Dylan LeBlanc on Renegade
We’ve had a lot of good times with Dylan LeBlanc. His set in the Luck Chapel this past March was a few years in the making. He was set to make his Luck debut in 2016 but Mother Nature's rage got in the way. His set was cancelled, save for the few seeking shelter in the Luck Barn where Dylan played an impromptu set while the storm crashed around. Dylan (with Rayland Baxter) was also involved in our inaugural Luck Mansion series. Today marks the release of his 4th record, Renegade. The title track is poised to be his biggest single yet, spending the past few weeks on the Billboard AAA chart. We caught up with Dylan while he was on the road.
(LR) What’s happening, brother? Where are you, and what are you up to?
(DL) Driving through Atlanta at the moment, getting back to Nashville to rehearse with the Pollies. We will be hitting the road again soon to promote the new record. We are going to be meeting back up with Dave Cobb on a project. But just work, being as creative and productive as possible.
(LR) Let’s talk about the new record Renegade, which is out this Friday (June 7th). You were good enough to share it with us a few months back, and it’s been on a constant loop in the HQ. It opens up with the title track and from the hit of those first few chords, one gets the sense that you are taking us on a different ride this time. What should your fans expect from this 4th record?
(DL) Hopefully they like it right off the bat. But they might expect to have to tune their ears, in a different way, and keep an open mind. I love making music, I love acoustic instruments, they are so beautiful, natural wood on wood. I’ll admit it kind of throws me for a loop when one of my favorite artists does something totally different... but I just keep an open mind. I keep listening and something hits me and I’ll get it.
(LR) This is the first record with ATO -- tell us how you got together.
(DL) We were playing at the Mercury Lounge in NYC about 2-3 years ago. Jon Salter (General Manager - ATO Records) was at the show. We had started rocking these songs up a little bit and playing with a lot more authority, especially ones from Cautionary Tale (Leblanc’s 3rd LP) and our set just became way more electric. Jon reached out and said if that if I was willing to do that in the studio, that he would put it out. He told me that the band brought out a different side of me.
I’ve always wanted to make a rock and roll album. It was a part of me that exists and I wanted to explore it. A few days later I called Salter and asked if he was serious… we started getting contracts ready. That’s exactly how it went down.
(LR) We’ve mentioned The Pollies, a band of their own and you’ve been spending a lot of time with them as your touring band the past few years. Renegade is the first LP you have recorded with them, but you’ve actually been recording with members of the band since the beginning.
(DL) I worked with Jay Burgess on the first record. That's him on the guitar on “If The Creek Don’t Rise.” I’ve known Jay for a long, long time, and we’ve been in bands together. So I called him up and asked him to play on the song. He always plays on every song that becomes my most popular song… it’s always him on the guitar and at that time, that was a big song for me. Jon Davis played on my first two records. I’ve been playing with him since I was 15, and now we are almost 30, it’s so insane!
I knew Dave would have the guys he likes to bring in the studio. So I made a deal that if it wasn’t clicking after the 1st session, that we would bring in his guys. We had worked these songs up together -- I had written the lyrics and the basis of the songs and brought it to them, and I wanted it to be a live record. I wanted it to be a band record, to very much sound like a band in the studio. We are a band, every piece of them is in this record; blood, sweat and tears went into it. We had been hustling on the road for 3 years and I wanted to get them in the studio to flush it all out. We knew those songs backwards and forwards before we set foot in a studio. And it worked. I wanted that brotherhood, some guys just rocking out... I never had that before and I wanted that feel.
(LR) Let’s talk about the songwriting for Renegade. Can you tell us about where these songs came from for you?
(DL) I had written songs that were not for this album. I still have them, they are more like Cautionary Tale, and I will put them on my next album. This will probably be the only rock and roll album I’ll ever do, to be honest with you. (laughter) These songs were a lot of hard work… with Cautionary Tale, I was going through so many changes in my life, getting sober and all that. With this record, I was stuck in limbo. I had to force these songs out of me, force the music out. It was the hardest work I’ve done musically. It usually comes a lot more naturally, and I wanted songs that would sound great with this band playing them. It was counterintuitive to how I usually work. It was a challenge and it was perfect; I wanted the challenge. 25 songs were in the running, and the up tempo songs made it. There are other great songs, really pretty, really lovely songs, and I’ll get those out on the next LP.
