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Luke LeBlanc plays songs from 'Places' on Radio Heartland

Luke LeBlanc performs songs from 'Places' at Radio Heartland Radio Heartland
  Play Now [20:55]

by Mike Pengra

December 15, 2023

Minneapolis singer-songwriter Luke LeBlanc recently released Places, his third full-length album in as many years, and his first on Erik Koskinen’s Real Phonic label.

LeBlanc and his band visited The Current studio for Radio Heartland to play songs from the new album. Afterward, LeBlanc sat down with Radio Heartland host Mike Pengra to talk about his songwriting process, how he first learned of Erik Koskinen, and about what LeBlanc hopes to learn in the year to come.

Watch the full session above; you can also read a transcript of the interview below.

A man sings and plays guitar in a recording studio
Luke LeBlanc performing in The Current studio for Radio Heartland on Tuesday, Dec. 5, 2023.
Evan Clark | MPR

Interview Transcript

Mike Pengra: I'm in the studio with Luke LeBlanc today. "Again," I should say; it's been, it's been a while. About a year now?

Luke LeBlanc: About a year.

Mike Pengra: Luke's new album is called Places, and it comes out, it came out actually in October, the CD release show is happening on the 15th of December at Icehouse. Luke, it's fun to have you back. It's fun to hear the band again. Fun to hear new stuff from you after only a year.

Luke LeBlanc: Thanks. Yeah, I just had a lot of songs noodling around in my head after the last record was released. And I ... when you're in that creative mindset, it's like it's good to just keep rolling with it. And so I thought there was room to make another record. So we did.

Mike Pengra: I've never written a song before, but you say, you talk about a creative mindset. Do you know when that's happening? Do you have to write something down, or run in the house and record it real fast? Or?

Luke LeBlanc: Yeah, I just kind of let it happen. For instance, oh, maybe I've just had a long day or something and the guitar is sitting there and so I just mess with it for a second. And I don't really sit down and jam for long periods of time, I just kind of mess with it. And the way songs kind of come to me is I'll, I'll just be playing maybe in an open tuning, maybe not. And I just play some kind of melody. And it kind of hooks me in. And that's what I zone in on, just that one little piece. And yeah, I'll record it on a Voice Memo and just come back to it later. Thankful, I guess, for the technology we have today; you don't have to sit down and write it all in one, remember it. So I think that takes the pressure off for me.

Mike Pengra: And the words, the lyrics?

Luke LeBlanc: At the same time as the melody, really.

Mike Pengra: They must be stirring around in your head somewhere, because you think of them fast, and to get them down into a song.

Luke LeBlanc: Yeah, yeah. I mean, I try to be pretty playful in my mind and have a sense of humor about stuff, when I'm just going about day to day thinking of little rhymes that aren't going to be a song for sure, but if I kind of keep that, keep things light, you know, and play on words. That kind of happens in the back of my mind. And once I have that, like, melody after I'm messing around with the guitar a little bit, sometimes they join forces at the right time, and then a song comes out. And sometimes they join forces and the song isn't very good, and I just leave it in Voice Memos.

Mike Pengra: That seems like magic to me. I don't know how that happens.

Luke LeBlanc: Yeah.

Mike Pengra: It's a lovely album, and to me, it has a slightly more laid-back feel. Was that intentional?

Luke LeBlanc: I don't know if it was intentional, but it happened. I think with Fugue State, the whole, the whole theme of Fugue State was my attempt of grappling with all the stuff we've got going on out there, collectively.

Mike Pengra: Yeah.

Luke LeBlanc: And I think Places was me giving myself some permission to just, just work on me. I think music can be really therapeutic. Certainly is for me. And I've been trying to do something where, you know, we all feel things. We all feel really good things. We all feel some bad things. We all, you know, have challenges and successes. I think we all, when we are going through maybe a challenging time, we kind of want to avoid those feelings and put them to the side and, you know, go away. But counterintuitively, it's like if you let yourself feel that, you let that whatever that feeling is wash over you, you don't take out the phone and distract yourself. I mean, I'm guilty of it every day. But if you just let yourself feel it, I found for me, that I'm finally able to like, let go of that feeling afterwards.

Mike Pengra: It's therapeutic for you.

Luke LeBlanc: Therapeutic for me, yeah, I think, I think so. And that's, that was my intention behind this record, no matter if it's whatever physical place you're in whatever emotional place you're in, I found that just feeling something allows me to move on to the next moment. And the beautiful thing about music is you can put your own selfish emotions out there in a song, and maybe some other people pick up on it, too. 

