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

Young French bluesman, Amaury Faivre is a singer, a guitarist, and, above all, a brilliant harmonica player. He mets Yves Staubitz in 2010 in an electric blues band and they start as an acoustic do in 2013. They win the 2017 Swiss Blues Challenge. At a crossroads between jazz, folk and pop, Amaury's blues inspired music is very sensitive and intimate. He plays with a real acoustic and sincere feel, in the lead of Keb’ Mo or John Mayer. After 15 years of career, Amaury Faivre stepped on more than 500 stages, in a dozen of countries and 3 different continents. He blows for the first time in his father’s harmonica at the age of 8. This funny instrument never left him, and he naturally started playing the music of the blues pioneers. This is how in the best years of the Spice Girls, the 2 Be 3 and John Scotman, in the bus on the way to school, he only listens to artists like Robert Johnson, Mississippi Fred McDowell or John Lee Hooker. He make a life-changing meeting with Denis Naegely and the MJC de Palente in Besançon (France), where a very young generation of talented musician (Fayçal Salhi, Sylvain Dubrez, Etienne Demange, Vladimir Torres, Damien Groleau) learn and practice jazz.

The understanding of its beautiful and complex harmony will make him a great improviser. This is the time when he starts learning guitar and singing. The ‘Prix du Public’ at the ‘Jeunesses Musicales de France’ in Paris in 2001 with the duet White & Blues with Sylvain Dubrez propels him in the professional world and he rapidly starts gigging with blues bands (T & Masson, Chris Demolition Blues, Bluesingale), french artists (Alfred Massaï, French Couleurs) and jazz bands (Soul’d Out Trio, Jam Fiction). After a bachelor in musicology at University of Besançon, Amaury heads for Canada to study jazz guitar at University of Montréal, when he works as a sound engineer as well. He comes back after two years and settles near Geneva to integrate several projects, teaches harmonica, guitar and singing, and builds the Studio du Four.

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.        (Amaury & Yves, Norway 2018 / Photo by Christophe Losberger)

"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!"

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.

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.

(Amaury Faivre, 2018 /Photo by Christophe Losberger)

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?

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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