(LR) You end the record with “Honor Among Thieves.” How do current events impact your songwriting?
(DL) That song is my favorite on the LP. To me, that song applies to everyone. For me, being a white male in America, it’s already a privilege. I don’t have to worry about certain things that other people have to worry about. I try not to talk about politics. If I have something to say I try to say it in a song. I don’t like to alienate anyone, and I try to be very kind to everyone, no matter their ideology even though at times it can be very hard when we disagree. I believe if you have something to say, and you have the ability as an artist to write about it, you should. Music is more powerful than words can be on their own. It has the power to seep into the consciousness subliminally. Far deeper than just you and I conversing ever could. It’s like people with Alzheimers can recall how to play music, recall a tune. Music can get so deep into the subconscious that it can’t be forgotten.
(LR) On this record, you worked with Dave Cobb, who has worked with some of the most important artists of our day. (Sturgill Simpson, Jason Isbell, Chris Stapleton) What surprised you most about working with him in the studio?
(DL) Mainly, his focus & the speed at which he works. Also his openness to letting us be ourselves musically. Don’t get me wrong, he came in and rearranged a bunch of things, he definitely produced this album. He was firm when he needed to be but he also let us have what we really, really wanted. His bedside manner was great. He's such a good dude and you just want to be friends with him right off the bat. I can’t say that’s the case with everyone you work with in the studio, but Cobb is a gentlemen, for sure. He treats everyone with respect. He’s a purist. He doesn’t like to do anything that’s going to sound synthetic in any way. He wants the sound to reflect what you actually sound like. We had 10 days booked in the studio and all the basic tracks were done in 3 days. What little we did overdub, we did it in 2. So for the other 5 days we hung out and mixed. It was a lot quicker than I thought it would be and it was a good experience.
Dave is a good guy -- he's got a good ear, he listens to what you describe, and he’s able to paint that picture sonically. I wanted this record to sound like those albums from 1977-1978, those classic Petty and Fleetwood Mac records, especially when it comes to drums and bass. He did a really good job of getting that. And… his gear is incredible! He had pre-amps from Abbey Road that Pink Floyd used for Dark Side of The Moon. Gear that the Beatles used. You are hearing the drum sounds through a Fairchild pre-amp and you can run mics through them to get that warm signature tone. Cutting at RCA Studio A was amazing. Chet Atkins built it in the 50s, and it still has tons of vibe leftover from everyone who’s created in that room and has made music in there. Dave is still so excited about music, you can tell that he really loves it. It was a great experience and I’m grateful.
(LR) Tell us a little about what being part of the #luckfamily means to you
(DL) First of all, the way you nurture upcoming artists. I always discover somebody great at Luck. You feel lucky to be part of it. Making sure artists feel welcome, and absolutely giving them the space to do what it is that they came there to do, without any inhibition... it’s second to none really. Luck is a connoisseur of upcoming art. I’m so grateful to be a part of it and I hope you’ll have me for the years to come. I wear my Luck ring every single day, I love being part of this family.
(LR) You mentioned that you are soon to be turning 30, so what’s next for you?
(DL) I just hope I have some good songs left in me. That I have the opportunity to make music and a career of it. It's what I love to do more than anything else in the world. I’m 30, single… most people my age are married, have kids. I’m still on my own, that’s always a little disappointing, even though I know I’m probably hard to live with. (laughter) I dunno man, it's a little scary but I’m looking forward to seeing what comes and just have to keep an open mind. I’ll keep trying to write songs and do the best I can at making other people happy with music. Every time I get a message that one of my songs helped someone get through something or made them feel anything at all... it lets me know I’m doing what I’m supposed to do. To me, our job is to give something to people that they can relate to. That they can feel. It’s who you're making it for. That's what I want when I listen to music, something that moves me, something I can feel.