With their 2020 tour plans shot to Dénudé pieces by Covid, Lazuli returned to France where they put together an unexpected stripped down album, Dénudé, that revisited songs from earlier phases of their career. This also became a good way of bedding in new recruit, guitarist Arnaud Beyney. TPA’s Alex Driessen spoke to Lazuli founder/composer/singer Dominique Leonetti about how the album came about and whether the band’s future plans are now back on track…
The whole world is turned upside down and the pandemic has had a huge impact on the music scene. Much has changed since I last spoke to Dominique Leonetti, just short of two years ago. This was after a series of successful live shows in the wake of studio album number 8, appropriately entitled Saison 8. The band was on its way to once again conquer Europe with a positive response to the new album. About a year later they released the excellent Le fantastique envol de Dieter Böhm, and had just started a tour of the UK and Europe. The world looks a different place now, short of one year later…
First of all, how are you doing personally, how did you get through this past period?
I’m well, thank you. But to be more precise, I’m like this world… distraught. We go through this period as we cross a desert, hoping to see an oasis after every kilometre. Fortunately during these past months I haven’t been bored because my head has always been boiling with ideas, and like one year of hibernation, it’s too long – I decorated my ‘cave’ with new musical notes.
Unfortunately, the European tour had to be cancelled, evidently your final show took place in Southampton on March 15. And then nothing.
Yes, just the day before our concert at the Cavern Club in Liverpool. It was a sad decision to take the road back in the opposite direction for the big Beatles fan that I am. After driving for 20 hours straight without interruption, we arrived home exactly in time before the French lockdown.
Money’s Too Tight to Mention was a famous song by Simply Red. What’s the financial status at Lazuli currently? No income from gigs, but salaries have to be paid, and studio costs. Are you still okay, financially?
The highest costs are actually more on the moral side. The lack of human contact, of sharing with our fans. Indeed, financially it’s not fantastic, we survive with our savings and the sale of albums and fortunately we receive a little money, like unemployment benefit; French musicians contribute a lot to taxes (50 per cent of our salary). We survive with all… But after August 31st, it will be finished, all French musicians will have 0 euros income (except if the government finds another solution). We are especially afraid of the times to come but we are not complaining because for the moment we are in a less difficult situation than some musicians from other countries, at least until the end of August. And, let us not forget, we are still in good health!!!
The band has taken quite a big hit recently with the departure of guitarist and longtime friend and collaborator Gédric Byar. His departure came as something of a surprise. You announced the arrival of a new member: guitarist Arnaud Beyney. How difficult was it to replace Ged and how is Arnaud doing, settling in among this ‘band of brothers’?
Yes, a bad surprise. I think that the first lockdown and the arrival of the virus upset a lot of people, Ged is one of them. I understand his fear and his decision but I wonder how he will be able to live without the love from our fans and the incredible feeling of live concerts. Despite my sadness and even the abandonment that I feel, I must respect his choice.
But Lazuli has a lucky star, it is incredible to have met Arnaud. It was like supernatural, to meet such a beautiful person and besides, he is an incredible musician. His smile and his passion brought Lazuli back to life. One brother leaves but stays in our hearts, another arrives, there is room! 😉
I noticed that you haven’t changed any of the pictures on the Lazuli website including Ged. Just didn’t get round to or just too painful?
It’s just because we didn’t have any new photos 😀 The priority was to make music. We made some pictures a few days ago, and promised, we will change them as soon as possible. But there will always be photos with Ged because he is a part of our story. His unexpected departure will also always be painful; new happiness makes the present beautiful but does not erase the past.
A year ago you released a much acclaimed new studio album, Le Fantastique Envol de Dieter Böhm. Both the public and the press really liked the album. However, you haven’t included one single track from it on Dénudé, why is that?
We wanted to do it. I even recorded a pair of Dieter Böhm songs with an acoustic guitar. But in the end, we thought it was more important to bring older songs back to life.
Can you tell me something about the origin and recording of Dénudé, your very own lockdown album. Did COVID hinder you and did Arnaud fully participate in these recordings?
The idea started from the videos we posted during the lockdown. Songs that were necessarily acoustic and solitary because of the separations. When we were finally able to reunite together with Lazuli, we were happy but with something lacking and the irrepressible need to reconnect with our fans. The choice of intimate versions was imposed by itself, it was the best way to get closer to our listeners in these times of forced distancing, to share a kind of intimacy, like a sound to invade the silence, to fill the void. Without this context, I think this album would never have seen the light of day.
This particular project and this particular period proved that Arnaud could be the man for all situations… and all this while keeping a smile! He has fully participated but with humility; like all the members of the band, because recording stripped down versions requires a lot of modesty.
