An Interview with Dylan LeBlanc
Introduction by Josh Matthews
Interview by Sara Jane Overby
Photography by Mary Fehr
On his third studio album, A Cautionary Tale, Dylan LeBlanc proves that he’s not just a product of his environment, but someone who can conjure some magic deep beneath the layers of his musical upbringing and emerge as an aberration, oddity or outlier in music. The latest album produced by Ben Tanner (Alabama Shakes) and John Paul White (The Civil Wars), A Cautionary Tale is an emanation, not of the son of a songwriter, but a young man discovering his rite of passage as a musician and individual. Critics have deemed him the “new Neil Young,” a flattering comparison, though unjust. Those who were captivated by his voice and guitar playing at this year’s Sloss Music & Art’s Festival got to know him simply as Dylan LeBlanc, free from other associations.
Mother Plug Music’s very own Sara Jane Overby got to catch up with Dylan pre-performance in the Garden & Gun artist’s hospitality tent to talk about A Cautionary Tale, life on the bayou, and the music of JJ Cale and Bob Dylan.
So tell me a little bit about Cautionary Tale and what it was like to kind of release that control over to John Paul White (Civil Wars) and Ben Tanner (Alabama Shakes) to assist with the production of the album?
Dylan: It was cool! You know it was something I have never done before. I never had a producer really work with me before like that. So it was enlightening. It was good to have their ear because sometimes I can be selective when I hear things back. So its good to have that other person in the room to sort of drive you to do a better job. They hear things differently than you, and as much as I would like to think that I am correct all the time, it’s just not true. So, it was good to have John and Ben there to produce this record because I did things I didn’t think I could do before and I think I really reached out. I would do it again for sure. I really liked it!
With the development of this new album it also seems like there was this reformative period for you as an artist and personally.
Dylan: Yea, you know I was going through an awakening process and a lot of the album is geared towards that and about that. It was a good time for me to make music at that moment, whereas before I don’t think I was ready. I was kind of burned out. Especially touring alone. I had done a lot of stuff just by myself and I was tired of being on the road by myself. I was really ready to have a band and feel the camaraderie of that because it’s not something I had ever really felt before: to play shows with a band, because from what I have experienced, not every time, but often people don’t really want to watch just one guy with a guitar. It does depend on what kind of setting you are in. But for [Sloss Music and Arts Festival] it is so much fun to see a band performing and to feel the camaraderie of brothers just playing music. I know it’s more fun for me to watch so, I imagine it’s more fun for everyone else to watch. Sonically, I like it more as well.
I can go really either way, but I do think you hit on something there with regards to performing at a festival, it is more fun to watch a band perform and play off of each other. It generates more emotion that way for sure. But let me ask you, do you consider yourself a country music singer? I was actually listening to Cautionary Tale on the way over here and I was listening to some of your earlier stuff when I was prepping…
Dylan (Laughing): Uhhhhh no. I would have never considered myself a country singer. I don’t really know what that means even. I mean, yes I am a singer and I am from the country, but I don’t think I am a country singer. Or maybe that is what makes me a country singer, I don’t know. But what I think is that I would consider myself more of a soul singer. I would like to think that, and whether or not it’s true, I like that more ya know!
So, let’s talk about Nashville and what the future holds for you with the new album and kind of where you are at in your life, what’s your next step?
Dylan (Laughing): I don’t really know. I’m just sort of taking it one day at a time. That sounds cliche’ as hell but I am really just sort of taking it one day at a time and just sort of enjoying it. And I’m not too concerned about it. I just hope to keeping doing it – putting out records and keep playing and keep having more people interested in the music. I just hope to keep doing it really. Playing to more people and I guess I just want what everybody else that does this wants: to make a little bit of a living doing what I love to do. I think that would be the perfect world for anybody you know. So, that is what I would like to see happen.
What do you think of the up and coming music scene here in Birmingham?
Dylan: I think its great! There has ALWAYS been a lot of talented people here. Artists and visual artists and musicians like St. Paul. I just really think its great but you know it has always had that sort of vibe to it. I think Birmingham is like this funky cool city and that is what I look for in a city, something with a lot of character. I am from Louisiana originally and that’s why I like Louisiana so much is because it has so much character. Old used up places and sort of old used up people and there are a lot of stories to be told. I really like that in a city.
Being that your from Louisiana what are those boats called that allow you to ride on the Bayou’s and they are like on top the water?
Dylan: A Pirogue?
Yeah, have you ever been on one?
Dylan: Yea, actually when I was a kid I sunk my neighbors Pirogue.
