Pascal Rioux is the founder of the French funk/boogie label, Favorite Recordings as well as its distribution outlet, The Pusher. I had come across some of their releases on Bandcamp whilst searching for new artists and decided to email Pascal about a band he was producing called Aldorande. A few weeks later, I was invited over to Question De Son where the band was recording their upcoming single, and the interview below includes conversations with Pascal, the band’s bassist, Virgile Raffaelli, and Jordan Kouby from the studio itself.
PASCAL RIOUX – Label Owner
Hi Pascal. Thanks for inviting me to QDS to chat. Can you tell me how you got your start in the music world?
I started off at fifteen, doing DJ gigs at my parent’s Saturday parties; they put me in charge of playing the seven-inch records. I later asked my mom to buy me a double cassette recorder at a time when FM radio had just come to France and funk/boogie music was being played on there for the first time; I’d record those radio shows onto my cassette recorder and listen to them constantly. I kept DJing throughout the 80s, and later got motivated to produce and release my own music in the 90s.
And how did you end up as a label owner with his own distribution outlet?
In 1995, a friend and I started a Lyon-based record label called Rotax, and we released our first record in 1997. We had about 25 releases between 1997 and 2005, after which I started Favorite Recordings and The Pusher distribution. This was at a time when vinyl sales were declining, in part due to the growing popularity of Serato as a cheaper option for DJs; they could buy new releases on there for as little as €1. So I started The Pusher in order to keep the commissions I’d normally pay to another distributor.
And how has it been for you, working as a distributor?
It’s meant more work for me but it kept me busy, which isn’t a bad thing. Also, a distributor’s job is to release as many records as possible so he can sell them to his record store clientele, so I started three additional sub-labels to have more release avenues. One was called Big Single, which mainly released The Dynamics in 2007. We sold around 20,000 copies of vinyl with them, which isn’t bad for an indie label. Another label was called Stix, which was more focused on reggae and Caribbean music, and the final one was EDR Records, which was an edit label for DJ material. So by having multiple labels, we were able to increase our client base and other labels gained awareness of us, which led to us distributing their releases as well. At present, the distribution part of our business is more important than the label, and the income from The Pusher helps us to inject money into music projects like Aldorande.
Can you tell me more about the process of building up The Pusher?
Sure. As a distributor, I knew that having relationships with record stores was one of the first things we needed. So I rented a truck, filled it with our new releases, and spent a week driving through the UK with a friend. We hit all the record stores we could, starting in Manchester and moving on to Nottingham, Brighton, and London. We’d go into a store and say, “Hi, we just started a new label and distribution company. Would you like to check us out? “.
The Pusher only had eight new releases at the time, but they were all noteworthy. For example, Tony Allen was signed to Mind Records with his afrobeat band, Antibalas, and we were distributing their first seven-inch. We also had the first releases from labels like Les Disques Du Télégraphe, Favorite and Rotax. Grand Phabao had done a cover of “Message to Rudy“, and we were distributing that one too. So we had a strong start with releases like that.
One of the biggest challenges for a new distributor is their lack of catalog. It makes record stores less interested in working with them because there aren’t enough releases to choose from. Shipping costs at that time were expensive, but the more records a store could order from you, the less they’d pay in shipping, which gave priority to distribution outlets with larger catalogs. So for big countries like the UK and Germany, we had a distribution partner who dispatched our records there. But once our catalog grew, things changed. Now we have 250 clients around the world, and we handle our own pipeline everywhere except the US, which isn’t that interesting of a market anymore. So we kept our Boston-based distribution partner there, called Forced Exposure, and they handled our releases in North America.
Has your business been negatively affected by the rise of digital platforms and the downsizing of record stores?
Not really. Many of the UK record stores that existed when I was buying records in the 90s still exist today, like Sounds Of The Universe and Phonica in Soho, and Mr Bongo in Brighton. The thing that really changed how we do business was the rise of online vinyl shops like Juno and HHV – they’re the biggest vinyl sellers in Europe, and they’re also our biggest clients in the UK and Germany respectively. In Japan, our biggest client is Disk Union. They have eighteen stores in the country, so whenever they make an order, it’s for all their stores. Those countries are the biggest markets for us, and it’s all because how the vinyl marketplace changed.
