Hailing from the rural farmlands of Louisiana, Rod Melancon sings with the cool, unhurried swagger of someone who's grown up on Southern time. He shines a light on those geographic roots with this summer's Southern Gothic, an album anchored in the characters, challenges and occasional chaos of the Bible Belt.
This week, Melancon is Chris Shiflett's guest on Walking the Floor. The two talk about Elvis, producer Dave Cobb, crawfish ponds and all points in between, with Melancon capping off the interview with an acoustic version of his talking-blues song "Feathers." Below, we're premiering the podcast episode, following a roundup of some key segments.
You can take the boy out of Louisiana…
Although he's lived in Los Angeles for a decade, Melancon still looks to his Cajun heritage and Louisiana roots for inspiration. "Missing home and missing Louisiana is what got me into songwriting," he says, admitting that he turned to songwriting after an acting career failed to satisfy his artistic and financial needs. One of his earliest musical mentors was producer Dave Cobb, although the two have yet to record a full album together.
He's an Elvis fanatic.
"When I was in second grade, I went through a huge Elvis phase," says Melancon. "I saw a photo of him in a Cracker Barrel gift shop outside of Lafayette, and I thought, 'Wow, that's the coolest looking guy I've ever seen.' I didn't' know he played music. I didn't know anything about him. I just thought he looked cool as shit." Decades later, Melancon's sideburns, slicked hair and boyish brood all seem to point to Presley's lasting influence.
Melancon is a self-taught musician.
"I never took any lessons of any kind when it came to music," he says. "I was self-taught in the sense that I just listened, kind of like how a filmmaker will maybe not go to school, but he'll just watch. [He'll] learn how to cut, how to edit, how to frame shots."
Touring the country as a musician helps Melancon exorcise his wanderlust.
"It's kind of how I'm gonna get my Kerouac experience in the safest way possible," says Melancon, whose mother – a longtime theater teacher – encouraged her son to read classic novels as a child. "I'm not gonna hop trains. I'm not gonna hitchhike. I'm just gonna be in a band, travel across the country, and meet random people."
The title of Melancon's newest album, Southern Gothic, salutes both a literary style and a specific author.
"Southern gothic is a form of literature I've always been a fan of," he tells Shiflett. "It has a lot to do with wild characters, and it takes place in the Deep South." Years ago, Melancon became a fan of Dirty Work and Joe, two novels by Southern gothic novelist Larry Brown. Although Brown passed away in 2004, Melancon befriended the author's son, who took the songwriter on a tour of his father's office during a tour stop in Oxford, Mississippi. "I go down there, I go to Oxford, I'm hanging out with Shane Brown," Melancon remembers. "He takes me into his dad's little writing room, which is connected to the garage. It looked the way it did when Larry died. There was his typewriter that he'd written some of my favorite books on. I just stood there, rubbed my fingers along the typewriter, and it felt like a ritualistic experience. We were driving away. . .and he said, 'Man, I just want to tell you, I wish Dad was here today. He would've loved you and taken you under his wing.' And I thought, "'Ok, I'm calling the album Southern Gothic. I've somewhat earned this.'"