Parisian label Popcorn Records looked to celebrate their 10th Anniversary year of 2020 in the finest fashion with a string of exciting parties and a debut album release from longtime friend and label artist Paul Cut. With the parties now on hold for the foreseeable, it was left to the French House wunderkid to temper our disappointment with his wonderful long-player ‘Le Bal Des Douaniers.’
Across it’s eight tracks (+ two bonus) the album reflects fragments of influences from Paul’s personal musical journey. From cinematic soundscapes to lounge vibes, deep house to drum & bass; Le Bal Des Douaniers paints the perfect and most complete musical self portrait.
Having spent the summer of 2019 playing keys in the touring band of the legend, Larry Heard, collaborated with the likes of Chez Damier and Jef K, and jammed live on stage with Kerri Chandler… Cut’s skills have added new dimension to the music of House royalty. Today we shine the light on the young prince … Here is his Times & Tunes :
Lets get a bit of background on you. Where were you brought up and where do you call ‘home’ now?
I was born in Connecticut, in the US, due to my father’s work, but left at a young age and was raised in France, near Paris. Last year I left to come and live in Portugal, next to Lisbon, and I can already call it home, it’s an amazing country ! People are very welcoming, beaches are beautiful, it’s a good life and it gives all the inspiration needed !
Was music a big part of your childhood? What music, if any, do you recall being played in the house at that time and how much of an influence would say that its had on you own tastes?
It was indeed, I can’t remember a time when I would not listen to a lot of music. My memories are somehow more tied to the long car trips, where you had time to listen to whole albums, and some had a big impact that’s for sure ! Mostly well known stuff, but luckily really oriented towards Afro American music, I can remember albums from Michael Jackson, Stevie Wonder, EWF, Al Jarreau, the Doobie Brothers, Kool & the gang, Santana, Bill Withers, …
The next step was sneaking into my big brother’s room to listen to his cds, and that’s where I got to discover stuff you don’t normally listen to when you are 7, such as albums from A tribe Called Quest, The Roots, Nas, but also “Homework” from the Daft Punk which I didn’t understand at first to be honest, and one particular record, “respect to DJ Deep” from the “respect is burning” series. This record made me fall in love instantly with house music. It features tracks from Kerri Chandler, Needs, Louie Vega, who are still my heroes today.
We know you’re an accomplished Pianist. At what point did you start your journey behind the keys and was it a conscious choice of your own?
I started the piano when I was five, with classical music in a conservatory and went onto jazz around 13 years old. It came to a conscious choice when I had to choose my studies, and I couldn’t find anything else that would motivate me as music does. So I went to study musicology at university and then went back to conservatory to push further in the piano jazz course. I’ve then been giving piano lessons, to children mostly, but I keep learning from them and all the great musicians out there, and I’m delighted to be on this journey.
Who were you musical idols in your early days of playing?
The first to hit me really hard were Pink Floyd. The longer tracks such as Echoes, Atom Heart Mother or S.Y.D. blew my mind, especially “Echoes” that was my favorite song ever for a long time. I then found out about Jamiroquai, “The Return of The Space Cowboy”, all the early work and live videos made me spend pretty much a whole year listening to them. And then Herbie Hancock, probably the best piano player that ever lived, I still worship him and all of his work. It opened so many doors for others in addition to be exceptional on its own. My biggest heroes tend to be pianists, I have to mention Erroll Garner and Oscar Peterson as well, as they allow you to realize how far you can push the mastery of that instrument.
In 2019 you toured with Larry Heard’s band. How did this hook up come about, how was the experience and do you have a favourite performance from last year?
I feel so blessed about this as you can imagine, it’s been extraordinary. My booker and Larry’s, Rene Gelston, had been speaking about hi new band setup, and a few months later they asked me to play the keys! I got to meet the great singer Fatima, and hearing her and Larry singing along is pretty special. The gigs are insane, you can feel how everybody is excited about it, different generations united from all around the world, which does put a lot pressure on your shoulders too. All of the gigs were amazing, but I think I have a slight preference for Dimensions festival. The crowd was singing along during most of the show. It felt wonderful to see how involved everybody was.
Any vital lessons learnt from the great man?
Well, he did confirm the main life lesson I also got from Kerri Chandler and Chez Damier, these guys are absolute legends of course, but they are also the humblest persons I’ve met. If such stars are that humble, then no one is allowed not to be in my opinion and I try to follow their lead on this. They are also very supportive of the younger scene, and their experience and wisdom is a precious gift.
As an artist, do you prefer to play solo or as part of a band?
I love both setups, but I find that playing with others is better most of the time. Playing alone as a DJ or a live act is a good way to promote the music you stand for and you can be very personal about it. But playing with others brings you things you couldn’t get on your own. Like a mastery of various instruments or a much wider record collection. Playing back to back can get into a friendly competition where everyone plays the finest records they have, which can result in very rich sets. Playing live with Secret Value Orchestra is great, we are all very good friends, know each other like brothers. That allows us to communicate on stage simply with a look or a nod. People can also tell that we are having a lot of fun together on stage, and it’s not the same when being alone.
