It can be hard to keep in touch with what’s happening in the world of Cajun music when you’re on the other side of the Atlantic and can’t keep your ear to the ground as much as you’d like. Thankfully, there are a few specialist labels out there that make hearing good new Cajun music a little easier than random searches on the internet. For the latest feature in this very occasional series, we’re taking a look at one such label and the familiar name behind it.
Back in 2006 three friends got together, in southern Louisiana, with a view to starting a new record label. The driving force behind this new label felt that there was a lot of exciting new music coming out of the area and no one was really championing it, so there was a gap in the market for a small label that could record and promote the music coming from this part of the state. Perhaps not surprisingly, the driving force behind the setting up of Valcour Records was Joel Savoy, son of Marc and Ann, both of whom have featured in these pages in the not too distant past. The Savoys really are the first family of Cajun music these days. Joel’s vision for Valcour Records has been a good one; as a musician and recording artist himself, he really understands the needs of his artists and what they need to get from a record deal. Clearly, he also understands his audience and the music they want to buy. Valcour Records is not just a record label, it’s an active part of the Cajun community, promoting not just the music but the culture that surrounds it. Joel Savoy set up Valcour Records with close friends Phillip LaFargue II, and Lucius Fontenot and, it would seem, the company has been going from strength to strength ever since, while still maintaining its commitment to promoting Cajun culture. Their latest development has been the setting up of The Coop, a means of promoting much more than just the music of Southern Louisiana. Understandably, Joel Savoy is a very busy man, but he agreed to answer some of our questions via an email exchange.
AUK: How did Valcour Records get started and what’s the philosophy behind the label? What are you trying to achieve through this label?
Joel Savoy: From my early teenage years I have loved recording and producing music. By the time I was 16 I had gone from a cassette four-track, to a four-track reel-to-reel, to an ADAT and then another ADAT, and was already recording local bands and albums for my parents’ bands. During and after college, I did quite a bit of touring with various bands, but that life was holding me back from what I had always been most into, so in 2006 I called up two old friends and asked them if they wanted to help me start a record label. I had already spent a decent amount of time working with labels as an artist and this was a time just brimming with new exciting music coming out of South Louisiana and no one was representing it. While I was well aware of the state of and the predictions for the music industry, I knew that the music from this area only comes from here and artists and their records are exported all over the world and I believed strongly that this would continue, so we put our heads together and called in a lot of favors and started making records. I named the label after my great great great grandfather, Pierre Valcour Savoie, and we incorporated his handwritten signature in our logo to represent our deep Louisiana roots and the history that all the music from here shares.
AUK: How have you managed to keep a small, independent record label going for so long, especially through the upheaval of the pandemic. What are your plans for the future of the label?
Joel Savoy: Louisiana music is not just about music; it’s a culture, it’s a living, breathing, thriving beast that sings and dances and drinks and eats. Like a fine meal, all of these elements work together to create this sensory experience and that’s very unique in music in the world. People connect to this idea and want to be part of it. When I’m producing and recording music, I want to capture this experience. I want the artists to deliver something special that will jump out at you and hold you there and to me, there’s not a lot of that left in recorded music today. People say that the MP3 format takes the life out of music, but listen to an MP3 Etta James or Ray Charles, and there’s a whole lotta life in those puny 3MB. So Louisiana has this magic happening, and I have the best job in the world- I get to capture it and share it with the world. For me, it’s not about labeling genres of music but about making any music and the performance of it exactly what it needs to be to convey a feeling to an audience. Sure we have Cajun and Zydeco down here but it’s not like those are the only kinds of music we like here, and those kinds of music are already the product of a century of influents from every kind of music. There’s a lot of soul here, and people need that in their lives. I guess that’s why we have managed to survive all these years and are still going despite the impossibility of monetizing recorded music these days. But like I said, the music is only one part of the experience. If you’ve been here you know what I mean. After many years of wanting to do this, in January we began a new subscription model called The Coop which offers not only new music from the label and beyond, but the rest of the experience for those people that need a little Louisiana soul in their lives. We’re trying to bring the whole package right into your house- there’s music, food, stories from local characters, education, and lots more all straight to your inbox once a month so people can experience Louisiana over breakfast instead of scrolling through their social media accounts where everything blurs together. To me, this is the most exciting and cutting-edge thing we have ever done and while I don’t produce most of the content myself, I’m completely fascinated with each month’s episodes.
AUK: What Can we expect from Valcour over the next few months, who should our readers be looking out for when it comes to new Cajun music?
Joel Savoy: The studio stays pretty busy here. Valcour actually only releases about a quarter of all the records that get made here- often we’re working for other labels or artists that are self-releasing. But I think in the future The Coop will provide a platform for us to start sharing more of that other stuff we do as well. If you’re not familiar with it, the free “After Hours at Valcour Records” downloads we released during the pandemic are a great little window into some music that passes through here (www.valcourrecords.com/downloads/after-hours-at-valcour-records). Valcour does have some fun new stuff coming out this year though, including a fantastic two-volume LP/CD tribute to one of the fathers of Rock ’n Roll, Moon Mullican, which features Johnny Nicholas, Augie Meyers, Marcia Ball, Earl P Ball, Linda Gail Lewis, Peter Rowan, Emily Gimble and many more. We’ve also got a handful of new albums from Cajun country including our third release from Kyle Huval and the Dixie Club Ramblers, and a new one from Jourdan Thibodeaux et les Rodailleurs which is really blazing new paths in Cajun music and Louisiana music in general. So, stay tuned!