(First of a series) - Kristi Guillory and her road to everywhere
By Dominick Cross
Photo by Robin May
Kristi Guillory has been on a musical journey for most of her life.
And as she makes her way at this stage of her life, the 33-year-old Cajun musician, wife and mother has a new rock album out, a baby on the way and a new appreciation of her craft.
“It’s even more important than it used to be,” says Guillory, frontwoman of the band Bonsoir, Catin. “It used to be something I did that was just second nature, it was such a part of me that like for a while, I even maybe took it for — not took it for granted — but if it’s something you’ve always done as a young kid everyday,” she says. “Now the older I get, you realize how blessed we are here to have this kind of music and personally how blessed I am to be able to do things like this.”
Guillory is married to Mike Munzing and the couple has an 11-year-old daughter with the second daughter expected in late August — a couple of slices of the American pie and some give-and-take a la mode. “It’s definitely like budgeted time,” she says. “And it’s cool. It’s kind of made me realize how special it is. Also, the older I get the more I realize how much I really need it, too.”
A part of that need got a fix in mid-April when Kristi Guillory and the Midtown Project’s Broken Glass hit the streets. The release is a departure from the Cajun music she’d built a reputation on since she was a teenager. “It just felt like the right time to do something [different],” Guillory says about going into musician/producer Chris Stafford’s studio. “When I went into the studio, I really didn’t have an expectation of what it was going to be.”
Initially, the idea wasn’t necessarily to make a CD but to get the music down as more of a documentation of what Guillory has written over the years. “I really just wanted to lay down tracks and kind of feel my way around in the studio and kind of put stuff on record with the band,” she says.
The group had been gigging a bit prior to the recording, but the guys themselves — Brian Marshall, guitar; Cal Stevenson, bass; and Danny Devillier, drums — had played together for years on one project or another.
And when they all got together with Guillory, “It was like an instant click. It just really worked. They got each other and they got what I wanted,” she says. “So the sound was kind of perfect.”
Broken Glass is an eight-song CD of Guillory’s “American music,” which she’s been writing over the years. The songs come out of the speakers like a blast of cool mountain air. With nary an accordion within earshot, save for the hint of one in the ballad, “Jodi the Driller,” which makes you sad every time you think about it (kind of like “The Ballad of Casey Jones”), the CD puts Guillory in a new and welcome light that while rockin’ like it does also possesses a graceful power about it.
“I didn’t want to just go put out a rock album based on the 20-year career I’ve had in Cajun music as a jumping start for that,” says Guillory. “I wanted it to be fresh, and I wanted it to be something that stood on its own.”
You can check out the Midtown Project Friday at the Blue Moon.
Guillory says that since the recording she realizes “how much I like playing that stuff, and it needs to be out there, not sort of buried beneath all of the other stuff I do.”
The other stuff began with an electric guitar at 8 years old. Her older brother Craig was a bassist with a “sort of” punk band, and being a dutiful younger sister she followed. “So, of course I wanted to be just like him, so I played everything he played,” Guillory recalls. “I kind of gravitated to everything, Cajun, rock, country.”
Accordion playing wasn’t a family tradition, but when Guillory’s parents brought their daughter to festivals and other events where she would see Cajun bands perform, the instrument caught her eye.
“I was exposed to it, but I didn’t know any accordion players. I didn’t have a grandpa or family member that played the instrument,” she says. “I just liked it. I just looked at it and said this is something I wanted to try. It looked fun. I was just attracted to it.”
Despite a lack of personal knowledge with the instrument, there was a connection between the 10-year-old girl and the accordion when they met for the first time. “So when I picked it up and I was actually able to handle one for the first time, it’s like I understood the mechanisms of ‘the in-the out’ and within no time I was able to pick out simple melodies and whatnot,” she says “But mostly, I was simply drawn to it.”
Guillory’s first accordion was handmade by the late John Hebert of Crown Accordions in Maurice, and it came in a pillow case. She learned to play it mostly at jam sessions, which is a plus when it came to her career. “So it was sort of natural to want to play with other people,” she says.
Guillory led the Cajun music band Reveille through high school, but things began to change. With local gigs having her traveling up and down I-10 and her focus turning to college where she would earn a bachelor’s degree in Francophone studies, Guillory stopped playing professionally in 1998.
She dipped her toe in the singer/songwriter bit while at then-USL but says she didn’t “focus a lot of my energy on that style for one reason or another. I wanted to play in a band. I just didn’t want to be like me and a guitar.”
It was during this time she met her husband. In graduate school at the time, she got her master’s degree in English with a folklore concentration. “I really thought I wanted to be a folklore professor,” she says. “Until I graduated and I realized, ‘I’m a musician. This is what I do.’”
Guillory worked for about five years at the Archive of Cajun and Creole Folklore in UL’s Dupré Library, where, through a grant from the Grammy Foundation, she digitized the old Cajun and Creole music. “I learned a lot up there, musically,” she says. “I got to hear stuff I never heard before.”
And that, in turn, expanded her musical knowledge and inspiration. “Every day I was like, ‘Oh, my God. This is so great,’” she says. “I got to hear all the ballads, melodies — I mean, just to be exposed to that all the time was just incredible.”
Guillory recently taught accordion at UL but won’t be doing so come fall because of her second daughter. Vocal lessons, however, will be available on the just-released DVD by Guillory and Courtney Granger, Cajun and Creole Vocals for Men and Women.
Guillory has her feet in two different worlds of music with Bonsoir, Catin and the Midtown Project, and she plans on keeping them there.
“Both bands have such different vibes. What I do like about both of them is that they’re both very intuitive. Bonsoir, Catin is a band of women, and playing music on stage is really intuitive. We communicate really well,” she says. “And I’ve found that Midtown Project’s the same way. Those guys are like mind-readers. They’re very sensitive, they’re very intuitive musicians. They can pick up stuff. It feels very much the same between those bands.
“I like to be comfortable,” says Guillory. “Because when I feel comfortable, that’s when things really work for me. It’s how I like to work.”
(This is the first story of a monthly series on accomplished women musicians of Acadiana.)
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