RENAUD LOUIS-SERVAIS on His Musical Beginnings, New Album and More

Renaud Louis-Servais

French guitarist Renaud Louis-Servais teamed up with an extraordinary team of musicians for his upcoming, second studio album entitled “Epic Circus.” With the help from Virgil Donati, Philippe Saisse, Aurel Ouzoulias, Henri Dorina and Christophe Cravero, Renaud promises a diverse album with top-notch instrumentation. Prog Sphere talked with Louis-Servais about his musical beginnings, the upcoming album and more.

What do you think are benefits, and what are drawbacks of the instrumental music?

I would say that a free musical expression is the first instrumental music’s benefit. But in the other hand, it’s a kind of music less explicit than sung music. So the challenge for me, as an instrumental artist, is to keep my music’s expressiveness the highiest. I compose and play sometimes complex things but in the meantime I try to be the more explicit possible, using heady themes, try to bring beautiful harmonies, etc…

Why did you choose to go down the instrumental path in the first place?

Cause I was astonished by all those incredible musicians when I discovered the 70’s jazz-rock : John Mc Laughlin, Chick Corea, Joe Zawinul, Al di Meola, and later guitar virtuosos like Joe Satriani, Steve Vai, Greg Howe, Frank Gambale… they were all so expressive and they were all doing instrumental music. This really spoke to me.

Renaud Louis-ServaisTell me about your beginnings as a professional musician. How did it all start?

It all started with covers bands in clubs, that’s how I get paid for the first time. I thought that learning and playing covers was an excellent way to learn how to behalf on a stage, how to interact with other musicians… Then I diversified my skills, trying to be able as a guitarist to accompany any musician or singer in any style, from pop to rock, Latin music to jazz, funk to classical music… It was a great challenge (and it still is) to learn all kind of guitar stuff, acoustic and electric guitar techniques, all those musical styles. As I was very curious, it was comfortable for me. I don’t regret it, I still reap the rewards of this attitude I had during my youth.

Renaud Louis-Servais Group started under the name Jade, and originally it worked as a trio. Tell me more about it.

Yes, Jade was a trio, a band that I set up when I was 25, with only compositions of mine, playing in a prog/rock/fusion style, it was very cool band. It was very free, but hard to manage musically cause in a way I was playing « two roles », the guitar player role and the keyboard player role. A bit stressing! (laughs)

The title of your first solo album “Iluna,” released in 2011, actually derives from the band that preceded the Renaud Louis-Servais Group. The album takes the elements from different genres ranging from jazz, rock, progressive metal, and more. What were the biggest challenges you faced when working on the record?

To make a link between all these tunes was a challenge… Cause as an artist, your first effort is usually an album in which you put ALL your influences, all your musical heritage. And my problem is I love to play in so many musical styles. It’s been sometimes hard to sort which track keep for the record and which not. Putting myself in a listener’s shoes helped me in doing that sorting.

It was previously announced that you will be releasing the new album this spring, featuring Virgil Donati and Philippe Saisse. How far are we from the release?

We are getting closer and closer from the release, but the project fell behind schedule, because firstly of the increase in the number of musicians involved, and secondly the difficulty to work with so many busy people. At this point, the album is featuring Virgil Donati (Allan Holdsworth, Scott Henderson, Steve Vai, Frank Gambale…), Philippe Saisse (Al Jarreau, David Bowie, The Rolling Stones, Al Di Meola, Simon Phillips…), Aurel Ouzoulias (Satan Jockers, Christophe Godin, Chi Coltrane, Ron Thal…), Henri Dorina (Paco Sery, Mokhtar Samba, David Koven, Rido Bayonne, The Natives…) and Christophe Cravero (Billy Cobham, Jean-Marie Ecay, Didier Lockwood…). I’m so proud to have such gifted musicians on this record. The album will be available in June on numeric platforms, and physically pressed in September.. Also the Epic Circus musical video shot in L.A. featuring Virgil Donati and Philippe Saisse will be soon available on YouTube.

Tell me about the creative process of the new album.

Well as I use to compose all by myself, it can sometimes be a very long process. The noticeable thing this time is it all came faster than for my first album. The whole album was composed in almost three months, ready in my head. I wrote the scores for all instruments, and then asked the musicians to adapt those scores in their own way.

What was Virgil’s and Philippe’s input to the new songs like? How much did they contribute to the album, creatively speaking?

