The Louisiana singer-songwriter talks about his latest album, Renegade, available now.
Shreveport, Louisiana, Americana singer-songwriter Dylan LeBlanc weaves tales of tragedy, self-realization, sobriety, and religion in his latest studio album, Renegade. Recently, we talked with him about the new record.
Cowboys & Indians: What do you hope your listeners are going to take away from Renegade?
Dylan LeBlanc: Well, I hope that they know how to pound the rock. I wanted to make an epic rock ’n’ roll album and I hope they take that away.
C&I: You recorded all 10 tracks in 10 days. How were you able to make that happen?
LeBlanc: [Nashville producer] Dave Cobb works extremely fast and a little too fast at times or maybe not fast enough, I’m not really sure. I couldn’t really decide. It was very hard to tell. The main thing is it was 10 days, and I didn’t think that was going to be enough time. So what I decided to do was ask Dave Cobb — I called him before we got in there — [and said,] “I don’t think there’s enough time to get into the studio and make this record.” He’s like, “No, man, that’s plenty of time. We can do this. I do this all the time.” So we were done with basic tracking in three days, which was amazing. I’ve never done anything that fast before. And then it took another three days and then we finished all the overdubs. So the last four days, we were just mixing. It was incredible. It was the fastest I’ve ever made records.
My previous albums, I had only just worked in three-day increments over the course of six months. So say like we would book three days and then when everybody’s schedule would permit we would go in and we would record. And then you have time to live with it and you can listen to what you’ve recorded and in another month you’d go book another three days and record that. So that’s how I’d done it before. I never just had all this allotted amount of time to do a recording. It was different. You didn’t have time to second-guess anything, which was different. Ultimately, I think it was good, though, because what you hear is what you get on that album. It sounds exactly like what we did live.
C&I: How does the new stuff differ from your other lineup of music?
LeBlanc: Sonically, it’s a little bit different, just because it has more of a rock ’n’ roll edge to it. It’s a bit broader sound, as far as instrumentation. There’s more instruments on it than my other albums. It’s just a bigger sound, but it still has that 1977 sonic rock ’n’ roll feel, which is what I wanted it to have.
C&I: What inspired that sound?
LeBlanc: I grew up listening to Neil Young and John Prine and Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, and [I am a] big Wilco fan. Grew up listening to My Morning Jacket. I was kind of a kid of the 2005 – 2006. …
Also just the atmosphere of the world right now just feels like there hasn’t been a rock ’n’ roll album that was based around current events and things that are happening in the world right now. And so I thought it would be a really good time to make a more edgy rock ’n’ roll album sort of talking about and highlighting some of the things like gun crime and how hard it is in certain areas of the country to get out of your neighborhood without being a criminal, based on how society sort of makes it for you and how the world’s designed, especially in the inner cities of America. Just subjects like that.
C&I: Do you have a specific story about how certain songs on Renegade came together?
LeBlanc: “Bang Bang Bang” was basically a story of an old black man that I was sitting next to in Jackson Square in New Orleans. Whether or not the story was true — it’s always hard to tell because people are either homeless or you don’t know what’s true or false, sometimes, but it did move me and I didn’t think he would mind.
He was telling me about the Civil Rights movement and how the police were blocking their way down certain streets and how there was a riot going on and how he was a black man with a white woman and how she got shot in a shootout with police fighting for civil rights. Maybe it wasn’t in New Orleans. Maybe it was in Memphis or somewhere. I don’t know, but he ended up in New Orleans, this old African-American man. He was telling me this story and I was thinking, Jesus, and he lost his son and his wife on the same day in the same shooting and it just tore me up. I was like, “Wow, now that’s a story worth telling.”
And he talked about how it bred a lot of hate in him and how long it took him to let go of that hate because hate just breeds more hate. We just had this really heavy conversation. ... And then I wrote that song “Bang Bang Bang” about him.
C&I: Are there any songs or a particular song that fans have really taken to?
LeBlanc: I think “Honor Among Thieves” is one of my favorite songs from the album and that one is sort of like I remember when they were holding the Mexicans at the border and not letting them come through and separating their children. I just thought that was so insane and the audacity that we sometimes have as Americans to forget where our culture came from. To me, how we put names and ownership — like we want to own everything and how we stole what we didn’t have for ourselves and we stole it out from under the Native Americans. ... And that’s on “Honor Among Thieves.” It’s about remembering where we came from and just sort of taking a cold, hard look at ourselves before we make it harder for other people.
C&I: What about the song do you think resonates with your audience?
LeBlanc: I think it has a lot to do with the string arrangement. I think it’s really beautiful. I think the melody is good, but I think the lyrics, they’re broad enough to cover everything ... but also not alienate any one particular individual. Just sort of make it thought-provoking and thoughtful. And I think it’s really beautifully arranged. ... To me, when you have the power of wood behind the power of steel, it really sets you up for a clear path to get across your message. The more melody the better, so there’s a lot of melody in it that’s memorable, to me anyway. I really like that song. It’s all about the message. You have to have a great melody in order for people to remember what it is you’re saying. And then you have to write a good lyric in order for them to want to keep it with them. You know what I mean?
C&I: Definitely. Are there any songs that didn’t make it onto the album and that we can expect later on down the road?
LeBlanc: Yeah. There’s a few that are really beautiful that I wanted to put on the album that just didn’t make it because they weren’t quite up to date enough that I’m going to release next year. I’m going to make another album and put it out next year for a lot of the songs that didn’t make this album.
C&I: That’s exciting! Last question: What’s something about you that people don’t know or are surprised to learn?
LeBlanc: I don’t know. [Laughs.] That’s a really good question. I don’t know how much people know about me, so I wouldn’t know. ... I’m still kind of afraid of the dark. ... And I’m extremely afraid of heights. [Laughs.]
For more information on Dylan LeBlanc, visit his website. Photography: Courtesy Alysse Gafkjen.