Feb. 12, 2016 12:31 PM

Nearing its 20 year anniversary, Zachary Richard looks back on Cap Enragé, a record that changed his approach to the recording process and ushered in a return to his French language roots.

Was Cap Enragé different than other records you have done?

Cap Enragé was a formative album for me from the point of view of the recording process. Snake Bite Love was recorded in 1992 and much of the recording was done at Daniel Lanois’ studio on Esplanade. I was greatly influenced by Lanois’ technique. Cap Enragé was, in effect, the next step in this evolution. At the suggestion of Joe Hammer and Olivier Bloch-Lainé, his partner, I revised my entire approach to recording. Previously I had made albums in a very traditional mode: starting with the rhythm section and finishing with the vocals.

The approach of Cap Enragé (which I have used ever since) was the inverse. We started with a guide vocal. I accompanied myself on guitar, with Joe playing a very simple beat on a snare. Everything else was built around the vocal. This allowed the vocal and my basic acoustic guitar pattern to influence i.e. determine the rhythm pattern and the playing of everything else. My vocal phrasing and basic guitar feel became the direction unlike all of my previous recording where the vocal had been done last and was therefore derived from the approach of the rhythm section.

It was an interesting process and I guess that’s why it’s one of the best albums that I ever made … because I wasn’t even in the same country with the recording. When we were actually doing the album, much of the recording was done in Paris while I was in Louisiana. I’d get mp3s and I’d go, ‘What the fuck is this?’ You know, start breaking shit, and mow the yard. The producer would essentially record it in Paris while I was away.

How was Cap Enragé a turning point in your career?

The Cadien poet Jean Arceneaux has a poem called “Schizophrénie linguistique,” which refers to Cajun culture and which could well be a metaphor for my career. Of the 20 or so albums that I have recorded, most have been in French. There have been several, however, in English including the first (High Time) recorded in 1972. I have spent my professional life jumping the fence between Anglo-American and Franco-American culture.

In 1996, when Cap Enragé was recorded, I was at the end (although I didn’t know it at the time) of an extended period of English recording (two albums for Rounder, two for A&M). In 1994, I was invited to play at the first Congrès Mondial Acadien, a multi-faceted event, held every five years, which assembles Acadians from around the world. I had not been back to Canada in years and had effectively abandoned French recording for 15 years after 1980. Swept up in the fervor of the experience (I have often said that I was kidnapped by my heritage), I began to write in French and for no apparent reason. As fate would have it, Joe Hammer, a drummer from San Antonio whom I had played with and who was one of the leading session men in Paris, was looking for talent for a new record label. I was back in the French recording business. The album has been my most successful in terms of sales with 250,000 plus.

Looking back on it, how do you feel about the record’s quality as it was a bit different from your other work?

Usually it takes me a few years to ‘tame’ a record after it’s been recorded. For that period I will hear all the things that I could have done differently or better. After that time, however, the record becomes like an old friend and I remember with nostalgia the session and the players. Cap Enragé is well beyond the deadline. I listen to it with no critical bias, just remembering all the fun I had.

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