Q&A with The International Crossroads Project, a Blues-Rock-Funk band made of young musicians coming from France and the USA

"Think of all the music you listen to nowadays, you wouldn’t have it without the blues. Blues is the foundation of music. Those people needed an outlet to let out the extreme emotion they were feeling and the result was the Blues. It’s so important in history and touches the soul. It’ll fall thin but it’ll never truly die."

The International Crossroads Project:

The Blues Is Alive, Alright... and Fresh!!!

The International Crossroads Project is a Blues-Rock-Funk band made of young musicians coming from France and the USA. This project was created in June 2022 during the Pinetop Perkins Workshop in Clarksdale, Mississippi. Help them participate to the biggest Blues Challenge in the world, the IBC Memphis (January 2023) and help them create an album, in part recorded in the US and in France. The International Crossroads Project is comprised of Valentin Vasseur (guitar), Alyssa Galvan (guitar/vocals), Matéo Perfetti (bass), Mighty Michael (harmonica), Paige O’Rourke (drums). All ranging from ages fourteen and up, they share a love for funk, soul, and blues music. After meeting during Pinetop Perkins Masterclasses, friendships were born between the three American students and the two French students, proving borders cannot limit driven creativity. They give big thanks to France Blues, European Blues Union, and Pinetop Perkins Foundation for the unconditional support.

(Photo: The International Crossroads Project is comprised of Valentin Vasseur on guitar, Alyssa Galvan on guitar/vocals, Matéo Perfetti on bass, Mighty Michael on harmonica, Paige O’Rourke on drums)

The International Crossroads Project / Guitar and Vocals: Valentin Vasseur from France – guitarist, composer, singer; plays music since he is 7 years old. He played on stage with Buddy Guy, John Primer, Christone Kingfish, Bob Margolin… He writes his own songs. Bass: Matéo Perfetti from France – 21 years old, bass player, sound engineer, play with different bands (progressive rock, blues, rock, pop…) Vocals: Alyssa Galvan from USA – singer, guitarist, composer, she released her CD in 2022 and will be at the IBC Youth Shocase in 2023 (as she was in 2022). Harmonica: Mighty Michael Avi from USA – harp player, plays since he was 7 years old, he has recorded 2 CDs and plays with Billy Davis and on many stages in the USA. Drums: Paige O’Rourke from USA – she is 18 and performs at Buddy Guy legend and many places around the USA.

Interview by Michael Limnios

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

Valentin V: For me, Blues music is like a will... During my last trip through the USA, I really discovered where the Blues was coming from and why Blues music sounds like that! I think everybody needs to know that this music comes from human hearts in deep pain… When you realize what happened to people during the 19th & 20th Century’s segregation, in the world and in the USA, your point of view on what the world really is, changes for eternity, and the way you play music is totally changed too. Regarding road trips, I got into live blues music in 2014 in Paris when Buddy Guy invited me to jam on stage, without notice!! Whoa! You cannot forget starting Blues playing with such a lovable genius! Then, during a trip to the USA, as my mother was singing at the lyric Opera of Chicago, with my father, we had lots of spare time, and we were listening to some real cool Blues music in Chicago’s famous clubs!! When back in France, my guitar playing had totally changed: Blues music is the best way to learn what you can’t learn just with your guitar skills. Blues music made me discover improvisation, some guitar skills and of course what is the soul in the music, the human feelings and sharing. I also discovered a lot of other music styles that I absolutely love too, but Blues is always here in me.

Alyssa: Next to old school punk rock, I have a deep love and connection for blues music. The blues related musical opportunities I have received have been life changing and so motivating. I couldn’t imagine my life without it, listening to it and playing it. It means so much to me and I enjoy sharing that love and passion with other players and audience members.

Mighty Michael: To me, the blues has influenced my views of the world by making me see positive in many negative situations. Also, playing the blues has given me some amazing opportunities to meet some of the most talented artists. Understanding, developing and sharing the blues music helps me keep a positive attitude as I move forward in my life’s journeys.

