When Donnie Picou reflects on the legacy of his band, Bas Clas, he can’t help but be taken aback.
What started as an ’80s new wave bar band in Lafayette morphed into this mythic massive monster whose story grew with each passing decade.
“When we came back, it was kind of like there was this legend about the music that I didn’t even know existed,” said Picou, the singer and guitarist of the band.
Just this year, the band released “In Wonderland,” its third album in four years. The nine-song LP features those new wave-like guitars and keyboard lines against familiar Louisiana sounds such as vocals from the all-female Americana group Sweet Cecilia and saxophone from the legendary Dickie Landry.
And the band isn’t done.
“Our next thing is to go back in the studio in August,” Picou said. “I just want to keep going as fast as we can. And as often as we can, I want us to put out CDs.”
Though Picou wants to write and record as much as possible, it’s tough. Picou resides in Atlanta. Drummer Ted Cobena lives in Florida. Bassist Geoff Thistlethwaite lives in Opelousas, and Donnie’s brother, Steve, lives in New Orleans.
“That’s part of the challenge of modern-day Bas Clas,” Picou said, laughing. “We’re all scattered about.”
When the band started in the late 1970s, early 1980s, there was a renaissance in Cajun music. A few local bands at that time were even mixing rock ’n’ roll with the Louisiana sounds.
But even then, Bas Clas couldn’t get a foot in the door.
“Even when we fit in and we were playing more country-rock stuff, nobody liked it,” Picou said. “They wanted to hear the jukebox. So when we found that out, we just agreed we should do it exactly how we wanted to do it.”
The band added more rock to its mix. They dug into the sounds of Elvis Costello, The Clash, Graham Parker and The Ramones.
“That’s when Bas Clas found its footing,” Picou said. “We were still not liked.”
But later on, the band started playing a weekly Monday night gig at Mother’s Mantle, located off Jefferson Street near a strip of other clubs.
“The club owners gave us the gig to pick on us,” Picou said. “We would play for the door, and the cover was only a dollar. We treated it like live band practice.”
Sure enough, the band found a crowd, and by 1986, it had moved to Atlanta, making a name for itself.
By the turn of the decade, the band didn’t quit; it just stopped playing. Some members moved back to Louisiana. Others picked up other gigs in Atlanta.
“We never broke up,” Picou said. “We just weren’t playing for a long time.”
That changed in 2003 when Picou got a call from Lafayette to play in the annual Medicine Ball show at the now-closed Grant Street Dancehall.
“We hadn’t played together in many years,” Picou said. “We thought, ‘What the hell; it sounds like fun.’ After the show, we thought, ‘Let’s do this some more.’ Little by little, we started playing more and more.”
A gig here, and a gig there, and Steve Nails, of Dockside Studios, encouraging the band to release some material — it all led up to a 2012 release (“Big Oak Tree”) and a performance at Festival International. The gigs and releases have continued.
“We play when we can pull everyone together,” he said. “We’re quiet on the live front now, but we are getting ready to come back out.”
Picou said they have 16 songs written and almost ready. Whatever you do, don’t call it a reunion the next time you see or hear Bas Clas.
“I always bristled when people called it a reunion,” Picou said. “I hated that word. We’re a live band. We’re living. We’re in the moment, not some relic of the past.”
Follow Matthew Sigur on Twitter, @MatthewSigur.