Attending a Cowboy Mouth show requires a couple of 5-Hour Energy shots just before you walk in the door. The audience is the most integral part of their shows. They are loud, raucous gatherings that can make your feet sore for days and your voice feel like you've been gargling with sand if you're not properly prepared. No one in the room, however, jumps and wails more than the band's singer and drummer Fred LeBlanc whose insane energy makes every crowd an integral part of the show. He's like Animal from The Muppet Show except he can keep a steadier beat and chaining him to the stage would just be a good waste of chains. He noted, however, that the songs he creates aren't just awesome excuses to party.
LeBlanc spoke to DC9 at Night while prepping for a show in Baton Rouge, La. before heading home for Thanksgiving and making his way back up to North Texas for a Saturday show at The Granada about the interesting adventure the band's 15th self-released album "This Train" took and his secret to creating a kicking rock show.
You're playing a couple of days after Thanksgiving, so are you celebrating on the road or going home first?
We're playing in Baton Rouge on Friday. Then we come to Dallas on Saturday, so we're going to be home for the holiday. Then we're going to make our way up to Dallas on Saturday, so it should be fun. I love playing the Granada.
I imagine it's kind of the ideal venue for a Cowboy Mouth experience.
We've been playing Dallas since like the beginning. We used to play in the Deep Ellum area and we just made our way around. So I've always loved playing The Granada and the House of Blues. We've always had a really strong following in that area. It's a big city and a great city and people love us there.
It's just such a great venue. [The Granada's] sound there is great. The stage is great and every time we show up there, there's people there ready to have a good time.
Is there a process you have to keep your energy up?
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Honestly, it's just enthusiasm. It's more of a mental thing about just trying to find what you're enthusiastic about and keeping that part of your mind going because these days, it's so easy to let yourself be drawn into negativity and BS and everything like that. Ever since day one with Cowboy Mouth, I've tried to focus on positive things because that's just an energy that feeds on itself. We can sit there and talk about things that we all deal with like breakups or this or that but at the end of the day, it's the audience feeling 1,000 times better than when they first got there. That for me is what I always wanted to do. I always want a rock and roll show to be as much an emotional and, I guess, bordering on a spiritual catharsis more than anything else because life is short and people give me two to three hours of their life a night and I say, "OK, whatcha got?" The thing about it is that it's not about what I got. It's about what we got. It's about celebrating this moment that we have here. Tomorrow might be rough or whatever but this moment right now is great simply because we decide it is.
But you're not an Up with People group. Your song Drama isn't a dark song but it's still got a "I'm not gonna put with your bull" thing, you know.
Yeah, the whole This Train album is about faith and the struggles that it takes to maintain that faith. It's not like everything's awesome, everything's great. Having this point of view can be pretty tough sometimes. Happiness isn't something that you can find outside of yourself. It's something you've got to find inside of who you are and bring that to the world around you.
Was This Train entirely an independent release?
Initially, we recorded it ourselves and released it. I had gotten kind of tired of the whole label dance thing. It was kind of frustrating and I just wanted to do something different. So I noticed that Louis C.K. had released a concert just on his website instead of going through all the rigmarole of putting it on iTunes and releasing a CD. He just said here it is and instead of charging it for $40, he said here it is for $10 and he got a really great response from that. So I said, OK, let's try it this way and see what happens. I put it out for $6 initially and it did really well. It did well for us. We sold a good number of them and it was like, OK, this is different. This is kind of cool. Then we got an offer to sign a deal with a Universal label called Elm City and they wanted to re-release This Train with the understanding that the main thing would be an album that we're going to start recording next month and that should be out by Jazz Fest either in late April or May [of 2014].
I got kind of tired of the whole "everybody with an opinion" kind of thing. I've got a good batch of songs. I wanted to get them out and tell a specific kind of story with it and that's how come I kind of went with the whole just doing it ourselves because it was cheap and it was the fastest way to do it. I didn't want to have to dance around other people's opinions and when I say other people, I mean some label or this or that. Let's do it ourselves. We did it and it did well and from that, we got a chance to do this other label thing. If it works, great. If not, we'll give it another run again.Without revealing too many spoilers, what was the story you were trying to tell?
