Dylan LeBlanc is about the friendliest musician you’ll ever talk to. Scratch that; he’s probably the friendliest, most open person you’ll ever talk to, period. For instance, after offering a great big, earnest-sounding “hey, how are you man?” to an otherwise complete stranger, he’ll admit to being “a little hungover” from a few too many the night before. This is with little introduction otherwise.
Not long thereafter, and in a warm, beer-saturated southern drawl, he’ll talk about how he dropped out of school at fifteen to pursue music. How he probably should’ve finished for his grandmother’s sake (who he used to live with). How his dad was also a traveling, bread-earning musician, and how much he admires him, and is reminded of a “character from a Faulkner novel,” with his father’s various eccentricities. His dad was a big influence on him, if in no other way than how he’d eventually find his way to music and the pertinent lifestyle. Dylan says his dad used to bring home ‘grocery sacks’ full of records, full of vintage southern and folk classics like Neil Young, the Doors, Bob Dylan, and most of all, the Band. Dylan mentions the Band several times, and even offers a story in which he got to meet Levon Helm, and how he reminded him of his grandfather.
Dylan says how, as much as he may strive to sound modern, citing My Morning Jacket, Radiohead, and Wilco amongst his contemporary influences, that he’ll sit back and listen to something he wrote and think, “Man that just sounds old,‘ or “Damn, I fucked up and wrote another country classic song.”
Tradition is an inherent part of everything Dylan does. This is true of his music, and it is also true of his background. He grew up in a conservative, Christian home in Louisiana. He was always taught to mind his manners, and would even by reprimanded by his grandfather if he failed to hold open a door for a ‘lady,’ as it were. But these ideals do slip; Dylan admits to less-than-Snow-White Christian ways and acknowledges a world in which chivalry is largely dead and unwelcome.
At 22, Dylan is an old man: “Our children will never know a world before all this technology. It’s crazy man, I’m so bad about the social media. I’m starting to get better about it; being a musician, you’re supposed to Facebook and Twitter a lot. I try to do it as much as I can, because people want to know what’s going on, but at the same time I like that privacy and keeping it a mystery. You used to wonder what people looked like, if there wasn’t a picture on the album, now you can Google it, you know?” He laments how disconnected this ‘connected’ world is, saying he’ll get aggravated by friends who have become socially complacent, in spite of a lack of physical contact: “I’m like, ‘Dude, let’s get a fucking cup of coffee, and sit down, and have a conversation, and…fuck this ‘chatting’ bullshit, you know?”
“Golly, put the phone down,” he says. Although he does admit to owning an iPhone, as conflicted as he is about the fact (Good: downloading music on the go, checking email from his pocket, connecting with fans. Bad: his aforementioned dread.)
While his gripes are few, his affections are bountiful. Whether he’s describing a hot, sunny Alabama afternoon; or a celebrity encounter (about how surprisingly nice/tangibly rock-star-ish Thom Yorke is in person, or about seeing Nicole Kidman at a coffee shop in Nashville: “She looks like a China doll. Her skin looks like if you put your finger in it, it would come right through, like it was butter or something.”); or an affecting performance (at a Fleet Foxes show: “I cried at one point. It was beautiful. I was just sitting out in the crowd, and I was like ‘man…’ I think I was a little bit drunk…”).
He says, “I love beautiful things: I love beautiful women, I love beautiful everything. And I like beautiful music.” He also finds purpose in his own ability to channel beauty, saying, “It’s the only thing that I would feel reassured, like if I listen to something I recorded – it doesn’t even matter if it goes out to the public or not – if I listen to something that I record and it’s beautiful, and it strikes one of those chords with me, then damn, that makes me feel like I’m worth something. Like that I have something to offer. I definitely didn’t feel like that growing up.” He confesses to not being good at school or sports, but that music is a different story.
