Don’t expect to stand still and stone-faced at a Cowboy Mouth show. The New Orleans rockers, who headline Pig Out in the Park’s Lilac Stage on Sunday, demand attention with their high-energy live shows, which founding member Fred LeBlanc describes as “massive amounts of people feeling massive amounts of joy.”
“I rile the crowd up with my rock ’n’ roll preacher thing,” LeBlanc said during a recent phone interview. “We had a band from the South say a while back, ‘Man, you guys are like a Southern tent revival without the religion.’
“I’ve always called Cowboy Mouth a rock ’n’ roll safe place. People can come to our shows and there’s no need to be self-conscious, because no matter how silly they think they look, I’m going to look dumber and crazier than all of them. I’m encouraging everyone to act like they’re 5 years old.”
LeBlanc founded Cowboy Mouth with guitarists Paul Sanchez and John Thomas Griffith in the early ’90s, and their playful take on alternative rock made them a fixture of the Louisiana music scene. The band has undergone numerous lineup changes over the years – LeBlanc and Griffith are the only founding members still left – but LeBlanc maintains that the quality of the group’s musicianship has never flagged.
“We’ve been very fortunate to have nothing but great players since day one,” LeBlanc said. “(But this) is one of, if not the, best version of the band since we’ve started, and that’s something coming from a band that’s been together for 25 years.”
Cowboy Mouth has had some mainstream success – the 1997 live single “Jenny Says” was briefly a radio hit – but LeBlanc says the band was shuffled from label to label during its formative years, which stunted its creativity.
“Back then, you were juggling chainsaws,” LeBlanc said. “You had to have your record label, your producer and your A and R person all on board, you went through a chain of command before you even got to the recording studio. And they were always chasing the aesthetic of whatever the last hit was, whether it was the Red Hot Chili Peppers or Hootie and the Blowfish. So you had to fight through the jungle with a musical machete to get to your vision.”
Now the band is operating independently, and its most recent release is a career-spanning compilation titled “The Name of the Band Is Cowboy Mouth.” But this isn’t your typical greatest hits collection. Rather than re-releasing a dozen old tracks, the LP features the current lineup playing the group’s most beloved songs.
“I was going to put together a ‘best of’ that was the old recordings. The songs haven’t really dated, but the recording techniques have definitely dated,” LeBlanc explained. “I just really wanted stellar versions of these songs that would be consistent, so I thought instead of paying a bunch of lawyers, let’s go into the studio and kick a bunch of ass. And it came out great.”
Cowboy Mouth has been a major touring presence since the ’90s, and it has developed a cult following with its raucous live shows. LeBlanc is both the band’s drummer and enthusiastic frontman – his drum kit is pushed to the edge of the stage – and he works up the crowd with singalongs and other forms of audience participation. (Here’s a tip: Find some red plastic spoons to throw at the band during a crucial point of the song “Everybody Loves Jill.”)
“I’ve always maintained that a lot of presence kind of makes a band an actual band,” LeBlanc said. “You’re playing shows, you’re interacting with your audience, you’re basically letting them know what you think and how you feel musically, and they let you know back. It’s a whole kind of, uh, musical intercourse, for lack of a better term.”
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