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Cajun Power Chords: Feufollet Playfully Blasts Open Tradition on En Couleurs

United States
English
3rd May 2010 — Deathbed ballads meet glockenspiels and omnichords. Cajun French choruses are written on iPhones. Indie-rock vibes invade Acadian archives.

Welcome to the world of Feufollet, a band both deeply rooted in the francophone soil of Louisiana and pushing boldly into unexplored yet utterly natural varieties of Cajun experience. Though famous for their renditions of heartbreaking songs and rollicking tunes, the quintet breaks new ground on En Couleurs (Feufollet Records; June 8, 2010) featuring originals that draw on deep roots tempered by a cutting edge of contemporary life.

“We have always been about experimenting with Cajun music,” explains Chris Stafford, who plays fiddle, accordion, and just about anything else he can get his hands on, “and that means adding new material to the genre. It was a decision; as we talked about the album, we knew we had to do as many original songs as possible.”

“Out of context, I’m not sure that if you heard songs like ‘Les Jours Sont Longs (The Days are Long)’ on an album with no accordion or fiddle that you’d ever peg them as Cajun,” Stafford reflects with a smile. “But they make sense with other, more traditional songs and lyrically they’re in Cajun French. I guess you could call it Cajun pop.”

Beyond mere language, however, Feufollet’s originals capture the spirit of Cajun tradition without kowtowing to it. “Au Fond du Lac” paints a picture of love gone wrong in shades taken from nature, from the trees, blossoms, and lakes. Yet in quirky contrast to the traditional imagery, the chorus was honed by singer and songwriter Anna Laura Edmiston on her iPhone voice recorder on a 28-hour cross-country drive to Los Angeles.

These originals flowed out of the band’s lives, inspired by their long-standing love of Cajun tradition and the new genre-bending indie spirit that has infused the Lafayette, Louisiana scene they call home. In the bars and clubs of Lafayette, rock, indie pop, country, and Cajun all converge, and older two-step fans often rub shoulders with brash young hipsters. “All around town, you see Cajun musicians playing in all kinds of side projects. It’s a natural, normal thing,” notes fiddler Chris Segura.

Yet even the few traditional gems on En Couleurs got a wild and wooly treatment as Feufollet began crafting the album in the studio, as a group. Encouraged by their long-time friend and producer/collaborator Ivan Klisanin, they started pulling arrangement ideas out of a hat—almost literally. “We got really playful in the studio,” laughs Edmiston, “and really opened our minds to whatever was there.” It took the songs in all sorts of directions.

Late one day in the studio, they were working on a traditional tearjerker of a ballad, “Ouvre la Porte,” about a woman dying of an illness as her faithful lover calls for the doctor and bids a sorrowful farewell. The group made an odd discovery as they added layers to it: the toy piano and glockenspiel they laid their hands on sounded just right.

“It is a really, really sad song, but two of the verses are dedicated to the doctor, how they contact him and how he arrives at the house,” Edmiston explains. “For some reason, I have this image of a funny little fat man making his way to the house. The melody is somewhat playful, and it was inevitable that it would be funny and quirky.”

Other unexpected elements, like an old autoharp sitting on the studio piano, suddenly sparked new approaches. “We had tried the autoharp over and over, but it just didn’t work. But then somebody whipped out the omnichord. It’s a digital autoharp from the 1980s, this wacky instrument made by Suzuki and shaped like a tennis racket,” smiles Stafford.

The creativity Feufollet unleashed in the studio, however, went far deeper than adding a few fun touches to the usual Cajun instrumental base of accordion, guitar, and fiddle. Feufollet may be credited with the first ever recorded usage of something completely novel: the Cajun power chord.

One of Stafford’s songs (“Les Jours Sont Longs”) just wasn’t fitting with the rest of the material on the nearly complete album. “We revisited that song and added a bunch of new textures, like a really distorted guitar from a Pignose amp playing power chords. You don’t hear them but you feel them, deep in the mix,” explains Segura.

These nuggets of sound were so compelling, the band decided to tweak them and turn them into little interludes, often in stark contrast to the feel of the original song. A bright dose of Cajun pop became a guitar-heavy blast that might feel at home on a Black Sabbath album. A gorgeous layer of Edmiston’s waltzing vocals became almost psychedelic.

“The whole album, you hear a track and then a little snippet of music, almost to cleanse the palate for the next thing,” Stafford enthuses. “That inspired the title of the album, which means ‘in color,’ and the concept for the artwork. I always think of colors when I hear music, and each moment has its own shade.”

Though Feufollet’s members reveled in their new-found direction, they weren’t sure at first how their Cajun pop delicacies would be received by more traditional fans, especially away from the open-minded crowds of Lafayette. A recent gig in Baton Rouge brought older dancers eager to cut a rug as well as younger listeners. It was a moment of truth.

“So there we are, playing one of our new originals. I look out and no one’s dancing,” Stafford recalls. “They either love it, or they’re wondering what in the world is going on. There was this weird feeling in the air. So I made a nervous comment over the mike, and asked how come no one was dancing.” After a pause, from the back of the room, Feufollet got their answer: “‘It’s because we’re listening!’ someone screamed.”
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