On his latest album, the forthcoming Cast the Same Old Shadow, Dylan talks about the undertaking in making such the grandiose achievement that it is: “On the new album I had money, but I didn’t have enough money to hire a huge string section. But I also had other things I wanted to do, so I got this mellotron that had all these recorded sounds. The device actually has recorded voices, recorded strings… So it’s actual strings that you are hearing, but it’s played on a mellotron. There’s actually no real strings on this album, which is difficult, but I think that we did well with what we had. I can only play guitar, I’m not one of those virtuosos that can play all this different shit, I wish I was! But when I walk into a studio, I just use whatever is available. I mean I have my guitar. I have a cheap-ass… I have one guitar. I have an Epiphone that I bought in a pawn shop.”
He goes on, “I love that guitar. I wouldn’t trade it for anything. It feels like… It’s me: a piece-of-shit guitar that I fixed up a little bit.”
While Dylan admits he hasn’t quite felt the pangs of success, he says he’d just as well do without: “I’ve had a pocket full of money. I don’t do well with it. I always find myself getting into trouble. Last time I had money, I went to Texas and did a bender, stayed in a lot of nice hotels and drank a lot. And that was about it. Lost a bunch of money in a poker game.”
Dylan has a tendency to dwell on darkness. He talks about being ‘emotionally unavailable’ for a good part of his life, about how one time when he got his heart-broken pretty bad, it felt like ‘someone in his family died.’ His advice: “If you can get away with not thinking too much about anything, then I think your life will be so much better.” Or else put it towards your music. He also said how this hurt served as a sort of creative ‘fuel.’ And while he recognizes the unhealthy aspect of ‘delving into and exploring negative emotions’, he professes, “I dig it man: I like sad shit.”
He adds, “If there’s a sad melody I’m automatically drawn to it. I don’t know if it’s because I’m sad or if it’s because I’m one of those people. It’s like self-inflicted wounds, like making it feel bad so you can feel something.”
This mournful quality is all over the album, and while Dylan’s emotions are also all over the album, he credits his co-producer Trina Shoemaker with giving him some focus. Dylan sings her praises, mentioning the ‘soothing, motherly quality’ of her voice and her lack of ego, all of which results in what Dylan says “really feels like a record.” He also says, “When she left, I was like, ‘man, I miss her.’” He says he absolutely plans to work with her again.
Other important influences on the album: spaghetti-western-styled soundtrack music. Namely, Ennio Morricone visa vis The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. He says he wanted to make a record that would be fun to play live, saying he was starting to get tired of playing the same old chord progressions.
As far as his audiences go, he has particular love for his crowds in the UK, saying how that listen respectfully, and without talking, during his performances: “Their audiences are just fucking awesome. They’re so… they’re there.” He mentions that he actually feels appreciated by them: “They buy records, and they’re nice; I love playing there.” This is in contrast to US crowds, who turn out in smaller numbers and with less of the unbridled enthusiasm. He says, “It’s hard because my music goes at that medium pace. It’s hard to keep someone’s attention. It’s not like a huge rock and roll show.” Although, he says, his band help him more closely achieve his rock potential (about rocking out: “I don’t care if anyone’s watching, I’ll just look like a wild animal.”), and even encouraged him to include the track ‘Brothers’ on the album, which is unlike anything he’s written previously, describing it as a “strange, alt-country sort of Crosby, Nash, and Young rocker.”
His band, he says, he loves playing with, and that he even grew up with them (having known the bass player since he was 13.). He praises their abilities as musicians, and notes how they enhance his own, making him feel like a sort of electric Neil Young. Whose praises he also sings, identifying himself as a huge Neil Young fan.
On that note: has he had a chance to listen to the new Crazyhorse album?
“I actually have it in my jacket pocket. Somebody gave it to me on the last tour. I probably need to go pull it out and go listen to it. Thanks for reminding me.”
Dylan Leblanc’s latest album Cast the Same Old Shadow is out August 20 via Rough Trade.