In Essential Albums, our favourite artists dig up a handful of records that they consider “essential” by any definition they choose. This week, folk rocker Lisa LeBlanc explores and explains her incredible fluency in what seem like far-flung musical languages.
Lisa LeBlanc grew up a Francophone in Rosaireville, New Brunswick, which meant she grew up speaking chiac, a dialect that almost amounts to fluency in three languages: English, French, and very old French. That fluency spread to her musical tastes, which jumped between bluegrass, Acadian music, classic rock, and thrash metal like they're all from the same dictionary.
You can hear that on her infectious new album Why You Wanna Leave, Runaway Queen?, an album that combines Cajun folk sayings with drawling Courtney Barnett-style folk and, for good measure, a banjo-shredding Motorhead cover. She does it all in a relatable style that makes you feel like you've known her for years, whether she's telling you not to be such a dick, wondering if she's in love or just confused, or telling her best friend to DTMF.
That's how it felt to talk to her on the phone for Essential Albums. Laughing frequently, talking excitedly (and faster than my fingers can type), she spoke like she was catching up with an old friend. The albums she picked didn't seem to have that much in common before the conversation, but by the end, I understood exactly how they added up to make Lisa LeBlanc. Read on and you will too.
Charles Bradley, No Time For Dreaming (2011)
Lisa LeBlanc: I saw Charles live for the first time I think maybe three years ago and it just kind of blew my mind. I was like, "this is what singing should be, this is what playing music should be." I was just floored, you know, I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. I’m a big fan of interpretation, all the work that goes behind interpretation. Someone’s so natural, but all the hard work behind them and all those techniques and the shows they have behind them. It’s like "here’s my heart for you." I love performers that give it 140% at every show. And you’re just crying and like, "oh my God!"
I’ve always been very inspired by these kind of artists, the charismatic lead singers. When I was singing afterwards for the EP that we released a couple years ago, I was very inspired by him. I mean, the music is very different, but the way he sang and where he went to find the inspiration, it’s so real. You feel that when somebody’s really honest. It’s very touching.
He sings like a motherfucker. He’s incredible. I’ve been trying to do that ever since I started singing, but that was very much a "whoa, what is this?" Before singing sometimes I’ll put a Charles Bradley album on and be like "okay, yeah." You know, really feel the Charles. (laughs)
Fleetwood Mac, Rumours (1977)
The story behind it and everything around that record is so crazy. I was obsessed with Stevie Nicks when I was a teenager. I wanted to be Stevie Nicks. I was such a huge fan, I went a little crazy. And I knew all the songs. She’s just such a weirdo and it’s great. (laughs) That whole mystical Stevie thing. And I love how she is onstage and she’s just this amazing songwriter.
The three of them together have just made so many great things. Lindsey Buckingham, the guitarist, was a huge influence for me for picking and my work on guitar and also on banjo. It comes a lot from Fleetwood Mac and from all the crazy fingerpicking he does. He was pretty much my idol when I was a teen.
Chart Attack: So you were learning banjo from Fleetwood Mac more than, like, bluegrass?
Actually, growing up I didn’t listen to bluegrass because that’s all that people listen to back home. There’s a pretty awesome bluegrass festival down in Rosaireville where I’m from. There’s a huge country/bluegrass scene out in the country, and people love bluegrass. And I hated bluegrass. I was listening to Metallica and classic rock and thinking I was way cooler than everybody.
It’s just like in the recent years that I really started getting into it again. And obviously when you get yourself a banjo you’re going to get there at one point. But yeah, now I’m a huge bluegrass fan. I love also listening to old-time music.
The Balfa Brothers, The Balfa Brothers Play Traditional Cajun Music (1967)
I feel like if you want to start listening to Cajun music, this is the go-to album. You have to get this one. Even if you’re not a Cajun music fan, it’s still an album you should get just to listen to once to know what Louisiana is. Balfa Brothers were a huge Cajun act and they did a lot for the Cajun music scene and the whole folk revival. They were playing a lot during that time. This record, they’re singing a lot of traditional tunes and it’s just so great. They have great arrangements. It's just so cool.
I think about three years ago I really fell in love with Cajun music. I went to Louisiana and that was an "oh whoa!" moment. Like, "I feel like this is my favourite music of all time." And it’s kind of stayed with me. Cajun music for me, it’s so close to Acadian music but better. (laughs) There was just something about it and the whole Cajun culture and everything, it was just crazy.
