Interview: Cory LeBlanc of Rain Over St. Ambrose

Cory LeBlanc

Truth For News is the debut album from Rain Over St. Ambrose, a great rock and roll band from Yarmouth, Nova Scotia who are unsung beyond much of their own backyard. I’ve had the record in heavy rotation for several weeks and recently awarded it a four-star rating in my review. It’s an 11-song, straight-ahead rock and roll beast with a combustible engine that breathes enough to let frontman Cory LeBlanc’s potent lyrics and formidable voice shine in arresting, heartfelt songs.

In my review, I said Rain Over St. Ambrose (Cory LeBlanc, Curt LeBlanc, Luke Amirault, Marc Durkee, Matt Amirault) are underdog heroes who serve up galvanizing swells of fist-pumping choruses… and they are the very sort of band who could’ve escaped the limits of regional acclaim in a different age of FM popularity (say Minneapolis in the 80s, Seattle in the 90s). I lamented that it may require near-miraculous fortune for a rock and roll band as good as Rain Over St. Ambrose to reach that level of popularity today.

Last week, frontman and songwriter Cory LeBlanc took a few minutes before heading to work to talk to me about the band, the record, the Yarmouth music scene, and what it takes to market a hardworking rock and roll outfit like Rain Over St. Ambrose in today’s music climate.

Rain Over St. Ambrose – “Walking Home”

TST: I understand you just got off work?

Cory LeBlanc: Actually, I work nights, so I just woke up.

TST: Where do you work?

CL: I’m a night stocker and stock shelves for companies.

TST: I’m the same way. I just got off my day job and try to do my music writing whenever I can before work or when I leave. I feel for you. To do jobs like that in order to be able to do the things you love is a necessary evil, I guess.

First off, I think you probably saw the review, but I love the album. I think it’s a hell of a rock and roll record, and I’ve been going to it over and over again lately.

CL: Thank you very much for that.

TST: Your voice is one of the big draws for me on the album. I mean the playing on the record is outstanding, but you’ve got a badass rock and roll voice that just does it for me – that and your lyrics of course. What kind of inspiration did you pull from when writing the songs, because there’s some pretty powerful stuff on there?

CL: Well, I had a few shitty situations happen in the recent past. I lost my old man… and a few other people in my close family passed away, so I kind of was able to use that a lot. During that time, I got into the whole YouTube-searching-slash-documentary-hounding. I find that whenever I do that I find some crazy lunatic to talk about or write a song about. Generally, writing songs about stuff that isn’t a mainstream topic, it’s a lot easier to keep it simple. If every time I write it’s a song it’s about my fucking girlfriend or something, I have to always find a new way to write about it – which at this point is kind of impossible. So, I listen to a crazy fucking Alex Jones rant or something and try to figure some kind of sense he made out of the damn conversation and write about that opposed to…you know… trying to make peace in the Middle East or something. You know?

TST: I figured death of a family member had to play a prominent role, but I had wondered if it was firsthand or more of a narrative about somebody else. It certainly comes through with great poignancy on the album. I’ve been blessed to not have to deal with that much, but I have found that songs about mothers, fathers and family is the stuff that sticks out to me and are songs that make me want to keep coming back for years down the road – which I believe I’ll do with Truth For News.

CL: Yeah, man. The mother and father are kind of the reason the band began in the first place. Writing a song about my old man seemed better than calling up my buddy at three in the morning drunk asking him to listen. I think that’s one of those things that will never leave my writing. I think one of our newer songs that’s not on the record is in that same vein. Hopefully, I’ll keep finding new ways to do it, but, like you said, it’s one of the main things I like to write about.

Rain Over St. Ambrose

Yarmouth fivesome Rain St. Over Ambrose
Photo Credit: Scott Blackburn

TST: Speaking of your family – and this is presumptuous just looking at the names – you guys are a pretty close-knit group and there are brothers in the band, right?

CL: It’s me and my brother and – see we live in a small, little fishing community with French families all around, and there are seven or eight last names that are pretty prominent. So, there’s me and my brother, but Matthew and Luke aren’t even related even though they have the same last name. You know, we live in an 8,000-person community though, so it’s a “we’re closer than most families in big cities are” sort of thing.

TST: What’s it like playing with your brother? My brother is also my best friends, so I imagine it has to a cool experience. I also figure there’s a risk of infighting too, though.

CL: Oh yeah. I’m 29 and he’s 32. We started playing together when I was 11, so any kind of fighting we were going to do happened when we were kids. When I was 15, I started playing in different bands without him, and he went off to university and did his thing. When my father passed away, we both came back home. When I first started thinking about the band, I was sitting around jamming a couple of songs, and I asked him if he’d want to join the band. It had been awhile since we’d played together, but like you said, we’d been playing together for so long that all of it was natural. It was like I’d play something and then have to teach it to him to have him fill in the gaps.