Favorite Recordings is perhaps most famous for its compilation albums, like the “French Disco Boogie Sounds”. How were you able to compile such an obscure collection of records, and what kind of success have you had with those albums?
Anything you hear on our compilations comes from my private vinyl collection. I started buying records a long time ago when we only had access to American music on the radio and African music from Francophone countries. So the rise of the Internet helped me extend my collection even further, and it’s helped in putting together the compilations.
Albums like the “French Disco Boogie Sounds” and “Brazilian Disco Boogie Sounds” have done very well. If you add up all our compilation sales, they total more than three times any of our solo artists. But it takes a lot of work to put them together; a twelve-track compilation album requires you to find twelve different owners of the master recordings, and it can take more than six months for just one of them to sign the papers. But it’s worth it; the compilations offer us more visibility because record stores that aren’t interested in buying twelve-inches from our solo artists would much rather buy the compilations.
What’s been the hardest record for you to clear for any of your compilations?
There was a record on French Disco Boogie Sounds Volume 3 that was a nightmare. It was called “Looking For You” by J.E.K.Y.S, and it was originally a twelve-inch release on EMI France that had nothing written on the vinyl disc other than the name of the artist and the label – no credits or names of distributors. It was the only track on the compilation that we couldn’t figure out who owned the master recording. When we asked EMI about it, they kept saying, “Sorry, we don’t have that record in our system “. I suspect the track was released right before EMI digitized all their masters, so an obscure twelve-inch disco record probably got lost in the shuffle and was never digitized. So we didn’t know what to do. All the other tracks had been cleared and I didn’t want to leave this one off. But then at the last minute, something happened. We found the son of the original composer on Facebook (laughs). We wrote to him about wanting use the record and he agreed, which is how it ended up on the album.
J.E.K.Y.S is from the Reunion islands near Madagascar, which is why it was so hard to find any information about him. He made and paid for the record himself, and only used EMI as a distributor. Also, he only made two tracks in his life, which is probably why the record never entered into their computer system.
Let me ask about two of my favorite records from the “French Boogie Sounds” compilations. Tell me about Marché Noir’s “Tant Pis, C’est La Vie” and Contessa’s “Super Star”.
Marché Noir was a band from the south of France and their record is super hard to find. If you find the twelve-inch in good condition, it can go for €500 to €600. I even saw some for €1000 once, so it’s very much in demand.
The singer in Contessa is the sister of Geraldine Hunt, singing a Francophone version of “Star Struck” by Cheri. She was living in Canada at the time, so they did a French version for the Canadian market. It’s a great twelve-inch with really good production on there.
I noticed that Favorite Recordings released the first volume of Onra’s “Chinoiseries” on vinyl.
Yes, that’s right. Onra and I knew each other 2000s, and “Chinoiseries” had already been released on CD through another label. So I reached out to him about printing some double vinyl of the album, and he agreed – the sales were crazy. We stopped printing the vinyl about three years ago, but we sold a lot of that one. Even the digital sales of that album were crazy, especially back then when iTunes stood for 90% of all online downloads. If you accumulate all the digital and vinyl sales, we probably sold around 20,000 copies, which is significant for a label of our size. I’m sure that if we started pressing the vinyl again, it would still sell well. I saw some copies on Discogs that were going for €70, and some of them weren’t even mint condition.
After “Chinoiseries”, you released Onra’s “1.0.8.” album, but nothing more after that. Why didn’t you do the rest of the “Chinoiseries” albums ?
The “1.0.8.” album sold well, but Onra had been in touch with the owner of All City Records in Dublin, who was very eager to sign him. He gave Onra a record deal to make “Long Distance“, and because of that he was able to ask for “Chinoiseries Pt 2“, which was only fair. Also, the deal we had with Onra was just a hand-shake agreement; there was never any contract in place. So his later albums were released elsewhere.
