An Interview with Luke LeBlanc

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Luke LeBlanc is a Minneapolis-based singer-songwriter who delivers dynamic and unapologetically original performances of songs filled with heart, soul, and grit. According to music critic Dwight Hobbes, “Abundant as the Twin Cities music scene is in eyebrow-raising talent, Luke LeBlanc’s ear-friendly, indeed entrancing music marks him as a stand-out talent.”

Luke’s music has been featured on 89.3 the Current and has received critical acclaim from numerous music magazines, including Bluegrass Situation, Americana Highways, and Glide Magazine. His music has also been featured in numerous podcasts, including The Bob Cesca Show, 13th Floor MusicTalk with Marty Duda, Tales from the Corners with Robert J Nebel, and Strongwriter on the Radio with Dean Olsen.

LeBlanc taught himself how to play guitar at 11 years old and decided to write his own words and music soon after. At 13, he was the youngest to win the Zimmy’s (named after Robert Zimmerman, aka Bob Dylan) national Dylan influenced singer-songwriter competition in Hibbing, Minnesota. Born and raised in Minneapolis’ Northside, LeBlanc played South by Southwest in Texas in 2017 and found himself opening for Charlie Parr, Phil Solem of the Rembrandts, Joey Molland of Badfinger, the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, and the Ozark Mountain Daredevils.

His newest album, Only Human, is slated to be released July 2021.

Bio courtesy of lukeleblanc.com.

Andrew:
Luke, I appreciate you taking the time today. How have you been holding up over the last year or so? What have you been up to?

Luke:
I’ve been good… just as I’m sure it’s been for everyone, every day there’s either a small or large battle to maintain sanity but keeping busy on this new album has helped. All the moving parts of the album campaign have given me a steady aim and a constant source of learning new things.

Andrew:
Before we dive into your professional career, let’s go back a bit. What first got you hooked on music?

Luke:
Music has always been a significant part of my life. My parents named me after The Band’s song, “The Weight.” The third verse, specifically: “It’s just old Luke and he’s waiting on judgment day.” Growing up my dad would always have music playing in the tape cassette of the pickup truck while we’d be driving around: John Prine, Johnny Cash, Van Morrison, Bob Dylan, Patsy Cline, the list goes on and on. After a while, it started to bug me that I could listen to music but couldn’t play it myself so I finally picked up the guitar to start figuring it out.

Andrew:
Who were some of your early influences?

Luke:
The first song I probably had memorized was Tennessee Ernie Ford’s “Sixteen Tons.” For some reason I always imagined him wearing a big 10-gallon hat – but years later google revealed that wasn’t the case. But after that Johnny Cash became everything I listened to. That train-like “boom-chicka-boom” beat got me. I’d fold up a dollar bill and put it in the fretboard like Johnny did. I listened to all his songs, and not just “Folsom Prison Blues” and “Walk the Line” – I focused on all the “deep tracks” too. After Cash, I somehow got my hands on a Bob Dylan Essentials CD and that opened my eyes up to the lyrical possibilities of a song and how poetry can fit in between the lines of music. From there, The Band; the way Levon Helm, Rick Danko, Garth Hudson, Robbie Robertson, and Richard Manuel weaved together new sonic combinations of roots instruments is an inspiration always.

Andrew:
Let’s talk about recent events first. Tell us about your new album Only Human?

Luke:
My last EP, Time on My Hands, was released in 2018 so it had been a while since I released music. By fall 2019 I had a collection of songs I’d been sitting on that reflected a newer, more multi-faceted sound, so I knew it was time to start work on a more full band-oriented record. I considered doing another EP, but now it feels a lot better to have a 10-song collection of songs about to be released. Having a new full length allows the album the room it needs to ebb and flow between fast songs, slower songs, heavy songs, lighter songs, etc.

Andrew:
What lyrical themes are you exploring with your new music?

Luke:
Only Human touches on what it means (at least to me) to be “human:” imperfection, longing, love, loss, and everything in between. We’re living in an age where more and more of us are aware that we’re all creating a persona, in a way. Our Instagram selves, our Facebook selves, our Twitter selves – they’re oftentimes representations of humanity that are molded and shaped in a certain slant or way we want to make ourselves look to the outside world. So I think these songs are an attempt to talk about the stuff we’re all feeling deep down whether or not we want to admit it.

