By Kenneth Bremer.
For a long time Frédéric Slama has been a journalist in France and is responsible for bringing AOR/Westcoast music to his native country in the late 70´s thru hundreds of interviews and radio shows and also thanks to several thousands reviews in different magazines in France about that kind of music which has always been the passion of his life. After spending more than 10 years in Los Angeles Frédéric Slama released in 2000 his 1st CD under the bandname “AOR” and has since then released 3 more albums, all with love to the westcoast music, and has also had an impressive lineup of famous westcoast musicians, and has brought us some of the classic artists to record again, such as Dane Donohue and David Roberts. Frédéric Slama are telling Blue Desert about his career, westcoast music, album releases etc.
– West coast music seems to be very close to your music heart, when did you hear the music for the first time?
Actually it was in a movie theater in Paris (France). Before the movie started, they played music in the cinema loudspeakers to entertain people before the film begins. They played different songs from the 70’s and suddenly they played “One Of These Nights” by the Eagles. I was so astounded with these voices and melodies that I left the movie theatre (without even watching the film) and asked my parents to buy me a guitar! I wanted to be a musician and play like the Eagles!
– So you started to dig into the west coast music?
I really start to dive into aor when I was 14 when I came back from a 3 month stay in a family in L.A (to study english). I loved the californian way of life and of course the music. It was 1977 and the aor sound was really born a year earlier with bands like Boz Scaggs or Ned Doheny. At the same time I started a band with some friends in Paris and we played all the classics from Toto, America, Poco or The Eagles and then I started to write songs because I felt there was this energy in me that I wanted to develop!
– Did you also start to collect west coast music, when you “fell in love” with this music style?
Yes I did, and since then I have bought a lot of records (lp’s) almost 100 each month. Mostly everything that was new from California, and of course all the classic aor stuff like Michael Franks, Toto, Doobie Brothers, Steely Dan, James Taylor & many others, but since I was 13 I was also very interested by all the “unknown artists” from L.A like Bill Champlin, Pages, David Roberts, Greg Guidry, John O´Banion etc.., actually I bought everything that I could find. It was a real passion (and still is now).
– I know that it can been difficult to define which artist you like best, but do you have any references, also when you write your music?
Don Henley, Richard Page & Lou Gramm (Foreigner) have always been the vocalists I admired the most, but there are a lot of others like Eric Tagg, Jim Jameson, Valerie Carter, Van Stephenson, Randy Goodrum etc. I have always been a huge fan of Steve Lukather which has always been my favorite guitar player, but I also love Carlos Santana, Dan Huff, Jay Graydon, Michael Landau & others.
– You left France to live in Los Angeles for a period of 10 years, wasn´t it difficult to take this decision?
It was quite difficult, and also it was a lot of hard work (not always music), After 10 years in Los Angeles I am now back in France where I feel that I can enjoy the quality of life that I won’t find in the US, because my roots, friends and family are here, so I feel better at “home”, but I still enjoy to travel a lot to America!
– When you write your songs, you of course has your own style, but do you get influended by other west coast musicians when you think about arranging the songs?
I’m a very slow worker, I need weeks, sometimes months just to prepare one song. I don’t have the same talent and speed as all my aor heroes. The arranger I love the most is Robbie Buchanan, but there’s a lot of others I really like from the heart, like Tom Keane, David Foster, Jay Graydon and of course David Diggs.
– Do you have musicians in your mind when you compose your songs, especially the vocalists?
When I write a song, I always have some singers in my mind, but some of them can be difficult to track down, as an example on my latest album it took a while to find Dane Donohue and David Roberts since it was more than 20 years that they last released their (& only) soloalbums.
– How did you find them?
Well, I’ve been searching for them for a long time and after years of search, I finally found Dane in Ohio (thanks to Takeshi Ito from the adult contemporary music in japan website) and David in Canada (thanks to Tommy Denander). Dane is working in a company that invents medical gear (like new needles etc…). he’s one of the chairman of the company. David is still doing his songwriter job (for top u.s & canadian bands ) & lives in canada. I contacted David Roberts with the help of my friend Tommy Denander who’s gonna produce his new album soon after 20 years. David was very enthusiastic to sing in a westcoast/aor cd project. There are few cool cd’s like this these days and it was amazing to hear him sing so perfectly after 20 years. It took me months to find Dane Donohue and to convince him to sing again after his only solo album in 1978 which is considered as one of the biggest masterpiece of the 70’s in westcoast music. He’s one of the nicest guy I know and we are working on more songs together.
– You play many different instrument, what do you use when you compose a song?
I prefer to write my songs with a guitar. I like to keep it simple to find a very good melody that the audience will remember. But I do a lot of arrangements with my keyboards of course.
– In your music, you are very much inspired by the city Los Angeles, what is it with this city?
L.A is the city where everything is possible, but at the same time where they are so many broken dreams! If you want to make it in music or movies L.A is the place to be, but I prefer the L.A from the 70’s & 80’s, It was more cool and the californian dreams lived there. Since the 90’s the city have changed a lot, and became more international and less interesting for me, that’s why I don’t live there anymore.
– If you should choose a bunch of west coast music CDs quickly to play for friends, what would you choose?
