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New Orleans Pop Collective Sweet Crude Breaks Down Sophomore Album 'Officiel Artificiel': Exclusive

Sweet Crude
Augusta Sagnelli

Sweet Crude

New Orleans-based six-piece Sweet Crude's sophomore album Officiel//Artificiel is Cajun pop at its best.

You can hear a mix of French and English on tracks like "Déballez," "Sun Sept" and "Porkupine," all of which showcase the the band's bright, unique sound. The group's new album arrives Friday (April 24) via Verve Forecast/Universal Music Group.

Speaking exclusively to Billboard about the diverse list of inspirations behind the LP's 12 tracks, the sextet (Sam Craft, Alexis Marceaux, Jack Craft, Stephen MacDonald, Dave Shirley and Skyler Stroup) references everything from Paul Simon and LCD Soundsystem to Gorillaz and Boyz II Men.

Those are certainly unexpected reference points on a major label debut, which is rooted in experimental indie pop brimming with the swamp and spice of the band's native Louisiana. (Sweet Crude's debut album, Créatures, was released independently in 2017.)

Below, the members of Sweet Crude give life to the stories behind each of the album's songs, encompassing The Little Mermaid, Hurricane Katrina, a mythical Cajun chupacabra, James Bond and more.


"COGO"

Sam Craft: The song's title is an acronym for "Come On, Get Off," based on some of the shouted lyrics in the 2nd pre-chorus. It's also nonsense that's easy to remember. It's an ode to "showing up" and being present in love and life, all wrapped in a black-leather-jacket-and-aviators package. We took big inspiration here from LCD Soundsystem.

Alexis Marceaux: The song is all about showing up. Maybe for your partner maybe just in life in general. Holding yourself accountable on how your actions can make a real difference in someone’s life.

"Officiel//Artificiel"

AM: I think this is one of my favorites on the record. I just love how it grooves. It reminds me of that feeling when you wanna just roll down your car window and stick your hand out to feel the wind. This song is about finding who you really are even if the truth is not pretty and the lengths you might go to be someone you’re not. Ultimately, you want to try and be your most authentic self but sometimes that can be difficult.

Jack Craft: It's hard to hear, but the backing vocals in the chorus are saying "Go Go Gadget Love." It was just a placeholder that Sam had sung in a demo, but I latched onto it and absolutely would not let them throw it away. It's just so concisely identifiable as a deliberate phoning-in of emotion in a way that would take a full sentence to express otherwise.

SC: Lyrically, it's about the pros and cons of trying to be someone you're not. Sometimes it's necessary to put on a costume, but eventually you gotta do laundry. The French hook, "Officiel, artificiel, une tasse de té un tas de miel..." means "official, artificial, a cup of tea, a heap of honey, sweetness one moment, and then eternal desire.” I'm proud of our bassist Stephen and drummer David for how hard this song grooves.

Stephen MacDonald: For me, this song is us putting on our best Gorillaz costume as a fifth member. 2-D, Murdoc, Russel, Noodle, and us (who I'll call "Bonbon"). It's my favorite song on the album and just vibes with me.

David Shirley: The groove on this song is very thick and hypnotic. We created somewhat of a "dub" feel to it with the drums and bass; gave it a really nice bounce. I also love singing the background vocals with Alexis when we play it live!

"Déballez"

AM: The first verse translates to, "It was a Monday morning when the sky fell and it rained and rained." This song brings me back to Hurricane Katrina, and that feeling of having a lot of tragedy and obstacles but overtime you can learn from it and let it go, unpack! "Déballez!"

SC: "Déballez" (French for "unpack") started off as a jangly Paul Simon thing with a lot of chord changes that I originally wrote on a ukelele, but one day Skyler took it home and made it rock harder. It's mostly in French and tells a paraphrased story of Katrina, with the moral of the story being that we need to lean on our community if we are going to recover.

Skyler Stroup: When tragedy strikes and you are left feeling scared and alone, its strength of community that can pull you back in.

"Ultimatum"

AM: This one is an interesting take on a pop/love song: "This isn’t a serenade, this is an ultimatum." Where you can be so frustrated in a relationship that you go to great lengths to prove your frustration by creating an ultimatum. Knowing that those rarely work but you are desperate for a change. Realizing that you yourself may need to do some work as well.

SC: We wanted to fly close to the sun and push ourselves pop-wise while still staying within the Sweet Crude brand. It's a take-no-prisoners, army-of-one message from Alexis, who decides she's had enough of being fragile and wants to take matters into her own hands. If you listen closely, we doubled the snare in the chorus with the sound of me slamming the door to my washing machine.

