A teenage guitarist channeling the magic touch of Paul Kossoff and Peter Green? Blues Pills’ Dorian Sorriaux is not like others...
The idea of dropping your school studies to run off and tour Europe as a guitarist in a blues-rock band sounds like the script from a film, or at least a daydream worth having. But a couple of years ago, Dorian Sorriaux went from studying in small-town Brittany to zig-zagging around the festival circuit in a van with Swedish and American bandmates. But his life change wasn’t quite that simple in the end...
“I was studying in the tour van,” laughs Dorian. “And I picked the hardest subject, which was scientific. Looking back, I didn’t know I was going to be on tour, so I would have chosen literature because it’s easier to read in the van! Doing all the math and chemistry was a bit challenging.”
But he graduated, learned to speak fluent English remarkably fast, and with the responsibility box ticked, he’s now throwing his all into the band. They recruited him after a chance meeting when bassist Zack Anderson and original drummer Cory Berry (now replaced by Andre Kvarnstrom) were impressed by a 14-year-old Dorian when he supported their pre-Pills band in France.
“After that show, we kept in touch on Facebook,” Dorian explains. “About six months after that is when they started Blues Pills. Right after that they sent me the links to the demos they’d recorded, and then I was recording lead guitar for the first EP. Six months later, I was on tour with them in Spain.”
Wise beyond his years
We can see why they were keen to bring the Frenchman onboard. We hear a lot of players who attempt to resurrect the cosmic spirit of 70s blues-rock, but very few sound as though they are really feeling the blues part. Dorian, however, is different.
“My dad was listening to ZZ Top, and I loved it right away,” he remembers. And the blues drew him under its spell very early on. “Other people at school didn’t really listen to that music when I was nine or 10. Even I thought it was strange. I wasn’t ashamed of the music, but it was a personal thing for myself.”
Playing in bands from his early teens, Dorian ended up answering an ad from an older blues player looking to jam, which would prove a valuable step on his journey.
“We used to jam pretty much every week, and jamming with a musician who had a lot more experience than me was a great learning experience. He would tell me, ‘That was good Dorian but you don’t have to play it that fast right away, just take your time.’”
That may explain the route Dorian has taken to find a remarkable maturity in his playing. It can be heard on last year’s assured self-titled debut, which found Blues Pills re-recording some of the tracks from their preceding EPs with Graveyard producer Don Alsterberg.
Sayce is ace
The record also proves an impressive showcase for frontwoman Elin Larsson, the combination of her powerful Janis Joplin-esque timbre and a rhythm section that recalls the heady grooves of the Hendrix Experince proving a powerful blues cocktail.
Dorian adds the most potent shot to the mix. From driving funked fuzz riffs to minor-chord psychedelics, he confidently runs the gamut of dynamic rhythm magician and conjurer of heartbreaking vibrato like a reanimated lost guitar hero frozen in carbonite since 1972.
“It’s having those solos that are less about technical abilities and more about the feeling and what it brings to the song,” Dorian explains of his roots. “Paul Kossoff was a player who did that really well. There’s a lot of feeling, with the big bends he did and the vibrato. I like Peter Green for that, too; really tasteful blues guitar playing.”
Crucially, the young Bretton has got an ear for a hook like his influences, too. There’s no self-indulgent blues bobbins here. Indeed, 18-year-olds should have no business pulling off the spine-tinglingly intense breaks in Ain’t No Change and Black Smoke, then laying down superlative slide in River with equal class that puts the 12-bar brigade to shame.
“I never really play the same solo live,” he notes. “I like the idea of improvising. But I also like melodies; players like Kossoff and even George Harrison, so it’s not just random licks. I like great melodies that bring something to the song, but still trying to keep the feeling on spontaneous improvising.”
While the Blues Pills sound is undeniably ‘retro’, not all Dorian’s guitar influences are too. “I should mention Phillip Sayce,” he adds.
“He has influenced me quite a lot. I saw him opening for ZZ Top in France. Being able to watch live videos from this guy that’s doing it right now was a bit easier to get a connection with, rather than people that died 50 years ago. He can play fast, but it’s always tasteful and he puts a lot of feeling into it, more than others who I should probably not name!”
We’re hoping other young players will be saying the same about Dorian one day.
Though he'll hire Orange rockerverbs when he’s touring in the UK, Dorian’s true amp love is a hidden gem, but he may have snapped them all up by the time you read this...
“It’s called a DNS (Denmark Norway Sweden, where it was distributed by Hagstrom). It’s from the early 70s and kind of a mix between an old Fender and a Vox AC30. I discovered them through Don Alsterberg. People don’t really know about them, so if you’re lucky you can find them cheap on Craigslist in Sweden. I have two that I bought for £200. They sound amazing.”
His latest guitar choice is unusual, too: “I was thinking I’d really like a Les Paul with P-90s. but the older Les Pauls are really expensive, but also really heavy. I liked the Les Paul shape, P-90s and Sunburst, so I wondered where I could find something.”
Enter Corsa guitars from Switzerland with the LCPG and PG90 Manalishi pickups [there’s that Peter Green connection again]. It was love at first strum: “I played for four hours because it was so nice.”