If you saw this year’s Cannes- and Sundance-winning indie-fantasy film Beasts of Southern Wild, about a bayou girl struggling to escape a storm and heal her sick father, you remember its gritty, transcendent soundtrack. But you may not know the Lost Bayou Ramblers. The Grammy-nominated band contributed to the score with a Cajun-rock approach that fused zydeco and Led Zeppelin. They also happen to be playing Vinyl at the Hard Rock Hotel on Dec. 2.
Growing up in Cajun country—specifically Pilette, a small Louisiana town six miles south of Lafayette—you learn to appreciate the only two crucial things in life: food and music. Brothers Louis (fiddle) and Andre (accordion) Michot were steeped in the latter. Their father was a touring musician, and when the brothers tired of shredding on guitar and bass during their head-banging teens, they picked up the instruments they play now. The ones that define Cajun swing.
So the Michots formed the Ramblers in 1999. Along the way, they recruited Acadian talents Pauly Deathwish (drums) and Cavan Carruth (guitar). Despite playing electric six-string, Carruth says he doesn’t push the Ramblers in a rock direction.
“Our more traditional songs come from listening to those original recordings by Joe Falcon and Cléoma Breaux,” he says, during a recent phone chat. “Those early records were rock ’n’ roll in their own way. If anything, we try to imagine that and play the style of music the way it might sound today.”
As much respect as the Ramblers give Cajun music, they know how to infuse a darker, blues-based, even psychedelic element. On their original tune “Blues de Bernadette,” what initially begins as a goodtime drinkin’ song sung in Creole French gradually reveals a core of melancholy and pain, its Velvet Underground influences surging with every kick-drum stomp and droning fiddle-lick.
“Carolina Blues,” meanwhile, is an aggressive, pounding three-chord jam that would make the Ramones proud.
“We just like things hard,” Carruth says. “It’s not about volume so much as it is about emotion. A song has to feel real to us in order to convince whoever’s listening that our music is important. That it means something and can change them.”
Carruth admits that the Ramblers’ involvement in Beasts of Southern Wild was random. The film’s producers knew the Michons and wanted authentic Cajun music. The band knew little about the project, even after they recorded three hours of music, quick and dirty and with only a few microphones, in a bayou shack last year.
Carruth says that director/composer Benh Zeitlin and his sound engineer Dan Romer had a specific vision. “Honestly, we were shocked at how seamlessly and impressively they were able to build us into the score. The success they’ve enjoyed with the movie is well-deserved.”
Speaking of film, the Ramblers built in the sultry vocals of actress Scarlett Johansson into their sixth full-length album, Mammoth Waltz, which came out in April. Johansson sings on “Coteau Guidry,” which she recorded apart from the musicians in an L.A. studio. (The band and the actress share a producer, who made the long-distance collaboration possible.)
With Hollywood in their rearview, the Ramblers look forward to Vegas, which they consider a sister city to New Orleans, not an evil twin.
“Vegas certainly has parallels to the New Orleans lifestyle and sense of excess,” Carruth says. “So we’re expecting to have a really good time.”