Fred LeBlanc [Interview]
June 26, 2014 1 Comment
So, there has been this great band I have been listening to for as long as I can possibly remember. Actually, we just covered their latest release a few days ago. They are Cowboy Mouth, and they are amazing. In fact, one of the main reasons I even started this little website that has blossomed into something beautiful was to be able to ask a few questions with certain folks, one of them being the man behind the creation of Cowboy Mouth, the absolutely and incredibly talented Fred LeBlanc.
And now I have finally been able to wrangle up a few words from Master Fred. Mr. LeBlanc has been the drummer/front man of Cowboy Mouth since their inception, oh so many years ago. And in the 20+ years he has been rocking stages and stealing hearts, he has never seemed to miss a beat. Cowboy Mouth music is about as perfect as music can be. Fred & company great good time vibes through “hell yeah” beats that are reminiscent of the glory days of rock and roll past, but always seem fresh and original. And most of all, just damn brilliant. And we are so excited that we were able to ask a few questions from his greatest, the wonderful Fred LeBlanc. So, throw on your new copy of Go!, and check out this awesome interview from a modern day living legend. Enjoy!
How did you initially get started in making music?
Apparently, I was a pretty sick kid. Due to a birth defect my tonsils and adenoids were overgrown and blocked my hearing passages for the first three years of my life. And since my lungs were underdeveloped at birth (oh, the irony), the doctors were not able to correct my hearing issues until I was three years old.
Since I couldn’t hear, I did not interact with the world too much. In an effort to draw me out of my shell, my parents would lay my head on the stereo speakers and crank classical or movie showtunes which was what they were listening to the time. The old family story is that I could actually sing before I could talk, belting out “Mary Poppins” at church when I saw other people singing.
All I know is that music has always been my first method of communication. It has always been easier for me to express emotions with music than with conversation. Which is nowhere near as fun as it sounds sometimes…
What were some of your early inspirations?
That’s a pretty far ranging question, but I’ll give it a shot; I’ve always loved classical music as well as the old dirty rock ‘n roll of my youth. One of my first jobs was when I was 11 years old working in a used vinyl record store… Remember those? My job was to alphabetize and catalog approximately 250,000 vinyl albums and singles. Since there was a steady stream of records coming and going, my job that was pretty constant. So I would always pull out whatever looked interesting and play listen to it. Patsy Cline? I’ll listen to it… Howling Wolf? Sounds interesting… And it all just grew from there.
Also, growing up Catholic, I was pretty tired of being told in what was supposed to be a spiritual setting that I was “original sinner” and that there was no hope for me, all the while being gouged for money and intimidated by supposedly well-meaning clergy. I intuitively realized that the church had nothing to do with spirituality and was more of a system of control. Pretty heady stuff to realize at the age of five, but I guess I was a little different than the average kid.
Anyway, there was a local television show that aired right before the Saturday morning cartoons in New Orleans where i grew up of a black Baptist church service that I loved to watch. I those church services, the tangibility of their expression of faith, and it’s cleansing and purifying effect was very hypnotic to me. I saw that that was something that I wanted to do with, and for people. It seemed to me that the folks who got the crappy end of the stick (i.e. the African-American culture at the time) were able to experience a much more clear and cleansing sort of faith that seem to be focused on the soul and its uplifting, as opposed to something that beat down their parishioners in order to just keep them in line. I was really drawn to that on a very primal, emotional level.
This is something that even most of the people who have been in the band have never understood about it; Cowboy Mouth has never been about the people on stage, it’s always been about the feeling in the audience. It’s that simple. This band is a very real conduit for a vital sort of energy that exists in our shows – the sort of energy that people remember they have within when you ask them to give the very best of themselves in a completely secure and freeing situation. Using that as a foundation, there is no limit to where you can go.
How do you maintain the enthusiasm you are so well known for having during your live performances after so many years? What keeps you motivated?
Enthusiasm, plain and simple. A basic love and appreciation for what I have been blessed to be able to do for my entire adult life. The thing about energy that many people don’t understand is that it all comes from the inside out – not the other way around. With that as your basis, you understand that energy and enthusiasm are actually limitless in supply and scope, so therefore they can be used to move huge groups of people to the point of finding that in themselves if you choose.
