Brass Bed is a Lafayette, LA, quartet that channels the power of unrestrained rock and power pop, which it shared on its new LP, Melt White. But recently, the rock ‘n’ roll band dipped into the Cajun music sound that thrives in its hometown for a cover-song project with fellow Lafayette band Feufollet. Cajun folk music is a French Louisiana tandem from Creole-based, Cajun-influenced origins. Feufollet specializes in this style, mixing genres and electrifying audiences with its dance-inspiring songs.
Like most traditional Cajun tracks, Feufollet composes narrative ballads of solitude, loss and ill-fated love, stemming from the historical roots of Cajun exile. The genre adopts a somewhat didactic tone as it carries itself into the current Lafayette music scene. As Brass Bed approaches these themes and styles, its pop-rock sound is transformed into a rich and reverent celebration of Feufollet’s Cajun accomplishment.
The Lafayette scene was bound to mingle, and the marriage of Cajun and indie music appears on The Color Sessions, a split EP on which Brass Bed performs tracks off of Feufollet’s Grammy-nominated En Couleurs and Feufollet performs tracks from Brass Bed’s Melt White. The album’s charm lies in the meeting of the genres—traditional Cajun pop songs covered by an indie rock band and contemporary rock songs interpreted by the playful and imaginative Cajun band. We had the chance to speak with Christiaan Mader, who covers bass, vocals and guitar for Brass Bed, and find out what goes on in the Lafayette music scene and all about The Color Sessions, which is streaming below.
CMJ: How did you guys come up with the idea to swap songs?
Christiaan Mader: Lafayette as a music scene is a pretty small town, so even though Feufollet comes from a different side of the tracks so to speak, they’re a Cajun band and they run in different circles, we’re all on the same page, we’ve lived in the same houses, we’ve been friends for a long time. One of the things we like to do around here, regardless if you’re in a Cajun band, is go out and watch Cajun music, get drunk and do stupid things and dance. So we’ve kind of been in contact with those guys for a long time. What ended up happening is that their bass player was in Brass Bed for a period of time, and our keyboard player plays keys in Feufollet, so all these interweavings caught up with us. We had a conversation that was like, “Hey wouldn’t it be neat if we covered a Cajun song?” and the logical reverse of that would have Feufollet cover our songs. The thing about a lot of Cajun bands is that these guys grew up playing it, but it’s not necessarily the only style of music they’re interested in. It seemed like a logical opportunity for either one of us to try something different.
What’s going on in the Lafayette music scene today?
Cajun music is derived from centuries of European folk music as it was imported to southern Louisiana from the French who got kicked out of Canada. Modern Cajun music is the marriage of that traditional Cajun folk music and country music of the 1950s. So if you were to go see a Cajun band, they don’t really look all that different from your average rock ‘n’ roll band. For example they have a drum player and a bass player, most of the time an electric guitar player, but they are going to have fiddles, accordions and stuff like that. But the chord progressions and the timing are not unlike what you would hear in country music. It’s not so much like current Nashville stuff, but similarities I hear are like what you get with early Hank Williams stuff.
Download “Bums On The Radio”:
Bums On The Radio by Riot Act
What was Brass Bed’s intention with its covers of Feufollet songs?
Our goal was to make it as un-Cajun as possible. You kind of run into a challenge when you turn Cajun songs into pop songs, which is that structurally, Cajun songs tend to be two-part, like verse and chorus, and then a lot of soloing because it’s dance music. Songs tend to be five to six minutes long, but they’re going to be rather repetitive, and if you were to widdle everything down, take the accordion solos out, take the guitar solos out, take the fiddle solos out, the song would end up being a minute and a half. It actually was a challenge for us because we had to say “OK, we’re taking this really simple chord progression and melody that’s really lovely and trying to change it into something else, but we’re not able to jam on it like Cajun artists are able to do.” So we ended up having to write new parts to their songs.
How did you decide which songs to cover? Is it a challenge to perform songs in French?
It was a challenge. We picked the songs we picked because you can hear them as great songs. When I listened to En Couleurs, they were songs that I gravitated towards already. Feufollet had a couple of rock ‘n’ roll songs that I think if you were to listen to the record you’d guess that’s what a rock ‘n’ roll band would cover, so we took the ones that are waltzes and two-step and saw what we can do. Then we figured out if we were going to sing it in English or French. It’s easier said than done to just translate something from French to English, especially in Cajun French, because it’s different than spoken French in France, so there are a lot of phrases that don’t really translate. I took the responsibility of singing it in French because I had the most background even though I am not by any means fluent, so Chris in Feufollet pretty much wrote it all down for me in phonetic English.
Download “Des Promesses”:
Des Promesses by Riot Act
What did you think of Feufollet’s covers of your songs?
They did a cover of “If I Were A Farmer,” and the first time I heard their version of it, I thought it was better than mine. It’s almost like they discovered an identity for the song that was more correct than mine. They knew it more than I did, and that was weird. I had the feeling that I was playing it wrong. I was like, “Wow, I never knew I’d written a country waltz song,” but there it is. In a lot of ways I think that was the song that tripped the entire project. Phillipe, the bass player for Feufollet, was the presenter of all of this, he was the one who wanted to do a Cajun waltz to that song. It’s like that trade right there is the most indicative of the project.
What have you learned about your songwriting and sound from covering another band’s music?
I think as a songwriter the big influence for me is sort of looking at the beautiful simplicity of the song and saying “Look how much you can get across with two parts of the song, two melodies.” Putting on a different skin for a minute makes you grow and learn new colors to work with. Brass Bed, at the end of the day, is a power pop/psychedelic band, but we do like to try and keep ourselves diversified in our musical interest, and clearly this was something that was a little bit further than anything that we’ve ever tried. The thing I learned from most is taking these songs and living inside of them for a minute. A great song doesn’t have to be more that a minute and a half long, and that’s what’s really impressive about the art form: You look at Cajun music and so much of it is steeped in Cajun tradition, you get so much out of it in so little.