The quintet LAZULI from the south of France is a guarantor for emotional music based on the progressive rock and art rock of the 1970s, yet sounding completely independent - as on "Le Fantastique Envol de Dieter Böhm" (Engl: The Fantastic Flight of Dieter Böhm), their first concept work. This is intended as a bow to the band's loyal fans and focuses on the special interaction between the band and its listeners
"But you have a lot of work with Lazuli," laughs singer/guitarist/main composer Dominique Leonetti when arranging the interview date. It doesn't matter - because in the case of the current album it's worthwhile once again to work intensively on the lyrics, although as a non-native speaker you often have to resort to a dictionary. Leonetti is again happy about this additional effort and is chatting accordingly relaxed about the band dynamics, the German fans and about the fact that Lazuli lyrics have meanwhile even found their way into French lessons.
eclipsed: "Le Fantastique Envol de Dieter Böhm" is Lazuli's first concept album. Were you and your colleagues aware from the beginning that it would come down to that or did the concept only emerge during the work on the pieces?
Dominique Leonetti: Well, I had written a text on the way back from Germany, inspired by one of our fans and by all the faces we had seen at our concerts. The lyrics already had the name of the album, and when Ged [Gédéric Byar; guitarist] read it in the van, he said: "This could become a story I then continued writing for a few months without really being sure that the whole thing would be finished. None of us believed in it until it became an obsession to be implemented.
eclipsed: Which great concept albums were the inspiration for "Le Fantastique Envol..."? And did Lazuli also have something like Dream Theater's "Inspiration Corner" with posters of famous concept albums?
Leonetti: We worked intuitively, without concrete ideas and without reference points. The idea of an "inspiration corner" was far from us, but subconsciously we were probably influenced by "Sergeant Pepper", "The Wall" or "Tommy".
eclipsed: I personally believe that the album is about the healing and self-healing effects of music: The musician processes his own worries into songs, and these in turn have an encouraging effect on the listeners. A beautiful idea!
Leonetti: Thank you very much! I have nothing to add to your analysis. (smiles) But some French people don't interpret it the way I feel - because there is a certain artistic blur that I wanted to leave on this record. That means you can also reinterpret many other things, depending on how you feel. But I see the whole thing quite similar to you. It's about the idea of the balm that soothes and cares. By the way, I wrote the song "Baume" (engl.: balsam) last, which sealed the whole story
eclipsed: My interpretation is that Dieter (respectively the Lazuli listener) longs for the balm respectively the comforting effect of Lazulis music and that he "dies a little bit when the music stops", as it says in "Dieter Böhm". Have you really already met fans for whom Lazulis music is a kind of elixir of life?
Leonetti: Yes, this is indeed the case, and I am totally surprised that our music can have such an effect. We often get messages from people who say that our music plays a very important role in their lives. This is totally unexpected and upsetting for us! And that's exactly the theme of this album. I was so moved by the words and the faces of our audience that it was reflected in the songs without me really reflecting on it. Dieter Böhm really exists, by the way, and we created an imaginary person from him that symbolizes our audience. The story says that Dieter dies a little bit when the music stops, but I also have to say: Lazuli live when Dieter hears our music!
eclipsed: You were in charge of the great artwork this time too. May I ask if you work full-time as a graphic designer?
Leonetti: Oh, thank you! It's true that I like working in the visual field, but I have never been a graphic designer. I don't feel like an illustrator, nor a singer, nor a guitarist, maybe because I can't separate all these things. It seems to me that there is a logic to pursue something beyond music and lyrics. When I write, images go through my mind. The covers and the booklets are a way to express myself even further, that is: I profit from it myself! (laughs) I spend my days and nights working. I just know that I enjoy all this, even if it has a negative effect on my mental and physical health. (laughs)
eclipsed: Our readers would certainly be interested to know how you worked with Lazuli on the songs...