I know that he still has plenty of things to reveal, we are now really impatient to go on stage together.
You speak very poetically and eloquently when describing the songs on Dénudé: ‘stripped back or “leafless”, the songs are sometimes whispered or simply more immediate, close to their roots, close to the sensations felt during writing’. In brief, Closer to the Heart, to quote a famous Canadian band’s song?
Indeed ‘closer to the heart’, we wanted to reduce the kilometres between us and our fans. The best way was coming back to the essence, the source of the songs. ‘Heart’ and ‘close’ are good words to speak about our fans because only those who listen to music with their heart hear the beats of those who have played it. ‘Stripped back’ or ‘leafless’, that was our feeling during this past year; like a long winter. Subconsciously, I probably wanted our songs to match our mood.
I very much like the new versions of well-known songs: they seem to add a touch of both seriousness and at the same time lightness, does that make any sense to you?
These are two almost contradictory terms, but I like the idea that our songs can express both feelings at the same time. The subjects of my songs are often sad and dark but I also need to treat them with poetry or in the form of metaphors, without pathos. The same applies to the music. I am happy to read that one can perceive seriousness and lightness without understanding French.
I particularly like the songs that are almost stripped to their bare essence: your voice and some acoustic accompaniment, especially piano, like in opening song J’attend un printemps and closing Un Automne.
Before I wouldn’t have dared watching our songs in the mirror, naked, but lockdown and loneliness taught me a lot. Romain [Thorel – keyboards] is an amazing musician and it was really nice just singing beside him at the piano.
When can we expect a new studio release and do you have any further plans at the moment?
Not easy to predict the future (who would have thought that we would release two albums one year apart, who would have thought that Ged would leave the band… who would have thought that a virus would paralyse the planet!!!???). No, I dare not make a prediction!
After a first period of great drought, for several months, invaded by the void of this sudden change created by the virus, and the misfortune surrounding us, I was unable to write. Then suddenly, in July, I needed to express myself. I’ve written pages and pages already. Several songs were born, enough to start filling a future album. But before thinking to give life to these songs, we have to take back the unfinished story of March 2020… We are still in the frustration of not having played Le Fantastique Envol de Dieter Böhm on stage (only three times), so when we get back on the road, as a priority we will let fly our Dieter Böhm who has been grounded for too long…
Romain participates in MAiiN, so does Arnaud. Have you ever thought of writing/recording a solo album, either alone or in collaboration with others?
No, I don’t want the spotlight only on me. Among other things, I can’t imagine things without my brother Claude; we are inseparable since our childhood. However our band history with other musicians has been disappointing sometimes, but I’m a romantic and I believe in the value of union. Then, in all seriousness, Lazuli takes up all the space and time in my life, for another project it would be necessary to add hours to a day. But one more time, let’s not make any presumptions of the future. 😉
What are your mid-term thoughts on touring, do you think we can ever return to “normal” conditions?
I feel somewhat schizophrenic. On the one hand the hope of seeing a world come back even better than before, but on the other hand with the fear of rediscovering a field of ruins (venues and festivals that will not have survived), or play in terrible conditions; the opposite of the very essence of concerts, i.e. half-filled rooms, distances and masks. Play concerts with visitors sitting on chairs, without being able to see their smiles, hidden behind face masks… I can’t imagine a concert without the warmth, the fervour. Of course we could play like this for some time, why not, but it can’t become the norm.
I’m scared but I want to stay positive, because all scenarios are still possible… The future in general is in this spirit, ecologically, politically too, we can either use the lessons learned, or fall into selfishness, populism and chaos.
Some venues in both the UK and Holland have started organising small-scale, intimate concerts, often in an acoustic setting. This seems ideally suited to a band like Lazuli, especially in view of the new album.
Yes and no, because we don’t want to play acoustic concerts only, play a few songs, yes, but not only like that. Doing intimate concerts small-scale can be very enjoyable, but that’s not enough for a rock band. Especially for Vincent our drummer! There is also the financial aspect, a concert with too few people is a problem for all bands like us who do a lot of kilometres. If we lose too much money we would put the already fragile balance in danger.
Finally, is there anything else you would like to say to the readers of The Progressive Aspect?
Dear music lover, take care of yourself. You are precious to bands like us. Our flame will not be extinguished as long as you continue to keep our music alive… Thank you!
Domi, thanks once again for your cooperation, I also speak on behalf of our readers. I sincerely hope to see you back on stage soon, I am already looking forward to the new/old unplugged material being played live. Take care, stay healthy and see you soon.
Finger crossed… Thank you Alex, stay healthy.
[You can read Alex’s review of Dénudé HERE]