I mean, we’ve heard about Cajuns all our lives being Acadian and everything. We learned the history of the Acadians and the deportation and everything. Being Acadian you learn about the Cajuns.
I went to Louisiana I think about five years ago. I was only there for about four days and I loved it so much. But the last time I went [three years ago] I really did the road trip and went to Festival International de Louisiane in Lafayette. I met this really good friend of mine. The first time we met, we ended up jamming 'til like 7 in the morning and we ended up roadtripping together for a little bit. He showed me a bunch of amazing Cajun music. He has a huge repertoire, and so we were busking and I was just kind of following him, you know, and trying to learn the melodies and stuff. And that’s how I really got hooked on it.
The French songs on my album are totally Louisiana inspired, as much musically as the French that I use. We speak a dialect in southern New Brunswick, the Francophones, it’s called chiac. There’s a mix of Franglish and... it’s just a lot of English and a lot of old French expressions that haven’t necessarily evolved. When you go to France, if you put my grandma with a French grandma from France, they’ll probably understand certain words. Just old expressions and stuff.
I kind of went all out on the chiac for those two songs. Especially the one called "Ti-gars," which is like “little boy” I guess. The Cajuns have a phrase they always say, which in English is like, “little girl you’ve broken my heart.” So it was an inspiration from that. And "Eh Cher," that was a Cajun riff inspired thing.
Metallica, Kill ‘Em All (1983)
I do [have a metalhead side]. The whole band, actually, we’re all old metalheads. And we were actually just listening to a bunch of old metal on the first day of the tour. It puts us in a really good mood.
I feel like Kill ‘Em All is my favourite album from Metallica, just because there was nothing like it when it came out. The album starts like a shitshow, pretty much. Like feedback and a drum solo (laughs). I can’t even imagine growing up in ‘80-something, I can’t even imagine listening to that for the first time being like, "what is this, it’s so awesome." It’s so in your face, and there are some amazing riffs in there. It’s a nice in-betweener between punk rock and metal.
And you do a thrash metal cover on this album with your version of Motorhead's "Ace of Spades."
I always loved “Ace of Spades.” I would always watch VH1 History of Metal or whatever it was. I was obsessed with that stuff. I remember hearing “Ace of Spades” there. That’s how I discovered Motorhead and then got the album and started listening to it, but I always stuck to “Ace of Spades” because I always remembered hearing it for the first time and really loving it. I think I was 13 or 14 when I heard that for the first time.
I don’t remember why, I think just like for a joke I learned it on banjo. And I was like "hey, this is kind of easy, this is kind of fun." I showed it to the guys and they were like, "holy fuck, we have to play this live!" So we played it live and people just went apeshit. We were like, "I think we’re going to keep this." (laughs) So we’ve been playing it for at least three years now. It was just kind of obvious for us to put it on the record. Of course we’re going to put “Ace of Spades” on the record. It’s such a fun part of our show. It’s my favourite part of the show. I love that tune and I love headbanging.
And you lead right into it from a bluegrass instrumental, which seems a bit cheeky.
I feel like there’s a lot of parallels to be done between metal and bluegrass. It’s such a community, you know. The metal community is huge and it’s a very underground thing, but if you have a metal show you’re going to have a shit ton of metalheads. You’re not going to read about it in the paper, you’re not going to hear about it on TV or anything, but there’s going to be a lot of people there. And I feel like bluegrass is a little bit of the same way. It’s like a fidelity, you know. People go from bluegrass festival to bluegrass festival and just travel from one place to the other and just kind of follow it around. And people who know bluegrass know their bluegrass. Weirdly enough I feel like a lot of metalheads would not like bluegrass and vice versa, but I feel like there are a lot of similarities to the groups and the culture behind it.
But both sides can listen to Lisa LeBlanc.
(Laughs) We’ll see, I don’t know.
Creedence Clearwater Revival, Chronicle: The 20 Greatest Hits (1976)
I chose the greatest hits because I really grew up with that record and my grandma is obsessed with John Fogerty, loves John Fogerty. They’re such hitmakers, it’s insane! And they only lasted for what, three years, I think. Isn’t it a very short period of time? [Ed note: it was 5 years.] And I feel like they’ve written so many great hits. It’s just great tunes, it fits anywhere, and it’s just feel good awesomeness. Some tunes we can’t hear anymore just because we’re so annoyed of hearing them all over the place. But they’re so good tunes, you know. You can put that at a family party and it will work. Everybody’s happy.