The term “side project” is inherently a tad belittling, really. It’s especially so when discussing a musician’s hard work, determination and artistic expression. Sure, if the artist is the one deeming their efforts outside of their primary gig a side project then it’s cool, but who are the rest of us to decide which job is superior for the multifaceted artist daring enough to display a bit of ambition?
To paraphrase a 30-year-old LL Cool J line and apply it to local blues-rocking duo Frenchie’s Blues Destroyers, don’t call it a side project, they’ve been the real deal for years. In all fairness, guitarist, singer and songwriter Kevin “Frenchie” Sciou and drummer Pete Coatney are longtime members of Texas country great Jack Ingram’s touring band, but with a third FBS album being introduced, it’s time to be real about what this band is and is not.
The group’s latest album, Praise, is a vibrant examination of American guitar-propelled rock in its many styles and textures. Ultimately, it enables Frenchie’s Blues Destroyers to expertly toss aside any lazy dismissals the term “side project” may typically proffer.
“It really isn’t a side project, you know,” Sciou says. “Even when we released our record Love is Blood in 2018, I didn’t think of this as a side project. Yes, we play with Jack [Ingram] so I get why people think this is a side project, but if you look at our schedule, you’ll see this is much more legitimate than just a side project.”
Sciou, who arrived in the United States from his native France in 2001, and has performed with roots-rock stars such as Shooter Jennings, Wade Bowen and Stoney LaRue, doesn’t aggressively bristle while defending his duo’s legitimacy. He states facts as he calmly clarifies his logic. After all, in the past couple of years, he says he and Coatney have performed more at Frenchie’s shows than Ingram concerts, and Ingram’s cool with it.
“Jack is very supportive of us,” Sciou says. “He sent me a message the other day when he heard one of our songs on the radio. We even get to open for him sometimes, which we did at Greune Hall recently. He digs what we do.”
And what Frenchie’s Blues Destroyers do grows more powerful with each new album. Raised on his dad’s vast collection of American classic rock records while growing up in Nimes, France, which lies about halfway between the country’s Spanish and Italian borders, Sciou soaked up rich melodies, gritty amp-blasting guitars and blues-based rhythms by the boatload.
"Yes, we play with Jack [Ingram] so I get why people think this is a side project, but if you look at our schedule, you’ll see this is much more legitimate than just a side project.” — Kevin “Frenchie” Sciou
More than on the two records prior, Praise showcases Frenchie’s many influences on a grand musical scale. That progression hasn’t occurred accidentally, as Sciou developed a plan before entering the studio with Coatney and the group’s producer, Taylor Tatsch.
“I told Pete [Coatney] that for this one we’re going to treat it as a full band album and give every song everything it needs,” Sciou says. "Maybe that meant playing a guitar solo, or adding some keys, or bass, but we didn’t worry about the fact we’re a two-piece band.”
While copies of Praise have barely been taken out of their shipping boxes, Sciou says he’s got the songs ready to make another album, something he and Coatney intend to do before the end of the year. The 17-month gap between Love is Blood and this new release was longer than he prefers, he says. Because he’s confident in his work, he’s not concerned with going too far, too soon.
“I love full albums,” he says. “If you can manage to mix quality and quantity, then you’re in good shape. That type of goal forces me to really dig deep and to write the best songs I can. To write songs and never record them, to me, means the work isn’t finished, and I look at every recording session as my chance to make a full record.”
The discussion as to whether Frenchie’s Blues Destroyers is a side project, and what that even means is really a moot point for Sciou. To paraphrase another great musical poet, Willie Nelson, Frenchie is living the life he loves by making music with his friends. It’s the life he’s chosen and he’s living it, one guitar-slingin’ gig at a time.
“I don’t have a choice but to make music, to make records,” he says. “I haven’t given myself a chance at doing anything else in life. If I was good at making money, I’d be distracted from making art.”