The duo discuss how collaboration--and crossing disciplines--enriches their sound.
New Orleans-native Alexis Marceaux, whose name you may recognize from her stint on NBC’s The Voice, hit her stride with her sophomore album, Orange Moon. It’s a title that conveys both tone and timbre, and the roughly 25-minute record is carried by the gravitational pull of Marceaux's clear, arresting alto. Together with multi-instrumentalist Sam Craft—former front man of prog-rock outfit Glasgow and an indie stalwart in his own right—she now performs as one-half of the folk-pop group Alexis & the Samurai, which has very quickly established itself as a fixture in the local music scene. The duo has appeared at the Voodoo Music Experience, Bayou Boogaloo, and, for close to a year, every Monday night at Chickie Wah Wah. In addition to fronting Alexis & the Samurai, Craft and Marceaux also perform regularly with Cajun-inspired group Sweet Crude
The band, which plays Jazz Fest's Lagniappe Stage on Saturday at 2:15 p.m., is a singular talent, but its music reflects, perhaps more so than any other local group, the combined energies and influences of an extended network of local musicians, producers, and creative rabble-rousers—not to mention a dedicated and highly-supportive fan base.
This collectivist approach is made most immediately evident in the band name, which the pair engineered specifically to reflect the fluctuating number of performers and sidekicks in their coterie. “We’re predominately a duo,” says Craft. “We do most things as a duo, but for a lot of what we do we’ll bring in other musicians, so it’s really not just the two of us. We know that we can’t just go it alone, so the plural possibilities of it we take advantage of.”
“We always love adding people to our craziness and bringing all our friends on stage with us—because we have so many talented friends,” adds Marceaux.
A frequent “Samurai” is Rick Nelson of Marigny Recording Studio and bassist for The Afghan Whigs. He’ll play bass for the group's performance at Jazz Fest, and has mixed and produced the duo’s various musical efforts for years. Currently, Nelson is in the process of producing Alexis & the Samurai’s new album, yet unnamed, but which will be a combination of new and old music.
“Some of the songs from this album are as old as when Orange Moon came out,” says Craft. “Some of them we wrote a month a go, a few weeks ago. Regardless, we’ve made the whole thing pretty cohesive and it definitely sounds like it’s coming from one place.”
Much of the album was pieced together during the group’s residency at Chickie Wah Wah, which, as of June of this year, they will have held for a year. The weekly gig has acted as a workshop for everything from harmonies to song titles. “It’s been awesome for us. It’s given us an opportunity to experiment on stage and finish material in front of people,” says Marceaux.
Adds Craft: “It’s a real nurturing kind of vibe. There are people who come every single Monday, and they trust us—and we trust them to not be too harsh with us. The family vibe that we get there is pretty mutually beneficial."
Featured guests have included everyone from Susan Cowsill to Honey Island Swamp Band. “Now that we’ve been spoiled with Chickie Wah Wah and having people involved so close-knit, we can’t do it without people anymore. We have good friends and people we trust,” says Marceaux.
It’s a family that expands across genres and also mediums; the band’s music has been featured heavily in local web-comedy Sunken City, co-created by C.J. Hunt and Kyle June Williams. The two groups met when Alexis & the Samurai served as the house band at The New Movement Theater’s recurring comedy show, “You Don’t Know the Half of It.” “[Being featured on Sunken City] was really fun for us because we got to hear our music like that,” says Marceaux. “It feels accomplishing when you hear your music behind something visual. We think of our music that way now, which is fun because we rely on, ‘if you take the vocals out, is it still solid?’”
“When you use music adapted to visuals, it’s beneficial to have instrumental,” says Craft. “It’s made us pay attention to how things sound without the vocals and how well our music paints a picture without lyrics.”
The on-screen debut of their music marked a turning point in the band’s self-conception. “We can look at ourselves as not just an indie band but as composers,” says Marceaux.
The collaboration is also helping shape where the band sees itself in the future, as the two aspire to a more multi-disciplinary musical presence. “One of our biggest dreams is to sign with a publisher and license our music to TV and film and commercials and things,” says Marceaux. “This [Sunken City] is giving us that fix, and it’s also helping us become better for if that ever happens. We’ve been able to learn a lot through Sunken City, and now we can maybe do it on a bigger scale.”
On the immediate horizon is the band’s re-mixed and re-released output of Orange Moon, which will be available for the first time at the Fest this weekend. Shortly after, the duo will release a five-song EP entitled Live at Chickie Wah Wah.
If synergy is the band’s lifeblood, this year’s performance at Jazz Fest promises to be nothing less than a family affair. “It’s gonna be a big ensemble for Jazz Fest, with a lot of surprises,” says Craft. “Last year was a pretty big group, but I think this year we’re going try to outdo it. There will be many Samurai on the stage for sure.”