Music

Louis Michot's L.E.S. Douze Release the Eclectic 'Le String Noise 2' (album stream + interview)

Photo: Kirkland Middleton / Courtesy of Howlin' Wuelf Media

The always inventive Cajun musician, Louis Michot, recalls a recent New York City residency with his latest recording, Le String Noise 2, a trip where the Big Apple and the Bayou meet.

Le String Noise 2 features 12 recordings from Louis Michot's residence at The Stone in New York City in 2016. Over a series of nights, at the invitation of John Zorn, Michot unveiled a broad range of musics that interest him, ranging from the traditional to the avant-garde. L.E.S. Douze finds Michot joined by violinists Paulin Kim and Conrad Harris of String Noise as well as cellist/vocalist Leyla McCalla. (Michot brings fiddle and vocals.)

Melding the cutting edge with traditional melodies of Louisiana and Haiti, L.E.S. Douze work their way through a set that's always intriguing and effortlessly eclectic. The second release in the L.E.S. Douze series arrives on 17 April via Nouveau Electric on CD and digital platforms.

More than an archival release, this gives listeners a chance to hear four topnotch musicians practicing their art with zeal and passion. Michot recently spoke with PopMatters about the project's origins.

How did this residence in New York City come about?

I was hanging out with Gordon Gano in New York. He played fiddle with the Lost Bayou Ramblers a lot between 2008 and 2015. This must have been about 2012. We were having a coffee, catching up, and he said, "Why don't you come meet these friends of mine? They're great violin players." It was Pauline and Conrad of String Noise. I don't even know if they had started String Noise yet. They said they had a John Zorn concert the next night, I believe.

Gordon and I both went, and they asked if we wanted to do some Violent Femmes covers with four violins. It sounded like fun. We did a whole set like that. It was really fun. That was right after Pauline finished a full set of John Zorn music. It was incredible. Apparently, John was there at the time, but I didn't realize that until later. That's probably where it all connected.

Wow.

He recommended my band to play at the wedding of a famous tattoo artist and an actress. The guy got in touch with me, and I asked him how he got my number. He said John had given it to him. "John Zorn gave you my number?" I hadn't yet put it together with that night at Rockwood Music Hall. I said, "If John Zorn gave you my number, do you think you could give me his email so that I could thank him?"

I wrote to him and thanked him, and he said that the next time I was in New York, I should look him up, and we'd have lunch. I did that a year or two later, and he offered me the opportunity to do the residency at The Stone. It was an offer I couldn't pass up. But it was also one that required a huge amount of planning and foresight and fundraising. I brought about 13 musicians with me from Louisiana and had about another 15 in New York.

I wanted to re-create the night we did at the Rockwood with the four violins doing Violent Femmes tunes, but Gordon had already started playing with the band again and couldn't make it. We got Layla to come in on cello instead, and that became Le String Noise.

And for people who don't know: Gordon's a pretty good fiddle player.

He's awesome. He's such a great, humble, open-earned musician. He has a cool fiddle style too. It works well with Cajun music because it's very rhythmic. He plays fiddle ad singles on the Lost Bayou Ramblers tune "Bastille".

You work in this world where there's an appreciation for tradition but a desire to move the music forward.

I'm lucky to have been raised around this music. I also believe that traditional music, especially Cajun and Creole music, has these beautiful melodies that are perfect on their own. I don't think we can improve upon the older, traditional songs. I think they were perfect as they are. Each player that has made these amazing things have inspired others to copy them. But you can never copy a perfect example of traditional music, so you have to make your own.

I've been doing this long enough that I feel comfortable in the tradition, and I can add my spin without diluting it or getting away from the culture. With The Stone residency, I wanted to do as much experimenting as possible but still doing what I do best.

Do people respond differently to this music in New York City than, say, when you play Texas or Oklahoma?

New York has always been one of my favorite places to play. When you go to Texas and Oklahoma or even California, people have an appreciation for Cajun music, but it's so different from mainstream American music. In New York, people are used to diversity; they're used to hearing different languages and different music all the time, so they have an easier time accepting it for what it is rather than the difference of it shocking them. I think that's why New York has been my biggest market besides Louisiana.

What strikes me about Cajun music is that there's exuberance and zest for life that walks hand-in-hand with this incredible melancholy.

You hit the nail on the head there. The lyrics are so pitiful. There's all this self-pity, but the melodies can be super happy. Or vice-versa. There's definitely a lot of emotion in there.

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