“Les citoyens de la Louisiane crient/Dans le Golfe éyoù l'huile coulait.”
“Citizens of Louisiana cried/In the Gulf where the oil flowed” “Bastille”
The Lost Bayou Ramblers’ roots in Louisiana music and culture run deep. Founding members, brothers Louis and Andre Michot, grew up playing in their family band Les Freres Michot.
With five albums under their belt—along with a 2007 Grammy nomination for Best Zydeco or Cajun Music Album for Live: À la Blue Moon—the group began making strides to expanding their sound on 2008’s Vermillionaire, which they recorded with Austin-based producer Chris “Frenchie” Smith, leader of Sixteen Deluxe and Young Heart Attack, adding that band’s bassist/keyboardist, Pauly Deathwish. With Cavan Carruth moving increasingly into playing electric guitar, the Lost Bayou Ramblers have taken the next step with the latest album on their own Bayou Perdu label, Mammoth Waltz, produced by Korey Richey [GIVERS] at the famed Dockside Studios in Maurice, LA.
“We want to play the music that we love, and what represents us as a band,” says Louis about the new album. “There are a great many influences on this album, a lot more ground covered.”
With an eclectic cast of cameos which includes actresses Scarlett Johansson and Nora Arnezeder, Violent Femmes’ Gordon Gano, fellow Lafayette, LA, band GIVERS’ vocalist/guitarist Taylor Guarisco and drummer Kirby Campbell as well as Rock and Roll Hall of Fame member and legendary New Orleans icon Dr. John, Mammoth Waltz takes the Lost Bayou Ramblers out of their niche and into the larger realm of rock and roll. Producer Richey met Johansson while working with her at Dockside as an engineer to producer Dave Sitek on Anywhere I Lay My Head. They were introduced to Gano when he joined them on-stage in New Orleans after the band began incorporating a snippet from his “Blister in the Sun” in the middle of their song, “Oh Bye.”
“We wanted to abandon all limitations as to what we’re supposed to sound like,” says the Austin-based Carruth, who originally joined the brothers in 2002. “Our inspiration comes from the earliest practitioners of this music, which was a lot edgier, with more raw energy.”
Indeed, Mammoth Waltz ranges from electrified versions of traditional songs like the punkabilly-inflected “Carolina Blues” (first recorded by Nathan Abshire, responsible for the renaissance of the accordion in Cajun music, in the ‘40s) and “La Jolie Fille N’es Veut Plus de Moi” (originally by Joe Falcon and wife Cleoma Breaux, the first to record a Cajun song in 1928, “Allons a Lafayette”) to punk-inspired rave-ups like the title track and the rousing Clash-meets-The Pogues battle cry “Bastille” (featuring frequent stage guest Gano on fiddle and vocals). Throw in such disparate influences as The Band and Led Zeppelin (on “Croche,” which means “crooked, fucked up and twisted”), Graceland-like African pop (“Blues de Bernadette”) or Daniel Lanois (on the drone-dirge-like Quebec blues of “O Marie”) and you get a band that defies categorization. Several of the songs (“Maree Noire” and “Bastille”) address the 2010 Gulf Oil spill with sorrow and anger.
“This whole record is a breakthrough for us,” insists Louis, “It really has given the band a huge boost of inspiration, creative energy and new material.”
Lost Bayou Ramblers return to the ‘40s, ‘50s and ‘60s for their inspiration, at a time when the music was more raw and energized, when the region was a melting pot for pre-rock and roll, with the Mississippi delta blues on one side, Texas swing and rockabilly on the other.
“This new album just takes us over the top, but it is still fueled by tradition, and lyrically fully French,” says Louis. “It has all the elements of everything we’ve learned, but we can now integrate it with the rest of our musical and personal lives, rather than have it be this separate thing.”
That is what gives Mammoth Waltz more of the kind of rock and roll influence these 25-35-year-olds were brought up with; thanks to Carruth’s electric guitar and Deathwish’s drums, it’s not impossible to hear the Lost Bayou Ramblers share iTunes playlists with the likes of Arcade Fire or Black Keys.
“We realized our sound could work on a larger scale,” says Carruth. “We don’t fit into the stereotype of the way people see this kind of music. I don’t think we ever reflected that, so we might as well do it the way we want to hear it. It’s more honest for us, and it gives a lot more people the opportunity to embrace it. It’s more relevant than people realize. Our music was always pointing in this direction, especially the lives shows, where were more raucous and dynamic.”
“What the songs and melodies mean to me is so deep and so beautiful, it's natural to let it breathe,” explains Louis, “We believe our new sound is borderless, and we are excited to share it.”
Louis points to the song, “Coteau Guidry,” about the joys of hanging out at his pal Guidry’s home, located on a “coteau,” an old bank of the now-dry part of the Mississippi River that is the only elevated ridge in the area.
“It’s symbolic to what we’re doing,” he says, “climbing up that hill, continuing to get higher and higher.” With Mammoth Waltz, the Lost Bayou Ramblers have staked their ground.