In the ever-eclectic world of prog, Lazuli stand out as one of the most original bands with their diverse instrumentation and unique sound. Shooting into the limelight with their well-received 2007 release En Avant Doute, they took a setback in 2009 when half of the band quit. Now they’re back with a new line-up and album and DPRP’s Joris Donkel caught up with them for a chat…
First of all a big thank you for taking the time to do this interview with us and answer all our questions in English, even though you don’t master English so well!
Sorry for my pitiful English, the French have a reputation for being bad in languages… here is the proof 😉
Past year and a half was a very exciting time for Lazuli; three members quit the band and for a short period of time the future of Lazuli was unsure. Did you even consider to stop with Lazuli when they left?
Yes we have considered to stop after the (painful) separation. Claude, Ged and I (Ed: Dominique), had lost faith in friendship and sharing. Fortunately we three could face the disappointment together. And we were happy to find our faith in music was stronger. Messages of support on the Internet have helped us much as well.
Thankfully you didn’t close the door for Lazuli, but if you had done that what would have happened after that; would you have formed a new band again under a new name?
We thought of it too but we have created Lazuli with Claude before the arrival of the other musicians, it’s our baby and we wanted to see it grow still.
Was it very difficult to find good replacements for those who left ; the music you play is pretty obscure, so not many people are around playing the same style? Where there many candidates?
The first two people we thought of accepted without hesitation. Surprisingly, it was easy and natural. We have been lucky.
Were they already playing music in a similar style as Lazuli or was it a major change for them?
As Lazuli no. But they are very open musicians. For example: Vincent is playing the drums and played in a classic metal band. Roman gives solo piano concerts, plays the French Horn in the orchestra and he can play all classic and contemporary music. They are very eclectic but they also have a strong personality.
So the three members that left are now replaced by two new members thus leaving you with one person less; does that mean the five current members have to do the ’job’ of the former six members thus each doing a bit more or have you left out some instrument now?
Yes, a bit more work must be shared between us because there is a War Guitar left. Many bass parts are made by thekeyboards now. We looked at things differently, it’s very interesting for us.
Can you introduce the new band members to us and tell us how they came to join the band?
Claude and I have a recording studio where many musicians drop in; Romain and Vincent were among them. When you hear them play and share their life you think it’s nice to be with them.
They both have Conservatory degrees (classical and modern music). They both are compulsive musicians with very eclectic tastes.
Are there any new influences or ideas the new band members brought in?
Of course, some new influences but also more common influences than before. Also, a greater willingness to respect the original idea. Now, with this band, I find the feelings I had while writing songs.
What do you mean with that, can you elaborate a bit more on this?
I always have an idea of how the song must become but I do not necessarily take the lead. There is always one of us who leads, and strangely enough all the time, we have the same desires. NO concessions in the arrangements. Everyone takes his place in a natural way or makes room for another with pleasure.
We always agree on the way to go. There’s a bit of all of us in the final result and still you can recognize the original song basis. It’s magic 😉 Before it wasn’t always the case.
Question for Romain and Vincent: How was it to be chosen to play in Lazuli; already an established band?
How familiar were you before with the music of Lazuli?
We already knew the music of Lazuli and we liked it much. It was very exciting to get into the band but also very scary. We had to find its own color and to respect the color we liked before joining.
With the new band members also came some new sounds to the band, the way Romain plays the French horn is quite unique and adds a whole new dimension to the music of Lazuli; I was quite amazed when I saw him playing that last year at the Burg Herzberg festival.
Did this influence the recording process for the new album?
Unfortunately, there is not much French Horn on the new album. We still have much research to do before we can include it as we wish. There will be probably more in future.
Question for Romain: Can you tell us some more about your unique way of playing the French horn and how you made it fit into the Lazuli sound?
I am always looking for new ways to play this instrument. I studied in the conventional way and now I like to incorporate
multi-effects (distortion, delay …) I like the acoustic, I love technology, Lazuli is ideal for this research.
I very much believe that; but can you lift a bit more of the veil and reveal what special techniques you use to create the special sound you produced on stage?
Much of the sound of the French Horn is created by the way you blow it, there are many possibilities. I also use a guitar multi effect, I do not know any other horn player who uses it. I did make a double microphone that takes the sound to the pavilion and at the mouth. I also use a muted deant, to create an effect a bit like with a wah-wah pedal.
