Steve Louvat is not only a prolific musician, but it’s also fair to say he’s one of Belgium’s best. “I was born in Liège, Belgium, and today I live in the south area, a village called Libin,” he explains. “I like to call it ‘the Woodstock part of Belgium,’ because there are forests everywhere and it reminds me of the lovely town where I visited Bill Keith few times.”
Although he’s mainly focused on the band he manages and has played banjo for over the past 25 years — the Louvat Bros. — he’s also maintained a prolific solo career as well. “Being a professional musician, I play with various bands,” he says. “It helps that I meet the qualifications that organizers are looking for, and that I love to play different kinds of music with various other musicians. I give solo concerts on finger-picking guitar and five string banjo, and I perform in duets, with a trio, and as part of a quartet called the Folk Dandies. Plus, I participate in many other collaborations, occasionally even with classical orchestras. It’s a lot of fun.”
That diversity can be traced to those artists that influenced and inspired him early on. “The list could be very, very long,” he notes. “When we started with bluegrass, we were listening and transcribing a huge amount of tunes from our heroes from Earl Scruggs, Béla Fleck, Sam Bush and New Grass Revival, Doc Watson, Tony Trischka and Skyline, Tony Rice, Bill Keith, Sammy Shelor and Lonesome River Band, David Grier, Scott Vestal and Live Wire … and that’s to name but a few.”
Louvat’s own influences are even more diverse. “I’ve also been listening to many other styles of music,” he suggests. “Personally, I always loved Irish and Scottish music — Solas, Matt Molloy, Comas etcetera — as well as some jazz, such as Pat Metheny, Joe Pass, Chet Baker, and Chick Corea. I also love the old standards, the blues of Stevie Ray Vaughan and Gary Moore, rock ‘n’ roll from the ’50s, as well as some classical and world music. Because I also play finger picking guitar, guys like Marcel Dadi, Jacques Stotzem, and Peter Finger influenced me too.”
It’s little wonder then that Louvat takes great delight in writing and arranging his own music. “It is really one of the most exciting parts of being musician for me,” he insists. “The creative process is like sparks in the head. You have some new ideas while practicing or while cooking, you make a tune out of them, and then you submit it to your friends and other musicians so new ideas can appear. It becomes like a painting or a story you can share with people during concerts or on an album. The cherry on the cake is when people tell you that they were deeply touched by one of your tunes, and that it left them with a good feeling for one reason or another. Then you feel that a kind of loop as been accomplished and, as a result, you feel extremely blessed.”
In addition to keeping up with his own efforts, there have been some recent changes in personnel as far as the Louvat Bros. are concerned. After his brother Jefferson left in 2015, he was replaced on mandolin and guitar by a Canadian musician based in Belgium named Jeff Cardey. Cardey left the band this past year and Philip Masure took his place, bringing an Irish guitar style to the band’s musical mix. “A fourth brother also joined us, Balakumar Paramalingam from Sri Lanka, who is now based in Paris and Bruxelles,” Louvat mentions. “He plays an Indian percussion instrument called a Mridangam, as well as jaw harp and sings in a unique style called ‘Konnakol.’ All these musicians are so nice and so talented. I am extremely glad to share an important part of my life with all of them.”
Louvat credits Byron Berline with not only being a major influence, but also a major factor in moving his career forward. “When Byron Berline invited us once again in 2010 to his Oklahoma International Bluegrass Festival, a lot of things had changed regarding the music we were playing,” Louvate muses. “We realized that it was important to present the banjo and the mandolin here in Belgium and Europe in a more personal way. This meant including our influences and our culture in our playing, as well as our own compositions. We took advantage of this new opportunity to go back in Oklahoma as a trio and represent who we really were as musicians. So, with our good friend Michel Vrydag, a virtuoso jazz bass player, we wrote some new compositions and arrangements based on some world folk music we loved to play so that we could present something unique to the American audience.”
Although Louvat has toured throughout the world with the Louvat Bros., he’s also performed entirely on his own. “I even played solo in French Polynesia once, on the Tahiti Guitar Festival, as well as part of the Warwick Festival in England, and the European World Of Bluegrass festival in the Netherlands,” he recalls. “I just love to travel this way with my banjo and my guitar, meeting and sharing with new people and learning about other cultures. Music is a wonderful way to meet the world around us. It is also very exciting to introduce it to the younger generation at schools by teaching it.”
In a very real way, Louvat has made music his life mission. “Being that bluegrass is not a part of our culture in Belgium, it is heartwarming to be able to share this passion, and to include the banjo and the mandolin on the musical landscape around us,” he reflects.
After three previous albums with the Louvat Bros., a fourth album is now on the immediate horizon and planned for the new year.
“Music is about the vibrations we pick up through our ears, brain, body, and our heart,” Louvat suggests. “Bluegrass sends some very good vibrations just as soon as you kick it off. In the process, it makes you happier.”