By Melody Berger for Tom Tom Magazine | Photos: Zack Smith and Caitlyn Ridenour
You may have heard Alexis Marceaux’s powerful, versatile singing when she was a contestant on The Voice, or caught a glimpse of her playing on HBO’s Treme. The New Orleans based powerhouse has been touring with her bandmate and boyfriend Sam Craft for several years now as the duo Alexis and the Samurai. Based on the positive reception to their raucous take on a classic Cajun tune, the couple decided to add five of their favorite humans to the mix and create the band Sweet Crude. They incorporate Louisiana French into indie rock songs and have a whole lot of drumming, with two full kits and three more percussion stations. I recently went to see their super fun show at Joe’s Pub in NYC and had a chance to chat backstage with Alexis and her bandmate Marion Tortorich.
Tom Tom Magazine: This is the Religion/Spirituality issue. One of Sweet Crude’s songs was just on American Horror Story’s coven season and you’re from New Orleans so I feel like I should be asking you about witches and voodoo and such. But I think your devotional practice is keeping Louisiana French alive! You had to learn the language? Alexis Marceaux: We are learning, I.N.G. If you go to my house right now, it’s ridiculous. Everything has a label on it. It’s a totally different dialect than standard French.
Marion Tortorich: It came out of Creole, Cajun, Africans in Louisiana and all the people from England living together and melting their ways of life.
Tom Tom: And it differs from bayou to bayou, right? A: Yeah! And it’s very important to us to preserve it because that’s our heritage, our culture. I grew up with it in my house, with my grandparents speaking it. I could speak it until the age of three, but then they banned it in schools. They only wanted to teach standard French, and Louisiana French was looked down upon. So, now my parents don’t know it and I don’t know it. My Grandpa’s mom and him would talk in the kitchen and it was almost like a secret language.
M: It became a way for the older generation to speak in front of kids without having them know what they were saying.
A: Which is kind of funny, but also a little sad.
Instead of preserving the language by playing Cajun music you’re putting Cajun French into indie rock? M: In the early days in the bayous and the swamps, the music they would make wasn’t like modern day Zydeco or Cajun music. It was folk music, people singing back and forth on their front porches. Cajun and Zydeco are awesome and we love those styles of music, but Louisiana French can be in any type of music. Which no one is doing.
A: We don’t have an accordion and a washboard, we have our drums and our voices.
Tom Tom: You do a Balfa Brothers song though, right? They’re Cajun legends. A: That’s the one they used on American Horror Story. We made our own version and put like a bounce beat to it. It’s very different. Now it’s a put your hands in the air and dance kind of song.
M: I think that song is a good example of something we agreed upon when we started this band. There’s a lot of us. We could get really complicated with our songs, and we do sometimes. But some of our songs can be really simple, with a bunch of people doing the same thing. It’s like taiko drumming. I used to be part of this Buddhist group and when we would perform people would like cry. It was this weird automatic emotional response to all these people playing the same thing on these huge resonant drums. There’s something really powerful about doing simple parts, and layering them over each other. It doesn’t have to be an ego thing, like, oh, my part is more complicated than yours! It’s for the greater good.
A: When we had the idea for Sweet Crude we were like, if we’re going to do this we’re going to make it big. In the vein of Polyphonic Spree, with that kind of family feeling and a lot of people on stage. We hand-picked our best friends because we really just wanted to be in a band together.