past 14 years. He is a forestry major at Paul Smith's and plans on working at a nature center this summer in Denali National Park in Alaska. Surprisingly, his childhood was not geared toward the outdoors. In fact, his family was not even into the outdoors. They didn't go camping or hiking, but he does recall visiting the Bronx Zoo.
"What to turned me on to the natural world was drawing. Art was the avenue for me," he said.
Fluent became environmentally influenced as he began sketching animals and outdoor scenes. Around the summer between eighth to ninth grades is when he became serious about writing. At that time he focused on lyric rhyming and finding his style. His introduction into the rap scene was a website where aspiring rappers battle through texts over the Internet.
In 12th grade, Fluent took a huge leap from his persona as a quiet guy who played sports and kept good grades, into an emerging lyricist and artist. As he handed out an album he made at home, a classmate asked, "Oh, man, what is it? Do you have a band?" Fluent simply replied, "No, I rap." As he recalls, "It blew the top off my reputation."
Continuing to write, his environmental ethic eventually began to run parallel with his musical voice. He likes to refer to his music as "music for social change."
Overall, he estimates that he has written more than 400 songs.
"If you can think of everything that you've ever latched on since you were 14 ... putting everything into something, it has always has been music for me," he said. "That's what I do, that's why I like to do it so much. It keeps me out of trouble. It keeps me from drinking, it keeps me from smoking, it keeps me from watching TV, playing on the computer, just everything."
He's progressed quite a ways from recording with a $10 dollar Staples microphone.
"I'm making an album right now, and this weekend I'm recording the whole thing," he said.
I told him that sounds pretty intense, but he streamed with excitement and positivity.
"If I could do it in one day, it would put such a cool spin on the album It's definitely the best stuff I've ever made in my life."
He has been shooting emails back and forth with his brother in San Diego, who is helping co-edit the upcoming album.
Last semester was Fluent's first time performing in front of a crowd, and I was there. Never had I known this side of him. He's extremely talented and big-hearted. One of his dreams is to work with a live band, and to continue conveying his message.
I asked if he had any stage fright when he first performed at open mic. Maybe a little at first, he answered, but: "Now I know that I put so much into it, I believe in it so much, that it's easy because I'm not afraid of what people think about it because it's what I think. I'm finally getting my music out now."
I had the opportunity to get a hold of his first environmentally driven album, "Roll Up the World," which was passed out on campus last year. The book "Lame Deer, Seeker of Visions," by Richard Erdos and John Fire, influenced him. It influenced his expressions about the Earth: "Clean it up, start fresh."
One of his main concerns is society's disconnection from nature, and that we use terms like "environmentalist" and "all natural" or "organic."
"Oh, I'm going to buy that because it has real food in it? As opposed to what? The norm that is synthetic isn't that strange? It's like calling a bird a flyer, or a monkey a tree climber."
If he were to pick a philosophy of life, it would be "The Retention of Innocence ... retaining some kind of purity in yourself, and with the land because nature knows what it's doing, just like kids know what they're doing."
As for his religion, he doesn't have one, but if he did, it would be "walking." He idolizes 19th century writers such as Henry David Thoreau and John Muir. In a time of technology, Fluent finds it extremely important to practice the dying art of handwriting, keeping pen pals across the country, and most important, slowing down in this culture that has us speeding. "I have an old-school mindset."
Although he owns a laptop and a car, he doesn't have a Facebook, phone, or even a camera. On his journeys outside he used to always take his camera, but then he began to realize how disconnected taking pictures made him. "Before I knew it I didn't even look at the view, because I'm going to look at the view on a piece of paper," he said.
So instead of using a camera, he takes a sketchbook, which enables him to observe the landscape and take it all in. He idolizes the time when a person could walk across the landscape and not have to traverse roads, fences, canal drainages and private property.
Although he is well aware of the melting ice caps, and the garbage orbiting our atmosphere, his outlook remains positive. "I'm really optimistic, because no one responds to gloominess, and that's how I like to approach my music, too," he said.
He's been very fortunate, but he told me one thing that is missing from his life: "Music and nature are the two most important things in my life right now. And I'd like the third to be a girl."
As the interview ended, he continued to remain positive and charismatic, and he told me that the release of his new album would likely be around for Earth Day.
He's a wholesome guy, and happens to be "Fluent."
Kirsten L. Goranowski is a student at Paul Smith's College.