“An album came out of this,” Franck Roger says, referring to the lockdowns. “I’m not going to complain. It’s been productive.”
The album is 44, a number rife with symbolism for one of France’s premier deep house producers but actually is simply taken from his current age. It’s also a departure. Far from standing for the 4/4 beat at the heart of his most well-known productions, 44 is about the furthest thing from 4/4 driven club music that he’s ever done. In parts reminiscent of ’70s rock, electro-tribal, synth pop and luscious R&B, 44 was born of this year of isolation when musicians and DJs created music without the immediate expectation it could be heard.
“I thought it would be the only moment in my life to get this opportunity,” Roger says. “I really wanted — and I know this is also a risk — to feel completely free. For a year we weren’t making people dance in the clubs… So you take your time, listen to your favorite albums from your youth like Jeff Buckley, Bryan Ferry, Terrence Trent D’Arby, Nenah Cherry, Genesis… and you just wanna turn on the machines and let it go.”
Making an album wasn’t the only thing Roger has been doing. 44 is released on Real Tone — a label which broke many electronic artists in the ’10s but abruptly shuttered right when it was reaching a critical mass and mainstream breakthrough.
Franck Roger has long been a fixture in the pages of 5 Mag — I don’t think you could publish a legitimate electronic music review section without it being heavily populated by releases from Real Tone, sublabel Earthrumental, personal label Franck Roger Production and successor label Home Invasion. But this is our first actual sit-down, in which we talked about classic albums, the story behind Real Tone’s hibernation, the demonology of Paris and more for our first 5 Mag cover story.
Hello Franck, we’ve been in touch over the years over your records, but never did a real interview before. How are you and where are you right now?
I’m fine thanks and happy to be in good health and can’t wait like all of us to get out of these crazy times. I’m still living in Paris and the situation here is not yet solved. We are entering to the 4th Lockdown but thank God we got one thing that keeps us in good health mentally… the music!
We’re speaking at a time when we just passed the one year anniversary of the lockdowns. Do you remember the last time you played for more than 5 people in person?
Well the last gig I remember was in Bangkok, exactly a year ago. That was the last time taking flights and traveling and since then we are stuck in France.
And what did you find yourself doing during the lockdowns? Any new discoveries? New hobbies? Complete timewasters?
During the beginning of the first lockdown I of course made more music. I started to work on this album even if some ideas were somewhere in a folder on my computer. Step-by-step you go back inside of what you’ve achieved, look back at your music, etc. And I decided to open a Bandcamp for Real Tone, for new music and of course the whole catalog also.
So I’ve been pretty busy over the year. No holidays but I’m not going to complain — it’s been productive. An album came out of this. Some new EPs came out as well with great success like Rocco’s remix of Jovonn’s song “Remember.” I also made some sample packs for the producers that want to have a part of my own sounds to get inspired.
What was the inspiration for 44? Was most of it recorded during the pandemic or does it predate March 2020?
Yeah I had in mind a long time way before the pandemic the need to make a new album, but not necessarily house like the old ones. I really wanted to take time and sit down with myself and see what kind of music I should propose to the audience.
I never made long term plans. It’s an everyday work or fight for some of us. How can we make long term plans in this music industry? It’s hard.
So I started some sketch tracks and many of them were definitely not for club use. I contacted some of my musician friends for some really needed parts and worked closely with HATT on that kind of psychedelic electro rock song “Everything Now” and went more soul and intimate on songs with Gladys Gambie for “The Reason,” “Part” and the boogie vibe of “Les Yeux Fermés.” I also had some bass and guitars from Anthony Rouchier and Thomas Laroye as well on this album. Not many musicians — because of this pandemic I haven’t been able to do exactly 100% of what I pictured but I’m very happy with the result of this album now.
What is the meaning of “44”? I thought it meant 4/4 and I was really clever to figure it out, but then I started listening to it and this is the furthest thing from 4/4 driven club music that you’ve ever done.
It’s simply my age today! Haha, no big surprise.
