The Lost Bayou Ramblers are found by the Grammys, nabbing a shiny statue on the cusp of 20 years as a band
The music business has fallen apart, it is said. Some expected this death to bring forth a revolution that would level the artistic playing field. Some might argue the internet has picked more musicians’ pockets than it has filled, but there is at least one silver lining: In January, after nearly 20 years as a band, The Lost Bayou Ramblers won a Grammy award. They won without support of a major record label, without a manager and without a booking agent.
“This is just us, just a homegrown Acadiana organization,” says the Ramblers’ singer and fiddle player Louis Michot. “To win a Grammy like that, it really justifies all the hard work we’ve put in.”
The Grammy also justifies the Ramblers’ unique, updated Cajun sound, which blends zydeco with punk and classic rock, and sprinkles it with samples and other modern flourishes.
“We did it straight-up traditional for so long,” says Louis, 39, who, along with brother Andre Michot (42, accordion and lapsteel) came up through the ranks playing in dad’s family Cajun band, Les Frères Michot. The Lost Bayou Ramblers boast many documents of their traditional chops, most notably 2007’s “Live a la Blue Moon,” which earned a nomination in the Grammys’ now-defunct Cajun and zydeco music category.
Cajun, zydeco and other Louisiana genres were later lumped into the Regional Roots Album category along with Hawaiian music, Native American recordings and polka — meaning, the Ramblers won a much bigger category with 2017’s “Kalenda.”
“‘Kalenda’ was a musical evolution,” says Andre, who lists off the differences between this Grammy-winning record, and the Ramblers’ other seven albums. “This newest one has samplers and drum machines, that’s different. And where the last one had acoustic bass, this one uses electric bass. On that live album that was nominated in 2007, we were playing a lot of traditional Cajun songs, while this one is mostly originals. We also have a lot of guests on ‘Kalenda,’ playing everything from pennywhistle, to cello, to different percussion, to psychedelic effects.”
Andre believes the Ramblers stand out on today’s Cajun music landscape partly because none of its other members played Cajun music before joining this band.
“As of a year and a half ago we have guitarist Johnny Campos from [the noise pop group] Brass Bed, and Bryan Webre on electric bass,” says Andre. “Eric Heigle [on electronics and acoustic guitar] has played with Tab Benoit, and still tours with [the rock group] Ellipsis. And we also have Eric’s cousin Korey Richey; together they engineered the Arcade Fire’s ‘Everything Now’ and ‘Reflektor’ albums, as well as our last record ‘Mammoth Waltz.’ We call those guys the ‘co-cousins’.”
After seven years in the Ramblers, Korey Richey recently became a full-fledged member of LCD Soundsystem, limiting his involvement in his previous group. The resulting music industry connections have landed Lost Bayou Ramblers on tour and on stage with Arcade Fire and LCD Soundsystem.
“We are similar to LCD in that we make dance music, and that’s what Korey likes about both bands,” says Louis. “LCD is our same speed, with similar rhythms and melodies. LCD is so simple and good. So, maybe it’s a natural thing for that South Louisiana boy to end up in a great dance band like LCD Soundsystem.”
Andre though, is quick to qualify, “We are using the same Cajun instruments as always, and the same Cajun rhythms are always there.”
“No matter what happens around that beat,” says Louis. “It’s basically the same rhythm that everyone’s been doing for a long time. We never vary from that.
Says Louis, “At the end of the day we are still a Louisiana band singing in French. So, as much as people love our show, booking agents don’t necessarily know how to describe the experience of our show.”
As such, even after the Grammy win, the Lost Bayou Ramblers still don’t have a record label, a PR firm, a manager or a booking agent.
But maybe they just don’t need one. By 2012, the Ramblers had already soundtracked the runaway hit indie movie “Beasts of the Southern Wild.” In 2017, the group appeared in “The American Epic Sessions” documentary, re-recording “Allons à Lafayette” (supposedly the first Cajun song ever recorded) with Jack White and T Bone Burnett. The Ramblers have been successfully collaborating and playing wild shows with Violent Femmes singer Gordon Gano, as well as Spider Stacy of The Pogues. All this to say: prior to the Grammy, the Lost Bayou Ramblers were doing pretty well.
“If you follow our calendar, we play hard, we play a lot. This Grammy will hopefully help us to take it a little easier and be a little more choosey about what we play — cause we need to,” says Louis. “You can’t do anything this hard for this long and not take a break. We do need a more reasonable pace."
The brothers say they don’t feel any different, having won a Grammy. Perhaps this is because you can’t swing a dead nutria in Louisiana — especially in the Acadiana region — without hitting a Grammy winner. The brothers laugh while listing off all their neighbors and peers who’ve won Grammys.
Andre says, “This at least means people are open to hearing traditional music in new and different ways.”
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