Article by: Jordan Caress | Posted: 09/12/2012
It is tempting to label Dylan LeBlanc, just 22, as an old soul. On his debut album Pauper's Field, released in 2010, he displayed a knack for summoning the darker spirits of roots music. While many in the Americana genre labor to conjure these ghosts, LeBlanc, a Shreveport, La. native, seems to be effortlessly in tune with the Southern Gothic tradition. All this, combined with family musical legacy and a childhood spent in a heavily romanticized region of the United States, has resulted in a mythology surrounding LeBlanc that, at times, borders on cliché.
But after meeting LeBlanc and talking to him for any length of time, that narrative fades away as one realizes that LeBlanc is simply an intensely creative individual who has worked hard for a long time -- (well, as long of a time as one could for being so young). He is a natural, never having to try too hard in either his music or in conversation, and has received just enough breaks to be in the international spotlight at an age when most Americans are still trying to find a viable career path.
His newest release, Cast the Same Shadow, seems a logical culmination of his extraordinary talents. First and foremost, it is a melodic powerhouse. From the opening strains of the album's first track, “Part One: The End,” it's clear that this is one of those albums. Effortlessly sweeping, rising, falling, and changing keys, Shadow signals LeBlanc's shift from prodigy to mainstay.
An important, if oft-mentioned, part of his story is that LeBlanc is the son of a Muscle Shoals session musician and has been writing songs since early adolescence. He cut his teeth in the local clubs starting at age 15. In explaining his trajectory, LeBlanc makes it clear that his first record was essentially a collection of demos, made on whatever free studio time was available. "It didn't really feel like we were making a record," he explains.
The collection of songs was strong enough to earn LeBlanc a place on the Rough Trade label. Soon, a barely-legal LeBlanc was on a plane to the UK and greeted with a sizable billboard of his face. "I mean, it was overwhelming. I really didn't know what to think. I was excited, as anyone would be, but I was a little scared, too."
Understandably, if somewhat unfairly, LeBlanc has been faced with an endless stream of comparisons to other young, male alt-country crooners since signing with Rough Trade back in 2009. In Pauper's Field-era interviews, LeBlanc asserted his distaste for this phenomenon, as well as a desire to be recognized as an artist in his own right. When asked if this is still an issue in light of the strength of his second release, he replies, "I think on this album they're giving me a little more credit, whatever that means." Addressing the issue of his own sensitivity surrounding the topic,LeBlanc quips, "Everybody wants to be an individual."
After the success of his first record, LeBlanc was able go back into the studio, this time on his own terms making the record he "wanted to make." "It felt like we made a really good record," he explains. "I put more of myself into it. I knew what I wanted from this album."
The result is a decidedly darker, sweeping sound. There’s a nod to the classic ‘60s Italo-Western style, while the melody of “Part One: The End” may remind some listeners of the Carpenters' ballad, “Superstar” (which is a good thing), although LeBlanc only chuckles at this suggestion.
"I meant for it to sound like sort of a dark Western Gothic song, but apparently it sounds like ‘70s pop." He explains that while making Shadow, he obsessively listened to Spaghetti Western soundtracks in an attempt to channel the mood.
Considering the ambitious nature of the record, it's no surprise that LeBlanc thrives in the studio. "I like recording more than anything, probably. It's where I feel the most comfortable … And the writing. I like the creating aspect of it all."
As for his progress on writing the next record, LeBlanc explains, "I'm not overflowing with amazing songs… I'm honestly getting a little tired of writing songs. I like to write short stories. I write in my journal, make up stuff." He laughs, "I have some weird thoughts."
When asked if he ever plans to publish any of his stories, LeBlanc's face audibly lights up on the other end of the line. His manner shifts from slow and easy to slightly more excitable as explains that his dream is to write a whole album with a corresponding book of short stories and release it on LP with the storybook included in the packaging. "You could read the short stories and listen to the album at the same time… I don't know if anyone's ever done that." "But no one reads anymore," he laughs, "so I don't know if that would work."
Despite the brooding nature of his songs, in person, LeBlanc is disarmingly charming and friendly. When asked if the disconnect between his songs and his personality ever throws people for a loop, he replies:
"Probably. I think that people think that you are your songs. I think people make a big mistake about that ... It's not who you are, it's just what you do, really. I've met so many dicks over the years. You know, I've really loved their music and I've walked up to them and they just treat me like an asshole. They think they're so much better than me, and cool, and they've got it going on and I hated that. I made it a point not to be like that… All people should be treated with kindness."
He worries he is going on a tangent, so decides to sum things up with a dose of Southern perspective. "There are people that will try to kiss your ass. You just have to take in stride because you aren't any better than you were yesterday."
Dylan LeBlanc - "Part One: The End"