How do you describe The International Crossroads Project sound and music philosophy? 

Valentin V: In my mind, The International Crossroads Project’s sound is about diversity!! Alyssa is an impressive «rock n roll animal» singer, Matéo Perfetti is a Groove Guy when he plays his bass, Mighty Mike is an insane Blues Harmo player and Paige an impressive Blues-groove drummer. I also think our sound is about our age, we want to bring new sounds in the Blues music. In my mind the philosophy of the band is about discovering new sounds, bringing every musician personal identity on stage, create a lot of songs, give tribute to blues personalities who made history, and of course we want to have Fun!

"I really hope one day the young generation will discover what is Blues, Rock, Hard rock and other styles, for them to discover some incredible musicians and to tribute old musicians. For them, to know there’s a lot of incredible musicians all around the world!" (Photo: The International Crossroads Project)

When did The International Crossroads Project come about?

Alyssa: The International Crossroads Project came about after meeting at The Pinetop Perkins Foundation Masterclasses in Clarksdale, Mississippi. It was my first time attending and is proving to be a life changing summer camp. We all jammed together several nights before playing our final showcase at Ground Zero Blues Club. It all just felt so right and meant to be.

How do you want The International Crossroads Project to affect people?

Mighty Michael: I believe TICP came about the moment we started to play that first song on stage. The connection we all had in the moment was beautiful! I want the International Crossroads Project to affect people by making them happy, uplift their spirits, and possibly make people think differently about the blues when they see younger people playing it. Hopefully, the legendary musicians will see that young teens are carrying the torch!

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

Valentin V: I think Blues music is about the soul of musicians and also the soul of the public. In France, we are not a “Blues Country” but a LOT of French people are absolutely fan of the USA music, landscape, restaurants, the American artists, so French people are absolutely fan of the US artistic philosophy, that’s why there’s a lot of blues festivals in France, they are absolutely in love with this music!! And as you know, France is like M Luther King: we always fight for human rights, respect and freedom. And that’s what the Bluesmen and women sing to us, not to forget…

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

Alyssa: Think of all the music you listen to nowadays, you wouldn’t have it without the blues. Blues is the foundation of music. Those people needed an outlet to let out the extreme emotion they were feeling and the result was the Blues. It’s so important in history and touches the soul. It’ll fall thin but it’ll never truly die.

Mighty Michael: The blues continues to generate a following because it’s part of American life. The struggles of work and life’s tolls continue from generation to generation.

"The balance between technique and soul is complicated because you can have a great musician who is technically amazing but lacks soul in their music. On the other hand, you can have a musician with mediocre technique but expresses all kinds of feeling and soul. Usually, a good musician will have both, like Billy Branch and Stevie Ray Vaughan, BB King, etc. A question I would ask a good blues musician would be what had inspired them to write a specific song." (Photo: Valentin V & Christone Kingfish)

Are there any memories from the Pinetop Perkins Foundation Workshop which you’d like to share with us? `

Valentin V: The day of the workshop’s shows, the Pinetop Perkins management made groups of musicians who never met before, in order to play during that evening shows. So, we went to a little room and practiced 4 songs in like 30 minutes, because I was in another Cigar Box Guitar band with Bob Margolin so had to rehearse 2 shows at the same time, almost! We worked very quick, and it worked out perfect, in Ground zero Blues club, we did it all right!! The level of the young musicians was amazing, so no wonder we ended creating our own band! That was really awesome. And in the band, everyone listens to the others, with respect and professionalism! Second memory: at the end of the night, Kingfish came in the club and I also got to jam with him, so it was absolutely an incredible night!! And best of all, when Christone Kingfish toured in Europe this summer, he invited to me to play on stage at Cahors Blues Festival. That’s the magic of Blues and generous people!!

