Q&A with talented French bluesman, Amaury Faivre - plays roots music with a real acoustic and sincere feel

"I think the people who love Blues and Jazz in Europe are really in love with the music, the feeling and improvisation, and the story behind it is just a background for them."

Amaury Faivre: Je Souis Blues

French bluesman, Amaury Faivre is a singer, a guitarist, and, above all, a brilliant harmonica player. Amaury is an acoustic blues artist, who this year celebrates twenty years of career and more than 800 stages, in ten countries on three different continents. He blows for the first time in his father's harmonica at the age of 8 and it is quite naturally that he is passionate about the origins of the blues. He thus escapes the Spice Girls of his adolescence with cassettes of Robert Johnson, Lightning 'Hopkins, John Lee Hooker ... He made a decisive encounter in the person of Denis Naegely, who then formed a whole crowd of talented young musicians from Bisonthe. Learning jazz and its harmony will make him a complete improviser. He then begins the guitar and the song, and especially the chromatic harmonica which has been a major element of his musical personality ever since. His career was launched following an audience award at the Jeunesses Musicales de France at the age of 15 and he joined many blues, jazz, rock and French song groups from the region with his three caps of singer, guitarist and harmonica player. After a License in Musicology in Besançon and two years of studying jazz guitar at the University of Montreal, he returned to Europe and settled near Geneva.

(Amaury Faivre / Photo by Luc Naville-BNB photographie)

He then founded the duo Electric Hat with Jean Rigo, singer of Les Infidèles. They play their eclectic covers, ranging from blues of the 20s to Soul, through Rock n' Roll and Jazz. At the same time, Amaury began another ten-year collaboration with Geneva guitarist Yves Staubitz in the electric blues band Amaury Faivre & the Broken Harps with whom he recorded in 2010 his first opus, Ol 'Days Feel. Later, Yves followed him twice in the electric group Sidewalk Blues Gang and the acoustic group Amaury Faivre Duo. The duo performed in the early years only on demand, but the number of concerts gradually increased, and their energy finally focused on this project following their victory at the Swiss Blues Challenge 2017. This prize allows them to represent Switzerland at the International Blues Challenge 2018 in Memphis where they obtain a superb place in the semi-finals, and they finish fourth at the European Blues Challenge 2018 in Norway. After a year filled with beautiful European stages they released the album Crazy Old Man, on the improbable borders of blues, jazz and folk, in the tradition of a Keb 'Mo or an Eric Bibb. His new album "2020" released at the end of 2020, with 11 original tracks in English, in a very roots folk-blues style. A return to his first influences, for which he has not been reluctant to grab a banjo and mandolin or hit a cavernous stompbox! Amaury reconciles the freedom of jazz and the emotion of the blues with a rare mastery of the harmonica which allows to offer an intense and moving, surprising and sincere spectacle.

Interview by Michael Limnios

Special thanks: Swiss photographer Christophe Losberger and Amaury Faivre

What do you learn about yourself from the Blues people and culture? What does the blues mean to you?

The blues is singular for its multiple meanings. Of course, it is a genre of music, but also a feeling, a culture, a sound, a shuffle rhythm, a six notes scale and a 12-bar musical structure, as long as a color! Working around the blues, it can have for me any of these aspects depending on the occasion, but the particular one that appeals to me is improvisation. Not only improvisation as a nice guitar solo in the middle of a song, but as a global state of mind. The person who sings the blues is not just singing but telling a story, and this means that he has to enter in real communication with the people he is telling it to. And this communication, this dialogue is made possible through improvisation, which is the ability to feel and hear what is really going on right now. And this is both the hardest and the simplest thing to do, and it teaches me a lot about myself. So, I honestly learn a lot more about myself from practicing the blues than from the blues people and culture.

What were the reasons that you started the Blues researches? How do you describe your songbook and sound?

My interest for the blues began as a child, learning the harmonica which was my first instrument. The blues is the only music in which harmonica has a major role, so I met it through music books and repertoire, just like a saxophone player can’t escape from learning jazz because it is so important historically. After that I studied and played a lot of jazz as a teenager, as well as rock, folk and country music. All of this became a part of my music, and actually I was lost for many years between all these genres of music without knowing precisely who I really was musically. And the synthesis of all this began when I came back to the blues and started to write my own repertoire. So, it is a mix of all this, a lot of blues with touches of swing and gipsy jazz, bluegrass and folk, with both diatonic a chromatic harmonicas, and an acoustic guitar rather than electric.

"The blues is singular for its multiple meanings. Of course, it is a genre of music, but also a feeling, a culture, a sound, a shuffle rhythm, a six notes scale and a 12-bar musical structure, as long as a color!" (Amaury Faivre & Yves Staubitz, Norway 2018 / Photo by Christophe Losberger)

How do you think that you have grown as an artist since you started and what has remained the same?