As a label, what does Favorite Recordings offer its artists that would make them motivated to sign with you? After all, any label these days can offer a digital release on Bandcamp or Spotify.
Favorite Recordings is well-represented in record stores all over Europe, North America and parts of Asia, so any good record store in the UK, Germany or Japan has our releases, and that gives us visibility. Also, the consistency of our releases and the strength we have within our genre leads to people following what we put out. So if we share the same taste in music as an artist that we sign, we can definitely help each other.
What would you say is the biggest challenge in running a label today, compared to when you started in 1995?
Running a label nowadays is harder because you won’t earn much money in the beginning, even if you have a successful release. Most of the money used to be made by printing physical releases, which no-one does anymore. When I started in 1995, vinyl was the main format, and if we sold 2000 copies, it was considered a disaster, whereas 2000 copies today is fantastic. So finding ways to generate money is probably one of the biggest challenges today.
How did you end up signing Aldorande?
It’s a band made up of my friends. That’s how things used to be in the 60s and 70s. You’d have a family of musicians who all play on each others releases, which is what we do at Favorite. So they eventually decided to form a band, and I was happy to produce and release the album.
What are your expectations for the next Aldorande album that you’ve started recording today?
The music we’re recording today is a twelve-inch with two tracks, which we’re putting it out just to keep the up buzz around the band. We’ll record the rest of the second album around February, with a release date for around October 2020.
I’m hoping that the second album will be of more interest to DJs this time around. It puts more focus on music suited for the dance-floor, and I think that will help spread the name of the band.
Finally, can you tell me about Patchworks? I keep seeing his name all over Favorite’s releases, and his stuff sounds pretty impressive.
Patchworks is a guy born and raised in Versailles, and we met through a mutual friend. I was working on two albums with an artist called Mr Day, who was signed to Rotax. Patchwork’s girlfriend was studying in the same class as Mr Day’s wife, and when she invited them over for dinner one evening, Mr Day was surprised to see all the records that Patchwork had on the wall of artists like Leroy Hutson and Curtis Mayfield. They started talking about their shared taste in music and it turned out that Patchwork was already a fan of the stuff we were releasing on Rotax. So I was introduced to him through Mr Day and our collaboration started in 2002. When I later started Favorite Recordings, he became a key part of our label. Every three releases we did had his name on it because he has so many other aliases, like Mr President, Uptown Funk Empire, Violaaa, etc.
VIRGILE RAFFAELLI – Bassist
Hi Virgile. Thanks for sitting down with me. Can you tell me about Aldorande’s band members?
Sure. For the first album, the core of the band was a trio composed of the drummer, Mathieu Edouard, the keyboard player, Florian Pellissier, and myself on the bass. Erwan Loeffel was the percussionist we brought in to help on the first album but he’s now become a permanent member of the band. For today’s session at QDS, we’ve brought in a guitar player called Farid Baha, a sax/trumpet player called Paul Bouclier, and we also had some backing vocals that were arranged by Franck Chatona.
And how did the band come together?
Aldorande was created after Mathieu, Florian and I played in a Latin soul band called Setenta. I’d already known Florian for many years and when we met Mathieu, we all clicked; he’s the best drummer I’ve worked with.
My favorite genre to play is jazz-funk, but even after twenty years of playing bass guitar, I still found myself mostly playing in other people’s bands. So I never played jazz-funk the way I’d like to play it, and I finally decided to put this band together just for that. I ran into Pascal shortly after that, and he like the idea, so we all decided to pursue it.
Is there a demand for this type of music in France, to the point where you could make a living playing it?
No, there isn’t. We’re in a narrow genre, and I don’t think you can make much money with this sort of thing unless you were playing in the 70s. But who knows what the future holds.
But bands like Snarky Puppy seem to be doing fine , no?
Yes, but I don’t see that as jazz-funk. It’s fusion mixed with pop and other genres, so it’s able to capture a larger audience. But don’t get me wrong – I like Snarky Puppy, and their brand of music is spectacular, but it’s not what any of us in Aldorande are influenced by.
