Raw Man/The Buffalo Bunch [Artist]

Raw Man is the solo epithet of Romain Séo, who is also one-half of The Buffalo Bunch, a duo consisting of himself and Paul De Homem-ChristoWith releases on both of Daft Punk’s personal labels, and remixes for the likes of Phoenix and Modjo, Romain has comfortably secured his place in the French Touch Hall of Fame, but since he hardly has any interviews online, I reached out with a request to chat, and we sat down to talk about his career highs and lows and his current duo with his wife, Blanche, (pictured above).

You started off making rock music and playing guitars, but later transitioned into electronic music in the mid-90s. How did that transition happen?

I was into hard rock music as a teenager; drummers with ten-piece kits that played aggressively were the ones I liked the most. But the first time I heard electronic music was when the guys from Daft Punk played me their unreleased material in the mid-90s. I was making music at the time with Play Paul, who’s the little brother of Guy-Manuel. At first, I thought their music was ridiculous. Why would you have the same kick on each beat for the whole song? But then I came to understand that the repetitive kick had a locomotive, trance-like effect that pushes you forward with the song, and it made complex beats unnecessary. Later, when I heard the distorted Juno 106 in “Rolling and Scratching “, I felt like it was the perfect bridge between hard rock and house music; it was the kind of sound a guitar could make, except the Juno was fatter. Because of that experience, I was able to go back and rediscover the music I never listened to in my childhood, like disco and funk, which redefined my opinion about electronic music.

I see. But you could have started a solo project, right? What was it that led to you and Paul working together?

We just thought it would be fun to work on something new together. The drum machine offered us so many sound possibilities, and this was the first time we were hands-on with our own productions. Previously, we had to rent time in a recording studio to do our rock recordings, and it wasn’t fun because we had an uncool sound engineer who would bark out things like,   “Don’t touch that! “, “Don’t stand there! “, “Get ready for the cue! “, and we would get stressed because we could never afford much studio time. Making electronic music was different because we could work however we wanted with our computers, samplers and headphones.

And when was the first time you met Paul?

We lived in the same neighborhood, but ended up meeting through our group of friends. A lot of the guys from French Touch scene were just regular friends back then. I already knew Romain Tranchart from Modjo, because we were both fans of technical guitar players like Steve Vai and Joe Satriani. Through people like that, Paul and I became familiar with each other, although I don’t remember the exact moment we met.

Paul’s parents owned an office space where they ran a magazine, which had a huge room in the back where we would meet every night after school to watch movies and play heavy metal. We were around eighteen at that time.

You and Paul later formed The Buffalo Bunch. Tell me about how that duo came to be.

It was a social thing. Paul and I had taken a year off after high school, and we would meet every night in front of the video club and spend an hour trying to find a movie to watch. After hanging out like that for a while, we eventually started making music together. We would record rock music at each of our home studios, and then pass around two cassette tapes with our recordings to see what people thought. Then we’d talk about the feedback we got when we met at the movie club later that night. One day Paul said, “You should come to my place. I have more hardware at my studio that we could use “. So we did that. Paul had access to his brother’s sampler, the Roland S-760, which was a great-sounding machine, and he also had a little Mackie desk we could use for our mixes. Up until then, we’d only recorded guitar, bass and drums, but when we started sampling drums from vinyl, it changed everything. With rock music, you have to produce the record manually from scratch, but with sample-based music, we went from having nothing to having a nice-sounding production in no-time. But we had to teach ourselves how the gear worked; there weren’t any formal lessons for what we were trying to do. School was for “real engineers” with big consoles and expensive hardware, which we didn’t have. The first songs we recorded were literally sung word by word. Instead of just singing, “This is who we are “, we would first record, “This is ” and then punch in “who we ” and finally, “are ” ; it was so unmusical. Looking back, I can’t imagine how we made it work.

Then came The Buffalo Bunch, and your EP, “Buffalo Club“, which was released on Thomas Bangalter’s sub-label Scratché. But the EP was the only release on that label. It feels like Thomas make that sub-label just to release your EP.

To be honest, that’s exactly what happened. Thomas already had two releases on Roulé: Roy Davis Jr “Rock Shock and Stardust’sMusic Sounds Better With You“.  At that time, Thomas wasn’t sure if the Stardust track was good or not. He would play it for people, and after the first listen they’d say, “This is gonna be a hit! Great job! “, but Thomas was like, “But what if it sounds like an Italo-Disco track? Nobody wants to hear that… “. Because of that uncertainty, he didn’t want to release three tracks on Roulé all at once, which all sounded different. So he said to me and Paul, “I’ll make another sub-label for your EP “.