Apart from that, travelling with your band mates is much more funnier and easier as well, many good memories !
You are one of team behind the D.KO label. Tell us a little about the imprint.
I joined the label around its 4th release. It was mainly because we were launching Secret Value Orchestra and I was the only member of it who wasn’t part of the D.ko collective. Since the music I was producing on my own was also to their taste, they invited me to be a part of the label, which I happily accepted. The label was founded by Mezigue, Flabaire, Gabriel and Mud Deep, who are all exceptional DJs and producers. Later on came others such as Mad Rey, Security DJ, Larry Houl, Braque, Lb aka Labat, Toke, and more. I sincerely admire all the artists in there and they instantly became some of my closest friends. It feels like a big family and I’m so lucky and proud to be part of it. Personally I have no intention of creating a label. I’ve seen how much work it takes to keep one running, so I’d rather focus on helping as much as I can DKo and Popcorn, and save some time for making music.
Tell us a little about your own record collection and listening habits..
It’s not that huge to be honest, because I started collecting them pretty late and never had the budget to buy compulsively. It is mostly made up of house music or stuff I would play in my sets, but I also have my funk, soul, hip hop, jazz and Brazilian collection. I listen mostly to the two last at home. It’s a good way to relax and put a smile on your face !
Do you still regularly buy new (and old) music? And if so, where are your ‘go to’ spots to dig for music?
I do of course, to make sure I’m not always playing the same stuff, and it can be either old or new as long as it’s good. These days I go a lot to Carpets and Snares in Lisbon. It is owned by Jorge Caiado who does a lot for the music and the quality of the nightlife here, and provides me with a lot of great records, either old or new stuff. If you come by don’t forget to check it out !
You’ve recently released your debut artist album ‘Le Bal De Douaniers’, which features tracks that cover the whole gamut of House and even sees you dip a toe into the world of Drum & Bass. Give us a brief overview of the album.
Well it’s been a lot of work, but glad to see it out in the record stores. Siler, Popcorn Records’ founder, was the one who suggested that I made an album, which was a scary thought for me for a long time. What I tried to do here was to recreate the journey you can go through during a party, starting nice and easy and then going a bit harder and faster. An album was also a good opportunity to go in different directions, which I find harder with EPs.
A difficult question perhaps, but do you have a favourite track? (and why?)
Tough question indeed. From the album I would probably pick “Zebulon Neon”, because of the evolution of the track and how it mingles different genres, from an electronic vibe to a much more funky one. When playing it live I can also improvise over it, which gives it another dimension from the album version !
As we might expect, ‘Keys’ play a huge role throughout the album. Are there any tricks or tips, do’s or don’t’s, for getting them to sound perfect in the mix ?
I’m not the biggest expert on how to mix, but the one thing I do a lot on my keys is apply sidechain compression. It might seem pretty obvious, but decreasing the impact sound of the keys makes it seem a bit less like a regular instrument sound, and mostly gives it a lot of groove by enhancing what’s going on in between the beats. Another tip would be to apply some auto pan on the keys to give them some more movement and clear a little bit of space in the mix.
The album is released on Paris’ Popcorn Records. The label with which you made your release debut back in 2016 and which celebrates is 10th Anniversary this year. How did you originally connect with label?
It happened when I first got to play with Kerri Chandler in Paris. When he knew I could play the piano he put me on stage to jam on his set. That was pretty amazing. Lola Perrier, one of the organizers of this party, enjoyed it and told her friend Siler about it. We then met, and that’s probably the best thing that could happen to me. Siler instantly trusted me, offering to release my very first EP on vinyl. From there he’s been my big brother and guardian angel, allowing me to put more records out, to play at great parties from the start and even to meet the D.Ko crew. It then seemed natural to me to release my first solo album at home, knowing I would get all the help and support needed.
Give us three records that you can’t live without.
Tough question, I need much more than that! But only three would be Flood by Herbie Hancock, Stone Flower by Jobim and A So We Gwarn by Dego & Kaidi. Beyond the fact that I’ve listened to those a thousand times, they had a great impact on my music !
What does Paul Cut have in the pipeline for the rest of 2020?
There was a lot of amazing things that were planned, like playing in New York alongside Larry Heard or doing a b2b with Kerri Chandler at Évasion Festival, but as you know everything got cancelled. So we are all looking at September now, which should be the moment when parties start taking place again. On the production side, there will be more coming from Popcorn Records near the end of 2020, a few remixes, and I’ve been producing quite a lot during lockdown so 2021 should definitely see some new releases.
Finally, and this may not be easy, but can you put into words the feeling of playing live?
It’s pretty amazing, clearly one of the reasons I love my job. It is a mixture of a lot of different feelings. You have to be focused on what you do because you just can’t mess things up. There is the pressure of the audience, but quickly you get carried away by the music, which is already nice. Then, when the audience cheers, it gets you out of that trance and suddenly you realize there are hundreds of people living this moment with you, sharing all the emotions it carries, and if this isn’t magical I don’t know what is. :)