They brought their incredible talent and literally transformed some of my songs. When Antoine Bocquier, my agent, told me that he contacted Philippe and that Philippe, after have listened to my previous work, was enthusiastic to work with me, I was so happy ! It was like a dream came true. You know he’s one of my idols, I was listening to him on records from Al Jarreau, Chaka Kahn, Al di Meola… Phillippe is not just a fantastic keyboard player but also an awesome arranger. I remind the song « Freedom », on which he worked with several vintage keyboards layers. The song was really different before and after his contribution ! He’s a a kind of magician. It was incredible to work with Virgil too. As he’s also a piano player and reads music, he really understood what I wanted to do, and really helped me, for example proposing to me a very exciting drums/piano/bass arrangement on the song « Techno City ». So when I’ve been in Los Angeles in January to shoot the Epic Circus musical video, I found myself in the same room than Virgil, Philippe and Henri Dorina… ha ha ha ! It was very surrealistic situation for me.

Is there a creative challenge to deal with in that you, Virgil and Philippe occupy similar sonic spectrums?

I wouldn’t say that we occupy such similar sonic spectrums. Virgil has developed an excellence in complex metal-prog drums stuff, Philippe has this such recognizable « west-coast » color in his playing and arranging… In a way, I’m very proud to have held the first meeting between those two musicians, and in a symbolic level, to have reunited those two musical sides I grew up with, but which usually don’t mix themselves in records or bands. And I never understood why an album should sounds either « west coast » or « prog ». Why choosing? I love both, and this album will sound metal, prog, jazz, fusion, rock… all colors and influences that I grew up with. Not a problem to mix it all.

Have you managed to make any new discoveries during the creative process of the new album?

Not really. I’m very classical in my gear choices, feeling comfortable with my old pedals, always playing my Tom Anderson drop top guitar that sounds so good, recording my guitars always the same way…There is perhaps one discovery I did : I tried the Torpedo CAB, a guitar amp/cab simulator built by a french company called Two Notes Audio, and I really loved how it works, so easy. So I used it for some tracks on the album.

How do you know when a piece is complete?

Never. Usually my wife says « Stop with that tune, it’s ok ! » (laughs)

Renaud Louis-ServaisWhich bands or artists influenced your work?

They are so numerous… Greg Howe, Dream Theater, Steve Vai, Allan Holdsworth, Scott Henderson, Joe Satriani, Chick Corea, Pat Metheny, Neal Schon, Gary More… cannot list them all !

Take me through the guitars you focused on for the album.

Only my Tom Anderson drop top guitar, the blue one that Tom built for me 3 years ago.

Describe your amp universe.

Basically, my signal path is always the same. The guitar signal goes in a volume pedal, then in my overdrive/distortion pedals, then in a tube mesa boogie preamp in clean tone, then in a Gmajor or Gforce TC Electronic multi effects processor, then in my 2 :90 simul class mesa boogie tube amplifier, and at last in two 4×12″ vintage marshall cabinets.

What is your view on technology in music?

Internet allowed musicians to record with other musicians anywhere on this planet, exchanging audio and video files. This is a real revolution for us. I couldn’t have worked with Virgil or Philippe without internet. Also, numerous numeric tools have brought awesome possibilities for recording, modeling, simuling, processing effects, etc… In the same time, numeric music is now on the first place on sales. And it’s strange to see that as recording audio definition is getting higher and higher, peoples are listening to music on audio formats, players and headphones with a lower and lower audio definition ! What’s the point in recording music using instruments, mics, amps and software that cost thousand euros, if it’s to be listened on poor compressed 96kbps mp3 audio with headsets ? Technology can sometimes lead to paradoxes…

Also, as i’m a guitar teacher, technology allows me these days to give guitar lesson by skype. This was not possible 20 yeas ago. Now I’ve got students in France, India, USA, Canada… It’s very exciting for me to bring my pedagogy vision anywhere I’m asked to.

What advice or philosophy might you impart to other musicians, be it in forms of creativity, technical stuff, the business side of it, or anything else?

Everything is possible now for musicians with internet, they can work with everybody on this planet. So, this is the time not to be shy. You could think that the sentence « everything is possible » comes from a movie or from a book, but it IS real life.

What are your plans for the future?

Touring with my musicians, improvising and composing better and better, trying to let my music listened more and more, bring some happiness to people with it… It is the work of my life!

Cover photo by Guillaume Fremeau

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