Alyssa: The whole experience flew by and left its mark on me. Not only meeting blues legends who were so kind and willing to chat and share their stories and knowledge but sharing the space with peers who have the same goals and aspirations as myself was comforting and exciting. I’ve made some lifelong friends and people I hope to continue to play with for the rest of my life, even if it’s only periodically.

Mighty Michael: One of my favorite memories from Pinetop is after we performed, we took Polaroid pictures together. We felt a bond among us. The photos are more than merely memories, they are a confirmation that we are developing friendships and have so much in common regardless of our diverse backgrounds. Those images are the seed of the ICP. 

What's the balance in blues music between technique and soul? If you had a question you would like to ask a musician, what would it be?

Valentin V: For me, when you play blues, you need both: if you only have the technique, you can’t play blues because you feel nothing; and if you have the soul but no technique, you may have some incredible ideas, but your skills cannot make it happen and you are blocked. I think that’s very important to have both in blues, but soul Is THE way you must follow! If I could ask a question to Buddy Guy: How can he feel and express the Blues like that!! And to Stevie Ray Vaughan, how can he play like that and create his own blues style, including soul and technique!! 

Alyssa: Its no secret you must have some sort of skill and technique to be able to play with a band and play music, but soul is nearly the most important part. Anybody can shred a solo if they practiced enough but can they make somebody feel those licks or those words deep inside? If I had a question, I’d ask any musician it’d always be what inspires them. I’m always interested in that kind of thing.

Mighty Michael: The balance between technique and soul is complicated because you can have a great musician who is technically amazing but lacks soul in their music. On the other hand, you can have a musician with mediocre technique but expresses all kinds of feeling and soul. Usually, a good musician will have both, like Billy Branch and Stevie Ray Vaughan, BB King, etc. A question I would ask a good blues musician would be what had inspired them to write a specific song.

"In my mind the philosophy of the band is about discovering new sounds, bringing every musician personal identity on stage, create a lot of songs, give tribute to blues personalities who made history, and of course we want to have Fun!" (Photo: The International Crossroads Project is comprised of Valentin Vasseur, Alyssa Galvan, Matéo Perfetti, Mighty Michael, and Paige O’Rourke)

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

Valentin V: I think we miss the “plug and play” from the past: You have a guitar? Is it in tune? No? I don’t care, I’ll play blues and it will work!! Now blues music is very precise, and I love that, but sometimes that can be very cool to have some blues musicians who don’t care of the tune of the guitar and technical aspect of music and just play and sing like it was in the past! For the future, I’m a little bit afraid about the young generation audience; In France, young people listen to rap music and nothing else and that’s sad to hear, that’s why we need to play a “neo” blues to bring the young generation to this Blues music!! 

Alyssa: I feel there’s less acoustic blues in the spotlight compared to what there was. Acoustic blues was the beginning and is what I personally connect with the most. I love seeing large and powerful bands but it always gets me excited to just see someone sitting down by themselves with their guitar ready to entertain.

Mighty Michael: Often when I hear a blues band who is performing a classic old Delta blues song, I hear more rock than true blues. I am fortunate to perform with a legendary musician from Bentonia who knows the difference; therefore, I am more sensitive to those who have limitations and do not sound authentic. I also see this happening on mainstream media. If younger musicians do not learn and continue the true blues, that sound may not be so available to be heard by audiences in the future.

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

Valentin V: I really hope one day the young generation will discover what is Blues, Rock, Hard rock and other styles, for them to discover some incredible musicians and to tribute old musicians. For them, to know there’s a lot of incredible musicians all around the world! 

Alyssa: One thing I can think of is the music that is represented the most in the media. There is so much real underrated talent of all types of genres that don’t get the recognition they deserve. It’s been that way for decades, but it’ll always be an answer I have.

Mighty Michael: I would take jealousy and insecurity out of the musical world so everyone could get along and make music together.

(Photo: The International Crossroads Project is comprised of Valentin Vasseur on guitar, Alyssa Galvan on guitar/vocals, Matéo Perfetti on bass, Mighty Michael on harmonica, Paige O’Rourke on drums)

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