On "Two Universes," the Cajun band expands its sound to incorporate rock and honky tonk.
Feufollet has grown up in the public eye. The Lafayette-based band began as young Cajun music prodigies, but as it's members have matured into their mid-20s, they’ve begun to question some of the things once taken as givens. “Cajun music can have a tendency to be very utilitarian,” Feufollet’s Chris Stafford said when I interviewed him for a New Orleans Advocate story last year. “Realistically, it had a social function. That’s where men met women and started families. Now, that utility of the music isn’t as necessary.”
He also wants to make music that reflects who he and the band are, and to play it for peers. Locally, that happens for Cajun bands, but nationally the band’s audience skews older. Feufollet has tried to address that not in a strategic way but by being artists first and making musical choices that interest them. That has meant collaborating with indie rock band Brass Bed, working Cajun versions of unlikely rock songs into their sets (and not as novelties!), and recording music that reflects where they are now, as they did on the recently released Two Universes.
Today, Feufollet plays Jazz Fest’s Fais-Do-Do Stage at 12:25 p.m., and the band’s Beatlesque pop can be heard in their Cajun music on the album, as can a whole lot of honky tonk thanks to Kelli Jones-Savoy’s singing and songwriting. They haven’t turned their back on Cajun music as much as they’ve made it reflect who they are now, just as the musicians who made the classic recordings did when they were younger.
“We wanted to build this on the songwriting,” Stafford says. “On records we’ve done in the past. there would be some original stuff, but there would be some traditional stuff mixed in with it. Or newer arrangements on older songs. On this, everything’s new. Everything’s from us. That’s a shift for us. For a long time, we’ve dug up old songs, obscure traditional songs that people don’t do or know about, and that was a model for us.”
The band recorded Two Universes last summer in Austin, so things that were once fresh and startling now seem so common to Stafford that he has to remember when things felt new for interviews.
“Everybody’s going Wow, this is so different,” he says. “And I had kind of forgotten.” The change that surprises interviewers isn’t only heard in the way Feufollet reshapes Cajun music but in the attitude with which they play it. Folk music usually comes with an implied reverence that rock ’n’ roll rarely has, Two Universes is far less reverent.
Stafford hears it in the band’s music, but it’s not intentional. “That kind of thing can come a lot more easily when you’re doing your own material,” he says. “You’re selling your own stuff. When you’re playing more traditional stuff, it’s a already well-established form so there’s less to prove.”
The music Feufollet is making now, like that of Lost Bayou Ramblers and The Revelers, would not have been made when the anxiety about the future of Cajun French and Cajun culture seemed more precarious. It’s a sign of confidence in the endurance of the culture that bands don’t feel that they have to keep reinforcing it and can find their own self-expressions within it. That doesn’t mean audiences are necessarily on the same page, though. Cajun music purists still exist, and they don’t always take kindly to innovation.
Feufollet has dealt with some of those crowds over the years, and while it has never come to open hostility, he has felt on more than one occasion that the audience really didn’t get them. He’s dealt with not by changing his music but his bookings.
“We know where we wouldn’t be wanted,” Stafford says.