The LA-based, southern-Louisiana native, singer-songwriter Rod Melancon recently released his deeply personal third EP, LA 14. Melancon teamed with producer Brian Whelan (former multi-instrumentalist for Dwight Yoakam) on the intriguing five song set of stories that have depth, humor, and heft. Shortly after its release and in advance of his May residency at the Silverlake Lounge, Melancon kindly took the time to chat about his roots, the EP and more.
Before we dive into the EP, how did it come about that you started pursuing music?
I moved to Los Angeles from Louisiana when I was almost 19. My mom is a theatre teacher so I came out here to pursue that. One Christmas, maybe around the same time, I got a guitar to sort of pass the time in between doing the acting stuff, but then the music began to take over. I realized that instead of doing other folk’s material I could write my own monologues. I never thought about songwriting, and didn’t know about the possibility of pursuing it, until I sat down and started messing around a bit and really enjoying it. I remember the first time I played a song for one of my buddies, he was like, “Hey man that’s not bad” and I thought ‘Yeah maybe it’s not that bad’ and maybe I should keep going at it. That’s how it started and then around twenty-one I began to play shows and before I knew it, music was all I was doing.
Did growing up in Louisiana shape you musically or was it more after you moved to LA?
When I grew up I wasn’t the type of kid who wasn’t fond of where he was. I would always tell myself one day I would get out of town and then eventually, when I moved to LA, I realized the beauty and importance of my upbringing in Louisiana. So I would try and write songs about that place because I was missing home. I think initially that fueled a lot of my writing, and it still does.
I grew up listening to a lot of different stuff in middle school - sh--y music that reminds you of your middle school girlfriend (laughing) - and then in high school I started listening to songwriters like Elliott Smith. I grew up not liking the music that was played in parking lots and I certainly didn’t like country music. I remember being in 9th grade and a girl asked me to dance and I was like, “Not for a country song.” That certainly came back to bite me in the ass though, because now I’m wearing cowboy boots and doing my thing. (laughing)
Is there anyone in the country realm that you look to as an influence?
I do love Hank Williams and his music is where I learned to play guitar. I’d look up his songs and see the chords and with each song I learned, I stored the chords in my head so I’d have them for my own songs. I also like Merle and I even love Conway Twitty who is on the fence for the country purist folks, but I think he is cool. In terms of modern country, I like Jamey Johnson a lot.
On April 22nd, you released your third EP, LA-14. It seems that your sound has evolved quite a bit from the first two EPs.
It has. I think we got further out there. I’m more confident in the studio and I think that allows you to expand your sound and maybe do what you wanted to do in the first place, but didn’t really know how to go about it. I think the more records you make the more you’re able to find your own voice, but this one is further out than the last one. I’m slowly making every album weirder and weirder so it doesn’t throw everyone completely off…… it’s kind of a subtle weirdness (laughing).
Well, one song that pushes the envelope a bit is “The Lights of Carencro,” which is a true story song, but one that leans toward heavy metal.
Exactly. At the time, I was listening to this psychedelic rock band, the Black Angels, and the Drive by Truckers who have a couple of songs where they do a similar thing - kind of like a monologue where there’s strange ambient stuff going on at the same time. I always wanted to do that, so I described what I wanted to Brian [Whelan, his producer] and he wrote the music for it. I don’t like to co-write lyrics too often, but co-writing in that way was a nice process because Brian knows music.
The song is also a very personal one.
I heard my uncle’s [and namesake] story a lot when I was a kid and always wanted to write a song about him. With this record, I was finally in a place where I was ready to tackle it. Years ago I tried, but I wasn’t ready songwriting-wise. It was the same thing with “Perry” - they’re songs I might have tried to write four to five years ago, but since they were so personal and serious, I wanted them to be done right.
To the listener, they’re really effectively told. Are the songs all true or pulled from the truth?
There’s a lot of truth, especially in “Perry” and “Lights.” That is how my namesake was killed [motorcycle] and all that follows is accurate, but for some reason I changed the date of the accident. I didn’t want it to be a 100% because if I am going to write something that is 100% truth, then that means everything has to be factual and that doesn’t allow me to color outside the lines. It’s like if you have a film and slap “inspired by” in front of it – it allows you to take a story and sculpt it how you want it.
You mentioned “Perry.” The video for the song was just released and it’s definitely a little bit different than what I expected. It has almost a sci-fi feel.
That’s Chris [Good, the director]. I’m glad we went in that direction. I felt it might have been too much for people to take in if we acted out scenes of heroin use and such, so it became like a Twilight Zone episode where it doesn’t really follow the story of the song; it’s more like its own thing and I thought that was cool.
It did turn out really cool.
Another song on the record, “By Her Side,” touches the heart. Is there a story behind that one?
That one is about a man, a retired school teacher, who lived across the street from me when I was growing up. His wife was bedridden and after she passed, I would go across to visit and we became pretty close. He used to call me over to shoot his armadillos [they dig holes in yards] because he said that if he shot his shotgun it would blow his arm off because he was so frail. I did it one time but afterwards I was like, "Man, I know it's an armadillo, but I don’t feel right doing it. I just don’t have it in me to be the hunter I think.
Switching gears a bit, will you be playing out in support of the EP?
We’re trying to figure that all out, hopefully this summer we’ll be out touring. I put a band together that I’m really proud of and next month we have a Monday residency at the Silverlake Lounge, which is a cool spot in East LA.
Finally, I always like to know – is there one recent release you cannot stop listening to?
Yeah, the new Sturgill Simpson record. He’s getting weirder and weirder with every record too. And it’s nice to see him doing that and not having all his records start sounding the same.
For more information visit his official website
Find him on Facebook and Twitter
Purchase LA-14 here
Photos Courtesy: Blue Elan Records