Michot’s Melody Makers is the trio led by Louis Michot, known for his work as fiddler and lead singer of Lost Bayou Ramblers. The group issues its debut LP, Blood Moon, September 28 in digital and CD format and on vinyl in November via Sinking City Records. Joining Michot in this endeavor are guests Colby Leger (accordion), Ashlee Michot (triangle) and Bad Chad on percussion. The proper group is rounded out by Michot’s fellow Ramblers Bryan Webre (bass and drum pad) and Kirkland Middleton (drums and drum pad). Legendary guitarist Mark Bingham joins in as well.
The outfit draws upon Louisiana-French fiddle tunes as well as material culled from the pre-accordion Creole/Celtic/Afro/French cannon. Along the way we’re treated to new compositions, recently uncovered Cajun and Creole tunes and experiment or two with samples.
Michot recently spoke with PopMatters about Blood Moon and the origins of the pieces heard on the collection.
What inspired the formation of this group?
I had been getting little side gigs in my travels, just setting up shows to experiment playing fiddle tunes and explore old tunes that I always wanted to try out, like some of the blues and Cajun songs inspired by New Orleans, many that never fit in enough with accordion bands to be kept in the traditional repertoire. Playing with different musicians almost every show, I named the band Michot’s Melody Makers inspired by some of the Cajun string band of the ’30s and ’40s, an era when Louisiana French music was just starting to get its first drummers who had been playing with early jazz groups. It was all a big experiment then, figuring how to integrate drums and amps into acoustic music, and inspired me enough to try and pick up where they left off when they were still experimenting and hadn’t yet decided how one is “supposed” to play.
You’re working with tunes that, in some cases, that have their origins in Acadian music or from the pre-accordion days of the Creole et al. body of song. But you’re adding contemporary touches in there. It sounds at once classic and forward-thinking.
Some of these old tunes are so eerily beautiful and wrapped in emotion and pain, that for me to try and do them justice, I feel I have to deconstruct them down to the melody and start from the bottom up to introduce new sounds and rhythms that allow the melody to breathe. Many of the originals were led by melody and had no percussion, so it’s like starting with a pretty blank canvas and rebuilding the song in a way that honors the original sentiments of the song while bringing new sonic and rhythmic inspiration. The tradition is so beautiful that it deserves some new sounds to keep it growing and being appreciated by each new generation.
I really love the dark, moody piece “Dans Les Pins”. Listeners will recognize that as “In the Pines”. The fiddle is so mournful in that tune, and it has a long history in Cajun music.
The fiddle really is so full of emotion, whether mournful or joyous, so much so that you almost have to be prepared when you drag the bow across the strings. “In the Pines” has always struck a chord in me, and the fact that it was a song originated in Louisiana and covered by a band like Nirvana, I felt like the fiddle would tell the story well. I first recorded “Dans Les Pins” for En Francais 2, a concept album I produced for Bayou Teche Brewing, where modern Cajun and Creole bands interpreted rock ‘n’ roll classics translated into Louisiana French. It was a two-album project, and an effort by the brewery to promote the language and offer locals a way to learn French by listening to music they already know the lyrics to in English.
“Allons Tous Boire Un Coup” feels like a celebration. Loud, boisterous. It’s like a collision between punk energy and rural music. It must be one that goes down well live.
“Let’s all take a drink!” really does go over well live, even though it’s taken me a while to figure out the special tuning, and how to play the song freely, while not confusing the rest of the band. The fact that the band can follow each turn on a dime really does allow for a good time, and the lyrics remind me of illegal bootlegged liquor, much like the illegal intoxicators of today that people rejoice over when they’re in abundance.
“Blues De Neg Francais” reminds us how much the music of Louisiana shaped country music. Do you see what you do as part of that tradition or more in the folk tradition?
It’s hard for me to put the finger on how Louisiana French music has influenced other American styles, I feel like they’re all so much one in the same, where each person and their language, background, and experiences led to creating so many new styles of music. Blues, country, jazz, rock ‘n’ roll, they’re all the result of the diverse peoples of Louisiana and America sharing and expanding on each other’s art, and the people of Acadiana just happened to use fiddles and accordions and sing in French and English.
I don’t believe that our music was created by being isolated from outside influence, but that the travels and trials of making it in America have always inspired artists to express themselves to as large an audience as possible, to retain the connections and experiences that inspired them.
“Blues de Neg Francais” is about being a loner, with no family to speak of, then morphs into a story about toying emotionally with one of his lovers. Moise Robin wrote the tune, and not long after was sent to Angola for shooting his ex-wife, and I just found out that one of our cousins was living next door, and heard the shot.
“La Lune Est Croche” really has those contemporary touches I mentioned earlier.
When I was in Lyon a few years back, I met an amazing band called Le Peuple De L’Herbe, and they asked me to collaborate on this song. They sent me some beats and progressions, and I played some fiddle over it and wrote these lyrics about the beautiful old curvy lady that is New Orleans. Her sidewalks are bumpy, just like her hips, and she smells like tropical flowers growing through her iron and wooden buildings. She is crooked like the crescent moon and turns like the Mississippi River. I decided it would be appropriate to cover our collaboration, which debuted on Le Peuple’s 2014 release, Next Level.
This seems like a good intersection between the live and studio worlds. What kind of atmosphere did you try to strike in the studio?
We definitely went for a live feel at Dockside Studio. The album was originally going to be recordings from our residency at The Saturn Bar in New Orleans, but we figured it would be worth it to give ourselves a little time and proper equipment to make something new and expand on what we’ve worked up live. Korey Richey really helped us achieve the live feel, by putting a 36-hour parameter to get everything tracked, so it really made the process immediate, like one long brush-stroke. It was so live and energetic that Kirkland I both injured ourselves pretty badly when it was done, but luckily we finished the album before having to be carted off in a stretcher.
The last song I wanted to ask about is the closer, “La Danse Carre” that seems like one that can be pretty demanding on the fiddler.
“La Danse Carree” is an old Evangeline Parish call dance, one example of a local style that really doesn’t exist anymore. The original recording by Dennis McGee is the only snapshot of this time we have left, like many lost rhythms and dances we no longer know as a culture. I’ve used to perform this solo at bars in New Orleans, or sometimes just with a drummer. People always loved it, and I would keep stopping and cranking the rhythm up a notch until it was an indistinguishable blur.