Mike Pengra: Yeah. See, I agree with that. I felt that too, yeah. 

Luke LeBlanc: I'm glad it worked!

Two men have a conversation in a recording studio
Radio Heartland host Mike Pengra talks with Minneapolis singer-songwriter Luke LeBlanc in The Current studio for Radio Heartland on Tuesday, Dec. 5, 2023.
Evan Clark | MPR

Mike Pengra: This is your fifth full-length record. And it's — you've worked with Erik Koskinen again on this one. It's the first record with Real Phonic label. The rest were independently produced, but it feels pretty good, doesn't it? Album number five?

Luke LeBlanc: It does, it does feel really good. I flash back to when I was 15, and I'd have my homework done and my dad would take me to go playing at the bars and whatever in town, and somebody, a friend of ours named Harvey up in Duluth, was like, "You need to go watch Erik Koskinen. Go, go watch Erik Koskinen." So we'd, you know, start to go watch him play and just was mesmerised, you know, by his music and his music with other people. And anyways, you know, 13 years later, to be on his label really means a lot and having been able to work with him on three albums is huge. And going to go play, play a show together in Milwaukee coming up pretty soon, the night the night before the Icehouse show, December 14. You know, the music journey is a long journey; there's no, like, handbook out there that's like, "Do this, then do this." As an independent artist, you got to figure a lot of things out yourself, but sometimes it is nice to take a pause and look at progress and recognize it, it feels good.

A man stands on a bridge in Stillwater, Minnesota, as others walk past
Luke LeBlanc, Places
Real Phonic

Mike Pengra: I'm talking with Luke LeBlanc in the studio today on Radio Heartland. His new record, Places, is out now. And the CD release, the CD release show is happening on Friday the 15th at Icehouse. That should be fun. Who all is gonna play with you that night?

Luke LeBlanc: A lot of folks: Caz Falen on bass, John Richardson on piano, Lars Larson on drums, Ben Lester on pedal steel, Eric Koskinen on electric guitar. Kora Melia is a violinist out of Michigan; she played on the record. She's on break for college during that month, and she's gonna drive down and play some violin. And then hopefully I didn't forget anybody. I don't think I did. And then Thomas Sticha is opening the show.

Mike Pengra: OK, great. 

Luke LeBlanc: Yeah.

Mike Pengra: Should be fun. Well, congratulations on this disc, it seems like they're coming out pretty fast these days; one a year, pretty much.

Luke LeBlanc: For now. You know, this year, I don't think I'm making any new music this next upcoming year. I mean, I'll write a song if I'm doodling around on the guitar or the piano or something and something comes, but I've made, you know, three albums in the last three years, which was fun and rewarding. But this year, I really want to focus on the art form of performing live and connecting with more and more of an audience and I think that's a whole, that's a whole learning curve in and of itself.

Mike Pengra: Way different than recording, isn't it?

Luke LeBlanc: It is, yeah, and, and I'm excited to learn. I love learning new things. And it's, it's a challenge. But we just played three shows out in western Minnesota — Granite Falls, Madison and New London — and it was just so nice to play somewhere where we've never played before, but people were were coming, and people were really connecting to the music, both lyrically and musically. And they just had a good time!

Mike Pengra: Yeah.

Luke LeBlanc: And I think there's there's just, there's something special there, and I'm looking forward to in this next year really leaning into that and doing more of that, both in rural places and in cities. If they'll if they'll have me.

Mike Pengra: I'm sure they'll enjoy it. You'll have a good time. A lot more gigs coming up for sure.

Luke LeBlanc: I hope so.

Mike Pengra: Well, Luke, congratulations on this disc.

Luke LeBlanc: Thank you.

Mike Pengra: And thanks for coming into the studio today.

Video Segments

00:00:00 A Place
00:04:13 Own It
00:07:23 Defeated
00:11:17 Interview with host Mike Pengra

All songs from Luke LeBlanc’s 2023 album Places, available on Real Phonic.


Luke LeBlanc – vocals, guitar, harmonica
John Cleve Richardson – piano, vocals
Ben Lester – pedal steel
Caz Falen – bass, vocals
Lars-Erik Larsen – drums


Guest – Luke LeBlanc
Host & Producer – Mike Pengra
Video Director – Evan Clark 
Camera Operators – Evan Clark, Josh Sauvageau
Audio – Craig Thorson
Graphics – Natalia Toledo
Digital Producer – Luke Taylor

Luke LeBlanc – official site