After leaving Lava Records, Louisanan Dustan Louque figures out what comes next in New Orleans and a van.

dustan louque photo
Dustan Louque, by Scott Simon

(In part one of this story, the Grand Point-born Dustan Louque talked about his experience with Lava Records, and how that experience soured, leaving him out of the business and trying to figure out what came next.)

As he tried to imagine a post-major label career, Dustan Louque continued to record music as he had, building songs track by track, intuitively feeling his way through them. Those compositions didn’t start with a clear purpose, but he found that his sound is one that music supervisors for films seem drawn to. He’s not sure why--maybe because his affection for sonic elements that quickly and clearly evoke a genre, style, mood or place makes it easy to imagine how they could suit scenes.

A licensing agent helped shop his music around, as did Louque himself. He bought a van so that when he went to Los Angeles to work on licensing deals, he came with his own cheap place to stay. Film work might not be the dream he had at 14, but it’s a living, and it allows him to do the things he enjoys most—make music—without the frustrating, diminishing parts of the business. 

While he made that music, Louque thought about how to exist in the music world, and whether he had a way to make more personally expressive music. He started writing on an acoustic guitar, which gave his songs a core that he could play live when he wanted to. He became a better musician as he looked for ways to distinguish his songs from others, and in the process began to build those songs a part at a time, bringing in musicians to play parts when he needed them.  He’d love to have pulled a band together for a month in the studio to knock them out, but that ’70s vision of a band holed up in chateau or Manhattan studio for a month to make an album is not financially possible for him or many people in the 2000s.

“There’s a lot of old school ideas you’ve got to get out of your head,” he says. “I’d be a damned fool right now if I’m going to get a band together and wait for my record deal, get a budget and rent a studio for two weeks or a month. It’s wishful thinking. That world is not out there.”

That process produced Campo Santo and helped him decide what his music sounds like now. “If we had a sound of music for where I’m from, it would be ‘Don’t Let it Die’,” he says. The metal-stringed acoustic guitar says its a country song, even though synths buzz like mosquitos around the intro. When Louque sings, “They say that I was never going to love / forever going to drift on the run,” he does so with a voice that is simultaneously down home and soulful. The song’s core values down to its subject matter are firmly rooted in tradition, but nothing about the recording sounds like the product of some yesteryear. When the piano comes in, it plinks with a virtual reality clarity, and the cooing backing vocals are almost too close for comfort. Throughout the album, Louque’s Louisiana roots are clear bordering on hyperclear.

When he made Campo Santo, Louque simply put it up on Bandcamp in 2014 with little more fanfare than a shrub of the shoulders. After letting the album creep into the world that way, he decided to give it a proper release, but proper on his terms.  Louque didn’t make much fuss over it, and friends have helped him get the word out. “There’s no big PR campaign,” he says. “It’s just, Hey man, it’s out there.” He is also posting recent pieces as he records them under the title "Film Music" on Soundcloud with a similar lack of fanfare and calculation. “If you look back at my career, you know I’m not that guy,” he says. “I had all those chances on a major label and look what happened. I couldn’t compromise. I don’t have that ability. That’s why I’m my age doing what I’m doing.”

Louque’s challenges are ones that everybody who dreams of a major label deal now faces, and his solutions are ones people are now discovering. When Lava signed him, it helped that Louque had a team in place. Today he books his own gigs, answers his own email, takes care of his own merch and manages his own career. Gigs aren’t part of a tour; they’re the result of connections he has made over the years. “The other night I played in Long Island,” he says. “This guy had me play and I made good money. I played in front of 150 people and it was beautiful. It was a great connection. That’s how I operate. It’s very connected. It’s not just an Instagram or a marketing thing. Real connections with people I’ve been answering emails with over the years.”

He’s still trying to find his place in New Orleans, though. “Anything I do’s going to be Louisiana,” he says, but he doesn’t quite sound like anybody on Frenchmen Street or Lafayette. Louque lives on St. Roch and used to play the St. Roch Tavern to feel more like part of his community. “St. Roch Tavern is a rugged place, and I played solo, acoustic shows in that place just to be of the community,” he says. “Because I missed that so much when I let it go when I was in Brooklyn.”

That desire doesn’t mean he’s giving anybody a free pass, though.

“My favorite band is Rotary Downs,” Louque says. “I think they’re fucking amazing. It’s a joke to me that they’re not well known in town. It tells me all I need to know. Joy Division happened, but a lot of shit happened since then. I want to see some great shit happen. I want to see something happen for New Orleans that gets respect on a national scale. We’ve got all these great thinkers moving to town. Let’s do something besides look cool.”

While waiting, Louque is trying to find like-minded musicians, recording when he can, and playing when he wants to. He’ll next play at Goorin Brothers Hats on Magazine Street during Art for Art’s Sake

When he talks, it’s pretty clear that his time on Lava took its toll—more than he copped to in the interview. Being introduced to the world as a product in some of the most clichéd ways has caused him pain, but he’s philosophical about that time. “You learn. What happened to me is not some sad story. It happens. If you don’t get fucked over, you’re not playing in the game. You’re still on the outside looking in.”