“It really is my guitar that opened doors for me,” says Pierre-Luc Rioux. As a lyricist, composer, musician, and producer over the last 15 years, we’ve heard his instruments on hits by Céline Dion, Lady Gaga, David Guetta, Nick Jonas, and Loud, to name just a few. In the shadow of such stars, the Montrealer – who splits his professional life between California and Québec – is now focusing his attention on the project that brought him back to the stage: Chiiild.
“I’ve always dreamt of building a bridge between Los Angeles and Montréal,” says Rioux, with whom we caught up a week before he flies back to his West Coast apartment. “The music industry in Québec and in the U.S. are so different, especially their structures. Here, for example, some musicians do TV shows, collaborate with others, and also play live; in L.A., it’s a lot more compartmentalized.”
For a very long time, Rioux was pigeonholed as a session guitarist. Except for one nuance: “I’m mostly a producer that specializes in guitars,” he says. “Most of the time, when I get somewhere and I get introduced, it’s as a guitarist, and that’s how I got into a lot of studio sessions with pop artists in the U.S.,” he says before name-dropping Usher, Mary J. Blige, and Rihanna. “Nowadays, however, I want to establish myself more as a producer,” a job that, as he sees it, is much wider in scope that what people imagine. “In 2020, being a producer means you’re also a songwriter. It’s quite rare that an artist comes to the studio with a finished song, and we often start from scratch…”
So how did this Québécois become one of the most sought-after guitarists in American pop circles? Pure luck, he says. “I was the musical director for this singer [from Québec, about a dozen years ago,] and I was convinced she needed to record an album,” says Rioux. “Then I convinced her label to let me produce it.” That was his first mandate at the mixing board. He discovered his interest and talent for that function, having already gotten around as an accompanist. “I was always onstage, and to this day, that’s still what I’m most passionate about.”
Production and composition contracts quickly lined up, notably screen composer work for Dazmo, a production music studio. “Then, one day in Montréal, I met David Guetta’s production partner,” says Rioux. “I told him to let me know if they ever needed guitars. He called me back, and one thing led to another. One of the sessions I recorded ended up on a hit.” Shortly after, Rioux was invited to participate in a song camp in L.A. with Guetta. “That’s how I ended up meeting a ton of composers and producers,” he says.
“I’ve often lined up in front of a restaurant only to meet someone that led me to a new project”
So Rioux has worked closely with the Californian music industry since 2015, “a year during which I worked every day, doing two sessions a day,” he says. “It was a tough year, but the silver lining is that I basically met the entire industry within a single year! That’s another difference between Los Angeles and Montréal: the pool of musicians and industry people is so large, it takes a while to understand who does what. In Québec, the pool is so much smaller, it doesn’t take long to know everyone and cherry-pick who you want to work with. In L.A., there are so many people who gravitate around that milieu, and there are new ones arriving every year from Australia, the U.K., etc. It’s not just a question of meeting the right people at the right time, it’s mostly about choosing the right partners for a project.”
But what matters most, he quickly adds, is being there, in that creative Californian soup. “I meet a lot of Canadians who drop by in L.A. for a couple of weeks or a month, to test the waters,” says Rioux. To tell the truth, there a lot of work opportunities and contacts that happen in the most trivial way – like waiting in line to get in a restaurant! Los Angeles is such a strange place, because most of the people are there to further their career, and that means you quickly get the feeling that you’re bound to meet someone who’ll become a useful contact. I’ve often lined up in front of a restaurant, only to meet someone that led me to a new project, and that’s not the kind of thing you can plan ahead.”
That said, Rioux plans on spending a lot less time in restaurant lines and in the studio during 2020, and a lot more time on stage with Chiiild, a “synthetic psychedelic soul” project (according to the record label) abolut which he’s thrilled. “What really excites me about this is the fusion between production and stage.” A first EP will be released shortly, about six months after being noticed thanks to the single “Count Me Ou,”t “which was popular on playlists, and then on TV, thanks to placements in shows aired on Fox and HBO,” he says. “We’re happy, because we have a good team behind us, a management team, a booker, and a good label,” namely Avant Garden Music, a division of Island Records. To be continued…