It is a common trope in rock ‘n’ roll that couples should never work together. When/if things go sour between the two, band life can become particularly difficult. While this often yields great music, it can wreak havoc on members’ personal lives (see: Mac, Fleetwood). However, Alexis Marceaux and Sam Craft of local indie-folk project Alexis and the Samurai seek to buck this trend. “Being in a band with Sam makes this so much more fun,” says Marceaux. “It is convenient in a great way. We’re always helping each other out. It’s very symbiotic, not just in music but also on a personal level.”
“It’s not uncommon for bands to live together,” adds Craft. “This is just another version of that.”
An Alexis and the Samurai show is nothing if not a grand display of coordination. “We always try to figure out how to bridge gaps in songs,” says Craft, “so I’ll think, ‘I’m not using my left hand at this part of the song; I’m not using my left foot here,’ and we begin to think about arrangements in that way.” This can be seen as Marceaux sings, plays guitar, and stomps on a foot-activated tambourine while Craft drums with his right hand and foot while he plays keyboard with his left—all with a violin at his chin. “Our gear-heavy setup makes playing as a duo much more challenging,” says Marceaux, “but also much more fun.”
While the band sometimes has additional musicians, the duo setup allows for an intricate performance, with every nuance becoming heightened due to the smaller approach, and every drum hit and hand shaker gaining greater importance. This increased awareness gives the band’s performances a level of intimacy rarely seen in local indie rock. “It’s a less-is-more kind of intensity,” says Craft. “There are fewer things going on covering other sounds. You can be pulled in more because everything is exposed.”
The stripped-down set-up has begun to influence the band’s songwriting approach. “It started off adapting songs to this orientation,” says Craft, “Now we’re writing songs to it. We experiment with taking out the bass or only having violin and drums. Writing like this has really opened up our eyes from an arrangement perspective.” While the duo’s instrumentation plays a large role in shaping their songs, the heart of writing for Alexis and the Samurai comes from Marceaux and Craft’s musical and personal partnership. “My favorite part is writing,” says Marceaux. “We help each other with piecing the songs together.”
“We build each other’s ideas,” says Craft, finishing Marceaux’s thought. “One of us can come in with a mediocre idea, and the other person will turn it into a decent idea, and then the first person takes that idea back and then makes it a good idea.”
Alexis and the Samurai’s sense of a “couple band” stems from Marceaux and Craft’s experience with family bands. Both are also active members of Susan Cowsill’s band as well as local indie-rock institution Glasgow! (featuring Sam’s brother Jack on guitar and cello). “I feel like we’re the next generation version of Susan and her husband Russ [Broussard],” says Marceaux. “I think it only really works in that family atmosphere.”
“Some people only have loyalty to a band because the enterprise is profitable,” adds Craft. “But nothing we do is very profitable, so there has to be a family level of trust. Otherwise, someone may walk out because there isn’t that family sense of loyalty.” There are strains of their other projects within Alexis and the Samurai—particularly on Marceaux’s Orange Moon release—as well, with the roots rock flavor of Cowsill’s band mixing with the quirkiness of Glasgow!
This emphasis on family has led to Marceaux shying away from treating Alexis and the Samurai as a traditional solo singer/songwriter with support musicians. “With Orange Moon, I wrote most of the songs myself,” says Marceaux. “It’s all co-writing now.” Still, her gravity-defying voice is at the forefront of the project. “I find it easier to write for Alexis’ voice,” says Craft. “I always think, ‘How can I best write this part for her?’ Plus, she can do anything with her voice, but I’m much more limited. Handling a bunch of different instruments is my specialty in the band, whereas singing is hers.” This sense of working together and highlighting each other’s strengths comes from the genuine love the two members of Alexis and the Samurai have for each other. While a romantic pair writing and performing together can be dangerous, the two still find time to behave like a normal couple. “We watch a lot of 30 Rock and Mad Men,” says Marceaux. “It’s not all business.” Still, the two never entirely go off the clock. “We’re around each other all the time,” says Craft, “so it’s a 24/7 band meeting.”
Alexis and the Samurai play French Quarter Festival on Saturday, April 14 at 2 p.m. on the BMI Songwriter Stage.