TST: When I first sat down to come up with my questions for you, I knew I wanted to ask you about a few of the songs. First off, let me say I think the album from minute one to the last minute is just killer. With that said, the two songs that hit me the hardest are the one-two punch in the middle of the album of “Your Audience” and “Parade.” You already touched on the inspiration for “Parade” with dealing with the passing of your father, but can you talk a bit about “Your Audience.”

CL: I think you pretty well got it right in your review. I played in a few bands and had the chance to tour around…Before I say anything, I’d like to say my experience playing with those other bands was great. Most of the musicians playing in Canada in general are really, really nice people and great to work with, but every now and then you’re going to run into a few people who are way cooler than you. You know what I mean? And I think that’s basically what the song is about. Maybe they didn’t have the background of the things they talked about and did. That’s what it’s about.

TST: That’s certainly what I get from it. I’m still fairly new to the music writing thing, but from the outset I said I didn’t want to be part of the overly cynical and elitist crowd that comes with the territory in much of today’s scene. There are more than a few publications that I like knocking for instigating and reinforcing that attitude – I’m not going to name them here – but I made a commitment to myself to honestly get to the heart of the music of hardworking bands and artists that I enjoy and share them with others. Truth For News just sticks out with me as a collection of everything I love about rock and roll right now and why I’m more than happy not falling into that trap.

CL: I love how nowadays it’s not so much how good the band is, but it’s how well you market them. That’s an unfortunate part of putting any kind of business into art. It comes down to how much money you want to spend marketing someone versus how much you’ll get back. You know, I’m a fat, bearded man who writes rock and roll songs; I don’t know how easy I am to market to the masses. (Laughs)

Cory LeBlanc 2

Cory LeBlanc on marketing Rain Over St. Ambrose
Photo Credit: Aaron Doucette / Instantkamera.ca

TST: Well, the songs are damn good, man. For me, that’s where the marketing should be: on the songs.

CL: I’m with you, man. I’m with you for sure.

TST: Let me talk about where you’re from. I apologize for not knowing how to pronounce your town. Is it Yar-mouth or Yar-mooth?

CL: Yarmouth (Yarmuth). You know, spelled “mouth” but just, you know…it doesn’t really matter how you say it, I guess. The chance of you saying it any other time in this conversation – (laughs).

TST: That’s true. I just wanted to mention that over the past six months or so I’ve interviewed a few other bands associated with Pigeon Row, and they’ve mentioned a lively scene around those parts, whether it was Milks & Rectangles on Prince Edward Island or Elk from the Toronto/Niagara region. When I was researching for my review of the album, I found sites like Yarmouth Bands and got the sense there is a pretty close-knit music community in your area as well. I also saw you guys mostly seem to play around the area, but do you have any plans for a broader tour with Truth For News out?

CL: We play all around the Maritime Provinces, which would be Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island – again, all over the East Coast of Canada. We’ve done, I think, one tour towards Central Canada, and we’re going to go towards Toronto again. For most of the stuff we do – within the next five days, I’m going to have my first kid –

TST: Oh wow! Congratulations.

CL: Thanks. So for now, we’re going to stay close for the next few months. After that, if we get some – I don’t want to say funding – but if we get some funding, we can do it ourselves. It would be nice to not worry about the bills so much before we go on the road.

TST: Awesome, man. Do you generally play to the same audiences most nights, or do you get the chance to play to plenty of new faces, too?

CL: A little of both, man. The thing about Yarmouth is we have a small, little town that’s super-supportive of you, whether you’re a musician or what have you. They’re very supportive of any kind of export the community offers. If we play Halifax which is three hours away, I would say twenty to fifty percent of the crowd is probably going to be from Yarmouth, whether it’s people traveling from Yarmouth to see it or it’s people from Yarmouth who have relocated. The rest are usually new faces coming in who have heard us on the radio or through word-of-mouth; we kind of do a lot of mindless, shameless promotion on Facebook (laughs). That helps a little bit.

TST: That’s the age we’re in. Other people are fortunate enough to be easily marketable and have others do that for them, but it speaks volumes to me to see people actually willing to market themselves and are proud of what they’re doing.

Rain Over St. Ambrose 2

Rain Over St. Ambrose in great outdoors
Photo Credit: Pigeon Row

TST: How was it playing Halifax Pop Explosion? My understanding is that’s a celebrated festival in that area, and the lineup this year was pretty impressive.

CL: That was a great show, man. We got to play with a couple bands that we actually know personally. One was Elliott BROOD, who we didn’t know. Check them out if you haven’t had the chance.

TST: I have, actually. I got my start writing music pieces for a site here in Indianapolis called Laundromatinee. We record and film intimate sessions for bands that come through Indy, and I’m fortunate enough to have the opportunity to write companion pieces about the great acts we bring in. Those guys did a fantastic session for us back at the start of the year before their Indy set that night. I was just floored by those guys, and their new album, Days Into Years, is definitely one of my favorites this year.

