Lazuli take Prog on the fantastic journey of Dieter Böhm!

Lazuli b/w image from 2020 of the band laughing backstage
Lazuli with former guitarist Gédéric Byar, who left in 2020 (Image credit: Prescilia Vieira-Coëlha)

A recording studio in southern France called L’Abeille Rôde has been a veritable hive of activity over the past few months, where, like the bee that graces the band’s T-shirt slogan ‘Music flies over borders’, Lazuli have been buzzing. 

Tantalisingly, Lazuli told UK audiences in 2019 that their next studio album would be a special one for their fans – and they kept their promise. The album, Le Fantastique Envoi de Dieter Böhm (The Fantastic Flight Of Dieter Böhm) that has since emerged is dedicated to their devotees, but it’s one of their most well-travelled fans who provides the storyline.   

“Last year, we spent some time on the road, but with every free moment we worked on the new album. I must say I spent days and nights with this project – obsessively!” explains Lazuli’s charismatic frontman, singer/guitarist Dominique ‘Domi’ Leonetti, who wrote and composed all its lyrics and music

The new album will feature heavily on the live dates, which is a personal thank-you from Lazuli. “You have to tell people that you love them. We often regret not having done it, so we do it through this album,” Leonetti says.

Observing Böhm’s reaction to their music gave the album its concept. “The first time we noticed him, he was in the middle of the audience, his eyes were closed, and he seemed to be getting carried away by the music. As we came offstage, I don’t know which one of us said, ‘You saw the guy in the middle of the room. His feet were taking off from the floor!’ That phrase stayed in the corner of my mind and was probably the trigger for this album.”

Leonetti crafted an allegorical tale in which a musician on a desert island plants a note, which becomes a melody, then a song, that’s then entrusted to a wave, like a message in a bottle. It’s Böhm who receives the song and, through osmosis, becomes at one with the sound. 

“We write songs with the hope that they will be listened to, which may seem like
a senseless and desperate act. We are very fortunate that they find recipients!” says Leonetti with a laugh.

Though Böhm is the eponymous fan, Leonetti stresses that Le Fantastique Envoi de Dieter Böhm is actually about all their fans and much more.

“After I finished writing the music, I realised it went way beyond that. I was inspired by my emotions, the ones I’ve felt for the past 22 years dropping Lazuli’s desperate bottles, and also by the ones I felt when I was a teen, bewitched by the music I loved then.”

The album’s artwork, especially the cover image, is again a talking point because of the obvious allegory of a man in a flying helmet and goggles sitting astride a dodo!

“Yes, it’s a dodo so it doesn’t actually fly much more than a man. That’s why the bird has unfortunately disappeared! I found it both amusing and pathetic to reinforce the Earth’s image of a human and his inability to fly by giving him this mount.

“When I write, images cross my mind. Artwork is a way of continuing to express myself. There is a logic to pursuing ideas beyond sounds and words. I am lucky that my ‘brothers’ of Lazuli let me do this work, so I take advantage of this.”

Those ‘brothers’ are sibling Claude Leonetti with a Léode, the unique sound box he created after losing the use of his left arm; Gédéric Byar on guitars; Vincent Barnavol on percussion and marimba, and Romain Thorel on keyboards and French horn.  

“When we work on the arrangements together, I’m trying to find, with Claude, Ged, Vincent and Romain, the sensations I had during the writing,” says Leonetti. “It’s the job of five people to speak with one voice.”

Is he surprised how non-French speakers find such a connection with their music? 

“It remains a mystery! Obviously, I would like non-French speakers to understand my words, but they lose their poetic and metaphorical senses when they are translated. Maybe our hearts understand all languages.”

Lazuli always enjoy their visits to the UK, but for this forthcoming tour one of the dates will be especially important. “Coming to the United Kingdom is symbolically very significant for us. Much of the music that fed us comes from you.

“I was 10 when I first heard A Day In The Life from The Beatles on my portable stereo cassette player and I must say that this song changed my life. It triggered in me the need to make music. Since then, I have been constantly seeking to regain the sensations I felt that day.”

And that would explain the name of their recording studio. “Claude and I called it ‘L’Abeille Rôde’ which, in French, means ‘the bee prowls’. This is pronounced ‘Abbey Road’ for French people like me who speak English very badly! Therefore, it is supernatural for us to play at the Cavern Club in Liverpool [something they finally achieved in 2022 after their original tour was cancelled due to the Covid-19 pandemic]! It is our friend and tour manager Nellie Pitts who has arranged this incredible surprise for us.

“A few years ago, she took us to visit the Real World Studios. Unfortunately, we didn’t meet Peter Gabriel there. Is there a group luckier than ours?"

This article originally appeared in Prog 107.

Alison Reijman

A life long prog fan, Alison trained as a journalist in Portsmouth after which she worked on local newspapers for more nearly 15 years. Her remit included compiling a weekly entertainments page, writing album and gig reviews. Alongside her career in journalism and PR, she regularly writes reviews, interviews and blogs for prog websites and magazines. She has also contributed features to band tour programmes. Alison’s writings helped her to be one of three winners of a national competition in 2013 to find inspiring women in their 50s. Alison still works as a PR coordinator and is a regular gig-goer.