So what are your influences?
For me, Herbie Hancock above everything else; albums like “Thrust ” and “Secrets ” where extremely formative for me early on. I was also able to improve my bass skills by playing along to early Jamiroquai albums, and I listened a lot to Stuart Zender and later Banda Black Rio.
As a side question, if someone told you that Jamiroquai was overrated, would you take offense?
Not necessarily (laughs). But if the person said that about the first three albums, then yeah, I’d take issue with that. I went to see them in Paris during the second album tour and it was a shock to my system. It was at the Bataclan, which is a small venue, and they were amazing. But they began touring stadiums soon after that, and the magic was lost. So I’m not into their later albums.
I get it. Back to Aldorande. What kind of artist deal do you guys have with Favorite Recordings?
We originally signed a deal for a six-track album, but we ended up with nine tracks that were pretty long, so Pascal decided to release a double LP. The deal was pretty standard: Pascal is the label owner who provided the financing, but he’s also able make production decisions that are good for the sound of our records, which was great. That was how we met Jordan from Question De Son. Pascal brought us to the studio, and it didn’t take long for us to realize that it wasn’t possible to record that album anywhere else.
(Below: “Aldorande” double LP)
Do you know how well the first album performed commercially?
We sold nearly all the records we printed, which was about 750, so we might repress some more at the start of 2020.
And what are your expectations for the second album?
I do feel some pressure. In my opinion, the first album was great, so people expect the second one to be at least as good, but we’re doing our best to live up to that.
Is there a tour planned for it?
We have two people who are working on booking us dates, but it’s a work in progress; it’d would be nice to play at festivals and things like that, since our music works well for live shows.
Tell me about your bass setup. What do you have at home?
I don’t have much gear at home, other than a Mac Book and a Roland sound-card that someone lent to me – I don’t even know what model it is (laughs). I don’t usually play at home anyway, other than when I’m rehearsing by myself. But I have a Markbass amp and a Markbass 104 cab at a friend’s studio.
In terms of pedals, I have a Crybaby Bass Wah, a Minifooger Flange, and an octaver pedal from Aguilar, among a few other things.
And what software do you record into?
I make my music in GarageBand, so I use the Ampeg simulations in there, along with some compression. But not much else.
What kind of basses do you play today, and what are your main influences for bass?
I started off with a Squier Jazz Bass, and I went through a Warwick period too, but nowadays I play a 1982 Fender Precision Bass through a Radial DI box. I also own a five-string 2003 Fender Deluxe Jazz Bass, though I don’t use it a lot, and a PB-57 Mary Kaye from Nash Guitars , which I use every day.
Paul Jackson is my main reference for bass. I like his P-Bass sound and it’s what I used develop my own, so I stick to that unless I’m playing a Jazz Bass that requires a different slap sound.
If I was a bass player who wanted to make 70s style music, what would you say is the most important thing to consider?
Anyone who understands 70s music will tell you that playing the bass guitar in that style starts with your fingers, but I’d take it a step further: it starts with your ears. You first have to listen to a lot of 70s music in order to figure out what you like about it. Then you can try to duplicate what you hear with your fingers. It takes a lot of practice, and I spent many years playing along to my favorite albums in order to learn that style of bass. So I’d say “ears”, then “fingers”, then “practice”, and then the bass guitar itself. Things like the amp and the studio don’t matter as much to me.
Before I move on to talk to Jordan, let’s look at two of my favorite tracks on the “Aldorande” album. What can you tell me about “Beauty Island”?
That one was born at a rehearsal, and was originally planned to be something else. But Florian came up with a melody and we changed directions. But I couldn’t come up with a suitable bassline for it until I went home, fell asleep and I dreamt up the bass riff. When I woke up, I was like, “Thats it! “, and I played it immediately.
What about “Sir Boastful”?
