A Look Into Feufollet’s Universe

Pollstar chats with frontman Chris Stafford about Feufollet’s new album and how the addition of singer/songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Kelli Jones-Savoy has helped the band continue to grow and expand its sound.

Feufollet hails from Lafayette, La. Although the band began 15 years ago playing traditional Louisiana music, it’s taken its Cajun and Zydeco roots and mixed in other genres. Jones-Savoy, who replaced singer/songwriter Anna Laura Edmiston two years ago, brought her love of Appalachian fiddle music and honky tonk country. Keyboardist Andrew Toups, who also recently joined the band, adds touches of new-wave gospel. 

Various publications have also mentioned genres ranging from indie rock to psychedelic pop to Delta blues when describing the band’s sound.

The group has progressed from covering traditional Cajun tunes to penning the majority of its own songs. Stafford and Jones-Savoy take turns writing songs and singing lead. Stafford also plays accordion, acoustic and electric guitars, while Jones-Savoy plays fiddle and acoustic guitar. The band also features Mike Stafford on drums and Philippe Billeaudeaux on bass.

Pollstar interviewed Stafford a few days before the act released Two Universes and embarked on its first national club tour. The album is the follow-up to 2010’s En Couleurs, which was nominated for a Grammy for Best Zydeco or Cajun Music Album.

Although Stafford predicts that audiences on the club tour won’t be dancing traditional Cajun steps, we challenge you to not tap your toe to this music. 

Photo: Allison Bohl Dehart with Makemade
Kelli Jones-Savoy, Mike Stafford, Philippe Billeaudeaux, Chris Stafford, Andrew Toups

Are you guys looking forward to getting out on the road?

Yeah, it’s going to be fun. We’ve been really ready to get this record out and get behind it.  

What did the band’s tour plans look like previously? Was it made up of a lot of support dates or one-off shows here and there?

Well, usually the way that we would tour was kind of anchoring around festivals and stuff like that, doing some clubs mixed in. We play kind of Louisiana music and a lot of it is traditional Cajun music, not so much on this newer record or what we’re doing now. But traditionally the band has done a lot of folk festivals and world music kind of events. Some stuff we’d fly out or do smaller tours but this is our first time kind of just getting on the road for a whole month and just doing clubs.

Yeah, it should be interesting, we’ve never really done it this particular way before.

Are you originally from Lafayette? How has the city and its cultural heritage influenced the band’s sound?  

Yeah, I mean we’re from Lafayette. The band’s been around for a long time. We started as very young musicians. We’ve had this band together for about 15 years and we were very young and we all grew up in the traditional music here, Cajun French music. So really that was basically the foundation of the band. And as we got older and time went on and we made more records and things, we kind of evolved away from being very straightforward and traditional to kind of a little more experimental and incorporating our own songwriting and that kind of thing.

Would you say the new record is even more experimental compared to Feufollet’s past releases? 

The past two that we’ve done were … not straightforward, traditional albums but [Two Universes] is really kind of the first that’s 99.9 percent original music. We have one song that’s a cover but it’s from a friend’s band. … And really [it’s] our first English-language record because most of the music in our area, Cajun music, is all sung in Cajun French, you know. And that’s how the band kind of started, doing all of these traditional songs in French. We’ve had, through the years, original songs in French, as well, which we also have on this record too. This [album] … it’s not so much a cultural piece … The tradition is there and it definitely influences the sound and everything, you know, but it’s a little bit less of an archetype for us.

Feufollet was recently featured as a World Café Next Artist on NPR. The clip talked about your French Cajun and Zydaco influences but pointed out that Two Universes “is definitely a pop album – and a very good one.” Do you agree with the pop label?

I could see that. … I think [with] a lot of traditional Cajun music the songwriting is not really the focus. A lot of the music is older songs and it’s a common repertoire between a lot of the bands that play it, just songs that are passed down through generations. And I think this music kind of serves a purpose as dance music, you know. People do partner dancing to it, like two-stepping and waltzing and stuff.  If you go and watch a band here in Louisiana, everyone will be dancing. It’s not so much an event where you go and listen to the lyrics and enjoy the arrangement and instrumentation. Whereas I think, when you take that kind of music into an album kind of format, you take it out of the dancehall and you put it on a recorded medium for people to enjoy while they’re not dancing and they have the time to sit there and listen to it, it can be a whole other experience.

