A Mama Rosin concert is nothing less than a party; a party spent taking in the rhythmic swell of the accordion, the euphoric hoots of fans and musicians alike, and the singers’ boisterous, feedback-filled vocals that give the music its garage punk, rock ‘n’ roll vibe. The atmosphere of pure fun is tangible, and you can practically feel the audience stealing away from their everyday stresses and problems, and being transported to a different place entirely.

As it turns out, this “novel” place is somewhere between the pristine shores of Lake Geneva and the Louisiana Bayou. Specializing in rock music with a Cajun twist, the Swiss trio formed in early 2007, after the serendipitous meeting of accordionist Cyril Yeterian and Robin Girod onboard a passenger ferry crossing Lake Geneva. They’ve since added French drummer Xavier Guilian to the mix, firmly establishing a hallmark sound that infuses classic rock with the swampy tunes of Louisiana folk music, also sometimes designated as “Zydeco” when referring to the genre’s more raucous counterpart popularized primarily by Creole musicians.

While it’s difficult to match the gleeful spontaneity and raw energy of their live shows, Mama Rosin’s latest album, Bye Bye Bayou, comes admirably close. Released in the United States earlier this year, and already in the running for the IMA’s award for best alternative country album of 2013, Bye Bye Bayou’s slightly more polished sound throws listeners into a lineup of rock ballads. The lively opening track “Marylou,” sets the stage for the rest of the album with bluesy chords, while Girod’s gruff tenor and Yeterian’s hooting, nasal shout blend seamlessly in the vocal lines. “You Broke My Stuff” reveals the group’s earlier fascination with Irish ballads and sailor tunes, introducing a fiddle into the ensemble, but still maintains the metallic sound layering that keeps the band’s rough, spontaneous quality at the forefront.

These tracks and others have been a fast hit in Europe — Mama Rosin has toured extensively throughout the continent, enjoying particular success in England, and has likewise attracted the attention of big rock ‘n’ roll names such as Jon Spencer of Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, who have combined forces with Mama Rosin in collaborative albums. But perhaps the most telling test of the group’s appeal will come this spring, on a tour through the American South that will gauge the music’s popularity in the very region from which it takes inspiration. For now though, the musicians are unsure how southerners will react to this adaptation of their musical heritage. As Yeterian points out in the following interview, “we don’t know if they will throw stones at us, or if they will love us.”

Between planning an upcoming collaboration with Detroit rock garage icon Mick Collins, kicking off their current Netherlands tour by playing a collaborative concert in Paris with the trendy French folk band Moriarty, and getting in some quality time with family and friends back in Geneva, these three musicians have a lot on their plate. Nevertheless, Yeterian took a break from a party to talk with GALO about Mama Rosin’s upcoming plans, the joys and difficulties of the band’s unique genre-bending style, and what they expect from their first trip to Cajun country.

GALO: Let’s start out with a simple question: why are you called Mama Rosin?

Mama Rosin: That’s a good question to start [with]. Mama Rosin is actually a really old song from the big Southern Louisiana musical tradition. So, Mama Rosin is a really, really special song in the big part of all this traditional music. It mixes Caribbean atmosphere with Cajun accordion and a little woman singing in a really strange way, and it’s for us the most exotic song of the whole Cajun/Zydeco repertory. And so, we thought, okay, that exactly describes our feeling. We don’t play Cajun music. We don’t play Zydeco music. We don’t play blues. We don’t play jazz. We play a mix, a blend of all this and Mama Rosin was just the perfect word to explain who we are.

GALO: What does Bye Bye Bayou’s nomination for best Alt. Country album of the year mean for the future of Mama Rosin, and also for the future of Cajun music in general? Does being nominated for this award make you want to take Mama Rosin in a different direction at all?

MR: We really don’t know, you know. First of all, it was really hard to fit into any of the categories when we applied to the contest, so we just said, “okay, let’s choose alternative country,” because we didn’t know which one would fit the best with us. And then knowing that we were nominated, we were like, “oh, that could be great maybe for the future of our band in the US.” We’re going at the end of April to Louisiana, and I think I will be able to answer your question more precisely after this tour, because we really don’t know how Cajun people from Louisiana will react to our fusion, our mix of music. We don’t know if they will throw stones at us, or if they will love us. I would love to answer this question, but I don’t have the answers yet. But what we know is that we’ve already been contacted by some tour agencies in the US, and the thing is that for European bands it’s a pain in the ass to tour in the US, because you need to buy a working visa, and that costs a lot of money. So they ask you to tour a minimum of like a hundred gigs a year, and we already play too much just in Europe, so we don’t know how we’ll do that. But we’ll see, the future will tell.

GALO: So, correct me if I’m wrong, but didn’t Mama Rosin already visit Louisiana as a band?

MR: We had been invited by Cajun people in 2007, but it was just the really early beginning of the band, and so we came there as just musicians, you know. And so we [were] playing acoustic, jamming with people, but we’ve been invited to play onstage in the middle of a concert, but as musicians. We never showed Mama Rosin singing this music to them, so they don’t know it. They know the records, I mean, we sent some records to the friends we have there, but in April, it is going to be the very first tour for Mama Rosin.

GALO: You all play multiple instruments in the band, and many are pretty eclectic like the triangle, accordion, and often a frottoir. What’s the most unusual instrument you’ve ever used in a recording?

MR: I think a vacuum cleaner, it’s not a joke! The side project of Robin and I is called the Frères Souchet. We recorded just one album, and there is a song called “Appalachian Song,” and on this song there is a part where we turn on a vacuum cleaner. And that was the strangest instrument we’ve used. We’ve never used it on stage, by the way, just in the studio. I would love to try one day, if you’re in the audience we can try something, just to make you laugh.

GALO: Your defining quality is that you draw heavily from the tradition of Cajun music. What is it about Cajun music that attracts you guys, that sets it apart from other genres that could pair up well with rock ‘n’ roll? Is it the culture that goes along with it, the sound, or maybe the instruments?

MR: For us, the old recordings of blues, Cajun, Zydeco, etc., they have a kind of punk energy inside. And when the Sex Pistols went on stage the first time, they really didn’t invent anything. In the old recordings you already have the roots of all this: the sorrow, the anger, the power. And this really raw sound, we really love [it]. And so we thought, okay, it’s crazy how today Cajun music, when we end up playing it, we think it’s really too clean. What interests us is not playing the best way technically speaking, but just pulling out this raw energy contained in the old sound, and for us it’s the natural way. We just decided the best thing that can be taken out of this music is the energy, the rock ‘n’ roll energy, the rock ‘n’ roll attitude, etc., it’s just the natural way to understand it. But I’m not sure the Cajun people would agree with what we say.

(Interview continued on next page)