Question for Vincent: With the three old band members also the marimba left Lazuli, an instrument not often heard in prog and one certainly contributing to the unique sound of Lazuli. How are you going to replace that; what special sounds will you contribute to the Lazuli sound?
In fact, I play the marimba too, I studied it at the conservatory. When I’m not behind the drums, I’m behind the marimba. Less, it’s true, but this color is always present in the band, on stage and on record.
Ah, good to hear the marimba didn’t leave! And do you have any special ideas with this instrument planned; I mean if youcarry around such a big instrument you must use it a bit prominently, like for instance the old concert encore when all six played it?
Yes, it’s true, we will do it again soon 😉
Question for Claude: Your self-made Léode is an amazing instrument with a wonderful sound. Are you still discovering more possibilities and sounds with this instrument and are there perhaps other ways you can use and connect it with other equipment?
I love the old and strong features of my instruments and often my research took me back to my first sounds and my old sampler. But I continued to seek new paths. The computer opens new doors. I am working on it since some years. I still have to seek, it’s a bottomless pit…
No doubt; personally I hope your unique instrument will get a more prominent place in Lazuli’s music (I just can’t getenough of it); longer solo’s or other special contributions to Lazuli’s music (maybe even an instrumental song); will that happen?
Yes, of course, we have ideas like that (actually, we’ve done it already in the “epilogue- La Belle Noirceur”), we will do it again for sure, but also I like to melt into a work, in a song. Lazuli is not an instrumental band but nothing is prohibited…
Question for Claude and Gédéric: Domi does most of the composing and writes the lyrics, what is your contribution to the songs of Lazuli since you’re also one of the constant factors within the band?
Domi offers the playground. We bring our colors, our ideas. Domi manufactures the raw material and we shape it together. All three we share easily because we are very complementary.
Question for Gédéric: During a live show Claude has several segments where he plays a solo, but the guitar solo’s by you are more limited; wouldn’t you like to play more solo’s on stage?
I play several solo’s on stage and I also play some parts together with Claude. I play less alone than Claude, it’s true, but we don’t calculate that. I have no frustrations. The solos are not the only way to express oneself in Lazuli.
Even though the considerable band changes the new album 4603 battements sounds very much like the ‘old’ Lazuli; there isn’t a big change in style. Does that mean that you, Claude and Gédéric are and always were responsible for the sound of Lazuli?
Claude, Ged and I live in neighbouring apartments and we live and work together every day. We have a clear idea of the desired sound of the band since the beginning. We have always worked on the bases of songs all three together. Lazuli is our baby, it is more natural that Lazuli look like us.
Does that mean that the 3 members that left were more add-ons than real full band members since the bastion of the creative minds of Lazuli determined all important matters?
Yes. But creative minds or not, in absolute terms, this was not a problem ; the problem was that we were taking decisions nevertheless together.
Claude, Ged and I worked hard and thrown in a lot of hard work to satisfy the whole band. It was exhausting.
Was that perhaps the or one of the reasons they left?
A little bit. But there are also many personal and private reasons.
And how is this now with the new band constellation?
Much, much easier. The ‘new guys’ are more in sync with us and more engaged, and also let us lead without ego problems. Fingers crossed…
Where did the name of album come from; did you count (in a dull moment) the number of beats that the album contains?
Not in a dull moment but to count it was dull 😉
The theme of the album is time but with the ambiguity of ‘battements’; in French it can be heart beats, flapping wings, clock beats… This is deliberate?
About the number ‘4603’ and about ‘battements’, many people interpret the title in their own way and I love it! And yes, you are right, if you count the beats on the disc, there are 4603 beats, 4603 pulsations.
It’s nicer than saying ’48 minutes’ and it makes more sense to me because it seems to me that when listening to music, time is flexible)
Can you elaborate a bit how this album was made, a short behind the scenes ‘making off’?
