LOUIS MICHOT is enjoying a few well-earned weeks of rest. The vocalist and fiddler is in between the East and West Coast legs of the current tour for his band, the Pilette, Louisiana-based Lost Bayou Ramblers, and their recent groundbreaking LP, Mammoth Waltz. In the context of South Louisiana's insular Cajun music scene, the enormous variety found on Waltz evokes comparisons to how every conventional jazzhead in America might have felt when they first heard Bitches Brew.
As fruitful as Miles Davis' experiments in rock and psychedelic funk were for American jazz, Cajun music is itself ripe for diverse improvisations and perspectives, combining the expansive sonic capabilities of accordions, fiddles, double bass, and more. Michot understood that when Lost Bayou Ramblers decided to take the progressive elements of Cajun, punk, hard rock, and zydeco into the studio to record Mammoth Waltz, they were embarking on completely new territory.
"We'd already been playing for 13 years and had written a bunch of originals," explains Michot, who sings nearly entirely in Cajun French. "But it had taken us that long to get comfortable enough with our own sound. It's not like we could have just come up the first or second year and started making that stuff. It was just part of our natural evolution."
Michot and his brother, accordionist/lap steel guitarist Andre Michot, have been part of Louisiana's deep Cajun music history since their time playing in their family band Les Frères Michot as kids. By the time Lost Bayou Ramblers formed in 1999, joined by guitarist Cavan Carruth and eventually drummer Pauly Deathwish, the two brothers had imbibed the strange elixirs of psych-rock, punk, blues, and beyond. The steady metamorphosis from primarily acoustic Cajun French swing band—for which they achieved ballyhooed accolades like a 2007 Grammy nomination in the short-lived Best Zydeco or Cajun Music Album category for Live: À la Blue Moon—to rough-and-tumble barn-burning rockers was inevitable.
Apprehension for how it would mesh together, however, was a concern. "Whenever you're trying something new on something that's already there, you always have the possibility of it going two ways: It can either be one of the coolest things you've done, or one of the cheesiest things you've ever done," says Michot.
Luckily, it was the former. And just as Bitches Brew utilized the advantages of the studio for its end result, Michot and the Ramblers also fully embrace the creative freedoms found in extended studio time.
"It really did take a lot of time to figure out how to do things how we wanted it to sound," says Michot. "We tried a lot of different things and just really opened up to a new musical experience instead of [relying on] what it's supposed to sound like."
Accenting the expansion of the Ramblers' oeuvre were special guests Dr. John, Gordon Gano of Violent Femmes (who accompanied the band during their sets at this summer's Pickathon festival), Scarlett Johansson, and French singer Nora Arnezeder. Despite the boosts those cameos provided, and the testimonials of gushing Deep South diehards, Michot's humility in the face of such an intriguing listen is oddly endearing.
"Mammoth Waltz has probably been the furthest anyone's ever taken Cajun French music," begins Michot. "I guess. I mean, that's what I've heard."