Chris Stafford was jamming Steve Riley and the Mamou Playboys while most ’90s kids were chugging Surge and blaring post-grunge. By the time he turned 12, Stafford, with Riley’s help, recorded his first full-length record of Cajun songs with his own band, Feufollet.
“When [Steve Riley] first started, he was a young dude who was playing music in a traditional way. People were excited that there was a young band carrying on this traditional music,” Stafford says. “Riley’s band eventually started doing more creative albums and writing their own songs with interesting production touches — making Cajun records more like a rock or pop band would make an album. That’s been a big influence on Feufollet and what we do.”
Stafford’s now 32, and Feufollet has remained a staple of Lafayette’s music scene. To celebrate the past 20 years of tunes, the band is releasing on Friday, Oct. 11, a retrospective album, titled Prends Courage.
The milestone makes the singer/accordionist/guitarist chuckle. He’s a bit shocked at how quickly the last two decades have passed. At the same time, he’s thankful he’s been able to play the music he loves in his hometown and abroad.
“Obviously, we started very young,” Stafford says. “Most people are not going to start something at 11 or 12 years old and do it for the rest of their lives.”
Stafford has remained the band’s cornerstone for the past 20 years. Throughout that time, the band has seen a revolving door of talented musicians, including fiddler Chris Segura, drummer Mike Stafford (Chris’ brother), vocalist Anna Laura Edminston, bassist Taylor Guarisco of GIVERS and many others.
To date, Feufollet has released five full-length albums with a few EPs and singles in between. Stafford jokes that he probably could have released a few more in that timespan. However, compiling the retrospective album with Segura and bassist Philippe Billeaudeaux was equal parts strange and fascinating for Stafford.
“It was weird because a lot of that stuff I recorded when I was pretty young — listening back to my playing and singing, it was strange to hear now. I had to take that part out of the equation and listen as objectively as I could and not be embarrassed,” Stafford says. “But, I mean, it is pretty crazy and amazing that, at my age, I have made all these records and had a band that’s lasted 20 years. I’m glad to celebrate that and present the history of it to people who might not be aware of it.”
The retrospective album’s title, Prends Courage, comes from an old Joe Falcon song the band recorded in a more rock ’n’ roll style. The song is written from the perspective of a woman reassuring her lover that she is still there for him. The sentiment stuck out to Stafford when compiling the playlist.
“We thought about applying that statement, ‘Prends Courage,’ to the band and our history of taking chances and doing what we wanted to do,” Stafford says. “For us, that phrase is about how the band contributed to the broadening of the tradition a little bit.”
While Feufollet started as a couple of young men playing traditional tunes, the band adopted a wider repertoire of sounds, drawing influence from psychedelic rock on singles like “Baby’s On Fire,” and saloon country on “Tired of Your Tears” from the band’s last full-length Two Universes. At its core, Feufollet, like any great Cajun band, has the chops, knowledge and perspective to pull off those traditional tunes that keep audiences dancing.
“A lot of the music that people think of as traditional Cajun music is a fusion,” Stafford says. “It comes from this old tradition, fiddle music from some type of Celtic origin, presumably, way back to France. Then that’s filtered through the Acadian existence. When it came to Louisiana, that music was blended with all this Caribbean Creole music that gives it its syncopation and funk.
“That way of making and writing melodies continues today,” he adds. “Songs that are written now, they have this old formula. It’s a style of playing, too, that’s pretty strange to learn later in life. The chord changes are always kind of crooked. I’ve seen a lot of good musicians get confused by it.”
Even after 20 years, music still moves Stafford in ways he can’t describe — specifically, the music of his hometown region.
“Music in Acadiana — it’s a birthright, you know?” he says. “You’ll have great music happening all the time, every single weekend. It’s amazing that there’s still this traditional music that the people here just love and see every weekend. That doesn’t exist everywhere, and we sure are lucky to have that.”
-written by Matt Sigur for The Current