[This is a condensed version of an interview published in 2019 on TRB’s sister site, Speakhertz]
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-Christo. With releases on both of Daft Punk’s personal labels, and remixes for the likes of Phoenix and Modjo, Romain has 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 playing guitars, but later transitioned into electronic music in the mid-90s. How did that transition happen?
I was into hard rock as a teenager; drummers with ten-piece kits that played aggressively were the ones I liked the most (laughs). 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, 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 track? 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. When I later heard the distorted Juno 106 in “Rolling and Scratching “, I felt 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.
– So what 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.
– 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 the French Touch scene were just regular friends back then. I already knew Romain Tranchart from Modjo because we were both fans of guitar players like Steve Vai and Joe Satriani. Paul and I became familiar with each other through people like that, although I don’t remember the exact moment we met. His parents owned an office space where they ran a magazine, so we’d meet up in the back 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. How that duo came about?
It was a social thing. After high school, Paul and I had taken a year off and would meet in front of the video club every night to find a movie to watch, so after hanging out like that for a while, we eventually started making music together. We’d record rock music at each of our home studios, then pass around two cassette tapes with our recordings to see what people thought. Afterwards, we’d talk about the feedback when we met at the movie club. Paul eventually said, “You should come to my studio. I have more hardware there 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. We’d only recorded guitar, bass and drums until then, 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 because there weren’t any formal lessons for that; 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 for word. Instead of just singing, “This is who we are “, we’d first record, “This is “, then punch in, “who we “, and finally, “are ” ; it was so unmusical (laughs). Looking back, I can’t imagine how we made it work.
– The two of you eventually released your EP, “Buffalo Club“, on Thomas Bangalter’s sub-label Scratché. But it feels like Thomas made the label just for that, since nothing else was ever put out on it.
To be honest, that’s exactly what happened. Thomas already had two releases on Roulé: Roy Davis Jr’s “Rock Shock“ and Stardust’s “Music Sounds Better With You“. At the time, he wasn’t sure if the Stardust track was good or not. When he played it for people, 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 that all sounded different. So he said to me and Paul, “I’ll make another sub-label for your EP “.
Look, we 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 uncertain about where to release your EP, why didn’t you 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. Here’s what happened: the sampler we were using was a little too complicated for us, so we asked Thomas to come by our studio and help figure it out. He knew it better than the engineers who built it, and explained so much about it 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 expected anything to develop from that track, but it got released thanks to Thomas. After that, we continued to work on other tracks that 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 suggested 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 than have Thomas produce our album. So I ended up working on my own music, which later 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 those 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 homes, 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. 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, whereas the Roulé sound 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; 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 label’s Le Knight Club remix did.
– One of my favorite Buffalo Bunch remixes is of Modjo’s “Chillin“? How did you end up doing that?
It happened because we were friends with the guys from Modjo, and Romain Tranchart used to share a studio space with us for two years. I remember playing Playstation next door with Paul whilst he was chopping up the Chic sample for “Lady“. We’d heard it so many times before it was done that it drove us crazy (laughs). 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 stupid of us – 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 still have listened to it. There were artists making better stuff than us but no-one paid them any attention because they weren’t in the same circles we were. Hard work is important, but so is luck, and all bands get a point where a random situation or meeting can change everything depending on who they know or what they choose. 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’d work for days on a track and get nowhere, or we’d use ideas that we didn’t think were 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’s “If 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 Winter, he 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…
– Yeah, the vocal loop does sound funny in the beginning, but otherwise it’s a good remix. I think the public made the right choice.
I’m not saying that our music was 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 to get some reviews. When he got the reviews back, there was one that 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’d already heard how amazing “Music Sounds Better With You” was, and in fact, we didn’t even care about the “Buffalo Club” 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 “. So we were right about the mix-up (laughs).
– Maybe part of the reason 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, but it happens to me a lot. Let’s say you make ten tracks for an album. You need to pick one of them as the single, but when you play the music for other people, they end up picking one of the tracks you were unsure about and almost left off the album! It’s a terrible feeling because it shows that you don’t understand yourself. You’re the one 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 old music 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 a 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 it was “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 that act, which is funny.
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 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 didn’t have much luck with that.
Both of the tracks we made as For the Floorz were good, but they came out towards the end of the French Touch wave, so the timing wasn’t good for us. We probably sold 2000 copies or less of that EP, and now that I think of it, I never even cleared any of our samples for it. We only cleared samples for releases on Roulé and Crydamoure because we never expected our other material to sell anything.
– Another group you formed in the early 2000s was called We In Music. That’s the fourth artist name in 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 being the younger brother of Guy Manuel 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 their record label would have sued us. I think we credited Benjamin but he used a different name so we didn’t get caught (laughs).
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 could meet with a rival label who would make similar offers. So in the end, we went with Virgin.
– Let’s talk about the music duo you’ve created with your wife, 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.
– Does it seem like your new band will be successful?
It’s funny when I look at demographic data of who listens to our music on Spotify. 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 the 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.
– 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. The 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 song good idea. For me, the hardest thing is knowing which idea was the best one (laughs).
– I get it. Thanks for talking to Romain. It’s been a great interview. One last question: I read in some online forums that people were comparing My Dear to Kavinsky. Is there a connection there? I know you played guitars on his “Outrun” album.
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.