Look, we had made “Buffalo Club” in two hours, just messing around. The track wasn’t anything more than a bass-line. Granted, it was a nice bass-line, but I understood why it didn’t fit on Roulé alongside well-produced tracks like “Music Sounds Better With You”.

If Thomas was initially uncertain about where to release your EP, why didn’t you just put it out on Guy-Manuel’s Crydamoure label? Play Paul was Guy-Man’s brother after all.

We never got the chance to play the record for Guy-Manuel before Thomas signed it. This is what happened: the sampler we were using was a little too complicated for us, and so we asked Thomas to come to the studio to help us figure it out. He knew it better than the engineers who built it, and he actually explained so much about how it worked that we couldn’t keep up with him (laughs). But we ended up playing him “Buffalo Club”, and he liked it. Later that night, he called us and said he wanted to release it. So it didn’t have time to get to Crydamoure.

Needless to say, neither Paul nor I had expected anything to develop from that track when we started it, but because of Thomas, it did ended up getting a release. After that, we continued to work on other tracks, which were later released on Crydamoure, such as “Take It To The Street!” (T.I.T.T.S) and “Music Box“.

And after working with The Buffalo Club for some years, you started releasing solo material as “Raw Man”. What led to that?

After we released the “Buffalo Club” EP, Thomas proposed that Paul and I make an album, since we already had several tracks done; but Paul didn’t want to. Daft Punk had already been famous for a year at that point, and Paul decided he’d rather make hip-hop music than have Thomas produce our album. So I ended up working on my own music, which became the Raw Man project. Paul actually gave me that name (laughs). He was always great for coming up with artist names. It’s a play on my real name, “Romain”, which is hard for non-French-speaking people to say correctly. So we made it “Raw Man”. Paul even came up with “The Buffalo Bunch” name.

You released music on both Roulé and Crydamoure. What would you say is the main difference between these two labels, stylistically and business-wise?

The business side of both labels were similar, since they offered the same kind of recording contract. But honestly, Paul and I weren’t thinking about the structure of record deals back then. We were still living at our parent’s houses, and instead of paying rent or buying food, we were able to buy gear and expand our studios. So our main concern was the music-making.

The main difference  between Roulé and Crydamoure was their moods, I think. Crydamoure was always more dreamy and sad-sounding. There was a girl we went to school with, who would always attend our parties, and she would say, “I love Crydamoure the most because it’s happy-sad house music!“. I understand what she meant, because Crydamoure had a lot of emotive parts in their songs. The Roulé sound, on the other hand, was a bit rougher. This was around the time when Thomas did the Vertigo” remix for Alan Braxe, which made the dance-floors go crazy. I think that track marked the start of the sound that Roulé became known for. Meanwhile, Crydamoure would crush all their tracks in certain 8-bit guitar pedals or one of the Moog bit-crushers. That ended up becoming a defining part of their sound, and if you wanted to be released on that label, you had to let them run your music through their pedals, even if it ended up as a remix. One of the tracks I released, “Number 7” didn’t sound like Crydamoure at first, but the Le Knight Club remix that the label released did.

One of my favorite Buffalo Bunch remixes is of Modjo’s “Chillin“? How did you end up remixing that?

It happened  because we were friends with the guys from Modjo. Romain Tranchart used to share a studio space with us for a one or two years. I remember that we were playing Playstation next door whilst he was chopping up the Chic sample for “Lady“. It used to drive us crazy (laughs). We had heard it so many times before it was done that we were like, “Arrgh, please stop…“. But Romain used to spend a lot of time alone working on his stuff, which was a sign of his work ethic. Paul and I were the opposite; we weren’t serious producers in the beginning. We were always sleeping or smoking joints when we should have been working. We’d start a track, but then quit after a little while because we were too tired from watching movies the night before. It was just stupid of us, because that was a period when The Buffalo Bunch was getting a lot of attention, and it was the biggest chance we had in the music industry. Even if we’d released music we weren’t happy with, people would have still listened to it. There were artists making better stuff than us, but no-one paid attention to them because they weren’t in the same circles we were. Of course, hard work is important, but so is luck. All bands get a point where a random situation or meeting can change everything, depending on which way they go or who the know. I’ve had many crossroads like that.

But despite your work ethic, The Buffalo Bunch still released some classic stuff. Wouldn’t you agree?