There’s plenty of bands that are just content to go and record a full CD full of traditional standards dance tunes, which we have also done in the past, too. But we feel like we have the opportunity and the capability and the interest in doing something that’s more of like a, kind of like a holistic concept and more of an artistic statement and something that people will experience kind of like a piece of art, rather than a collection of songs, I guess you could say. I mean, we’ve kind of tried to take that approach on our last few ones too because really at the end of the day, we all like to listen to records that are like that. And we all listen to all different styles of music, not just traditional Cajun music. We want to kind of apply that type of experience to music from Louisiana.

Your last album was released in 2010. What was the process of writing and recording Two Universes?

The girl that was singing with us, Anna Laura Edmiston, she was the other lead singer besides myself. So I would write a lot of stuff, she’d write stuff. She decided to leave the band and pursue other things, which kind of put us on hold as far as making a new album. … We completed it and we had to do the whole kind of [album] cycle and getting ready to kind of gear up to do a national release since we’d been Dirty Tigers. Kind of pushing back the date, so it’s been completed for a year or more. And the recording time that we spent on it and mixing it and all that, probably took us three months to complete or something like that.

You must be pretty anxious to release the new album.

We are. We’re already tired of it. No, I’m kidding. (laughs) Almost, you know, it’s like we’ve been hearing it for so long, we’re just ready for people to get it. And we’ve been playing all of the songs from it live for a while already now so I’m really, really glad that it’s finally time to get out and promote it and support it. It’s way past due.

Photo: Allison Bohl Dehart with Makemade

When did Kelli Jones-Savoy join the band?  

I could be a little bit off on the exact specific time frames, but you know, Kelli was Anna Laura’s replacement. I want to say a little over two years, something like that.

But Kelli, we’ve known Kelli for a long time, before asking her to join. And some of us played in other bands with her in town and we knew of her already and we were already good friends. She’s a great songwriter.  She writes tons of music. Some of the songs that are on this record are stuff that we used to play with her in other bands and stuff like that. So we already knew that she had a lot in common with us in terms of what we wanted to do and how we thought about things and stuff so it was a perfect match. And then she writes a lot of great tunes and they go well with my tunes, it was a great fit.

Kelli is a really big country fan and she grew up in North Carolina.  She’s not actually from Louisiana. She grew up playing more like old-time fiddle music and honky tonk country music, which we all love too. Bringing her in and her kind of vocal stylings and songwriting style really lends a lot … to the band that maybe wasn’t as present before.

Yeah, it’s fun and it’s refreshing and it’s a new direction for us, which is awesome, you know.

It sounds like adding Kelli to the band was a smooth transition.

It was kind of a no-brainer kind of thing. We knew it would work really awesome and it’s been really great.

As far as songwriting, is it just you and Kelli? Or do other band members contribute?  

Well, there is another tune on the record that Philippe Billeaudeaux, our bassist, wrote one. But for the most part Kelli and I are the main songwriters. And even Kelli more so than me in some ways because she is very, very quick with songwriting and very prolific. I’m a little slower and steadier kind of songwriter; it takes me a little longer so she writes more than me but we both write the songs. And then as a band we all kind of get together and play through them and arrange them and make changes, maybe add or take away parts. When somebody brings a song to the band it’s more like an idea or a shell and then we all kind of work it out together.

Do you and Kelli ever write together?

We don’t really write together. I mean, we’ll show each other stuff like, “What do you think of this?” And give each other suggestions. But as far as sitting down and doing a co-write, we haven’t done that yet, not to say we never will. Maybe one day we will. 

I think both of us are more of that introspective kind of school of songwriter, rather than collaboration. Kind of think of it as a personal experience or some kind of a catharsis kind of thing, to avoid sounding cheesy. So we both tend to approach it that way a little bit more.

You have to do what works for you.

Right. Exactly. And I think that works for both of us. And it’s nice because you get all the meaning of what you want to say on your own and then you bring it to other people and they help you arrange it in a package that’s nice and presentable and musically makes sense and all that stuff.

Is there anything you’d like to tell readers about the inspiration for the album?

