Robert Frost famously saw two roads diverge in a wood and took the less traveled option. Put singer/songwriter Dustan Louque in the same situation and he’d probably check out both roads – then beeline into the thicket with a scythe and start building his own.
That’s pretty much what the Grande Pointe, La., native is doing with his music these days, both in terms of career path and sound. Following an Atlantic Records contract and a string of successful licensing deals for film and television, Louque became disillusioned with the major label industry’s propensity for seizing creative control and determination to force an outdated business model on a changing market.
“It wasn’t a fresh approach to building a career,” he says. “It was kind of, let’s throw you against the wall — we’re gonna throw you really high and … hopefully, you’ll stick. I don’t really like to work like that.”
Though he continued to make music, his priorities changed. He moved back to Louisiana, bought a house behind the St. Roch Market and took a regular job. In the meantime, he renovated the home and kept working on music, making trips to Woodstock, N.Y., to record with artists he’d met while living in New York and becoming ensconced in the downtown music scene there.
“I like creativity, I like restoring things, I like building things, I like having an idea and seeing it through and actually doing it myself,” he explains. “The light bulb went off over that period of three or four years of how I can have a music career and what that meant for me. I never wanted to be a big rock star; I just happened to love making music.”
It was during that time that Louque slowly and with a focused sense of purpose made his latest recording, the dreamy Campo Santo. Replete with lush guitar work from both Louque and Wilco’s Nels Cline (Rolling Stone put Cline on their list of the “100 Greatest Guitarists“) plus synth motifs that recall the dark but hopeful sound New Order pulled off in the ’80s, the final product balances richly textured soundscapes with Louque’s warm, rumbling voice and image-heavy lyrics. Though his accent occasionally hints at his Acadian roots, Louque’s music isn’t tied to his home state in any overtly discernible way. Yet Louisiana has been an inspiration along the way.
While living in New York, making beats on a drum machine at home, he remembers visiting his hometown and suddenly seeing the culture there in a new light. Having grown up “embarrassed” by his Cajun roots, he began “collecting Louisiana stories,” he says, and was pleased with the results when he wove those ideas into his work.
Now, he’s faced with finding a foothold for that music in New Orleans, where his music doesn’t quite fit many of the pre-established molds.
“I’m just carving out my own thing,” Louque says. “I started doing small houses shows, I’ll play on rooftops and in weird, crazy places — the Marigny Opera House, non-venue kinds of things. I don’t fit in musically so much in New Orleans even though I’m from Louisiana. The experiences I’ve had … there’s been a lot of tragedy in my life so I have a different viewpoint and a certain depth when I start writing. It’s not sad, but it’s joy and sadness. It’s everything.”
… which makes his answers to our 20 questions that much more unique.
20 Questions with Dustan Louque
1. Who is your favorite New Orleanian, dead or alive, real or imagined?
Louis Armstrong. That was his real spirit coming out of that horn. Not some made up concoction to get attention. He was New Orleans, perfectly imperfect.
2. What first brought you to New Orleans?
My grandparents brought me here from Gramercy [La.] to see Mr. Bingle at Maison Blanche.
‘[At One Eyed Jacks], no matter who’s playing, it feels like Morrissey’s gonna show up.’ — Dustan Louque
3. In your opinion — what’s the best neighborhood in New Orleans?
I don’t really like best lists, and this is a hard one. I believe in St. Roch, but love sitting on the bench outside Cafe Degas, but then there’s lower Decatur and the Irish Channel. Don’t make me pick.
4. If it’s a beautiful day, where are you going to spend it?
On the lakefront with the top popped on the van, watching sail boats and reading.
5. Describe the best meal you’ve eaten in New Orleans.
It was at Herbsaint with my parents. My dad and I cornered Donald Link for his duck recipe as my mom stared him down insisting her dirty rice was better.
6. Where’s your favorite brunch spot?
Gotta say Satsuma in Bywater. Clean, smart food.
7. What’s your favorite type of po-boy? Where do you get it?
I’m no po-boy expert, but Parkway does it like I remember as a kid. Gotta have the right bread.
8. You’ve got friends visiting, and it’s their first time in New Orleans — where are you taking them?
9. What’s your favorite neighborhood bar?
Markey’s in the Bywater. People leave you alone in there. You can just be you in silence, and it’s OK. Sip a beer, watch the game or play shuffle board.
10. What is your favorite New Orleans cocktail, and where do you go to get it?
I’m partial to absinthe. A sugar cube and few drops of water is perfect. It’s nice to celebrate the great thinkers that came before us. I love my green hours spent at Napoleon House.
11. What’s your favorite dessert or sweet treat in the city?
A cortado with a dash of sugar from Solo Espresso in Bywater.
12. Best spot to see live music?
One Eyed Jacks. No matter who’s playing, it feels like Morrissey’s gonna show up.
13. Favorite New Orleans musician or band?
14. Favorite New Orleans festival?
I like Voodoo for the lesser-known bands. One year, I saw Broken Social Scene at 2:00 in the afternoon, right up close.
15. What’s your ideal New Orleans date night?
Oysters and white wine in a quiet place or Cafe Degas with a window seat.
16. What are your favorite local shops?
Friend, The Stacks Book Store, Euclid Records, Domino Sound.
17. What is your favorite New Orleans museum?
18. Where do you go to watch The Saints play?
Markey’s, Finn McCool’s or to a friends house.
19. Describe New Orleans in one word.
20. When was the last time you fell in love with New Orleans?
The last time I saw an old New Waver on lower Decatur.