SM: This one was sort of an experiment to see how far out of our wheelhouse we could go. It was pretty exciting seeing what came out the other side -- a song about the beginning of the end of a relationship and the mental chaos that comes with it.

"Porkupine"

SC: This is our anthem for the underdog. I think this one best showcases our craving to get weird on this album. Mouth noises, pots and pans, angry brass, gang vocals and an arpeggiated synth we spent forever dialing in. In the first verse we sing, "Cette chanson est dédidée à toutes les mauvaises herbes qui poussent à travers la bitume," which means, "This song is dedicated to all the weeds growing up through the pavement."

SS: "Go! Save yourself!" I always loved the stubborn sidekick archetype in movies. That one friend who refuses to leave the battle, the one who stays behind to spray cover fire as the main character runs away to live. Without those guys, the movie couldn't exist. The main hero would be gunned down and that would be it. So, thanks to the forever sidekicks of the world -- we see you and we respect your sacrifice.

SM: This is two songs smashed together. Sam was working on what I interpret as a message of self-preservation in face of marginalization, and I was working on obnoxious beats. They happened to fit perfectly together and then the rest of the band slapped their handprints all over it for good measure.

"Impuissance"

AM: When recording these vocals in the studio, I was moved to tears. Sam had just showed me the lyrics to the song and we just went for it for a demo. Later when we were in the studio with our producer Sonny, we tried to re-do the vocals on fancy equipment and we just couldn’t re-create the the emotion and sincerity of the original performance. We ended up keeping the first demo vocal take.

SC: The goal was to write a song that could almost be sung totally a capella. Alexis brings an Oscar-worthy emotional performance. "Impuissance" means "powerlessness." As a contrast to the boldness of "Porkupine," "Impuissance" is the epitome of giving up. I imagine this song is what Ariel would be screaming internally to beg for her voice back from Ursula.

JC: Sam presented this as a spacious and slow ballad, complete with a lot of the strings you hear on it today. I felt like the choruses needed something more punchy, so I wrote the drum part in a single pass with the percussion pads on a keytar, which were replaced with some unbelievable playing by Dave Shirley.

DS: This song is the most emotionally charged of the record. With Lex coming in solo, completely transparent and vulnerable sounding like a Disney princess, and then to the slamming chorus, it's a pretty "wild ride." The drum groove on this song is really interesting to me.

SM: I so want this to be in a James Bond movie. Like, does Q curate 007's playlist in his car? Somebody get me Q's Twitter handle!

"Sun Sept"

SC: "Sun Sept" is the sun-shiniest song on the album. It's a look back at childhood through the golden lens of nostalgia. This might also be the oldest song on the album. All I know is that iconic 7/4 bass line in the beginning has been living in our workshop for quite some time. We pulled out a lot of stops production-wise with angelic strings and many choral layers of the six of us.

SM: Caught up in daydreams about your past, wondering about your innocence and longing to solve old mysteries. You perseverate on all those windows of opportunity that used to be open.

AM: This one definitely takes me back to being a kid again. Like that scene in Hook when the kids imagine eating a colorful feast when they actually are just eating air. Making the most of your imagination.

"Rougarou"

SC: We took the old Louisiana legend of the "rougarou" (swamp werewolf) and turned it into a cautionary tale about men with a dark side. Our producer spearheaded some intensely scary and maniacal soundscapes to set the scene. It's our Halloween song for sure.

JC: This is the darkest piece of music Sweet Crude has ever produced. When we started this song, I had recently heard a podcast with producer John Congleton about scary music, where he brought up "Grim Grinning Ghosts" from the Disney Haunted Mansion ride. I thought this was just a great opportunity to create the feeling of seeing the Audubon Zoo's Rougarou exhibit that scared me to death as a child. The rougarou is the Cajun Wolfman/Chupacabra, and the figure at the zoo is dated, but I'll never forget the ominous presence of a seven-foot tall monster looming over the swamp in a dark corner of an otherwise cheery zoo.

SM: A spooky song about a surprisingly common type of person -- predators. They have the veneer of a human but the shadow of a monster. They will use you and gain power over you, and somehow the victim will be convinced that it is their fault. Avoid the rougarou at all costs!

AM: I treat this song as warning to women that men can have a dark side, and that you need to protect yourself and be on guard at all times. Also, how women are resilient and are very capable of taking care of themselves.