That’s the song that most embodies my influences, like Herbie Hancock’s “Head–Hunters“. It’s also an homage to Paul Jackson and other musicians that I like. I’d like to record more stuff like that, but without falling into a copy-paste sort of thing. It’s really easy to repeat yourself and sound boring when you keep aiming for the same feeling.
Anything you can share with me about the next album?
Well, I did the graphic design for the first album cover, and I’ll be doing the upcoming one too. I make the visuals for our albums in order to set the mood, and only after that do we start writing the tracks. Personally, I need visual cues that inspire the music, and it really helped us along on the last album.
JORDAN KOUBY – Engineer/Mixer
Hi again Jordan. Thanks for having me back at QDS. How did you meet Pascal and start working with Favorite Recordings?
It happened through the keyboard player, Florian Pellissier. I’d heard that he was working at a nearby studio called Prado, so I asked him to come over play some keys on Anthony Jospeh’s “Caribbean Roots” album, which I was producing. I didn’t know it at the time, but he liked how I mixed that record, and since he was producing Al Sunny’s first album, he pushed Pascal to have me mix it. We discovered pretty quickly that Pascal and I had a similar musical background; I used to be a house music DJ and he was producing for Rotax, so we liked the same kind of stuff. He was happy with the sound we achieved on the mixes, so we kept working together after that.
Pascal once told me that it’s hard to find studios that can achieve the sound he’s after because the expertise required to make this kind of music is disappearing. That’s why he came to QDS. How have you been able to retain that expertise here?
I think it’s due to my background. I listen to a lot of music, but when I’m home, I mostly listen to things like Herbie Hancock and George Duke. So I built Question De Son to be able record that kind of music. That means having equipment from the 60s and 70s, like a Fender Rhodes, Minimoog, vintage mics, etc. The norm today is that people either record their music at home or go to big studios like AIR to do orchestras. But they forget that places like Motown and FAME STUDIOS had their own small and medium-sized recording spaces, and that played a big part in their sound. So if you’re a fan of tight, dead sounds, it’s important to remember small studios are a big part of achieving that, which is what QDS was built for. It’s obvious in everything from the EMI-Neve console to our outboard gear – we don’t do symphonic orchestras here. So when Pascal sent me a link to a song he likes on Youtube that illustrates the snare sound he’s after, it’s because he knows I can figure out how to achieve it.
But what are the challenges you have to overcome to achieve that sound? After all, many respectable studios have vintage Neumann mics, yet they don’t achieve anything near the sound of Aldorande’s album.
I don’t think the gear is the issue. It helps me achieve what I have in my mind because it’s what was used in the 70s, but I think the most important thing is the musicians. They’re the ones playing in a style that’s similar to the classics. My job is just to record them as best I can. But to be perfectly honest, I’m not trying to recreate 60s or 70s music. Daptone Records are great at that, but it’s not my goal to make old school-sounding music like them. One of the greatest records I know of is Steely Dan’s “Aja” – the sound on album that is huge; there’s no small kick-drums and high-pitched basses on there, and those kinds of sounds don’t impress me anyway. I love old music, but I prefer big productions, and that’s what I try to bring to this project.
So why don’t Aldorande just book time at a cheaper studio if it’s the players that matter the most, rather than the engineer or studio?
Because they save time by coming here. Since we have the same sensibilities, we’re able to speak the same language. Trust me, they already tried recording that album elsewhere before coming here, and even if the results were good, they could tell the difference after they worked at QDS.
What have been the biggest changes from recording the first album to this one?
I’ve tried to make the recording process more simple on the new album. For example, I used less mics. Before, I’d put twelve to fourteen mics on the drum kit with the intention of choosing my favorite ones later. I’ve matured a bit from that, and I use eight now, which is still a lot (laughs). Old school engineers used to have only two or three. I’ve noticed that when you have too many mics, you don’t have time to listen to all of them anyway. So I’ve made an effort to get away from that, and I’m happy with the results.
Let’s go through your mic setup for each instrument.
