By Jordan Reisman
Photo courtesy of Vagabond Swing.
Vagabond Swing of Lafayette, LA is a band that when looked at holistically, is way more than just a band. On the surface, it is a gypsy-punk act who come from a specific area of Louisiana, the Acadian Parish. However, if you hear it straight from the dreadlocked horse’s mouth, there’s so much more that is implied by playing this style of music and coming from this city.
Food seems to be at the center of it all, acting as a vessel for the band’s main “bonding time” as well as gracious currency for their hosts when on the road. Vagabond Swing does what they can to avoid the natural pitfalls of gas station and fast food in the months they have to themselves to live the vagabond lifestyle, so they bring a bit of what they learned from the Cajuns into their sustenance: both music and food. BTR got a chance to speak to drummer and vocalist of Vagabond Swing, Roy Durand, as he was on break from his job as a chef as well as on break from touring which seemed to be driving him crazy.
When describing their take on the Cajun culture, Roy Durand vaguely points to “a certain vibe that rolls around this city, that everybody in the band has where you can tell they come from the South.”
Given that self-actualization can be difficult, especially in regards to one’s own music, Durand takes some time to really get to the heart of what makes his band a true Cajun outfit. He says they are definitely “dirtier” but not necessarily in comparison to other Lafayette bands, and in fact the scene tends to welcome lacking hygiene and lackluster propriety specifically when it comes to Southern hospitality.
Durand concedes that what gives the band their “certain vibe” is subtly obvious in that weird way, where they don’t do anything to “play it up” but he says when they tour the Midwest, people can automatically spot that they’re from Louisiana. It’s rare that you find a band that has this kind of culture attached to them, one that goes beyond “punk” or another subculture that is acquired at age 13.
As mentioned before, there is no overstating that food is important to this band and it’s hard to even paraphrase Durand without compromising the context of what Cajun means to him and the rest of Vagabond Swing, so we won’t try.
“Soul food is in our blood, we just wanna cook good and that’s where the families hang out; when you’re in the kitchen is where you talk and it’s where you interact with each other. It revolves around that a lot,” says Durand. “Most gatherings that happen in Louisiana revolve around food and music because they both bring people together. That’s probably why I’m so into both, and we all are. Even when we’re on the road if we’re staying at people’s houses we’ll be like, ‘Hey, if you let us stay we’ll cook you dinner.’ We miss cooking especially when we’re on the road and we’ve been in a bar for the past six nights eating pizza and fried foods so it’s like, ‘I need to cook something, I need a home-cooked meal’ and we always do that for them.”
Vagabond Swing formed four years ago when Roy Durand met the now mandolin player and guitarist through a Cajun jug band he was in that boasted “no drums, just brushes on a snare drum with a banjo and kazoo, and a bass, mandolin… all acoustic.”
After tacking on the mandolin and guitars to the line-up, they started to add in “gypsy swing” to their already jug band repertoire. He describes their new style as “a gorgeous music, the tones that they use are gorgeous but they’re also weird and offsetting.”
They picked up an upright bass player from high school named Hayden whom Durand describes as a “prodigy…he did what he wanted with the bass, he made love to the bass.” Over time into the present period they shifted into a “harder gypsy vibe” with a decidedly conceptual lyrical focus leading to the release of their debut Soundtrack to an Untimely Death. Not to spoil the story but it involves a love triangle with a “horrible, tragic ending.”
The creative process for Vagabond Swing on their upcoming record Cour des Miracles (a reference to The Hunchback of Notre Dame, it translates to “Court of Miracles”) is inherently democratic as it bares a meticulous sequence of ten planned songs, with two songs written by each member.
“There’s different approaches, you can’t exactly tell who wrote it or where it came from but if you see it live or you listen to the record it’s like, ‘Alright, this song and this song are totally different from this song and this song.’ It’s cool, it keeps us on our toes because it’s not just one dude writing the music and we all play it; it’s all of us creating and then helping each other finish that song. It’s probably the best thing I’ve ever gotten to experience,” says Durand on their collaborative efforts.
Durand describes the subject material of Cour des Miracles as “inner… shit.” And who are we to speculate? He says the first song is entitled “Road Warriors” and is about “putting up with a lot of shit just to do what we love.” The Cour des Miracles was the place that the Hunchback of Notre Dame lived among “the thieves, gypsies, and cripples” because they were “shunned from society,” and the Cour acted as the place where they could band together. With all of the vagabond imagery on the last record with the love triangle, it seems that Vagabond Swing is going inward with the characters with this new one.
“Just being on the road as much there’s a certain lifestyle that you have to live; you don’t have a choice. If you don’t want to, you’re kind of fucked,” Durand laments. “You have to be able to live that vagabond or gypsy lifestyle where you pack light, don’t give a shit, and don’t get easily comfortable. In a lot of the places, you’re not comfortable and by the standards of other people, you’re not comfortable. You learn how to be comfortable wherever you are. You have to.”
Get comfortable with the Vagabond Swing lifestyle by clicking here.
Check out Vagabond Swing’s music and interview on the latest episode of Discovery Corner on BTR.