hommes de fer
Isle Derniere brings hard rocking music to Acadiana en Français
Chuck Waguespack (bassist), Brian Berry (lead guitar) and Rocky McKeon (voice, rhythm guitar) keep Louisiana French alive in a whole new heavy way.
Photos by David Simpson
A movement is afoot among young people from Lafayette to New Orleans and points between, to preserve the specific language of Louisiana French. Young Cajun and Creole bands such as Lost Bayou Ramblers, Pine Leaf Boys and Beausoleil sing much of their music in regional French. The celebrated Arcade Fire-esque rock sextet, Sweet Crude, brings Louisiana French to a younger, indie-rock audience.
“But in this area, there’s not really anything that sounds like this kind of ‘70s throwback proto-metal,” says Staffland Studios owner Chris Stafford of the hard rocking Acadiana band, Isle Derniere, whose second album he’s been recording since 2012. “It’s definitely different than anything that’s going on, among the bands from here that sing in French.”
Isle Derniere singer Rocky McKeon says there are several reasons why there aren’t many French-singing hard rock bands.
“Because Louisiana French doesn’t sell as well as something in English,” says McKeon. “You have a very limited audience when you sing in French. It only reaches a certain demographic.”
Though truth be told, there isn’t much rock n’ roll sung in the area in English either; not in McKeon’s hometown of Houma, or Thibodaux where Brian Gerry lives, or Raceland where bassist Chuck Waguespack lives, or even in Lafayette where you can find drummer Nick Person.
“We played in Lafayette at Festivals Acadiens et Creoles, and there’s usually the lawnchair brigade — the older generation in lounge chairs in front of the stage — but when we started to play they packed up their chairs and left,” says McKeon. “Then you did see the younger generation coming toward the stage though.”
In general, Isle Derniere would rather be paired with a band that sings in French, than another hard rock act.
“Around Lafayette and whatnot, they’re usually playing with a Cajun band because to them, the French is a very important part of their band, maybe even more so than the style of music they play,” says Stafford.
Also the accordion player and guitarist for young progressive French-singing band, Feufollet, Stafford says, “Rocky the singer writes all of his music in regional French, and is one the foremost young people that’s really pushing for the preservation of French in Louisiana. One of his band’s main goals is to promote French.”
To that end, along with the band’s first self-titled EP sung entirely in French, Isle Derniere has also released Louisiana French versions of Black Sabbath’s “Iron Man” (retitled “L’homme en fer”), and “Quand la levée casse,” aka Led Zeppelin’s “When the Levee Breaks.”
McKeon also helped compile the “Dictionary of Louisiana French,” provided the translation into French of the book “Heartoffact: The Visionary Environment of Kenny Hill,” by Karin Eberhardt, and in 2008 was awarded Le Prix de la Création prize for his poem entry “L’argent a peur” from the website MondesFrancophones.com.
“I grew up hearing French at home when my grandparents would visit,” says McKeon. “My aunts and uncles would all speak French at all of our family gatherings. Then I went on to study French in high school, then studied it further at Nichols State University in Thibodaux.”
With a scholarship from the Council for the Development of French in Louisiana (CODOFIL), McKeon eventually studied French abroad in Belgium. “I came back home speaking French like a Belgian. But I worked with some friends locally to straighten my accent out.”
Today, while working diligently on the band’s first ever full-length album, Isle Derniere hasn’t had much time to perform. The group can be caught just once a month or so at local music venues like The Boxer and the Barrel or the Brick House in Houma, or in Lafayette at Blue Moon Saloon or Artmosphere.
“I don’t normally work on music that’s this heavy,” says Isle Derniere’s producer Stafford. “Most of what I record is a lot of Cajun music, roots-based stuff — I am recording the new Feufollet album myself — and that’s the scene I work in. They bring me in all these new metal bands, but I’m not the biggest metal fan, so when we’re recording [Isle Derniere] we’d pull up some Black Sabbath, and I’d try to make these guys’ drums sound like that. We’re coming from that reference point for this album. For me it’s fun to try and dig into that style, and try to give it that same sonic quality. It’s definitely heavy.”