To me what is right for an art career is right for life. There are things you learn and things you live. When you get out of school, no matter what you studied, you have learnt to use the tools you will be using all along your carrier, but it’s not enough to make you a good worker. This knowledge you acquired is always completed and perfected by the experience you get as years go by, and there ain’t nothing that can substitute to the importance of life experience. So, one can be a huge artist even with a limited technique. Think for example of BB King, with 6 notes and just a few guitar licks, his legacy will last even longer than his already immense career! The more I advance as an artist the more I aim to the essence of what it needs to transmit emotion. And the things that change little are the tools I am using, the harmonica, guitar and singing skills I developed some years ago.

How do you describe "2020" sound and songbook? Where does your music/lyrics creative drive come from?

I love acoustic instruments. Maybe it is because they are made of wood, a noble, organic and living material, that they have this deep, ancient, almost tribal connection to one’s heart. And except for my Collings guitar, which has a full sound in terms of frequency response, the other strings instruments I used, resonator guitar, banjo and mandolin, add these little imperfections that makes me love them even more. Think of a full-size grand piano compared to a slightly detuned honky-tonk instrument to see what I mean, this roots, vintage and sincere sounds you get out of these far from perfect instruments.

As to the creative inspiration, it comes from emotions. The stories come from everyday life, situations I encounter, people I meet, hear or read about. And more than the real facts, I get inspired by the emotion I felt when I met the situation/people/matter the song originated from. And the building of the words and the song does not come from the factual material but from emotional memories. So, inspiration, art, magic (different words for the same idea) come to me in the form of emotion glimpses. As one can’t produce fire, but is only able to sustain it, we can’t produce emotion, and we have to collect what’s inside to make it grow and pass it through. So it is a matter of concentration and presence.

"The blues was born from the suffering of a people, and I think it is the suffering and not the historical content that gave the music its universal validity. For me as a white French boy raised in a family of teachers, this suffering did not appeal to me as a racial, political and cultural thing but as a human feeling."

Why do you think that the Blues music continues to generate such a devoted following in Europe?

I don’t know much about the devotion for the Blues in other places than Europe and North America, but I think blues will stay a persistent music genre because a lot of modern music originates from it. Its language is very simple, very few notes, chords and different rhythm so it is easily accessible to a large audience, not like jazz for example, which is far more complicated and takes some learning to be enjoyed. But on the other hand Blues is not very popular, compared to mainstream music like rock, electro or rap. And maybe this is why the people who love the blues love it so much, because they feel that there is a legacy to defend, to fight for its survival in these troubled times for culture. In this era of social medias, and especially since the Covid-19 crisis, culture is mainly accessed through smartphones and tablets and this bugs me a little, because it takes some time to feel the deepness of an artist. This way of consuming music is based upon accessibility and readiness, and I think the danger is that it could affect the way the artists produce their music. Because you can instantly swipe to other content, your product has to be extremely efficient, and this goes to me against some emotion’s art is supposed to raise within you, because these emotions take time.

What moment changed your music life the most? What´s been the highlights in your career?

The only moment I can think of is not music related: birth of my son 4 years ago. For once in my life I took conscience that time was precious. It’s been a turning point because it made me realize what is important in life, what I have to focus on and what I should leave aside. It may seem funny but before that what made me wake up was the will to learn anything new. And from this day on I started to perfect my strengths rather than trying to fill the gaps with new skills. And for the highlights of my career, I am mostly grateful to the series of events that lead me to compose, write, play the music the way I wanted to, rather than playing the way I thought people would want me to. This is how I came from an electric blues cover band to a band with a repertoire of original songs, to an acoustic duo and now to a solo performance.

What I said before about presence and concentration in composing and writing is the same for interpretation. I learned (and still learning) from life experience to calm down, focus on feeling rather than thinking, which is the most often parasitic. And this in music lead me to a new way to approach playing and singing. This process is quite new actually, but it makes me progress a lot, and my latest solo album "2020" is all about that, trying to think less and feel more, and express what is as deep inside as possible. I am quite happy because I had really positive feedbacks that go entirely in this direction. So now all I can hope for now is that as soon as the pandemic stress cools down a bit I’ll have the pleasure to experience this lesson learned in front of real people as many times as possible!

"It’s probably a cliché but of course one time and place I would be thrilled to be would be a night in a juke joint where Robert Johnson was playing, for understanding all the influence he had, not only on the blues but on almost everything that we know in northern American music."

Which acquaintances have been the most important experiences? What was the best advice anyone ever gave you?