There are so many good albums, so it is always difficult to do, but I think that I would go for these: Nielsen/Pearson: Blind Luck, Greg Guidry: Over The Line, David Roberts: All Dressed Up, Bill LaBounty: st (1982), Eric Tagg: Dreamwalkin’, Van Stephenson: Righteous Anger, Frank Stallone: S.T, Randy Goodrum: Fool’s Paradise, John O´Banion: S.T, pages: S.T (3rd) 1981 and 2 aor cd’s from Japan i love: Marlene: Looking For Love & Kazu Matsui: Marine Fantasia.
– Beside your music career you have also been working as a professional journalist, why journalist?
My father had one of the biggest press group in france in the 70’s/80’s and of course he wanted his son to become a journalist, so i started to write very young (age 13) for some of his magazines (while I was still in school) it was more about a passion for music and movies that made me become a journalist.
Then a few years later, when I became a real pro journalist (I was the youngest journalist in France to have a pro press card (age 17), I worked for the biggest names of magazines in entertainment, travels and fashion, but always for this love of music! In the 80’s I also did numerous radio shows every night (often from midnight to 6 am) in different big radio stations were I enjoyed making discover of all these aor band to the listeners. I also did some special aor nights in clubs in Paris in the early 80’s with more than 1000 people every saturday night!. I played aor music, put some palm trees and sand in the club and served nice cocktails with californian names like “the Marc Jordan Special” or “the LaBounty on the rocks” served by beautiful L.A girls that I hired for these aor nights !
– Do you still work as a professional journalist?
Not anymore, no I am full-time musician, and my times go with writing songs, my AOR project and producing songs for other artist.
– Regarding your west coast music project, why AOR?
First of all I wanted to have a simple name that also could tell people about what kind of music I play. Since my music are influenced by westcoast and melodic rock, I thought that AOR was the perfect name, because AOR means “westcoast music ” in japan and some other countries & also means “melodic rock” in europe. In reality it means exactly “Adult Oriented Rock”
– On all your AOR releases you have been showing us an impressive line-up of west coast musicians, tell us more about that.
Being living in Los Angeles for 10 years has giving me many contact, and in general many of the musicians love the music style and therefore are glad to help out, so sometimes it is easy to connect with the musicians.
– Can you tell us about your “wish list” for musicians to work with in the future.
There are tons of great musicians I would like to work with such as: Lou Gramm, Jim Jamison (Survivor), Aldo Nova, Steve Perry, Michael McDonald, Fergie Frederiksen, Bobby Kimball, Joseph Williams, Eddie Van Halen, Dan Huff and many more, so if the read this, the should hesitate to contact me :-))
– Your latest album “Dreaming of L.A” are produced by Tommy Denander and David Diggs, any special reason for choosing them?
Tommy Denander is a good friend of mine and one of the best guitar player/producer in the world and I ‘m so pleased that he likes my music so much, that he wants to help me everytime. So how could I refuse? Ha! Ha! I always like David Diggs’s music and thanks to him I could get a more jazzy/westcoast approach and influence on my cd’s.
– The “Dreaming of L.A” album came rather very quickly after your latest release “L.A Reflection”, how did you have all the songs made so fast?
Actually not really, I spend a lot of times on writing & recording songs, but I’ve been a pro songwriter since the 80’s and i recorded more than 100 songs with great L.A musicians over the last 15 years, so I have a lot of songs “in stock” and when I feel that I can complete a project with songs that goes well together, I record some new stuff and release an album. But I always choose between 20/30 songs which are the 12 best for the cd, so the audience only gets the best of AOR.
– Do you have a feeling about what the audience thinks about your albums?
There are so few bands that still plays west coast music from the 80’s with a touch of Toto (Joseph Williams area) that even the people that are more hard rock friendly gets interested by my albums. I think it’s a good compromise of different styles of melodic rock. So in general I think that people like my albums very much.
– How do you connect with all the musicians on your CD project?
I am very perfectionist so I supervised myself all the sessions, and talked on the phone with each musicians to let them know exactly what I wanted. Many emails have been exchanged too and I spent a lot of time at Tommy Denander’s studio near Stockholm and in L.A for the songs I recorded myself. So I was quite sure there would be no problems, though there was a couple during the sessions, so I asked the musicians to play again their parts, which they gladly did (they love perfection, like me).
– You have written most of the material, to complete your album, do you feel that this is the best way to work?
I’ m a member of the NAS (national academy of songwriters in L.A) and I learned to write songs by myself. That way I can really express myself in the lyrics & in the music, but of course I’m not against collaboration. I recently wrote a great song with westcoast legend Dane Donohue which will be featured on a cd soon.
– I can imagine that all your albums is a dream for you, is that why you called the album “Dreaming of L.A” this time?
As always, I wanted to keep the word L.A in the title (like my 3 previous cd’s) and since I had the luck to work with 2 legends of aor music (Dane Donohue & David Roberts) it was like a real dream for me. So the title “Dreaming of L.A” came naturally.
– What is the main difference between your new album compared with the earlier releases?
Surely the sound is better and all the production and arrangements, because of the big help from the producers. Also I wanted to make the best that i could before i’m gettin´40!
– Normally we see that the Japan release of an album is having bonus tracks, but on your European release you have 4 bonustracks?
Often the japanese pressings gets more bonuses. I wanted to change that and I thought that these 4 tracks were perfect for the European pressing. I also wanted to include a new version from my previous cd (L.A Reflection) of “Sensation” sung by one of the most talented singer of the swedish scene, Chris Demming (from Radioactive) with backing vocals by Goran Edman.