I know we had some good releases, but I had mixed feelings about other things. Sometimes we would work for days on a track and get nowhere, or we’d use ideas that we didn’t think were that good, even if it turned out that our fans liked it. For example, one of the most well-received remixes we did was of Phoenix’sIf I Ever Feel Better“. But after we finished it, Paul and I were like, “It’s kind of cool, but….“. We thought the vocal loop in the beginning was stupid. The bass-line was okay, but we didn’t feel it was aggressive enough. But after we handed the remix to Pedro Winterhe called us later and said “We just played your remix at the club and everyone went crazy! “, and we were like, “What?? “. We didn’t get it…

It seems to me like the public made the right choice. Yeah, the vocal loop does sound funny in the beginning, but otherwise it’s a good remix.

I’m not saying that our music was generally bad; just that it wasn’t as great as it could have been. Here’s a funny story about that: Stardust released “Music Sounds Better With You” at the same time as the “Buffalo Club” EP and “Rock Shock”. Thomas sent off all three of them as white label releases to one of the biggest music magazines in England, in the hope that they would review them. When he got back the reviews, there was one which said “The Buffalo Club EP is amazing, and will most likely be the biggest hit of the year!”. We were like “What?? That can’t be right…Maybe he made a mistake? “. We had already heard how amazing “Music Sounds Better With You” was, and in fact, we didn’t even care about the “Buffalo Club” EP anymore because we were so excited for the release of the Stardust single. So the review made no sense to us. But we later found that the writer had mixed up the singles….He was actually talking about “Music Sounds Better With You”, but wrote “The Buffalo Bunch” by mistake. We were like, “duh…of course “. We had already guessed that maybe he mixed them up, and we were right (laughs).

Maybe part of the reason that the Phoenix remix was successful is because popular DJs were playing it a lot in their sets?

Yeah, it’s possible. It was a pretty big track back then. Initially, we didn’t feel like playing it in our sets, but when we finally did, people went crazy. It’s weird when you feel removed from the record you made, buy it happens to me a lot. Let’s say you make ten tracks for an album. When you’re done, you then need to pick one of them to be the single, but when you play the music for other people, they end up picking one of tracks you were unsure about, which you almost left off the album! It can be a terrible feeling, because it shows that you don’t understand yourself. You’re the same guy who made all the tracks, yet your predictions about them are all wrong. So now you have to figure out why people liked the track you almost trashed, which is hard.

To be honest, I don’t listen to any of my tracks anymore; I don’t even have the project files. I recently wanted to re-release my Raw Man tracks that were on Crydamoure, but I couldn’t find them anywhere, except as the final vinyl pressings.

Did The Buffalo Bunch have any input on “Homework“?

No we didn’t. We had one friend who played tambourine on one of the tracks, but that’s it (laughs). By the time Paul and I formed The Buffalo Bunch, “Alive“, “Da Funk” and “Rolling & Scratching” were already out.

Do you know what the best-selling Buffalo Bunch record was?

I think they all sold about the same amount. But if I had to guess, I’d say “T.I.T.T.S” or “Music Box”. But most of our money was made by DJing anyway, not by selling records.

In my opinion, your most impressive music was made as For The Floorz, yet no-one seems to have heard of it. I have yet to meet anyone who knows about those tracks, even though the music is amazing.

Thanks! For The Floorz was a duo made up of me and my friend, Fabien Lefrançois, aka Curtis. Unfortunately, the early 2000s was a period where most of the club music was being played at tempos of 130 BPM or more, so our songs didn’t fit well with the DJ sets. I remember playing them in my own sets, and it always killed the vibe on the dance-floor because it slowed everything down; but I couldn’t speed them up without messing up the sound of the music, so we just didn’t have much luck with that.

For The Floorz only released one EP, but my favorite track is “Time Limited”. How did that record come about?

We sampled Klymaxx’s, “The Man In My Life“. Fabien was the one who brought the vinyl to me and we sequenced it using the Emu E4XT Ultra. We just shifted the record around in the sampler until we found the sections that we liked, and then we sampled those.

Both of the tracks we made as For the Floorz were good, but our music came out towards the end of the French House craze, so the timing wasn’t good for us. We probably sold 2000 copies or less of that EP. Now that I think of it, I never even cleared any of our samples back then, except for releases on Roulé and Crydamoure, because we never expected to sell anything.

Another group you formed in the early 2000s was called We In Music. That’s the fourth artist name of yours in a span of less than five years.You seem to enjoy creating new groups.

I know (laughs). It was because of my relationship with Paul. He was always on the edge of quitting house music, and then he’d come back. I think that being the younger brother of one of the Daft Punk guys created an image around him that he didn’t like. So he’d tell me that he was quitting house music, but then I’d get a call from him one month later, saying “Romain, I have a sample for a house track. Let’s work on it! “, and I’d be like, “I thought you said you were quitting… “. But ultimately we ended up working together again on We In Music, along with Fabien.