So much of today’s world is specifically designed to make people feel “less than.” That is the basis of how many products and services are marketed and sold, albeit very subtly. I’m not one to judge anybody just trying to make a buck, but I decided a long time ago that I wanted to be part of something that would uplift the human spirit as opposed to something that would break it down, no matter how seemingly insignificant my efforts might be. That was a personal decision I made for no one else but me. And it was also a specific, conscious decision I made in putting this band together all those years ago.
One of my all time favorite Cowboy Mouth songs, and one of my favorite songs in general, is “How Do You Tell Someone” from 1994’s It Means Escape. And with that in mind, I have waited 20 years to finally get to ask you…. Is this a very personal song? And what made you want to create such a light hearted gem of a song with such a dark context?
My entire song catalog is pretty much a diary of my life. Some of it is very obvious and outfront while other songs can be obscure or abstract – which may be related to aesthetic/creative decisions or personal ones, depending on the song. You do what you feel is right in the moment to get across the idea and/or emotion that you’re trying to convey. Sometimes you can convey a certain feeling by not being as direct which can involve the listener in a communal experience of a similar journey more than the specific retelling of a certain history. You can actually relate the emotion to the listener by having them relate it to their own experience as opposed to your own. Get it?
“How Do You Tell Someone” is an actual, direct, and true story. The names have been changed to protect the not-so-innocent. Also, the real story was a good bit darker. The original song was played at a much slower pace in the key of F, which is a much more somber tone. When I started playing it with the band – since I’m a drummer who likes to play fast and the key of G (which is a much more happier sounding chord) is easier to play on guitar than the original F chord (owing to the F barre chord finger formation on guitar which can become quite grueling during a two hour show) – the song’s arrangement just came out sounding a lot more happy and chipper than its lyrical content. Luckily, that makes me sound a lot more clever than I really am!
What do you believe it is about New Orleans, and the entire state of Louisiana that makes it such a happening place for music? What do you love the most about the state?
There is a certain “live and let live” vibe to both the city of New Orleans and the state of Louisiana that is unique to American culture. I think it’s a generational thing that goes back to the time long before air conditioning when people had nothing to do during the summer but just sit around, be hot, be sweaty, drink, think, create drama out of boredom, and watch the time pass… hence the name, the Big Easy.
It’s a good place to woodshed away from the spotlights of either New York, Los Angeles, or Nashville; the three big musical and cultural centers in the country right now. New Orleans is a place you can try different things until you figure out what works for you and then to decide to present it to the world.
Being born and raised there, as well as my relationship to the state – not just the city – gives me a certain unique look that is linked to the area’s past and present, as well as its future. I have an understanding and love for the state’s history that goes back to my family being involved in state politics throughout the 20th century to my own cultural involvement with the city/state over the years. I was a Louisiana advocate long before it was the trendy thing to do, and I will still love the place long after the cultural carpetbaggers have all cleared out. But I love all the aspects of it, not the ones that are just focused on by the media these days… There’s a large swath of rich heritage and experience there that is purposely ignored by the cultural powers that be. Oh well, their loss. That’s the New Orleans and the Louisiana that I love.
What can fans expect to hear on the latest Cowboy Mouth release, Go!?
This album turned out so much better than I expected, and I expected a lot! It has the same feel of an old album of ours entitled Are You With Me?, but the guitars are heavier and the band is a lot stronger now. But it has that kind of vibe; pop melodies, big beats, and lots of energy and emotion! Sounds like Cowboy Mouth to me…
I have a saying that sometimes frustrates our crew. When confronted with a seemingly insurmountable obstacle or problem relating to a show I’ll just smile and say, “I’m Fred, things work out.” Ad they always do.
Every time I try to make plans, God laughs. So I just do what I do and have faith that it will all work out. And it does.
I’m Fred. Things work out.
Who is one living artist that you would love to perform with, but have yet to get the chance to do so?
I’ve been very fortunate in that I’ve gotten to play music with many of my heroes; Bo Diddley, Ziggy and George from the Meters, etc… I think it would be fun to play with Mike Mills from REM, a very talented bassist with his own total center and groove… I think Springsteen and Cowboy Mouth could make a fun noise tearing up a barroom…
What was the last thing that made you smile?