The name of one track, “Belphegor,” sounded familiar, like it came from Lord of the Rings or something. I looked it up and read it refers to the demon of sloth “who encourages people to fantasize and procrastinate rather than produce,” and who is also the demonic ambassador to France. I’m not making this up, Hell apparently has embassies. In France. Which of these, or none of them, is the real meaning?
“Belphegor” comes from a series in black-and-white, a French one that was on TV when I was young. This personage is the ghost of the Louvre Museum based in Paris. I was scared to death when I was watching that show, I don’t know why but it was more than something on TV, chasing me in my dreams and I was mystified at the same time. So the name of “Belphegor” came to me directly… something mysterious that you can’t catch.
The hazy sounds of “Belphegor” really is the only thing that I heard in the first half of the record that made me think “This is a Franck Roger album.” It immediately bounces into “Everything Now,” which sounds like a ’70s rock song from YES, “Gaia” which was like some electro tribal take on DJ Gregory, and then “The Reason” which is just straight-ahead, luscious R&B. Where did all this come from? You’ve always been an “adventurous” producer, I’ve probably called you that, but how long was this desire to make ballads and pop and IDM bubbling up?
It comes from your childhood, your musical influences from Black music to pop to rock to jazz or soul. The number of producers that are inspiring me will take a while to mention. I really wanted — and I know this is also a risk — to feel completely free, released from club music. For a year we were not making people dance in clubs and honestly I lived with it very well. So you take time, listen to your favorite albums from your younger years like Jeff Buckley, Bryan Ferry, TTD’Arby, Neneh Cherry, Genesis, etc., etc. And you just wanna turn on the machines and let it go. I thought it would be the only moment in my life I would get this opportunity. And after all, people got time for a year to listen to albums, read books and watch Netflix. So let’s make an album. No travel no rush, so it was easy!
What can you tell me about some of the contributors on here?
Gladys who is the lead female singer on this album is also a choreographer based in Paris. Thomas who is more well-known under the name “LAROYE” helped me also with some crazy guitars and slides passing through some effects. Anthony is on bass and of course my main partner when it comes to serious writing is Olivier M’ Sellem who was part of the composition on some tracks.
What do you hope people get from this album? As I’m sure you know, we often service and celebrate the DJ in this part of the industry. Who do you hope finds this album?
I hope that they will take time to listen to it first, and then each one will make their own interpretation of it. That’s what music is made for so I hope they will go to some places where I’ve never been with it…
I was surprised to see this on Real Tone! I’m interested to know why you wound down Real Tone. One of the more fascinating things is that you ended Real Tone right at the peak in terms of public consciousness and awareness of the label… and immediately threw all your energy into Home Invasion, which with hand-stamped labels and no hype at all was about as far from Real Tone as it could be. What is the inside story?
Well back in those days me and my label partner stopped the label as he wasn’t keen to go any more into it and the label wasn’t generating much money to make a living. So he decided to focus only on the bookings for the label artists and then chose to make his own path. To be clear and not getting into stories — I never wanted to end Real Tone Records but it was our label so I had to accept his decision.
I created Home Invasion Records with a different vision than RTR. The idea behind HIR was to be free and experiment with house music in its many genres, from dub house to more rough stuff and more trippy sometimes.
Well many years went by and now HIR is taking a break, and in the last year I have reloaded RTR and made it mine today. After a year the back catalog is running good on all digital platforms and I’m doing many new releases on Real Tone as well. So it’s a new skin for Real Tone and I’m happy to make more songs as well… and get back to where I’m from, basically.
People stopped making long term plans. Have you? What are your plans for the future?
I never made long term plans. It’s an everyday work or fight for some of us. There’s so much music and so many producers these days, and let’s not talk about labels, etc. Mistake or not, how can we make long term plans in this music industry? It’s hard.
I make music everyday. This is what I do and I’m grateful to live with it even after all these years and I can’t say enough thanks to my music supporters. It’s my mission here to provide you the best of me… (let’s cry now haha)
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