Singer-songwriter Rod Melancon is a talented songwriter and storyteller whose lyrics draw inspiration from his life. The son of a theatre teacher, his mom introduced him to tons of plays and novels while growing up, which in turn influenced the artist he is today. Born in the back country of Louisiana, he moved to LA at the age of 18 with the interest of becoming an actor. It was on a trip back home, while seeing his grandfather’s reaction while listening to Hank Williams, that Melancon realized the power that good lyrics can have on a listener. Once he was back in LA, he found his own voice as a songwriter and musician and decided to switch his focus to music and soon became a part of the Grand Ole Echo scene in LA. He released his first album in 2012 and has recorded a sonically diverse mix of albums since then, morphing from a country sound to a rock sound to his more recent psychedelic soul/bluesy/rock sound. Melancon recently released his latest album entitled Pinkville, an album that is more personal and biographical in nature than his previous work. The album was recorded in a series of live takes in Adrian Quesada’s Austin-area studio and features Will Waldon on lead guitar. The son of Emmy-award winning composer Snuffy Waldon, Will is what Melancon calls his “right hand man”, having a huge influence on the songs and recordings. Having moved to Austin in recent years, Melancon says he likes the vibe and atmosphere of the city and says it is where he met Pinkville‘s co-producer Quesada. With a music video in the works, an upcoming tour in September/October with Hayes Carll and plans to work on a new album, he has plenty of exciting things in the works to look forward to. Staff writer Emily May spoke recently with Melancon by email and discussed his new album, his upcoming tour with Hayes Carll and what’s next for him. You can follow Rod Melancon and stay up-to-date with all upcoming artist, music and tour news via the following links:
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You recently released your new album Pinkville, which I read you recorded in analog. The song “Different Man” from your previous album Southern Gothic was the first song you recorded in analog and you said then that to didn’t think you would ever go back. What is it that you love about recording in analog? What inspired you to record the album in a series of live takes?
My favorite records were recorded on analog and were also usually recorded live. It makes a difference. The common listener may not notice it but I always do. Analog can’t be topped.
Your lyrics on the album draw a lot of inspiration from your life. What led you to make this album more biographical in nature than your previous albums?
The older I got, the more I wrote and the more confidence I gained. I wasn’t comfortable getting too personal at first, but then it came naturally. I enjoy coming up with fictional “story songs”, but even those are laced with truth.
Pinkville features Will Waldon on lead guitar, who is the son of Emmy-award winning composer Snuffy Waldon. What influence do you feel he had on the album? Was it your plan from the beginning to give the album a more cinematic feel?
He has a huge influence on the songs and recordings. A lot of those riffs are his and I put words to them. I’ll ask him to play something that has a certain vibe. “A platoon slowly and cautiously walking through the jungle” is how the opening track was born. He’s a storyteller’s dream. He understands where I’m coming from and what that sounds like. On the next record we will go even further down the rabbit hole. I love the guy. He’s my right hand man. I’ve decided to give the band a name just because he’s so important to the sound, but more on that soon.
Your vocal delivery on the album is a cross between singing and spoken word. You have said that because of growing up with a mom who was a theater teacher, you loved the idea of an intro, which you utilized on your new album. What led you to decide to go that route with this particular album? Are there any other ways in which theater has influenced your music?
This goes back to growing confidence and comfort in the studio. I’m more willing to try things and take chances. My mom basically put me on my path and made me understand the importance of symbolism. She introduced me to tons of plays and novels. If it wasn’t for her, who knows what I’d be doing. It’s all monologues…monologues set to music.
Louisiana and the cajun culture have such a long and rich history. In what ways do you feel that growing up in the back country of Louisiana and being a part of that culture have influenced you and your songwriting? You moved to LA at the age of 18 and have said that it took moving away to to really appreciate where you had come from. What are the things you appreciate the most about growing up where you did?
The people and the environment. Both are very unique and you can’t find either one anywhere else in the world. The swamp, the accent and the smell. The swamp is a character in itself. It’s all become sacred to me.
You initially moved out to LA to become an actor, but ultimately ended up becoming a musician. You have said that listening to Hank Williams on a trip home and seeing your grandfather’s reaction to the lyrics made you think about music and songwriting in a whole new way. Why do you feel that experience was a turning point for you and was so inspiring?