Dylan (laughing): Yea. There was a tornado and I did not realize it. But I pulled the pirogue up on the bank of the bayou. So we lived on a bayou, there was one right behind my house and [my sister and I] used to go swimming out back and we would take a canoe or go pirogue’ing out there. But yea, so the winds blew so hard that it pulled the pirogue out into the bayou off of the bank and it sunk. So, the neighbors came over to our house and asked, “Where’s my pirogue?” And I was just like, “Ummm…” and that’s all I said.
You didn’t even go into any kind of explanation or…
Dylan (laughing): Nah. I just shut the door.
So, are there a ton of alligators down there, or is that sort of a fabrication?
Dylan: Oh yea! There are a tons where we live now. As a matter of fact, I just went canoeing with my brother and his girlfriend a couple weeks ago and I was scared shitless to be honest with you!
Dylan: Yea, and it was my idea. Because when we got in the water, there is only this much water (holding his hands five to six inches above one another) between the water and the boat and we went into a lot of marshy areas. Gators like to hang out where the marsh is and anywhere near a bank or trees, not in open water. They do not hang out in open water. They will swim across it but they don’t like, chill there. And I started freaking out.
Because you could see them all along the banks?
Dylan: Yea, they get in their little nesting areas and there are tons of them out there. Lake Martin [Beaux Bridge, LA], where we were, is just infested with them. And me my brother were just like, Oh Shit! Although it is kind of a thrill too because you can hear them, they make a noise. It is this very distinct noise.
What does it sound like?
Dylan: I can not even re-create it. It kind of sounds like a stick, the clicking of a stick. But it is real rapid. So I heard that and we were in the marsh and I was like, ‘okay, we have got to go get out of here,’ and I started paddling in the other direction. But I do think as a whole, gators are more scared of you than you are of them, thing is true. But I was scared, I’m not going to lie. I was scared and I just wanted to go.
Yea- they seem pretty ferocious and one-track minded. But you know, we don’t have to deal with them a lot here in Alabama. So with you being a Louisiana boy, I have got to ask, gator tails or crawfish?
Dylan: Oh I am a crawfish man for sure!
I have not perfected how to eat them quite yet, but we have a crawfish company down the street that posts up at a brewery, and they are called Red Mountain Crawfish. They get their supply weekly, fresh out of Louisiana.
Dylan: No kidding?
Dylan: Well that is the Crawfish capitol of the world.
Yea, they are really good! You gotta check them out next time you’re in town. Now, when I was reading some of your older interviews I read something that was really endearing. Your grandmother would find songs that she wanted your grandfather to play, and he would play them for her? Is that correct?
Dylan: Yea, she encouraged him to play guitar. Her father was a guitar player and I think she just liked men who played. Her father didn’t sing but he would whistle to her. So then my grandfather would actually sing and play to her. He sounded like Merle Haggard, a real smooth voice. My grandmother would buy him song books. They actually put a Gibson Classical on lay-away back in the 60’s and then she bought that for him. Then she bought him all the books with chords to learn to play. Bob Dylan. He loved Bob Dylan so she would buy him Bob Dylan song books and the Beatles songbooks, John Prine songbooks…
Dylan: Yea, JJ Cale. He liked really good music. He was kind of a beatnik. Do you know what that is?
No, I’ve heard the term but I honestly don’t know what it means. What does it mean?
Dylan: A beatnik is like, okay so he’s not a hippie. But he is not necessarily completely conservative either. So in that era, that is what they called a beatnik. They were just sort of like t-shirt and jeans sort of dudes that listened to really good music and then liked to go to work. They valued hard work and wholesome family values. So, he was the king of cool in that way, you know? He was military. He was in the marines but he had a love for music and the arts. So my grandmother really brought that out in him because she really liked music.
Is there any particular song that you remember him playing to her that maybe impacted you or made a footprint on your memory?
Dylan: Yea, “Lay Lady Lay” by Bob Dylan. He would play that to her all the time and she loved that song. So, he would play that to her while she was cooking dinner and those are really good memories.
What was your favorite thing she used to cook?
Dylan: She used to cook pot roast and that was my favorite thing. Because she would cook the whole roast, you know a lot of people will go ahead and separate it and cook it until it falls apart. But my grandmother would cook the whole roast and it would kind of stay together and then you would cut it while still in the pot to get yours. So it was really like a big piece of meat. I don’t know why but I like that better.
That sounds delightful! Do you have anything you want to leave our Birmingham followers with?
Dylan: Do you? Because I am going to do me. (Laughs)
Well thank you so much for your time Dylan, it was really nice to sit down with you!
Dylan: You too, very nice to meet you!