Our biggest track was “Grandlife“, which featured Benjamin Diamond on lead vocals, with Paul, Fabien and Yann Destagnol from Modjo singing background vocals. Funnily enough, our track had both singers from the biggest dance records at the time, “Music Sounds Better With You” and “Lady”, but we couldn’t credit them publicly because the record label would have sued us. I think we credited Benjamin, but he used a different name so we didn’t get caught (laughs). We told one of our friends who worked at the label though, as a joke, and thankfully he kept the secret.

We In Music released two tracks, “Grandlife” and “Now That Love Is Gone“, which were licensed to Virgin France, correct?

Yes, that’s right. We licensed our music to the same label that Daft Punk were signed to. When French Touch blew up in the late 90s, all the major labels realized there was big money to be made, and they started signing as many of us as they could. So Paul and I never had to wonder if a label wanted our music when we took meetings with them; they always made us good offers because they knew we had another meeting afterwards with a rival label, who would be pitching us good offers as well. So in the end, we went with Virgin.

Let’s talk about the music duo you’ve created with your wife, which is called My Dear. How do the two of you divide up the work for this group?

I handle the production and instrumentation, after which my Blanche and I write the lyrics together. We start from scratch with our compositions and make everything ourselves. I try to do my best with the production, but it’s not always easy. Sometimes I tell myself that it’s because my home studio setup is so small, but regardless, I think the music has great potential.

Based on the available online data about My Dear’s music and fan-base, does it seem like the band will be successful?

It’s funny when I look at demographic data of who listens to our music on Spotify and the playlists its included in. It takes me back to the Phoenix remix: I’m always wrong about my predictions. Each time I thought one of my Spotify uploads would work well in a place like England, it ended up working somewhere else, like Japan or Germany. So then I’d say, “Ok, if that one worked in Germany, then this next one will as well “….but that one ends up working in Italy. I still don’t get it, (laughs). So it’s hard to make any predictions.

I get it. So moving forward, what are your hopes for My Dear?

For now, I want to get our live show right. I’m really inspired by what Poolside has been able to do with their music and live setup. One of their band members was actually in our video for “Better Dance“, but I only found out three years later that he was a a part of Poolside. Had I done better research about the guys in our video, I would have known. Poolside band is just two guys who make Southern-California-sounding music, yet on stage they have a live band of six people. I’d like something similar for My Dear, with maybe four people. Anything that involves playing guitar again, which is something I miss.

On the production end, we have a second My Dear album that’s almost done. I’m just running things past my friends to see what they think are the best songs. But it’s tough, because I keep changing my mind. Every few days I change my mind about the first single, but when I play the album for someone else, they say, “No, that other song should be the single “, and I’m like, “No, not that one, that’s just a regular album track “, and they’re like, “But why did you put it on the album if it’s just a regular track, and not a potential single? “. So I have to get some distance from the music in order to be sure about what we release. For some people, the hardest thing is to have a good idea for a song. For me, the hardest thing is knowing which idea was the best one (laughs).

I read in some online forums that people were comparing My Dear to Kavinsky, based on your synth sounds. Is there a connection there? I know you played guitars on his “Outrun” album.

Yes, I did play some guitars on “OutRun“, but there was no personal connection to Kavinsky before that. I didn’t know who he was until Paul introduced us. But I remember being at his studio and playing guitar on “Protovision“, and I enjoyed the process. I also remember that when we did “Protovision”, the guitar solo wasn’t in the beginning. We were looking for a solo that worked for the middle of the song, and I just played a bunch of stuff and let him decide what to keep. So it’s possible Sebastian may have suggested to re-position the solo, since he produced the album. But no, we weren’t directly influenced by Kavinsky, although it’s possible we could have heard his music somewhere and been indirectly influenced by that sound. It’s very easy to hear a song somewhere in a store or in a commercial and days later make a track that sounds similar without realizing it. Honestly, I’m not even sure where musical inspiration comes from. I think there’s two categories of music-makers: those who don’t really know what they’re doing, and those who do. I’m in the first category; I don’t recognize my composition notes when I go back to them, and even though I can play keyboard, I use the same chord progressions all the time, and I usually end up with good ideas because of random happy accidents. Then you have those who know exactly why they put a suspended 4th chord in the progression and they compose their music very deliberately. But that was never me.

Now I’d like to ask some questions about your studio. What are these guitar pedals? 

