A decade ago, singer-songwriter Rod Melancon left Vermilion Parish with plans to be an actor. A 2006 graduate of Kaplan High School, he loved serious drama, especially the plays of Tennessee Williams and Sam Shepard.
In Los Angeles, Melancon studied acting. He got an agent. But he enjoyed neither the audition process nor the roles that came his way.
“You get out here and, the next thing you know, you’re doing this ridiculous audition for a Taco Bell commercial,” Melancon said. “That wasn’t what I had in mind. It left me feeling empty.”
Melancon, who’ll perform Friday at Warehouse 535 in Lafayette, found inspiration for a new artistic pursuit during a visit home to Louisiana. During that visit, he gave his grandfather a Hank Williams album for Christmas.
Melancon’s grandfather took the present from his grandson to his trailer home.
“He sat there and listened to the whole thing,” Melancon said. “I saw the way that it affected him. It took him to a different place and time. It affected him emotionally. That got me thinking about music in a way I hadn’t thought about it before, and about the possibilities of songwriting and music.”
Upon his return to Los Angeles, Melancon began learning to play the simple chords that accompany Williams’ anything but simple-minded lyrics. Then, he began writing his own songs.
“I was always interested in writing,” he said. “But I didn’t know if I’d write short stories or plays or screenplays. I knew I had stories from my youth. I knew I had things I wanted to write about. Songwriting became my outlet.”
The songs of Hank Williams were a great place to begin. Despite the country music star’s death at 29, he created a legacy of brilliant songs whose universal lyrics expressed human heartache as honestly, as elegantly as any songwriter before or since.
“They call him the Shakespeare of country music,” Melancon said. “That’s pretty accurate.”
From Williams, Melancon moved to other songwriters, including Kris Kristofferson, John Prine, Townes Van Zandt and, eventually, Bruce Springsteen.
“Springsteen blew my mind,” Melancon said. “His songs are like a novel or a film in four or five minutes. I love the cinematic feeling of his music, and that probably reflects my love of film and theater.”
Having lost the acting bug, Melancon went full tilt singer-songwriter.
“Before I knew it, that’s where all my focus was,” he said.
The Los Angeles-based Blue Elan Records will release Melancon’s third album, “Southern Gothic,” on June 16. Following 2014’s “Parish Lines,” it’s the second Melancon project produced by former Dwight Yoakam lead guitarist Brian Whelan. The producer helped the singer-songwriter find the tougher sound he wanted for “Southern Gothic.”
“He’s also good at telling me, ‘You can try a little harder on this line,’ ” Melancon said. “I don’t take offense to it because I trust Brian’s judgment 100 percent. I process everything he says. It’s always for the better of the song. He knows exactly what I’m trying to do. He gets it.”
Although Melancon falls in the country music category, there’s variety in “Southern Gothic.”
“I wasn’t thinking about that when I wrote the songs, but I like that,” he said. “That’ll keep it interesting for the listener.”
The “Southern Gothic” songs include the sonically heavy, dark “Lights of Carencro” and “With the Devil”; country-rock of “Perry”; Rolling Stones swagger of “Red Head”; and Springsteen-and John Mellencamp touched “Promises” and “Different Man.”
For his lyrics, Melancon found inspiration in his dad’s family history in Acadiana.
“I heard a lot stories when I was a kid,” he said. “People in my dad’s family were like characters from a Southern gothic book. These were interesting people who made not the best decisions. For a songwriter, it’s a treasure trove. I always wanted to write about those people.”
WHEN: Friday. Doors open at 8 p.m. , show starts at 9 p.m.
WHERE: Warehouse 535, 535 Garfield St., Lafayette