The whole concept of the album … we kind of had this duality theme going on with it, which kind of just happened, somewhat organically. It’s the idea that it’s two different songwriters, two different singers, one’s male, one’s female, two different perspectives. And then also there’s the duality of the linguistic aspect of it – French versus English; traditional verses nontraditional; local, cultural versus worldly or mainstream. And that’s kind of the way we approached the sequencing of the record, picking the songs and putting them together.

Do you have any favorite tracks off the new album?

As far as one that I wrote, I like the second track, “Know What’s Next,” which is a song I wrote a long time ago, actually, when I was a teenager. I kind of always had it kicking around. … I’ve recorded it other times, either on my own or with friends or whatever, but never felt like I had a real idea of what the song was supposed to be like or a real definite recording of it. But I think we finally got it with this one. I’m really happy with the way it came out. As far as one my end, that’s probably my favorite.

On Kelli’s end she wrote this song, which is interesting because she wrote [it] in French … I grew up here in Louisiana and grew up speaking French, whereas she didn’t. She learned French later on, after moving here. But she wrote this really cool song in French, that one’s the last song on the album, it’s “Questions Sans Résponses.” It’s this really poppy song, it doesn’t really sound like a Cajun song at all, but it’s got like the twin Cajun fiddles on it and she’s singing in Cajun French. It’s almost like this weird Cajun French Fleetwood Mac song or something. It’s really strange but it really appeals to me. It’s cool, you know. That’s probably my other standout track.

You mentioned earlier in the interview that with a lot of the traditional Cajun shows in Louisiana that most people in the audience are usually dancing. What’s the atmosphere like at one of your shows? Do a lot of people dance?

You mean when we play locally?

Is it a different atmosphere when you play locally versus playing on a national tour, as far as the audience goes?

Well, obviously when we play here in town, people dance. And whenever we play here in town a lot of times it will be a longer set and we’ll still do a lot of the traditional dance tunes mixed in with our regular set and kind of blend them in. So there’s a lot of dancing whenever we play around here. But I don’t really know what to expect going to play at all of these clubs and stuff.

I don’t think people will know what to do, in terms of how to dance to it. Whenever we’d do festivals or stuff like that, a lot of times they’d have a Cajun dance instructor that will go on before we’d go on so people are kind of learning [during the show]. And then there’s groups of enthusiasts of Cajun music and Cajun dance all over the world. And a lot of bands from here kind of make their living going around and playing for those type of events.

So in the past it’s kind of been like a blend. If we’re doing one of those type of festivals or shows, most people will be dancing and we’ll kind of tailor the set towards the dancing aspect of it. But then at the same time, if we would do a club date on one of the tours or something, it would kind of be more of a listening kind of vibe. So what I’m expecting on this thing, it’s probably going to be a lot more listening and less dancing, which is cool, because I’m all about that.

I wouldn’t know any of the traditional dance steps, but it seems like it would still be fun to dance to, even if you weren’t doing the right steps.

(laughs) Right, yeah. But I mean, if you were in Louisiana you would see the steps that people are doing. There wouldn’t be anybody off, dancing by themselves on the dance floor so you’d probably feel really strange and out of place. (laughs) But outside of that concept I could see that happening.

Photo: Allison Bohl Dehart with Makemade

Upcoming dates for Feufollet:

April 7 – Pittsburgh, Pa., Club Cafe  
April 8 – Columbus, Ohio, Rumba Cafe       
April 9 – Newport, Ky., The Southgate House Revival        
April 11 – Thomas, W.Va., Purple Fiddle     
April 12 – Morgantown, W.Va., Creative Arts Center         
April 16 – Silk Hope, N.C., Shakori Hills GrassRoots Festival Site (Shakori Hills GrassRoots Festival)   
April 17 – Silk Hope, N.C., Shakori Hills GrassRoots Festival Site (Shakori Hills GrassRoots Festival)
April 25 – Lafayette, La., Downtown Lafayette (Festival International De Louisiane)
May 2 – New Orleans, La., Siberia   

May 3 – New Orleans, La., Fairgrounds Racecourse (New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival)       
May 7 – Memphis, Tenn., Lafayette’s Music Room

For more information please visit Feufollet.net.