American Routes Shortcuts: Yvette Landry
Yvette Landry wears many hats: musician, songwriter, educator, author, and record producer. Hailing from Breaux Bridge, Louisiana, Yvette grew up listening to music but wasn’t interested in playing music until later in life. After her dad was diagnosed with cancer, Yvette bought a bass for Cajun jam sessions with the Lafayette Rhythm Devils. She went on to join the female-led Cajun band Bonsoir, Catin, and now fronts the Yvette Landry Band. Though she’s performed internationally, Yvette has stayed close to home, teaching American Sign Language and songwriting at the University of Louisiana, Lafayette.
Yvette Landry: I was a tomboy growing up. I liked to hunt, I liked to fish, I liked to do all that kind of stuff. And I was also “canaille.” We say that in Breaux Bridge, and that’s kind of a little word, a French term for mischievous. And evidently I had been a little bit too mischievous in one way or another, and my mom decided–she was looking for the perfect punishment for me. So she decided that the best punishment for me would be to enter me into the Crawfish Queen contest. And that’s how I got entered in the contest, and you should have seen both of our faces when I ended up winning.
YL: It started as a punishment but it ended up being an experience that I wouldn’t trade in for anything, I mean I traveled to a lot of places in the state, met a lot of people, and got to be an ambassador of my culture, which I’m really starting to appreciate that now. It’s kind of come full circle. It opened the door for me to start doing so many other things. I started finding this, I guess, gift that I had, to be able to play these instruments, and I became somebody who I needed to be and was supposed to be.
So I started with the Rhythm Devils as a bass guitar player, and about a year later, I went to a music camp, learning different instruments, learning how to play the accordion and messing around with the fiddle and the guitar, and I met a woman named Kristi Guillory. And we started talking music, and we started jamming together, and we just said, “We ought to start a band.” Isn’t that how we do it down here in Louisiana? “Let’s just start a band!” And at the time Christine Balfa walked up, and she said, “Well if y’all are starting a band, I want to play in that band too.” And so at that camp, Bonsoir, Catin was created. We started playing music, and it was a shock. There weren’t too many all-women Cajun bands that were out there playing in the style that we played in.
Nick Spitzer: Were you playing bass with them?
YL: I was. I was playing bass with Bonsoir, Catin. And probably about two or three years into it, I found that I had the ability to write a song. My dad would always say, “You need to make a record with those songs,” and I’d say, “Nah, nah, I don’t know what I’m doing, I’m just trying something different.” And then in 2009, he passed away, and I had not made a record. So I remember thinking, “Ah blech, now I have to do it, now I have to make a record.” And so I just asked a couple of friends, “Hey, I want to do this record, can we go in the studio and do this?” And so basically without a rehearsal or any kind of charts or anything like that, we just went into Joel Savoy’s studio and cut my first record, which was Should Have Known.
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