Leonetti: First I start with the texts. The end point is reached when the words flow naturally. The texts must have a real meaning, but they must also have musicality. If the lyrics fit, the melodies and the music practically come about by themselves. A guitar and a bit of silence are enough for the song to take shape. But sometimes you have to live with it for several months before it matures
eclipsed: You wrote all the songs on "Le Fantastique Envol..." yourself, but the arrangements were done by the whole band. Did this sometimes lead to conflicts, for example when your colleagues demanded more creative input?
Leonetti: In the last twelve years there have never been any conflicts here - quite in contrast to our old line-up! The arranging work is the most difficult, because you have to get to the point where five brains speak with one voice, but still there are no ego problems. But I am also lucky to be surrounded by intelligent and understanding people. I am very present in the creative process, but Claude [Leonetti], Ged [Byar], Romain [Thorel] and Vincent [Barnavol] know my usual enthusiasm and accept it because they are allowed to express themselves in reverse. I listen to them, and they influence me a lot - and they know it. We have love, respect, freedom and admiration for each other. This complementarity is the secret of successful understanding and osmosis
eclipsed: Lazuli have long since created their own style, and so has Le Fantastique Envol... Nevertheless I was wondering if you have been influenced by newer bands during the songwriting and recording process
Leonetti: Not myself. Because when I write and compose, my head is full and not available. Ged, Vincent and Romain listen to more music than Claude and I do, so they also incorporate the influence of current groups in their playing. But I think that the lyrics influence our songs more than other things
eclipsed: Talking about influences: "Dieter Böhm" and "Baume" reminded me a little bit of British artpop bands like Tears For Fears and The Blue Nile, and some tracks have a drum computer in them. Do Lazuli have a secret preference for the typical 80s sound?
Leonetti: You're probably right. I noticed it too, but only after the record was already finished. I once analysed why this is so: when we described Dieter's feelings when listening to the music, we were probably unconsciously looking for the feelings we had as young people - especially in difficult moments that we coped with the help of the music. Our youth was just in the eighties, but this does not apply to Romain, the baby of the group. (laughs)
eclipsed: For some of the new tracks I thought that Lazuli now had a "real" bass player, but then I realized that this is Romains keyboard bass. Would you still work with a bass player or a Chapman Stick player again? Or is the current Lazuli line-up perfect?
Leonetti: Romain plays just like a real bass player, so sometimes you think you hear a real bass. Whether the current line-up is perfect, I don't know. But we feel very comfortable with each other and therefore we didn't look for a sixth member. In any case we have to keep Romain's left hand busy. (laughs)
eclipsed: Your texts are again a masterful combination of form and content. When did you actually start writing lyrics?
Leonetti: I started writing songs at the age of 14 or 15, but I only started playing the guitar three years later. I simply had an uncontrollable desire to express myself, to say things. The content was always the most important thing for me, but over the years I have also learned to tame the form
eclipsed: I wonder if your interest in meaningful lyrics is influenced by French chansonniers and poets?
Leonetti: Unfortunately I am not a scholar. Literature was unfortunately never part of my upbringing, so today I am trying to make up for this lost time. To do so, my parents taught me diligence and the joy of work, and that's why I was never afraid of writing or of committing myself to foolish history. (smiles) Ironically, there are French teachers today who have their students analyse my texts! That surprises me! As for the French chansonniers, I have never heard their music. I'm mainly influenced by Anglo-Saxon music
eclipsed: In April Lazuli will return to Germany, further concerts are planned for May and June. The concept of the new album would be perfect for a multimedia implementation, with projections like Steven Wilson's. Is this a fan dream that could possibly come true?
Leonetti: Are you a fortune teller? I've actually been working for a few months to animate the images of the album! I don't know yet if I'll be finished before the tour, but I hope so! On top of that our finances are also crucial, because unfortunately we don't have the budget of a Steven Wilson. The future will show if your and my dream can be realized! (smiles) But no matter if projections or not: We are already very impatient to share the new album with those who inspired it
*** Interview: Matthias Bergert