Music

'I could slash dragons listening to this!': Lisa LeBlanc on growing up a metalhead

How the acclaimed 'trash-folk' artist built a foundation on Metallica and Motörhead.

How the acclaimed 'trash-folk' artist built a foundation on Metallica and Motörhead

Acadian singer-songwriter and banjo artist Lisa Leblanc shares how her love of metal music shaped her life. (Bonsound)

Lisa LeBlanc's self-described "trash-folk" sound is what happens when a former metalhead makes peace with her acoustic guitar, picks up the banjo and fully embraces her self-designed destiny.  

The 29-year-old Acadian singer-songwriter, who records in both French and English, has released two albums and one EP over the last six years. Leblanc's not even 30 years old, but she has already put her stamp on the Canadian folk scene thanks to years of hitting the road with her raucous live shows, an incredible voice that radiates character and heart, and songs that confidently twine themes of love and heartbreak with wit and wisdom. 

"Acclaimed folk musician" was not the future LeBlanc envisioned for herself as a teen. Even before her older brother left for college, she would hear him listening to his CDs, but like lots of kid sisters, she dismissed it. 

"I remember my brother listening to Metallica albums, but I was just, like, 'Whatever, my brother's music,'" LeBlanc tells CBC Music over the phone. "So I wasn't really into it. He was jamming with his buddies and was also a musician. He grew up playing Metallica's 'Master of Puppets' solo, too fast like everybody does [laughs]."

With her brother away at school, LeBlanc raided his Columbia House collection. ("He had the classic Columbia House; he got super screwed and had to buy a bunch of CDs and he was a metal fan.") Amongst the '90s offerings, LeBlanc found her gateway to metal. 

I was the stereotypical type of metalhead... I would just kind of be alone and listen to the music and it would make me feel so much better, like I belonged to something.- Lisa Leblanc

"Metallica's S&M was the first ever metal album that I really loved," LeBlanc says. "All of these classical arrangements, beautiful arrangements but to metal music! It was a way for me to be like, 'This is super interesting and it's not too hardcore as I'm just kind of getting into it.' The first time I listened to it by myself, that's really the thing that got to me, like, this is beautiful. This is so cool. And I was just like, 'Oh, this is metal? This can be so good!' And I got obsessed with that record."

After making her way through Metallica's discography, LeBlanc discovered Megadeth, followed by Pantera, and by then, she was hooked. But she never forgot her first love.

"There are a lot of metalheads that studied classical music," LeBlanc says. "There's some kind of bizarre parallel in just how epic it is. Kind of letting your imagination go loose and just being inspired by it, thinking, 'Oh my God, I could slash dragons listening to this!" 

LeBlanc laughs, but a few minutes later, she admits that she was a somewhat isolated kid. "I was the stereotypical type of metalhead. I was into video games, didn't really fit in. I would just kind of be alone and listen to the music and it would make me feel so much better, kind of feel like I belonged to something." 

Finding a home in metal music may have also been why LeBlanc can look back now and lovingly describe her younger self as "a huge nerd." 

"I loved everything that was mythology and anime," LeBlanc says. "I had very bizarre phases when I was a teenager and it went to a lot of interesting places."

They've also led her to some interesting places as an artist, particularly when she began idly experimenting with Motörhead's "Ace of Spades" on her banjo. 

"It kind of came randomly," LeBlanc says, laughing. "The band and I are all old metalheads. We all have this nostalgic relationship towards metal and punk. We always come back to it in the van, like, 'Play Kill'em All' [Metallica's debut] and we're like, 'Yeah!'"

Motörhead is the other great unifier in LeBlanc's tour van. 

"Punks and metalheads alike love that band. Everybody likes Motörhead. And the first time I heard 'Ace of Spades,' I was like, 'What is this song?' I saw the video or something on MuchMusic or whatever, and I just, I loved how it went. It's a really simple song, but it's like a bulldozer. And Lemmy, what a character. What a guy. So, I was just doodling on the banjo and kind of randomly started playing 'Ace of Spades,' and I was like, 'Shit, this is actually totally doable.' And then we tried it, and we just kinda kept it in the show and then recorded it."

LeBlanc's rendition of "Ace of Spades" is thrash-and-trash folk at its finest, a blistering bit of brilliant banjo playing and a thrilling translation of an iconic staple. It's also allowed LeBlanc and the band to bring another piece of themselves onto the stage every night. 

"It's something that's really fun, because for me, it's all things let loose," LeBlanc says. "It's just kind of like what I've always wanted to do. All of us, we become little kids again, you know, the little-kid dreams of headbanging in front of a bunch of people who are losing their minds. It's just fun, pure fun. We don't really necessarily take it seriously either. Sometimes you kind of get into character and you kind of feel like a badass, but sometimes you just kind of like laughing your ass off because you're like, 'Oh my god, I'm playing Motörhead! How awesome is this?'"

Hang out with me on Twitter: @_AndreaWarner

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