The Amazing Nuns don’t sound like they’re from Lafayette. But the band is a local institution — a rock ’n’ roll outfit that sounds like Frank Zappa, more psychedelic/trippier Beatles, or even Steely Dan, but can churn out swamp pop and waltzes like a postmodern Warren Storm. The band’s songs move from jingle-pop to dissonant prog-rock without hesitation, jarring audiences with note-for-note stage recreations. And it's been doing it for years, building a cultish legend.
Around 2007, I first witnessed the Nuns, in Baton Rouge. Mid-song, guitarist/keyboardist Philippe Billeaudeaux — also a key member of Feufollet — changed a broken guitar string in a matter of seconds, so it seemed, then started playing with the band, not missing a beat. It was witchcraft. I’ve been entranced ever since with the band’s ridiculously catchy, unclassifiable tunes.
By musical reputation, you’d expected band founder Justin Robinson to be ornery and distant; think Neil Young in his Ragged Glory days. Discussing the band’s album release party Friday night at The Pearl, the hush-voiced multi-instrumentalist gracefully shrugged off his band’s local stature as a band set apart.
“Everybody in Lafayette has always treated us well,” Robinson says. “Everybody’s been nice and helped us out as much as they could. I’m always flattered by it.”
Robinson says he did draw upon some bitterness when coming up with the band’s latest album title, Chicken Little Was Right, an allusion to the old Disney animated short where the character is unreasonably afraid that the sky is falling.
“If you’ve ever seen that original short, you’ll see Foxy Loxy telling lies to everybody, and you can take it from there if you want,” he says with a short laugh.
Still, Chicken Little Was Right is hardly an aggressive or angry record. “Go Away” features a saloon-style shuffle. “The Ghost” feels like something out of a spy flick with its vibraphones and jazz brushes. Then, there’s “Raindrops,” Robinson’s seven-and-a-half minute ode to the niche music genre, vaporwave.
“I was reading a list on the Internet, and it had listed the worst possible music genres,” Robinson says. “Vaporwave was one of them. People were taking music from the early ’80s and slowing it down, editing it. I thought it was really cool. I thought I would give it a shot.”
“We always want to do something new. We’re always looking for a new challenge,” he adds.
That restless creativity has been a constant for The Amazing Nuns, specifically Robinson, a punk rocker from Thibodaux who grew up on Black Flag, Dead Kennedys then Zappa, and The Residents. When he and his wife/bassist Paula decided to start a band, the challenge was just finding other band members.
“We auditioned people for two years,” Robinson says. “I wanted the band to be a seven-piece. I wanted big vocals and lots of instruments, a small horn section, maybe. I guess I was naive in a way, back then. I thought, ‘Oh, I’ll just get these people to play with us,’ and I had this list of the best musicians at the time in Lafayette. I’d ask them, ‘Oh, you wanna join my little band?’ Then, they’d look at me and say, ‘Who are you?’”
During the Halloween season of 2002, the Robinsons finally had a trio. They decided if anyone came to the shows and was interested in the music, maybe they would also find a musician or two to help fill out the band’s sound. Over the next four years, the band added Billeaudeaux and the husband-and-wife team of Matt and Rachel Perry.
Robinson says The Amazing Nuns were fully formed by 2006. This last decade and change has seen the band release six albums and countless shows, even as the Perrys and Robinsons started their respective families and raised children. But now, as the kiddos get a little older, and with the release of Chicken Little Was Right, Robinson says the band has picked up again, playing more shows. He’s still surprised that his group has been around for this long.
“Lafayette has always had great bands, but they come and go, and we’ve just always stuck around,” Robinson says. When asked why he thinks that is, Robinson jokes that it’s been luck. “Another half-joke answer would be because we’ve never had success or money.”
The Amazing Nuns are not quite as Robinson imagined it would be, the seven-piece with horn solos and big vocals. To him, it’s better.
“I don’t want a seven-piece anymore, you know?” he says. “What we have now is exactly what I want. It’s perfect. I don’t want any change.”
The Amazing Nuns celebrate the release of the new album Chicken Little Was Right with a concert at 9 p.m. Friday at The Pearl, 222 Jefferson St. Carbon Poppies will also perform, celebrating the release of the new EP, Rain on My Face. Cover is $8. Ages 21 and up. Get more information here.