At Work: Lost Bayou Ramblers

Raffaela Kenny-Cincotta on January 16, 2018

Kaleidoscopic Cajuns

It’s a beautiful Friday afternoon in New York City, and the Lost Bayou Ramblers are soundchecking at Joe’s Pub. As Andre Michot warms up on his handmade accordion, his brother Louis throws his voice around the empty venue—his Cajun-French lyrics bellowing through the room with authority.

“We’re definitely a live band,” Andre explains. “As much as the last couple of albums have laid things out and experimented with different ideas and techniques, it’s still hard to capture that in the studio.” Louis agrees: “We improvise our shows pretty much entirely,” he says. “We barely write a setlist. Even in the middle of songs, we’re switching from one number to the next.”

The Michot brothers have been the driving force in the sextet’s off-the-wall performances since 1999, and that determination has paid off. They secured an opening spot for Arcade Fire in 2014 after Win Butler and company saw them play at the 2013 Montreal International Jazz Festival, and they count Violent Femmes’ Gordon Gano as a close friend/collaborator. LCD Soundsystem producer Korey Richey is also a frequent creative partner; he sat at the helm for Lost Bayou Ramblers’ trippy, ambitious 2012 release, Mammoth Waltz as well as their newest offering, Kalenda.

“Korey has tapped into the larger music scene and has a very global mind, but he grew up as a rice and crawfish farmer from South Louisiana,” Louis explains. “He knows the music, and you have to know the music as a language to understand it.”

Starting out in their South Louisiana family band and cutting their teeth on classic-rock covers in high school, the Michot brothers crafted a unique sound that mixed their bluesy, deep Southern swamp roots with a hip, improvisational edge. “We weren’t like, ‘Let’s start a Cajun band that’s going to be expansive and psychedelic and all this stuff!’” says Louis. “That happened 10 years later, and we’re almost on year 20 now. We’re still learning how to integrate the music we love from across the world into our sound. With this album, we really wanted to simplify and not overthink anything,” he continues. “Here’s the song. Let’s just play it. And love it. And play it like we love it.”