Andrew:
How about the production side of things? Do you self-produce, or do you bring in outside voices?

Luke:
Only Human is my first album working with a producer. My other work has been self-produced but this time I wanted to bring in some outside perspective. It’s easy to get in your head too much recording on your own. I’ve wanted to work with producer Erik Koskinen for a while, so when he said “yes” after I reached out I was thrilled about getting the ball rolling. Most everything was recorded at his Real Phonic Studio in southern Cleveland, Minnesota (with the exception of “Same Blues,” which I produced and recorded with my equipment at home). As an artist, I’m always listening for little things that are off – a wrong note, a lyric that’s too high or low in the mix, things like that. But having a producer helps me realize which things actually matter that much and which things I can let go – so it’s been a tough but good thing to learn.

Andrew:
Are you into vinyl? Cassettes? CDs? Or are you all digital now? What are a few of your favorite albums and why?

Luke:
I still love having physical copies of things – even though releasing music purely digital is still valid and good, there’s something nice about being able to pick up an object and say “This is my album; you can pick it up, move it around, feel it – it’s real.” While I wish I had cassettes, I don’t. But I do have CDs and vinyl. It’s the first time I’ve made vinyl, actually. Apparently, we’re in a time where it’s A LOT of artists’ first time making vinyl because all the vinyl presses are incredibly booked. I was supposed to have my vinyl back in July but it got pushed back to August or September due to production demands. But that’s alright – as long as they’re on the way.

Andrew:
What other passions do you have? How do those passions inform your music, if at all?

Luke:
Outside of my music I have a tutoring business so I find myself working with folks from 8 years old to 70 years old on subjects ranging from reading and writing, trigonometry and calculus, ACT/SAT prep, and everything in between. My work-study job in college was working as a tutor at a local middle school and I’ve developed a love for helping people in their educational endeavors ever since. Even though there’s a lot more solving for X rather than playing guitar chords, I’ve found time and time again that students and parents alike enjoy having a young adult figure around who’s pursuing a career in music – a stereotypically “unorthodox” career choice. It provides legitimacy to choosing a career in arts – an example demonstrating that you can use your education to pursue whatever you want as long as you’re thoughtful about it.

I also love cats; I’ve got a 1-year-old Tortoise-shell color cat named Minnie and an 8-year-old tabby named Dini (short for Harriet Houdini). I love cats so much that I posted too much about them on my music Instagram page and was told by several loved ones that I need to create a separate page for cat posts. So check out @lukehascats if you’d like…

Andrew:
In your opinion, what is the state of the music business these days? Should artists be hopeful? Scared? Both?

Luke:
I can’t really make an authoritative statement on that one, but what I can say is the “music business” is one filled with an endless amount of things to learn. An artist trying to build their brand and career is like a business with an infinite amount of departments; digital marketing, booking, recording, publicity, the list goes on and on. And each thing on that list has an endless amount of bullet points underneath it. I love learning new things and working on ways to make each part better so I try to stay hopeful in making headway in the music world. It’d really be near impossible for someone to do something they’re not at least somewhat hopeful about, right? So to answer the question, in my opinion, like any independent endeavor, making headway in music is challenging to say the least, but charging forward and continuously learning is always the best answer. I hope.

Andrew:
Last one. We seem to be nearing a light at the end of the tunnel in terms of COVID-19 restrictions. That said, what’s next on your docket? What are you looking forward to most in the post-COVID world?

Luke:
Booking a gig and being (almost) certain it won’t be canceled is a big one! More driving to shows is a big one too – I think that downtime just looking down the highway creates a blank space for the mind to think of ideas and songs, so the more the merrier. Personally, I’d like to carve out more time to get together with my band members and play songs and experiment with sounds. At some point, Only Human will be an old album and it’ll be time to release a new one.

Interested in learning more about Bob Malone? Check out the link below:

Dig this interview? Check out the full archives of Vinyl Writer Interviews, by Andrew Daly, here: www.vinylwritermusic.com/interview

About Post Author

Andrew Daly

Since he was a young child growing up on Long Island, NY, Andrew has always loved writing and collecting physical music. Present-day, Andrew is proud to share his love of music with the world through his writing, and the result is nothing short of beautiful: articles and interviews written by a music addict for fellow music addicts. Andrew lives on Long Island and works as a Horticultural Operations Manager by day and runs the Vinyl Writer Music website by night.
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