Dylan LeBlanc has a new album coming out this week on ATO Records, Renegade. We thought there would be an interesting story afoot between the ideas on the album, and his history with FAME studio, and his new affiliation with RCA studio A with Dave Cobb, who produced Renegade. So as soon as we had a chance, we caught up to Dylan LeBlanc, and here’s what he had to say.
AH: Tell us about your history and connection with FAME studios?
DL: Well when I was a kid my father was a staff songwriter there and he worked trying to get songs recorded by top 40 country artists. I never worked there, but I would sneak in there at night when everybody left with the young engineer there, Ben Tanner, and he would let me record my songs.
AH: How did that experience at FAME shape your songwriting and music? What’s unique about the studio?
DL: Well so many great songwriters have worked there and record there. Bobbie Gentry was a personal favorite. I use to listen to “Fancy” and “Ode to Billie Joe” over and over again. There was a great picture of her leaned over the piano working in the studio and I had a huge crush on her. She may have been my first crush ever. The studio hasn’t changed one bit since 1962 when it was built. Everything still looks the same and feels and smells the same. They still have the original piano and Wurlitzer that Aretha used. It just hasn’t been touched by time and I heard this radio DJ today say matter has a memory and that is very true for that building and that place.
AH: What other musicians did you work with there, and can you share some anecdotes about working with them?
DL: I worked with my friend Ben Tanner there mostly. He went on to become the co-founder of Single Lock Records and also played in the rock band Alabama Shakes. He is whom I started recording with and we both kind of learned together.
AH: What is it like working with Dave Cobb as producer?
DL: Working with Dave Cobb was very insightful and a big learning curve for me. He was the most focused and driven producer I’ve ever worked with and by far the most hands on. He was out on the floor of the cutting room with us playing most of the acoustic guitar. He was firm when he needed to be and very relaxed when that was needed. He is a real Gentleman, which is the best way to describe him. He never gets to worked-up over anything.
AH: How important is it to have a producer as opposed to self-producing?
DL: To me it’s all very relative. A producer isn’t always necessary but I think it’s important, mostly because you get an objective set of ears, somebody who is distanced and can question you and bring different ideas that maybe you weren’t in the headspace for at the time. When you self-produce spontaneous things are less likely to happen that could make a recording more interesting.
AH: How is working with Dave Cobb different from working at FAME? How is RCA Studio A different from (and similar to) FAME?
DL: It’s actually not much different. RCA studio A is very similar to Fame, it was just built a few years earlier by Chet Atkins who was responsible for producing some of my favorite recordings. They both have so many vibrations that beg for creativity, which is what you want in a studio to help you get in that headspace.
AH: What were your primary inspirations for songs on this album?
DL: Mostly current events and personal experiences due to the social climate and the state of our nation and my own personal battles. I spent a great deal of time in New Orleans and south Louisiana and met so many people, you meet more people down there who are affected in this country by poverty or not able to make it out of their neighborhood without being a criminal. It’s a very real place but its also one of the most unique and beautiful places in the world. I love it.
AH: What was the inspiration for the song (and title track) “Renegade?”
DL: This was the first track off the new album and one of the first songs I started working on for it. I wanted to write something about the type of people from the town I grew up in.
About thug cocky young men charming young women who were intrigued by that way of life only for it to end in tragedy. I saw this countless times growing up in my hometown. It’s a rough city and a lot bigger than most people would think. The song starts out with two sisters having a conversation and one of the sisters telling the other not to be with this man because he is known to be bad news and is often in trouble with the law. The other sister basically says she can’t help but be attracted to him and his way of life.
Then the second verse is about the police looking for him and then having a shootout, which ultimately leads to his death and then the other sister/his lover being heartbroken.
AH: What is the inspiration for your song “Damned” with its more rock energy, combined with its more serious message?
DL: This song is about how hard it is to wrap your head around religion. Growing up in the deep South, religious fear hung in the air like humid hot air. I was frightened as a child by the stories I heard but I never quite believed them. I didn’t want to accept the humanistic version of god that they were talking about, nor could I live with it, the god where you are rewarded if you’re good and punished when you are bad. That in itself reduced god to the level of human behavior, I couldn’t believe that god was on our level so I had to give it up and look for god elsewhere. It was very confusing with everyone telling me I had to believe in this or bad things would happen to me. I was taught not to question anything but I couldn’t help myself. I can’t believe in anything that I’m told not to question.
AH: What was the story behind “Born Again?”
DL: This song came after days of feeling blocked and unable to think of anything to write about. I had the TV on in the background and I heard the words “born again.” And even though that term is tied to religious meaning I thought that is interesting. It made me think about my own experience of wanting to be different and tired of pain and how sometimes life literally beats you into a state of submission. It literally beats you down until you’re born again, until some sort of accordance with the universe takes place, but how everything in your past leads you up to that point. It may happen several times in a person’s life. So I tried to pack all that in as few words as possible in this song.
AH: What’s the significance of having worked with your band over a long period of time?
DL: Mainly the connection you form with another person musically. Things become second nature after a while and musically you become so in sync that it feels almost too easy. I don’t think you could get that with hired guns, its good to take your best friends out on the road with you, those who don’t mind getting dirty and rolling up their sleeves with you. Experiencing the world with you.
AH: What’s coming up for you this summer?
I have a big tour all summer long. We go up the east coast, through the Midwest, through the south and then out toward the west coast hitting mostly every major city. It will be my first time headlining a lot of these bigger rooms so please wish me luck!
Good luck Dylan LeBlanc! Find out lots more, here: http://www.dylanleblanc.com