It was basically about, like I said a little while ago, faith. The whole album is about faith and trying to maintain it. I had this group of songs and I see what I'm trying to say here but I needed a song that would tie up the whole album. Then This Train the song came to me, just like BAM!, just like that. There it is. You can look at the whole thing and it's not like a rock opera like Tommy or anything but there is a certain structure there. This Train lays out the whole idea of take a ride on this experience with us. It's been a bumpy ride but it's a rewarding ride at the same time. Saturday High is kind of the drama you go through at work and with Drama, it's the stuff you have at home. Then you have kind of a breakdown with Be Alive Tonight and Blues at Bay and towards the end of the album, you realize that the only way you can get through this life and making the most of it is love whether its for your family, somebody you're in a relationship but at the end of the day, it's about loving who you are too.
Do you think that story gave some of the songs a bluesier edge?
Oh yeah, definitely. Well, I've always been kind of a blues guy. Blues has been in my personal roots for years. I'm grew up in New Orleans but all my people came from West Louisiana, kind of more like cajun country. So I've always had that kind of New Orleans versus cajun versus the blues in me. I've always loved that stuff. Cowboy Mouth being what it is kind of morphed into this kind of pop rock thing and I definitely really enjoy singing bluesy stuff and it just feels good to sing that stuff. I like doing this. I'm good at it and it's really done well. Blues at Bay is one of our most popular love stuff.
I think as I get older, there's a tendency to play the game in terms of what other people might perceive as successful or thinking what other people want to hear. You know what I'm saying? You're kind of like, this is what it is and I hope you like it but if you don't, well, sorry. But in terms of the style and the substance, it's not that far from the stuff that made y'all a name.
Yeah, exactly. Just simply because of the nature of beast of music, by the time you get the music out there, it's gone through a lot of hands and there's always the potential of having a musical Big Mac out there, something that's designed to fill you up easily and make you for the next thing and I just don't want to do that. I'm not trying to point fingers at people who do that. There's people who make nice livings doing that and stuff but I'm not in this to facilitate some sort of mindless kind of mass media agenda here. I'm trying to express an emotion, a feeling of vibrancy and that's important to me. Otherwise, I'd do something else to make a living. I'm trying to get an emotion or an idea across based around faith in who you are, faith in whatever it is you choose to believe in. Like in the song I Believe, it says "I've always found my strength inside the act of faith." It's not a religion or the government or a way of life. It is the act of people having faith that makes us step beyond our comfort zones, step beyond who we think we are and in those chances we take, we become better people. It's a little heavy for a rock 'n roll band. (laughs)
How do you work that emotional component into the live show? Is there a trick to it because the audience is so part of the show? How do you maintain the meaningfulness in your songs without killing off that vibe?
For me, those two things feed off each other. At the end of the day, people are going to take from it what they are going to take from it. My emphasis is about trying to create something joyful, something positive.
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Funny story, the last time we played in Dallas, we played at the [Richardson Wildflower! Arts & Music Festival] and after the show, this woman came up and she was just very kind of serious and she said, "Hey, I want to thank you for giving me my son back. My son was born autistic and we didn't think he would ever speak and we started playing your music and he started singing your songs and those were the first words he ever spoke was singing your songs. So from the vocabulary of your songs, he's learning how to talk and how communicate." There's nothing better than that. That comes from the vibe you put out there and that's pretty spectacular. (laughs) I mean, I get to go play rock star and I get to be be silly but that's, that's the power of rock 'n roll. People take what they take from it but it's the best thing in the world when people use what you do for some sort of positive catalyst in their lives, whether it's consciously or unconsciously, that's what it is.
So the big, giant, crazy joygasm that is a Cowboy Mouth show, you put that out there and people run with it and everyone once in a while, a pretty kickass little miracle happens.