I realized the power that songwriting had. It can transport you to another time in your life and can feel so personal even though you aren’t the one telling the story. I watched my grandfather slip back in time and it brought me closer to him. I understood him.
Around the age of 24, you were introduced to the Grand Ole Echo scene in LA and looked up to musicians who were 20-25 years your senior who took you under their wing. What were those early days like for you and what was it like to have these older and more experienced musicians as mentors of sorts? What did you learn from them that has helped you in your career?
I was just starting out and they had been writing for a while. Them telling me they dug my songs meant a lot. It was like a seal of approval from the greats. The early days were interesting. I remember meeting with producer Dave Cobb when I was around 22 in Silver Lake. We were introduced through a friend and he told me he thought I wasn’t ready yet. It broke me. I thought I was ready but now I realize that I was far from where I needed to be. At least I was passionate, I guess. We would record together 3 years later, which was another seal of approval.
You discovered much of the music you listen to from movies. What were some movies when you were growing up that inspired you the most? What are some current movies and movie soundtracks you’ve enjoyed?
I discovered Hank Williams through The Last Picture Show. I discovered a lot of other things through Martin Scorsese, such as Goodfellas, Casino, etc etc. Brokeback Mountain is how I discovered Steve Earle and Emmylou Harris. I’m big into Jack Nitzche who did One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest. I’m a big fan of Johan Johannsson who scored Mandy. He sadly passed away recently. I also loved Hans Zimmer’s work on The Thin Red Line. I could talk about this stuff forever. My favorite theme of all time is from Born On The Fourth Of July. The great John Williams did that one. Go listen to it. It tells the story without ever saying a word.
While in LA, you found your own voice as a songwriter and singer and worked with seasoned session veterans on your 2012 debut album My Family Name. The album had a more country sound, whereas your second album Parish Lines had more of a rock sound. Pinkville has touches of psychedelic soul, rock and tributes to Freddy Fender and Tom Petty. What can you tell me about your evolution in sound as an artist and what has driven/influenced your sound with each album? How do you feel you have grown as an artist since starting out?
Also back to confidence. Dave Cobb helped me to find my voice. Before then, I sang like a clenched fist. I never pushed it or projected. He kept moving up the capo and I had no choice. After I discovered I had that in me, it opened a lot more doors musically. I could really go for it and was no longer the sad, quiet guy behind the acoustic. Finally. My musical tastes have also evolved. Lately I’m more into the metal side of things like Black Sabbath, Slayer and a band from Dallas called Power Trip. Did you know that Rick Rubin produced “Reign In Blood” and “South Of Heaven”? I also like lots of bands from the 70s and 80s and Roky Erikson. That’s where my interests are nowadays. I’m not too heavy into folky stuff right now. Loud and weird works for me.
You made the move in recent years from LA to Austin and have said how inspired you are by being surrounded by so many great bands of all different genres. What led you to make the move to Austin and what do you think it is about the city that makes it such a hotbed for great music?
I kept touring through here and loving it. The band was treated great and folks came out. I liked the vibe. Austin is a genreless city. From Roky to Townes, it’s the best of both worlds. Count me in. It’s also where I met Adrian Quesada, the co-producer of Pinkville. I love it here. They’re putting my baby photo in the next issue of the Austin Chronicle. Count me in.
What can you tell me about the music video you have in the works? What inspired you to shoot the video on 16mm film and what do you like about the visual aesthetic that film creates?
16mm adds an undeniable amount of grit and soul. Some of my favorite movie were shot on it, such as The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The Wrestler, Leaving Las Vegas, Half Nelson and Hustle & Flow. The director of the video brought up using it and I was excited. Seeing yourself on 16mm film for the first time is a trip. I can’t wait for folks to check it out.
You will be doing a short tour in Sept/October with Hayes Carll! What are you looking forward to most with the tour? You have called him one of your songwriting heros. What is it about his songwriting that speaks to you?
I did two nights with him at Gruene Hall and it was great. He’s super supportive and cool and is a raw and honest storyteller. When I was first trying to write I started listening to him. He was a big inspiration on my first batch of songs. I remember meeting him at The Troubador when I was 22. I was super nervous and awkward and waited for him to come out after the show. 9 years later…
What’s next for you after tour?
Getting the songs ready for the next record. I’m excited about it. As Miles Davis once said, “Man, sometimes it takes you a long time to sound like yourself”.