With joy and good humor 😉 With this album it was the first time I wrote the lyrics before thinking about the music and composing the melodies. This time I let myself led only by the flow of words. The texts became poems. Surprisingly, it wasn’t too difficult to set them to music. The mood of the words imposed on me. Once the songs were written, we worked together on the arrangements, structures and developments playing and sharing our ideas. Then we recorded them in order to sit back and have a sharper opinion on them and to see the details or the obvious things. We recorded much faster than previous albums. No disagreement on the choice, we had never experienced this so easily. Difficult times, of course, moments of doubt but no problems of ego as we have experienced with the old band.
For all those people, including me, who aren’t very able to read French can you tell me what were your influences for the lyrics of this album and what are the messages you want to bring over with this album?
The theme of time is a pretext to talk about different things. There are many subjects on this disc. Songs about me andpeople in general, our mistakes, our stupidity, our weaknesses, our fears but also our capacity to love. In a way often a bit dark, poetic and melancholic but sometimes brutal.
It’s frustrating for me that people don’t understand my words, they are very important in Lazuli! I write better in French than English 😉 Fortunately, isn’t it?!!! I hope to soon provide translations of our songs but it is very difficult to translate because they are full of puns and metaphors.
With all that emotion, melancholy and poetry you seem to be very qualified to one day produce a true concept album; ever thought of that? I really think you music is too rich for ‘just’ a songs album!
Claude and I have already written a Rock-Opera when we were young in 1991. “4603 battements” is somewhat of a concept album based on the same subject, but we will probably make a true concept album more precisely one of these days… But I also like the format “song”, and to be concise, I think we can keep the lyricism and the epic even in 5 or 6 minutes. Between all this my heart swings!!!
Lazuli is more and more beginning to become a Leonetti family affair, isn’t it? Apart from you and Claude also Elliot and Maryse Leonetti made a contribution to the album; Is Lazuli really the big thing within the family?
Since always, without the support and competencies of each member of my family, the band does not exist. But the Lazuli family doesn’t stop there, there are also the families of each Lazuli member and all our friends. We are lucky!
About Elliot (my son, he is 13 years old), we have invited him to play guitar on Je te laisse ce monde. The subject of this song is ‘the world we leave to our children’. I was very happy and proud to make it with him.
Can the people coming to one of your shows expect something special again? The old encore with you all six around the marimba was spectacular; any new special features or surprises during your shows?
There will be surprises again. But we are not trying to make the surprise obligatory. we’re just looking to share, give and receive.
What bands or recent albums have influenced or impressed you lately?
The King of Limbs by Radiohead. Scratch My Back and New Blood by Peter Gabriel. Many emotions listening to these albums. But none impressed me as I was impressed by Sgt Peppers of the Beatles, when I was 10 😉
Surely that influenced your hunger and taste for music; can you mention any other artists or albums that have influenced you as a musician so much that without them Lazuli never would have been born?
Undeniable, the Beatles, Sgt Pepper’s is THE album, the trigger for me.
My first concert at the age of 14 was that of AC/DC, it triggered the urge to go on stage.
Here are some albums that are very important for me: Clutching at Straws – Marillion, Seasons End – Marillion, Grace – Jeff Buckley, Love Over Gold – Dire Straits, Highway to Hell – AC/DC and some French songwriters like Renaud, Alain Bashung, Alain Souchon… The person who has everything I like is Peter Gabriel, he is the person for whom I have the utmost respect.
Also an important thing that rocked my childhood, it’s my father’s accordion.
And the final question: What is the main thing you want to reach with your audience and what do you hope they think of you?
We want just to SHARE… Our dreams, our fears, our tears, our happiness, our faults, our blackness … our own and those of others. Together change the world, why not, a little bit!!!
We hope they think of us that we are sincere and honest. The songs are first and foremost a wonderful outlet and allow us, of course, to convey my dreams of equality, of ecology, of peace and a lot of other values.
Official Lazuli Website: http://www.lazuli-music.com/
02.12.2011 – concert pour le Téléthon – L’entrepot – Le Haillan (33) – France
10.12.2011 – avec TOKAMAK – Jas’Rod – Les Pennes Mirabeau (13) – France
17.02.2012 – Colos-saal – Aschaffenburg – Germany
18.02.2012 – Substage – Karlsruhe – Germany
27.04.2012 – Gouveia Art Rock Festival – Teatro-cine – Gouveia Portugal
12.05.2012 – “Chez Paulette” (le célèbre pub rock lorrain) – Pagney-derrière-Barine (54) – France