Drums: I usually put at least two mics on the kick: a dynamic and a condenser. For today’s recording, I used a Neumann U47 FET on the outside and a Beyerdynamic M88 on the inside, though not too far inside, since I didn’t need that much attack from the kick.
I used a vintage Shure 545 for the snare, which has less highs and a deader sound than an SM57. I also used the Neumann KM84 on the snare, which is nice for the rimshot.
I used Sennheiser MD 441 for the hi-hat, but anything works on a hi-hat though, so I’m not too picky about that.
For toms I used the white Sennheiser MD 421.
The overhead was a Neumann U47 Tube and two Coles mics in blumlein position so I could do stereo drums on the chorus and mono drums in the verse, or blend them whenever I want.
Bass: That was just a DI into an Avalon U5 and then into the EMI-Neve console.
Piano: Since the piano wasn’t a primary instrument on the record, I just used a pair of Neumann U67s.
Keys: We lined-in the Fender Rhodes. I didn’t use the speaker because the percussionist was playing four congas, and he played so loud that you could hear them inside Rhodes mic. I’d rather re-amp the keyboard later with the speakers if I have too, and I might do the same with the bass.
Percussion: That was recorded with a Sennheiser MD 421 on each conga and one vintage AKG C414 as an overhead. I also had a stereo Schoeps in an X-Y pattern for the shakers.
Guitar: For that I used a U67 tube. There was no room mic, since this kind of music doesn’t need that; everything had to sound close and tight.
I’m interested in some of the snare sounds you achieved on the first album. Can you tell me about the ones on “Sur La Lune” and “Petite Cherie”?
I have a large collection of snares, so we used a deep-sounding one that was tuned really low. I might have also used an Eventide pitch-shifter as parallel processing. We actually had two snares on the drum kit: one in front of the drummer and one on the side. I sometimes create a parallel snare with distortion from something like a Ibanez Tube Screamer, with the tone set to “low”, though I don’t remember if we did that for this track. But I do remember that we went through a bunch of kit pieces to find the right sound for those drums, and we probably used a Ludwig Supraphonic snare.
For Pascal, the snare is sometimes the most important thing on a record. I’ve heard him say, “If the snare on a record is shit, I don’t buy it ” (laughs). So I tend to bring the snare up in the mix with a bump at 100 Hz.
So if your process is so simple, why is it that other studios and engineers who claim to make the same music fail so miserably?
That’s funny (laughs). But it’s interesting food for thought. I have interns at QDS who are young, and they talk about the gear a lot. Sometimes they forget that some of the best records were made on crappy gear, so it’s about having a good ear and a feeling for what works best when you’re in charge of a session. Even though I’ve been doing this for twelve years, I feel like I only became serious as an engineer about two years ago, after I’d internalized those things.
I always tell my interns to pay attention to the music they listen to because it’ll help them to identify what’s happening, and they’ll be able to recreate it just by listening – unless it’s something like Nine Inch Nails; bands like that might do crazy sound design with their synths to achieve something very complex which you can’t reverse engineer. But Pascal’s type of music isn’t like that. It’s just a keyboard going into a console, or a bass going into a DI, and that’s it. So listening to a lot to older records will help you understand why they sound like they do.
Thanks for talking to me again Jordan. It’s been fun as always. So how will you be ending your 2019?
I have a lot of one and two-day sessions going on, so I’m switching from project to project a lot. Tomorrow I’m mixing a track for an artist from Burkina Faso called Alif Naaba, and I hope to do the whole album. I have to mix something else for Pascal by the end of the year, and I’m also working on a new soul project with my friend, Sly Johnson. Additionally, I’m working on stuff with the producer behind artists like Imany, and there’s a jazz album with Florian that I might mix, but we’ll see. It’s always like this – the business has changed so much now. You’ll spend ten days making a record, and then the same artist calls you next week for another project. It wasn’t like that when I started; it used to be that you knew your schedule three months in advance, but now all my bookings are last-minute. So I have a lot of small sessions coming, and I also have to go to Madagascar to record a children’s choir in January. So yeah, I stay busy.