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Songwriter Dylan LeBlanc, Once Quick-Tempered and Rash, Has Finally Stopped Fighting

Growing up, Dylan LeBlanc bounced between households — his mother’s in Shreveport, Louisiana, and his father’s in Muscle Shoals, Alabama. For LeBlanc, music was not only an escape hatch, it was a portal to transcend a young, dysfunctional existence. In many ways, LeBlanc is still running from that existence, and he chronicles his journey on his latest album, the superb Coyote.

“When you put on a great record, everything sort of disappears,” the 34-year-old singer-songwriter tells Rolling Stone. “I can remember when I listened to Neil Young for the first time. Everything faded away and I was just transported to this place. I felt like I could survive.”

Much like Young’s, LeBlanc’s lyrics on Coyote are blue-collar poetry that take flight on the wings of rock, country, and folk music. It’s a space where melodies take shape from personal experience and introspective reflection, channeled through razor-sharp guitar licks, soaring vocals, and loud amps drowning out the noise of daily life.

“Music was the first thing besides drugs and alcohol that changed the way I felt,” LeBlanc says. “I was always looking for some way to change the way that I felt, and music had an extreme impact.”

It’s also a sacred realm where songs become much more than just selections to move your body and shake your hips. LeBlanc’s creations are ethereal in nature, carefully shifting your mind and its perceptions. Even so, it’s hard to get a read on LeBlanc, both in person or in his music. He’s mysterious, taciturn, and always seemingly a step away from a conflict — and he knows it.

“You have to be a little bit crazy, a little bit dumb, and a lot tough to do this thing, because it does beat you up,” LeBlanc says. “Especially the way I’ve been doing it the last 14 years, one fan at a time.”

Around age 10, LeBlanc moved to Muscle Shoals to live with his father, a staff songwriter at Fame Studios. Back then, legendary Fame record producer Rick Hall was still alive and working in the studio. LeBlanc vividly remembers being at Fame with Hall.

“I saw how intense people were about music in that space — everything was intense,” LeBlanc says. “And I realized how important it is to dedicate all of your time and energy.”

What LeBlanc also took away from being a fly on the wall at Fame was watching the master writers, players, and producers crafting and capturing a song in real time. “It was learning about the structures of songs,” he says. “People saying, ‘I don’t want to hear half a song, I want to hear the whole thing. Finish it and play it for me when it’s done.’”

From there, it was stints living in New Orleans and Lafayette, Louisiana, where LeBlanc was never too far from his French and Cajun roots. “Louisiana has a huge influence on me,” LeBlanc says. “There’s a dark, sinister energy there that lingers, and I’ve never felt that anywhere else.”

LeBlanc notes his ancestors were originally from Nova Scotia. In 1785, the British kicked them out of Canada. Like many French families at the time who faced the same fate, they relocated to New Orleans and spread out over greater Louisiana

“From what I hear, [my family] were kind of outlaws when the British tried to take New Orleans,” LeBlanc says. “As long as we sank those British ships, we could do what we wanted to.”

That displacement coupled with an eternal feeling of not seeming to fit in anywhere is something not only in LeBlanc’s blood and family tree, it’s translated itself into his music — melodic visions of drifting and contemplation, of loneliness and yearning, and of seeking stability in an unjust, chaotic world.

“I saw a lot of dark stuff growing up. I grew up pretty hard down there,” LeBlanc says of Louisiana. “It was violent…that kind of thing I can’t go into.”

When asked about where his anger originated from early on, LeBlanc points to deep feelings of embarrassment when he attended school, a place where his peers would relentlessly tease and harass him about his appearance and demeanor.

“We didn’t have a lot of money and we went to school with people who did,” LeBlanc says. “My mama cleaned houses for a living, wealthy people’s houses. So, I had a chip on my shoulder. I just felt worthless.”

LeBlanc says he enjoyed getting into fights (he “loved to get hit in the head”). But then the guitar came into his life.

“When I picked up the guitar for the first time, I felt a power I never felt before, LeBlanc says. “I felt like I could survive with this thing. There was this emotional movement happening inside me. It lit a fire in me to try to prove myself to people, that I was somebody.”

When he was 15, LeBlanc dropped out of high school and started playing in bands. He was just a guitarist, but soon learned to sing harmony. That growing skillset would eventually parlay itself into LeBlanc fronting his own group.

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In his current band, LeBlanc has his father on bass, who was also brought in as a session player for Coyote. The bond of music between father and son led to the older LeBlanc mixing the record. “It was the first time we’d worked that closely together,” LeBlanc says. “These last 12 years, we’ve gotten on another level of close. It’s been a full circle thing.”

Three years ago, LeBlanc himself became a father, to a little girl. LeBlanc’s daughter and his fiancée are now the catalysts for his passion and drive to push ahead.

“When I looked into my daughter’s eyes for the first time,” LeBlanc says, pausing momentarily, “it was very clear to me that the person I had been, the anger I felt, that part of myself that needed to exist in order to fuel the creativity, the selfish part — I didn’t need that anymore.”

LeBlanc says plans are in the works to head back into the studio this summer. He’s sitting on a plethora of material and is eager to put it to tape. Until then, he will hit the road on an extensive southeast tour through mid-May, kicking off April 20th at Tuck Fest in Charlotte, North Carolina.

“As I’ve gotten older, I realize you’re not responsible for what you’re born into,” LeBlanc says. “Whether that’s a silver spoon or it’s dirt, you’re not responsible for that. No matter what you’re born into, it’s your responsibility as an adult to sort of get your shit together.”

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