Cowboy Mouth hits The Loft on Fri. Sept. 23. The New Orleans-originated band got its start in the early ‘90s, and their biggest hit was released on a major label a few years later. But Cowboy Mouth ain’t just about turn-of-the-millennium nostalgia, as anyone who has seen them perform will tell you. They are, and have been from the beginning, an incredible and incredibly compelling live band. They have toured constantly, playing thousands of shows in front of millions of fans over the past quarter century.
Lead singer/drummer/wild man Fred LeBlanc says there is an energy from the audience that defines the band as much as the people on stage. Fans traditionally throw red spoons and Tootsie Rolls at the band on lyrical cues in the songs “Everybody Loves Jill” and “Hurricane Party,” respectively.
The current line-up consists of original members LeBlanc and guitarist John Thomas Griffith, and Matt Jones (guitar) and Brian Broussard (bass). ATLRetro grabbed Kool Kat of the Week LeBlanc for a few minutes last week to get the inside scoop on this week’s gig and what’s up with the band.
ATLRetro: Thanks for taking the time to chat with us. How’s the tour going so far?
Fred LeBlanc: So far, it been going really well. But we’ve always been fortunate to have a healthy touring life. As any CM fan knows, the live setting is where we really shine. I like to think so anyway. I hope so!
It looks like you’re touring the Southeast throughout the Fall. Every performance is unique, of course, but will fans in Baton Rouge and Orlando see completely different shows than the ones here in Atlanta?
There are some similarities as far as energy flow and also, you have to play the songs that people want to hear. I’d probably be in a lot of trouble if we didn’t play “Jenny Says” or “I Believe.” Fortunately I still really enjoy playing those songs—not just for my own enjoyment but also for what those songs mean to our audiences and what they seem to get out of them. It really is still quite a buzz to see large groups of people howling out their frustrations or fears by singing “let it go, let it go!” But at the same time every show is its own unique experience. It HAS to be! You never really know what’s gonna happen at one of our shows. Hell, I don’t even know what’s gonna happen—and I’m the lead singer! As much as you try to guide the show in a certain direction, it has a life of its own ultimately. I just try to keep the joygasm that is one of our shows chugging along. I’m just as much of a rider on this train as anyone.
You’re from New Orleans. Did that city’s deep musical tradition influence your own work?
It’d be difficult for it not to. The influence of the city permeates every single aspect of this band; always has, always will. That’s not to say that that influence is limited to what the general public perceives New Orleans to be, per se. The character and vibe of the city is ever changing, and that’s not a bad thing at all. There have been many changes to New Orleans since Katrina 10 or so years ago, predominantly I believe for the better. It’s not the same place it once was, which was this awesome little secret that not many people paid attention to.
I saw an article recently that described modern day Nola as “hipster” central. Like I said, I don’t think that’s a bad thing at all. The economic revitalization has been enormous and the older generations are always complaining about the younger and vice-versa, that’s just life. There’s so much to learn from all viewpoints, but I’m going off on a tangent… Simply said, there’s a joy of life that has always been a common thread through the experience of living in New Orleans and hasn’t changed in all the years that I’ve known and loved the city. It’s almost defiant, but in a very celebratory way. The defining musical and cultural aspects might change specifics every few years, but it’s the vibe and the feel that make it what it is. We could’ve never come from anywhere else.
We’ve just put out a “best of…” collection called THE NAME OF THE BAND IS… that I’m really proud of. The songs you know, plus a few new ones, all in one place. People seem to love it. You can find it online or at the shows. Also, I’ve got a children’s book called FRED, THE NEW ORLEANS DRUMMER BOY coming out thru River Road Press in October. It’s kind of the attitude of a CM show, but in kids book form. I’m sure we’ll have a link through our social media.
My friend and local musician Matt Mitchelson is an enormous Cowboy Mouth fan, so I asked if he had any questions I should ask you. “Uh…only 1,000,” he said. Here are a few:
Tell your friend Matt “hello and thanks for the questions.”
Cowboy Mouth’s live show sets the standard for me and many of my friends. Who set that kind of standard for you before the band?
I guess my main performing influence came from the black gospel churches I knew of from my youth. Growing up Catholic, and dealing with all the crap from that, I was always attracted to spiritual experiences that were as much cleansing and uplifting as they could be spiritual. When I saw how the Baptist black experience was a lot more of a cleansing celebratory thing, I decided then and there that that was what I wanted to do. Everything else extends from that.
Which artifact of your fans’ rowdy adoration has generated a better story—perhaps when one or more of those artifacts ended up in an inexplicable place—a red plastic spoon, or a tootsie roll?
Every once in a while somebody will show up with a giant oversized red spoon. I’m always hoping that they won’t throw it, but they usually do. And usually at me. In fact, ALWAYS at me!
The lineup has changed a good bit over the years, and I think we’re coming up on 10 years since the split with Paul Sanchez (damn…still so hard to believe!). But you and Griff have been in it together from the beginning. What have your collaborations with other bandmates brought out in you two, and what remains unchanged in the band?
The ENERGY is constant. Always has been, always will be. That’s what the show stems from, and that’s what I think the fans have been responding to most of our entire career. People leave our show feeling great, and that’s exactly what I wanted to do, both as a person and a performer. You ‘re always responsible for what you put out to the world and how it comes back to you. I just wanted to make sure that whatever I did with my life, my tiny insignificant corner of the world could potentially be a little better off simply because I was here. A lofty goal, but why not?
Not a specific venue as much is a vibe; Mardi Gras and Jazz Fest are my two favorite times of the year. Being from New Orleans, how could they NOT be? We do a giant New Year’s Eve event every year now in New Orleans as well called “Big Night New Orleans” that is becoming a huge deal every year that passes. Folks should make the road trip, it’s totally worth it. Basically, anytime I get a chance to play New Orleans, I’m happy.
What’s the most pleasantly surprising gig you’ve ever played? Has there been one that you’d thought couldn’t go well but did?
We played over 3000 gigs in the entire history of this band. I always try to make whatever the next gig is a surprise or challenge in some way, just to keep it interesting for myself as well as the band. You don’t want the experience to grow stale from any perspective on any level. It’s never about the last gig, or any past show, it’s always about the next one.
Which one is a greater challenge: a night when you have to dig deep for enthusiasm and energy in yourself, or when you come up against an unexpectedly flat audience? (trick question: neither has ever happened!)
I can honestly say that no audience we have ever played for has ever been flat. I just can’t remember that, if it did happen. As much as anything, it’s a matter of perspective. I want an audience to give everything it can, but at the same time you can’t expect things from them that they’re just not capable of giving. Appreciation from our perspective leads to enthusiasm from them, and vice versa. That’s one of the many secrets of doing what we do, and doing it hopefully well.
Anything else we should be sure to mention?
I think we covered it all! If you can think of any other questions, please feel free to ask.
Thanks again for your time. We’ll see you guys Friday at The Loft.
It’s going to be a fucking ball!
Doors at 7, show at 8. Click here for ticket info.