Interview: Renaud Louis-Servais

Dan McAvinchey: I really enjoyed both your albums, "Iluna", which was featured on Guitar Nine when it was first released, and the new one as well. So let's get started. When did you first get interested in guitar, and how did you learn and progress as a player?

Renaud Louis-Servais: I learned guitar at age eight by myself, due to my father who was an amateur guitar player and my oldest brother who played classical than electrical guitar. Growing up, I started playing with cover 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 behave on a stage, and 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.

At around 18 years of age, I started learning on my own: musical theory, harmony, reading and writing music, arranging. Discovering how everything was working really transformed my life. All that stuff was really thrilling and still is. It really helped me knowing what I was made for: composing, arranging, improvising, and teaching.

Dan McAvinchey: Concerning your latest album, your second, "Epic Circus", was it self-released?

Renaud Louis-Servais: Yes, my brand new "Epic Circus" album (2015) is self-released, like was the first one "Iluna" (2011). I tried to see if a few labels had any interest in my work, but it's so hard to make a living with this kind of musical style that I prefered keep on doing my thing and controlling it all by myself.

Dan McAvinchey: What are some ways you might describe your music to a potential fan?

Renaud Louis-Servais: Hard to describe, but I would tell it's an improbable meeting between progressive rock, west coast jazz, metal, and pure instrumental guitar rock. If you like Joe Satriani, Pat Metheny, Dream Theater, and Steve Lukather, you'll probably be interested in my last effort. There is also a "dark" side to it with very torn lines - for example on the tracks on which Virgil Donati plays on drums - and also a very "happy", west coast side symbolized, for example, by the songs featuring Philippe Saisse on the keyboards.

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Dan McAvinchey: How did you write the songs for your most recent album?

Renaud Louis-Servais: It was a personal work first, as usual for me. I wrote all by myself, except for "Zaku Patatu", which was written by Philippe Saisse initially for his PSP (Phillips/Saisse/Paladino) project. Then with the addition of such gifted musicians such as Virgil Donati, Philippe Saisse, Christophe Cravero, Aurel Ouzoulias and Henri Dorina, the tracks really became amazing to play - and even more amazing to listen to. For example, a track like "Techno City" was totally arranged by Virgil Donati, and his influence is really apparent. In another style, Philippe Saisse really added incredible colours on the track "Freedom" with his Rhodes, Prophet, Hammond and piano stuff.

Dan McAvinchey: Tell us a little about the gear you use to get your sound.

Renaud Louis-Servais: I've mostly used the same gear for years. A Tom Anderson droptop (for the past 4 years, I have had the chance to be endorsed by this amazing guitar builder) into a 12U rack, containing a lot of things! First the signal goes into a SKRYDSTRUP MR8 Looper/Switcher which allows me to choose which DIST/OD pedal will be fed by the guitar signal. Among those pedals, are a BLACKSTAR HT-DUAL, a FULLTONE OCD, a MARSHALL JACKHAMMER, a NADY TD-1 and an XOTIC BB PREAMP. Then the signal goes into a MESA BOOGIE Formula preamp in clean sound, then in a TC ELECTRONICS G-FORCE or G-MAJOR for the effects, and at last in a MESA BOOGIE 2:90 amp. Once amplified, the signal goes into a stereo MARSHALL 4x12 cab or two mono, depending on the stage.

Dan McAvinchey: Are you using any social media sites to promote your album and music career?

Renaud Louis-Servais: Yes of course! Facebook mostly, and to a lesser degree Soundcloud or Reverbnation, were very helpful to promote my music and career. Facebook even helped me in contacting some of the musicians who played on "Epic Circus"!

Dan McAvinchey: From a publicity and promotion standpoint, what do you find is working best for you at the moment?

Renaud Louis-Servais: I would say that there are two ways for me to generate people's interest in my music. Number one, the "fusion/prog" aspect, which is hard to promote at the moment even if it's coming back a little bit into fashion. Then, number two, the "guitaristic" aspect, which works well, since I'm involved in many guitar instructional websites, guitar magazines and guitar YouTube videos.

Also, I'm fond of pedagogy and give English-spoken skype guitar lessons and it's a interesting fact that many new students came to me after having discovered me through my albums.

Dan McAvinchey: Why do you think certain music fans prefer instrumental music over traditional vocal oriented music?

Renaud Louis-Servais: Well, probably for the same reasons why certain musicans prefer playing instrumental music too! It enables a wider "traveling" feeling and a freedom dimension in my opinion. Just to give an example, in instrumental music we are not confined to a 3 or 4 minute musical format, and we don't feel obliged to alternate verses and choruses, unlike with pop or rock sung songs. But the other side of the coin is it's much more difficult to attract the audience without vocals. For that reason, it's very important to build some nice and attractive themes and melodies in instrumental music, which will symbolically take the place of a vocal part in people's mind. To keep it interesting with instrumental music is a real challenge!

Dan McAvinchey: Other than guitar-oriented music, what kind of music do you like to listen to?

Renaud Louis-Servais: I'm a big fan of Gino Vannelli, Steely Dan, Dream Theater, and also old school hard rock like AC/DC, Motorhead, all that stuff... I also really appreciate funk, blues rock, bossa-nova, jazz, classical music (I'm an eternal fan of Ravel and Debussy). As you can see, as a listener, I'm not especially confined to one style! There are just two kind of music: good music and bad music.

Dan McAvinchey: Finally, what's up next for you, what do you have planned for the rest of the year?

Renaud Louis-Servais: Well, I did put so much energy in this effort that I want to tour as much as possible with my album and bring my music to people! I would really like to tour in the USA and in Japan. They are the two countries where my music is most purchased and appreciated.

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Renaud Louis-Servais is a very talented French guitar player who has been delivering the goods for nearly twenty years. He has recently released his second fusion album (a follow up to 2011's "Iluna"), featuring (among others) Virgil Donati on drums and Philippe Saisse on keyboards. The album is entitled "Epic Circus".

Dan McAvinchey reunited with Louis-Servais for this interview, and they talked about "Epic Circus" and his writing and recording methods.