Monday, October 23, 2017

Romanthony: The Prince of House (Music)!

romanthony2In this world that sees seansations takin’ on where the preceeding left at the speed of the famous Facebook feed ticker, people remaining in memories along with time stand as exceptions. Most likely because of that ‘je ne sais quoi’ they have. A feeling that would be mine I suppose. Way before the arrival of the social networks. When I came to hear a song by the likes of Romanthony for the very first time.

That happened back in 1993 in London, Soho where I used to record shopping on a regular base. And more precisely at Vinyl Junkies where someone suggested to have a listen to ‘Falling From Grace’ on Azuli Records. The first impression which came to my mind was a one of an irresistible magnetism and incredible depth. The one which one can find whenever happening to listen to music by artists such as Gil Scott-Heron, Terry Callier or Undisputed Truth. And, without a single dout… Prince!

Of course, Romanthony‘s name remains to many associated to Daft Punk. This most likely for havin’ sung the lead on the 2000 classic ‘One More Time’. But I guess this was more of a coup for both parties. With Daft Punk gaining extra credibility while getting such a talent in their discography. And the latter reachin’ a wider audience while joinin’ forces with the 2 famous French Robots…

Of course, those of you regular of our Facebook page might also remember the boiling ‘Built For Love’ with Kraak & Smaak. A cut we welcomed as a single Of The Week back then… But Romanthony was way more than that. Such as his repertoire illustrates it with timeless overshadowed gems. From ‘Let Me Show Your Love’ to ‘The Wanderer’. But also ‘In The Mix (A Tribute To Tony Humphries)’ which he allowed us to use as the soundtrack to our video trailer available from our Welcome page. Not to mention the monumental ‘Bring U Up’ which he released back in 1995 on his own Black Male record label.

As many reasons to have him standing on the top of my want list for an interview back in the days I used to write for various magazines. Something that would finally happen a couple of times, in Paris and eventually New York. But also in Glasgow where we first met back in 1999. And this despite his obvious inclination to remain distant from the press after a couple of bad experiencces where he had the feeling of having been singularly misquoted…

“I see Dance Music and House as the breath of a whole generation which has never been allowed to live freely. Surrounded by people listening to Hip-Hop and Rock. This being an extra reason for us – I mean the artists and musicians – to do even more than what we reasonnably can in order to give it our best possible contribution…”

Listening to your repertoire looks like a dive into a whole array of different but complementary images all comin’ to mind at the same time. One might therefore think of Prince, the Blues, more or less of Moodymann and Chicago
“What I’m listening at home…”

Music, as long as not dictated by any kind of hype, is supposed to be the result of its conceptor’s environment…
“Supposed to be… You’ve said it! Music has always been a part of my environment one way or another. There have always been instruments home. My aunties and uncles used to come regularly and sing pretty harmonies like Motown.

A kid at the time, I naturally came to listen to them. That love that they had for music definitely marked me before trying myself. Me would take a guitar. I was maybe 8 at the time and I felt like an immediate relation with the instrument. I didn’t get to it the way many kids would have. Naaah! I use dit with a lot of respect. Trying to make it sound the way it was on the radio or on a record. Getting from there, my parents have done everything they could to encourage me. And my interest has grown as time as years were goin’. I would get my hands on everything I found. Guitars, piano, drums…”

Would you tend to locate yourself at the exact center, between Black and White music?
“You’re right. Firstly because of the nature of this very first instrument I got my hands on. The guitar which was predominant on airwaves at the time. Led Zeppelin, Peter Frampton… Rock was built around guitars. Even though I didn’t see it that way at the time. It was nuttin’ but Rock and I didn’t give a damn to know I was listening to a Black radio or anything else… I could stay for hours playing on what I was listening to. Or should I say, I was tryin’. Arrangements, solos which I was trying to reproduce. It’s probably the reason of those Rocky accents you may find as far as my work is concerned…”

Have you always lived in Jersey?
“Yes, apart from a short period – I was maybe 4 or 5 at the time – that we’ve spent in South Carolina.”

Talking about the classic ‘The Wanderer’, full of accents which seem to be hailing from the Bayou. Would you say that it’s a Southern song?
“Definitely. A modern version dédicated to all those old Blues musicians who go and perform from a city to another. Those that we use to call the Hobos like Robert Johnson for instance. It’s close to what I’ve personnaly lived by the time. I had launched my label (Black Male). And I was going from a record shop, a distributor, a club to another in order to have my music known. In NYC or in Jersey, but it could have been anywhere else. This is how I’ve started travelling so much and how I wrote this song.”

A song which could well be assimilated to Rock (the Black Rock Coalition) or Blues. One can eventually find it on a compilation dedicated to Prescription which Slip’N Slide release back in 1995…
“Once again, I’m not obsessed as to know if it’s Black or White. My first thoughts go to the DJ’s. I have firmly in mind the existence of these many different clubs and styles. Be they Techno, House or mellow lounge. And I try to produce various mixes and feelings out of a same track in order to reach a wider audience.”

That said, many of those listening to Rock may have never heard of House Music. So chances are great they’ve never heard of the song. And even more knowing it saw the light on a reputedly Deep House label. And I’m not even talkin’ about the fragmentation of the production…
“I’ve been shocked when I was a kid not to be able to listen to both Jimi Hendrix and Run DMC on a same program. Then I came to understand this as business and accepted it as I got older. I mean it’s like food. How would you react for instance while being offered to have chicken added when ordering spaghetti alla Bolognese at some Italian restaurant? I think it’s good to be able to instantly find what you’re looking for whatever it is…”

What’s your primar perspective when composing a track? Machine(s) or instrument(s)?
“In the past? I would say 70% machines and guitar. The remaining 30 being shared between melodies and what comes from the brain. Today, I’m up to build a track, knowing excatly which tool I’m gonna use. Although it has become more difficult.
It’s as if I was receiving a cosmic message the emotions of which I would have to transcript while recording. I would love to have the machines able to get a connection to my brain and directly transcript what I feel…”

The nature of the themes you develop. But also the variety of your compositions (quite rare in the House Music scene and, to a wider extend, the Dance Music scene). Not to mention the way your voice sounds at times… Hard not to think of Prince!
“He has enormously influenced me when I was in my teens. He was so talented and surprising. I often accompanied him while listening to his records. And that’s the same talking about Rick James. These two singers are the ones I got most of my influences from.”

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