"Skin"

AM: This one really feels like we are really stripping ourselves down emotionally. The questions of, “Who am I?” and, “Do I like this person I’ve become?” The real battle with that inner voice possibly telling you to grow up, to improve but also fining a way to love yourself so that you can love others.

SC: This one is my favorite, I think. Part of it is the easy, step-touch groove. It's also that the song goes zero to 100 emotionally.

SM: You find that you aren't who you thought you wanted to be. You're ready for change and so you pull off the pieces that no longer fit to become more of yourself.

SS: I had bad skin and terrible acne in high school. I always focused on the kids with perfect glowing complexion. Why couldn't I have that? It wasn't fair. My fantasizing over other people's looks destroy my confidence and spiraled out of control for years. This song is recognizes that we all wear masks and how hard it is sometimes to feel comfortable in your own skin.

JC: When producing "Skin," we thought, "Let's do a '90s R&B hit." So this is what came out. It's definitely the slowest paced thing we've ever written, and the crunchy chords in the chorus really give me the feeling of the Boyz II Men backing band. I'd love to dive deeper into this style for us in the future.

"Thirsty"

SC: "Thirsty" was a sound experiment that has been in our library for some time that we dusted off for this recording. It's unique in that it's a kind of a vignette. It manages to make a statement even though there is no actual chorus.

SM: I see an old flame across the street. I cross to catch up with her through the crowd. She isn't there. I look back to the other side and there she is, walking away.

AM: I love how short this one is! It’s simple and gets right down to the point. I love how it begins with an old Cajun man singing. Something that Sam dug up from the Louisiana French archives. It does great job with linking our past with our modernized selves.

JC: Sam presented this basically complete, having recorded a lot of the violins with his computer microphone, and using one of those beats. At the time the tune largely lacked low end, but it didn't matter. The fullness was there, with a tenderness uncharacteristic of Sam. Some things were re-tracked, but it's basically the same thing we first heard. I don't believe I played a note on this recording, but I'm just fine with that.

"Langue"

SC: The refrain "Tu parles ma langue" ("You speak my language") is both a nod to the bilingualism in our music and the nature unconditional love. One day our drummer David went into our rehearsal studio and recorded a bunch of four-measure drum beats. One of them jumped right out and sparked this whole song. Sometimes the drums do the writing for you.

AM: I love how this plays on both how we speak in two languages in our songs, but also how someone can speak to you in a special way in love and life. I love the second verse when Sam and I harmonize with one another. It’s super dreamy sounding. On this one, I definitely feel like you can hear the years of friendship in our voices.

SM: I feel like this is the prologue to "Ultimatum." Constant insecurity manifesting as toxic and damaging behavior. But hey, you still love me, right?

SS: I went on a backpacking trip through Europe once with a few of my best friends. While we were staying at a hostel in Austria, one of friends hooked up with a young German girl. He didn't speak German and she didn't speak English, yet somehow they found this amazing connection. Anyway, I always thought that was beautiful and this song reminds me of them.

"The Purge"

SC: It's fitting that we end our new album on a song about moving on. We all tend to hang onto useless garbage, be it physical or emotional. This is also the last song written for the record, so that's fun. I sang the bridge into an ancient mic from the 1930s gotten cheap from eBay. One man's trash…

SM: We all have baggage dragging us down. Sometimes literally. Why can't I throw some of this shit away? Oh right, because I'm afraid of letting go of my past. Carry on.

SS: Look, I'm not going to shame you for holding on to that forever locket your eighth grade boyfriend Tyler gave you even though he dumped the next week. I get it, no judgement. He was a catch while you had him.

DS: "The Purge" has a really sweet and playful message on the surface level, but the more you think about all the unnecessary baggage that we all hang on to for so long -- and how unnecessary the suffering is that we go through holding on to it -- it's clearly very deep. It's a great reminder to let go.

JC: Sam recorded this largely by himself at our practice space with just my Nord and a microphone. I first heard his version and immediately thought, "This needs a really obnoxious keyboard solo to break it up." The version on the album is what I recorded right then and there in our practice space. For the choruses, I wanted more character on the clean organ tones, so we ran those tracks through a crappy old tape deck, which gave them a beautiful wobble. It's hardly noticeable, but it added a necessary dimension.

AM: Sam and I sing in unison the entire time and it makes me so happy. By doing that it made the whole song feel so interesting. A song about getting rid of the stuff you don’t need in your life. The physical objects maybe even symbolizing something deeper that you may need to let go of and move on from.


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