I have the Reverberation Machine pedal by Death Audio, which I play around with for fun since I mainly use in-the-box reverbs nowadays. The Supersonic Fuzz Gun is also super cool, and I’ve heard that it’s popular with underground rock bands.

And what about this small amp?

It’s a battery-powered Pignose 7-100, which is a rehearsal amp from the 70s that’s really useful for recording Nile Rodgersstyle riffs. It became popular because of how portable it was, and it only needs five Watts of power. It was even used on some Led Zeppelin albums.

In addition to my Vox amp, I also have the Universal Audio OX, which is is an Amp top box. It works as a speaker simulator, allowing you to disconnect your cabinet from the guitar chain. You send the amp signal to the OX instead, where you can plug in your headphones. A lot of studios are starting to use it nowadays because it lets you use a real guitar amp without the need for a loud cabinet.

And what soundcard are you using?

The RME Fireface 400, which is old but good. I have a Warm Audio WA12 pre-amp with an Avantone CV-12 microphone.

Do you still have any of your old drum machines or samplers left?

Unfortunately, I don’t. I sold my TR-909 and SP-1200. Just to show you how bad I am at business, I priced them at €909 and €1200 respectively, just to be funny. I had to downsize my studio, so everything had to go, from my Linndrum to the Korg Trident.

Let’s wrap up by talking about how you made some of your tracks. I’ll just mention different aspects of the track, and you can tell me what you used.

Time Limited

Sampler: Emu E4XT Ultra.

Compressor: The only one I had at the time was the Drawmer DL241. Most the of gear we had back then was what Thomas recommended to us, and that was one of them.

Drums: They were samples I took from an 80s record. The snare sounds the way it does because I layered different ones together.

Opening guitar riff: That’s a sample from Pantera’s Cowboys From Hell“.

Bass: That’s me playing a Moog Prodigy synth.

Synths: That was a Korg Trident. I split the keyboard into three parts and played synth chords, strings and synth brass. I love the Korg Trident, by the way. It’s all over Daft Punk’s “Voyager“, which is one of my favorite tracks of theirs.

Body Angels

Vocal chop that starts at 00:34: That was done by Fabien. I remember him bringing a record into the studio and insisting we sample that vocal snippet off there. He was like, “We need to use this! It’ll definitely work!“, and it did.

Phaser: That was the Ensoniq DP4+. We had it because Daft Punk did, and they recommended it. That happened a lot (laughs).

Drums: All the drums came from a Linndrum machine.

At 1:56, the drums starting pitch-shifting in the phaser. How did you do that? : That’s the Linndrum. First I programmed the beat, and whilst it’s playing you turn the pitch knobs up and down to get that effect. That was just me trying to be perform like a real drummer, but on a drum machine.

Bass: I used the Moog Prodigy. I remember that Guy-Man and Thomas had a Minimoog, but I couldn’t afford one, so I got a Prodigy instead, and kept trying to do the same thing they were doing, but obviously the sound is completely different.

Buffalo Club

Drums: Those came from the Roland TR-909.

Bass: I played the bass-line myself. I used a fretless bass, so getting the the notes right was hard.

Compressor: At the time we did The Buffalo Bunch, we only had a small, inexpensive Behringer compressor. Normally, you would process the entire signal through the compressor by using it as an input. But then it was only good for one channel, and we didn’t have enough money to buy several compressors for each channel, so we used the Behringer on an aux channel. We’d send different signals to it and bring it back into the mixer on different channels. But we mainly compressed the kick and hat.

Recording Medium: We used a DAT machine that we’d rented. Paul had to manually play all the filter modulation on the Roland S760 whilst we were recording to the tape because we din’t know how to program the sampler ourselves. It had two buttons that you pressed to open and close the filter, but we couldn’t get the cutoff to modulate at the right speed. Anytime we pressed a button, the filter would shoot open too fast or close to slowly. For whatever reason, the machine didn’t have a knob with gradual values that we could turn, so it was a pain to use.

Across the Universe and Europa

Synth arp: That was the Juno 106, which was one of the easier synths for me to handle.

Warning

Keys: I played the opening keys myself on my Fender Rhodes. It was one of first things I recorded after buying my Rhodes. I never knew how to play keys before that, so I had practice for weeks before finally playing it. But the riff sat on my computer for a year before I put it into the track.

Vocal samples: I used to sing my own vocals before later deciding to replace my voice with rap samples, which worked better.

Thanks Romain. It was a long interview, but I enjoyed it! Good luck with My Dear, and I look forward to hearing the new album when it comes out.