Among the collaborations at the Voodoo Experience is what may seem like an unlikely pairing of former Violent Femmes frontman Gordon Gano — a pioneering figure of the post-punk era — and The Lost Bayou Ramblers, Louisiana natives who began playing Cajun music and are modernizing and evolving it. But it's not an off-the-wall experiment. Listen and you'll hear a genuine affinity between the godfather of post-punk adolescent angst and a pioneering Cajun band playing a leading role in a developing music scene centered in Lafayette, La., where a handful of ground-breaking bands born into the local traditions also have been raised on progressive rock flavored with dub and techno.
The Saturday appearance at Voodoo will serve as the official release of the Ramblers' "Bastille," a 12-inch vinyl single featuring contributions by Gano. "Bastille" is one of the genre-busting tracks on The Lost Bayou Ramblers' forthcoming album Mammoth Waltz, which also features performances by actress/singer Scarlett Johansson and Dr. John. The B-side offers a total-makeover remix of "Bastille" by indie-rockers GIVERS.
The story of Gano and the Violent Femmes is legendary. The band was discovered in Milwaukee in 1983 while busking at a Pretenders concert. The trio cut an eponymous debut album and it sold more than a million copies without ever charting on Billboard's Top 200. The success of that album — named by SPIN along with Gang of Four's Entertainment!, X's Los Angeles, and Joy Division's Unknown Pleasures as one of the cornerstones of the post-punk era — launched a two-and-a-half-decade career that finally ended with a lawsuit brought by Femmes bassist Brian Ritchie against Gano for selling advertising rights to the Femmes' anthem "Blister in the Sun" for a Wendy's commercial.
In 2009, Gano announced both the end of the Femmes and a new focus on an ongoing collaboration with Billy and Brendan Ryan, mainstays of The Bogmen. Billed as Gordon Gano and The Ryans, the band released one album, 2009's Under the Sun, and recently returned from a tour of England and Ireland.
Gano has always been an inveterate collaborator, working on theater, film and musical side projects throughout his tenure with the Femmes. Most famously, he toured and recorded in the late 1980s with the gospel group The Mercy Seat, whose eponymous debut was reissued in 2009. More recently, Gano has been exploring a wider range of collaborative projects and has become more interested in record producing.
Lost Bayou Ramblers bandleader, fiddler and vocalist Louis Michot has demonstrated his own interest in collaborative work. He helmed the recording of En Francais: Cajun 'n' Creole Rock 'n' Roll, released in September. The compilation of Cajun-French language versions of rock standards from Linda Ronstadt, Neil Young, The Beatles and Black Sabbath was recorded by the Ramblers, Steve Riley and The Mamou Playboys, Feufollet, Cedric Watson and others.
Two years ago while visiting New Orleans with The Ryans, Gano caught The Lost Bayou Ramblers playing at d.b.a. and heard a snippet of "Blister in the Sun" in one of the band's solos. Intrigued, he soon found himself onstage with the band, playing through a full-length version the Femmes' hit. Soon afterward, the Ramblers opened for Gano and The Ryans in New York and the group returned the favor on its way through New Orleans and Lafayette. Before long the two bands melded into one unit, and after laying down tracks for Mammoth Waltz, Gano played a couple of gigs with the Ramblers.
2011 markes the 30th anniversary of the beginning of the Violent Femmes, but Gano is happy to move beyond the band's legacy.
"I just don't think about (the Femmes) that much," Gano says. "I'm proud of the work done with Violent Femmes. When people come up to me and say things like, 'I love your first album,' or 'You must be so sick of hearing this, but I just gotta say how much I love your first album.' I'm never sick of hearing it. ... Or somebody'll say, 'People just know you because of this one song, or maybe this one album, and do you hate that?' and it's like 'No!' Because most people never get to experience even that."
While he doesn't regret the Femmes work, the demise of the band is something he says he prefers to not dwell on, and newer collaborations are more positive outlets. The collaboration with the Ramblers has differed from many arranged projects because of its natural inception and the focus on live shows.
"One of the things I love most is performers who are open to having the unexpected taking place while they're playing, or as part of the show, and to really embrace that," he says. "So to discover that these guys, coming from a completely different background, have that kind of freedom of just going with the moment, and maybe having it be something entirely different and completely unexpected, I love that kind of stuff. That's exactly what happened when I first sat in with them."