The Lost Bayou Ramblers' Cavan Carruth is friends with Death. In fact, the guitarist plays with him on a regular basis. Of course, the Death in question isn't the ol' Grim Reaper. It's Lost Bayou drummer Pauly Deathwish, who everybody just calls, well, "Death."
"It's second nature to me. Even my dad calls him Death," Carruth says. "But standing in the security line at Logan International Airport at 5:30 in the morning and saying, 'Good morning, Death' — that'll get you the full search."
Carruth and the rest of the Lost Bayou Ramblers — singer and fiddle player Louis Michot and his brother, Andre Michot, on accordion and lap steel — are used to being misunderstood. For starters, Pauly Deathwish (a.k.a. Paul Etheredge) got his nickname after someone misheard his name when he introduced himself. And then there's the fact that the Lafayette, La.-based Ramblers sing the bulk of their songs in French Creole.
"Growing up, you had to take French from the sixth grade on," Carruth says, noting that for kids in his generation, their primary language was English. "We had the advantage that it was spoken around us and was on street signs, but it's not like you had a leg up on fluency."
Louis does most of the singing for the band, thanks, in part, to an immersion program he attended in New Brunswick, Canada, after high school. "He committed himself to learning not only French, but to getting in touch with the dialect of south Louisiana from 100 years ago," Carruth explains.
Still, the Lost Bayou Ramblers' blend of Cajun and zydeco music may draw inspiration from their predecessors, but it's far from traditional. Together since 1999, the band began as a Michot family affair with an accordion and fiddle players, but by the release of 2008's Vermillionaire, the group had begun to establish an identity that was decidedly more rock 'n' roll. "We're pretty loud most of the time," Carruth says. "It's definitely not an acoustic thing anymore." This year they're hitting the road in support of Mammoth Waltz.
Although the Lost Bayou Ramblers were nominated for a Grammy in 2008 for best zydeco/cajun music, recently they've been receiving a lot of attention for their work on the soundtrack to the indie film Beasts of the Southern Wild. The band was called in to lead the haunting, orchestral track "The Bathtub."
"That was done gathered around one mic in the hallway of this little house," Carruth recalls, adding that they cut the track in three hours so they could rush to a gig in New Orleans. "When we went in for that, we didn't know what kind of movie they were making — just that they wanted some Cajun music. They made a great film, and we were as shocked as anyone with the way it took off."
That said, Carruth wants to make it clear that the Lost Bayou Ramblers aren't cultural ambassadors. They're just guys playing the kind of music they love.
"We all still have a rock 'n' roll background. It's not like we'd never heard Led Zeppelin before," Carruth says. "You can find this old 1940s Cajun music that sounds a little raunchy — even a little punk rock kind of sound, in its own way. So our thought has been to go in that direction."