Romain Gutsy is a French-born singer-songwriter and a musician who started his career in the 90s, singing and playing accordion with French bands such as Les Affamés, or guitar in the Celtic band Daffy Plays Mandola, as well as playing with more famous artists such as the Grammy award winner alt-Rock band, Soul Asylum, or American singer, Calvin Russel. We’ve been thoroughly impressed with Romain’s recent releases and decided it was high time we caught up with him and found out a little more about the man behind the music.

We love your ability to combine upbeat music with mournful lyrics – (The Girl From Kerry, for example). How do you go about writing? Do the lyrics come first, the music, or is it all at the same time?

Usually, the lyrics come first. But they can be inspired by music, I don’t have a fixed way to do it. In any case, when I tell a story, even if it’s a sad story, I try to take it with a pinch of salt. Life is terrible, for the sole reason that at the end, we all die, for example. Nevertheless, life is also the only opportunity to enjoy anything. So I try to de-dramatize our own stories, to give them a second meaning. Yes, it’s awful, but yes it’s also life, so let’s take it with a pinch of salt.

You’re able to inject humour into your music without it sounding forced or “cheesy”. How do you achieve that balance?

I guess it’s a question of dosage. Moreover, even if I “craft” songs, I do it with my own personality. And it’s not too difficult for me because I write in the same way that I live: with a bit of passion, some humour and much love for life and people.

You cross genres effortlessly, often within the same song! What or who are your biggest influences?

Oh no, not this question! Man, I have so many influences… I swear that one day, I’ll publish the list of all. But I listen and listened to all sorts of music. From classical to rap and folk, blues, rock, reggae, disco, jazz, afro-beat and everything else. And I don’t know the answer to your question.

What’s the best gig experience you’ve had?

Hum… I remember one day in the 90s with Soul Asylum in Paris. The singer, Dave Pirner, had offered my band “Daffy Plays Mandola” to play the opening act of their concert. Dave was a very nice person, and he was doing everything to help the musicians he knew and liked. So we did it and after this, he decided to call us back on stage to play together – with the full Soul asylum band and the full Daffy Plays Mandola band – “Dirty Old Town”. That was the craziest version of it that was ever played, and the public was mad at it. I don’t know if it’s really the best gig experience, but that was definitely a good one, mainly because we were a dozen on stage, with two bands which had almost nothing in common, and it was a pure improvisation that nobody expected. And interestingly enough, very recently I’ve been interviewed by a music journalist who was there at the time, and he remembered it very well, almost better than me…

What’s the worst gig?

That was one of my first concerts in front of a big crowd. I was supposed to play the transverse flute on a song by a French female singer. And for the whole concert, that was my only participation, just one song, with a solo in the middle. And for some reason, when I came on stage, I got caught by stage fright. And man, my lips were quivering, and when it happens, then no sound can go out of your flute… And that’s exactly what happened: no sound for the whole song. People thought that there was a problem with the mic, and the musicians tried to keep their normal face while I was struggling with my lips. At the end of the song, people applauded as usual, and I went off the stage. No one asked me any questions. Maybe I would have lied and said that the mic was not working, putting the blame on the sound engineer.

If You Don’t Mind is a fantastic platform for dispelling the myth of the drunken musician. How do you feel about the stereotype and what do you do to combat it?

Well, that’s an important question. Maybe not so much important nowadays as I can see that musicians are much cleaner than they were 20 years ago. Nevertheless, I feel so sorry when I see artists squander their talent, and their life by going into drugs or too much alcohol. With that song, I just wanted to say that for me, it’s cooler when you are clean and that if somebody sees that as a sign of weakness or a sign of being too conventional, my answer is: I don’t care, I’m free. Freedom is not reached by doing bad things, I guess it’s the opposite. And I’m an optimist: I think that singing it will help others. So that’s what I do about it. Now to be clear, it’s not a question of morality for me. I don’t want to be on the side of those who blame the “morally ill” who takes drugs. I have experienced drugs myself, and I’ve seen many friends into it, and my point of view is very pragmatic. Drugs don’t help, that’s a fact. And moreover, they destroy your abilities, and your happiness. Life can be tough, and drugs have sometimes the effect of having you not having to confront it anymore, with a kind of temporary pleasure. But in the end, it drives you to less ability, less joy, less awareness, less capacity to enjoy life in all its facets, and less strength to face your existence and get the best out of it.

Do you bring in other artists? If so, how do you find them and choose whom to work with?

I do. And I hope to do it more in the future. Besides Marc Bentel, who is the one producing my songs nowadays and is for me the perfect fit for the music I do, you can also see some musicians in the video we’ve made for “If You Don’t Mind” (youtu.be/TXdVHiA…Jcoo). The selection process is very tough. There are three main criteria: 1. You need to be good, 2. You need to be a nice person and 3. You need to like the songs. That’s more drastic than it seems. The way I find them: I ask my friends “do you know some pearls that meet the three criteria?”

We love your clawhammer style of banjo playing. Was this hard to learn how to do?

Honestly, not at all. I played many kinds of instruments since I was a kid and many with strings. And I’m not a virtuoso, but I drill, drill, drill until I can play easily what I need for the project I’m working on. That’s what I did with banjo, and if you’d asked me to do a banjo concert, I’d be incapable of doing it. But I can play the songs I’ve drilled for. Maybe the difficult part was to not use guitar techniques with the banjo, as the clawhammer is very different from any guitar technique, almost the opposite. So when you play the banjo, you must forget that you’re a guitarist. And I’m good at forgetting, my wife will tell you.

What is the most useless talent you have?

Well, first of all, if by any chance you thought of a talent that French people are often credited with, let me quote you the song “Frenchy Boy”:
“You thought I would have a terrible accent, but that I would be a wonderful lay, then you realized my accent was fairly OK, and that it was not that which was terrible hey!”
So my most useless talent is: when I was a kid, I was a champion at Pac-Man. I could play the same game for hours in arcade game spots, without ever being eaten by the ghosts. That’s so useless today…

Do you have any upcoming shows to tell our readers about?

Unfortunately not. In fact, since I came back to music recently, I did not come back on stage. I needed first to craft a fair number of new songs to be able to choose among them the ones I wanted to play on stage. But that will change soon, and I’ll let you know for sure as soon as I have dates.

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