I remember a pretty good and funny advice I was given as a teenager by a great Hammond organ player in my hometown. It was to start my chorus with a loud note and maintaining it for very long; the people would think first that I’m annoying, then that I was crazy, and at last that I was a genius. And it works! Just listen to Maceo’s chorus on ‘Shake everything you’ve got’ in the ‘Live on planet groove’ and you’ll have the best lesson you can learn about improvising and getting the crowd in your pocket! Concerning acquaintances there were too many of them to tell which were more important, except the day I met my mother. In music, and in life in general I guess, it’s interesting to see that you can have a ten minutes talk with a total stranger on the corner of a table that will make you rethink everything you know.

Are there any memories from gigs, jams, open acts and studio which you’d like to share with us?

I honestly don’t know because to me music is just a way to interact with people, so a single smile or an expression you pick on the face of someone while you play can make your day. And of course, we have real stage moments of blessings, in which everyone is having the time of its life, the sound is perfect, the notes are going out of the instruments as if they were dictated by a superior force, and on the contrary in other times you really feel like you are just doing your shitty job. At some times you feel like an ice dancer light as a bird that can swing anyway he wants, and other times you feel like a homeless that walks barefoot in half a meter of fresh snow, it’s funny how the feeling can be so different for doing just the same thing!

What do you miss most nowadays from the blues of past? What are your hopes and fears for the future of?

I have the certitude that the recording music industry is killing the musical feeling more and more every year. It is really obvious to see how the ability to record changed the way we played and listened to music. When we hear the first recordings ever made, we are struck by really rough and powerful performances, with a lot of wrong notes, harsh sounds, but the feeling is true and pure. As soon as we could record we started paying attention not to play these wrong notes anymore so that we could listen to the recording without being annoyed by them. And the whole playing became more controlled and less expressive. And the more technology we develop to record the worst it gets, we often hear today in modern music the exact same bar repeated during the whole song, and my feeling is that it draws the life out of it. So, my fear for the future would be that the artist would become either a machine for producing impersonal and insensitive music, or a person considered as crazy for trying to pass some direct emotion from man to man.

"As to the creative inspiration, it comes from emotions. The stories come from everyday life, situations I encounter, people I meet, hear or read about. And more than the real facts, I get inspired by the emotion I felt when I met the situation/people/matter the song originated from."

If you could change one thing in the musical world and it would become a reality, what would that be?

That’s why if I could change one thing I would just prohibit recording ahah! Just to put real interaction back in the center of the scene.

What touched (emotionally) you and what characterize the local blues scene and circuits?

The blues scenes I am familiar with are the French and the Swiss one. They are pretty different from one another. In France, Blues is more associated with electric bands and rock music. It is also more creative in a way, more avant-garde. In Switzerland I feel that respect of the blues heritage is more important. In French speaking Switzerland, the people are really into acoustic and roots, rural blues. We see cigar boxes and one-man bands in every corner of the streets and it’s not a bad thing! My music is a bit different because the blues I play is more clean and precise, we pay a lot of attention in the sound, the choice of instruments and amplifiers. Anyway, I can feel that the Swiss audience responds very well to the Blues, especially the German part of it in which you can feel a lot of respect for musicians and it is really appreciable.

How has the Blues and Jazz music influenced your views of the world and the journeys you’ve taken?

It is complicated for me to say because I met the blues when I was still very young, and as a kid you don’t intellectualize things like you start to do when you grow up. So, I know that this music influenced me in my view of the world, but I grew up with it on my side so I don’t have the critical distance to realize the impact of it. But I know that it guided me, as a child I was rather shy, and being on stage made me more self-confident. And improvisation had the big role in it, because the answer in improvisation is not what you know or what you are, but what you can feel, what you think the people want or don’t want to hear, and this makes you learn a lot about your fears and who you really are. Concerning the journeys, I can’t remember travelling without a relation to music. Ah, that’s not true, I sometimes go to Italy just for the food…

What is the impact of Blues and Jazz music and culture to the racial, political, and socio-cultural implications?       (Amaury Faivre / Photo by Luc Naville-BNB photographie)

The blues was born from the suffering of a people, and I think it is the suffering and not the historical content that gave the music its universal validity. For me as a white French boy raised in a family of teachers, this suffering did not appeal to me as a racial, political and cultural thing but as a human feeling. In Europe when we talk about cotton fields it sounds more like folklore than like the real thing, and European blues may be associated with an image, an attitude or a sound, but certainly doesn’t have the deep social implications it has in the US. It makes blues in Europe a little non-consistent in a way, but we can’t fight it because it is not our history. So, I think the people who love Blues and Jazz in Europe are really in love with the music, the feeling and improvisation, and the story behind it is just a background for them.

Let’s take a trip with a time machine, so where and why would you really want to go for a whole day?

It’s probably a cliché but of course one time and place I would be thrilled to be would be a night in a juke joint where Robert Johnson was playing, for understanding all the influence he had, not only on the blues but on almost everything that we know in northern American music. Of course, he recorded, not much by the way, but I have the feeling that it was mostly the experience he gave live that was so powerful and inspiring.

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