CL: Yeah, man. So they played, which was amazing. And another band, called Wintersleep, has a few members who are from Yarmouth. They were the headliners of the show. It has probably been a year and a half or so since I’d seen them last, and they are just incredible to watch.

TST: I’ve never had the chance to see those guys, but I’m a fan of their stuff, for sure. I’ve been quite taken with their new album, Hello Hum, as with their great records like Welcome to the Night Sky. One of my fellow writers, Will, actually interviewed them for The Silver Tongue a few months back, so we’re fans of them, here.

CL: You know how with a lot of bands you get their record and like it and you watch them live, and it’s a little bit of a disappointment? With them, you are more impressed after the live show than you ever were listening to the record.

TST: That’s an exciting thing to hear. Their records are so good that anything better than that would just be incredible.

CL: Hey, I’ve got a dumb question for you, man!

TST: Yeah, fire away.

CL: I’m always interested to hear. So, what’s a good local band that I should be listening to from where you are?

TST: That’s actually a great question. I was just getting ready to ask you the same thing.

If I’m going to choose one band from the Indianapolis area, I have to say my favorite is Margot & The Nuclear So and So’s. They’ve been around for years and have been through plenty of ups, downs, and lineup changes, but I’ve been a big fan of all the music they’ve made. Their debut, Dust of Retreat, came out in ’05, and I still think it’s one of the best records around– debut or otherwise, local or otherwise. They’re have a sound that is unlike any other – I once read frontman Richard Edwards describe their sound in a tongue-in-cheek sort of way as “sweater rock” (Cory laughs). I’d try to sum it up by saying they make singer-songwriter-based indie rock songs – at that time with gorgeous male-female harmonies – with these arrangements bring in every instrument you can imagine and will just floor you time and again.

After Dust of Retreat, they got signed to a major – which I can’t remember the last time that happened for a band from around here – by signing with Epic, but the label balked when hearing the songs Margot brought to them for their second record. Epic was frustrated by the lack of a clear single, and they basically refused to release it. The funny thing about the whole story is Margot pulled off a hell of a coup by recording a bunch of new songs and keeping half of the originals to satisfy the label. They got Epic to release the album the band wanted in its original form on vinyl and digital as Animal, and they settled for letting Epic be satisfied by releasing the second version on CD and digital as Not Animal. Interestingly enough, both records ended up selling fairly well.

CL: Wait, so the band got them to release the record they wanted named Animal and the one they didn’t called Not Animal?

TST: Yeah.

CL: (Laughs) Oh, that is awesome!

TST: Hell yeah. They put out a third album a couple years ago, and then they went through a pretty big lineup change. Now, the band is down to half the original size, now with a few founding members and guys who have been in the Indy scene for years. They put out a damn fine fourth album this year, titled Rot Gut, Domestic, that is a total rock and roll album that still makes great use of Richard’s gifts as a lyricist.

CL: I’ll check those guys out for sure.

TST: So, who from your neck of the woods should I hear?

CL: I’m very big on Yarmouth music. I’m constantly listening to bands from around here. I should mention the label we’re on, called Acadian Embassy, is basically a bunch of guys that Trevor Murphy and Josh Pothier brought together. They were friends of mine and played in bands of mine – not necessarily my bands but bands I toured with for years – and decided to start this record label. On this label, there is us and two other bands: There is Quiet Parade, and that’s Trevor’s band. I guess the best way to describe them is they won an award called “Best Quiet Band To Listen To.” You know, it’s the same kind of thing – singer-songwriter with a band over top of it, but the band doesn’t eat everything up. You know what I mean?

TST: Yeah.

CL: Also, there’s a band called Lead Mule that’s from all down in Yarmouth as well. They’re all located down here like us. They have a member in their band who has been playing in Yarmouth since I was a teenager, and he has continued to do it. He’s somebody who I’ve always looked up to and have thought he’s a great musician. If you like 90’s rock, I think you’ll be into them.

TST: Well, I sure would love to check them out, man.

CL: Yeah, man. Not to do the whole “You should check out…thing,” but I’ll keep in touch in with you, and I’ll send some stuff your way and would love for you to send me some stuff, too.

TST: Absolutely, man! I’d love to hear from you more. I’ll tell you what, Cory. I know you have to go to work and all, so I don’t want to keep you any longer. Let me just say I’ll be in touch, wish you guys the very best with the record and everything with the band, and congratulations on getting ready to be a father! Nothing but my best to you, Cory.

CL: Thanks for calling and getting the word out our band, man. It has been good talking to you, Justin.

Rain Over St. Ambrose’s debut album, Truth For News, is out now on Acadian Embassy. Listen and purchase it directly from Rain Over St. Ambrose’s Bandcamp or Acadian Embassy’s Bandcamp.

Truth For News

Rain Over St. Ambrose – Truth For News
Artwork by Nick Brunt

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