“We prefer to remain free and in control, even if the road is difficult alone. I’m also clear the record industry today is probably no longer interested in groups like ours." The trials of Lazuli and their latest album11

(Image credit: Eliot Photography)

French prog rock quintet Lazuli quiently released their latest album, 11, in 2023. Prog spoke to vocalist, instrumentalist and composer Dominique Leonetti about why the fiercely independent group are buzzing!

Abandoning a major European tour three years ago due to Covid, Lazuli retreated to their base in southern France, waiting for the world to re-open. During this protracted impasse, Dominique Leonetti wrote 11, a deeply personal collection of songs that appeared almost without fanfare earlier this year. In an ideal music cosmos, the stars would have aligned, enabling the French proggers to release 11, their 11th album comprising 11 songs, on November 11, 2022 (11 x 2). Sadly, due to global production delays, the universal numbers didn’t add up this time. 

“It was an unpleasant surprise for us – a little frustrating, it is true. But the album arrived in the new year and that was perfect,” declares Leonetti, the band’s vocalist, instrumentalist and composer.

That record crystallises Leonetti’s personal feelings after the band suffered major setbacks in 2020. It began not long after the release of their ninth album, Le Fantastique Envol De Dieter Böhm, when they were forced to halt their scheduled European tour after just two British dates as Covid struck. They were heading north to fulfil a dream of playing Liverpool’s Cavern Club when news arrived that the French border was closing so they had little choice but to return home without performing at the venue associated with their musical heroes, The Beatles

Then Gédéric Byar, their charismatic, dreadlocked guitarist, departed. However, later that year, they welcomed new guitarist Arnaud Beyney – friend of keyboards and French horn player, Romain Thorel – and in 2021, the stripped-down Dénudé came out.

“I wrote the words during the lockdown, like a need to escape,” Leonetti reflects of 11. “When the world resumed its course, I found the courage to put them to music, so the songs came to life.”

He and his Léode-playing brother, Claude, recorded demos at their L’Abeille Rôde studio for Thorel, Beyney and drummer/percussionist Vincent Barnavol to hear. 

“It was a joy to see their enthusiasm listening to them,” Leonetti recalls. “Claude and I often have specific ideas, and the others know how to respect our directions while bringing additional soul to the songs. We are used to sharing them with Vincent and Romain, but it was impressive to see how easy and natural it was with Arnaud. It was as if we had worked together forever.”


(Image credit: Lazuli)

However, 11 slipped out without any major media fanfare apart from on their website and social media channels. This being Lazuli’s 11th album in their 25th year, Prog considers that, given their consistently accessible, engaging music and electrifying crowd-pleasing live performances, a continuing lack of self- promotion remains a significant barrier to them attracting exponentially larger audiences and album sales. We mention this to Leonetti, who explains it’s due mainly to them electing to work as a family-based operation.  

“For us, it’s necessary to be independent as it’s the only way to make a living from your music. We are the sole masters of our artistic and financial choices, but that involves a lot of work. Many things we do are incompatible with a musician’s brain, but we need to know how to do the tedious work if we want to continue to share our music. It results in stress and sleepless nights, but when you love what you do, they count for nothing. It’s a kind of ‘business’ on a human scale. Working with family members makes things more peaceful; we’re not suspicious of each other, and we all have the same philosophy of life.

“We prefer to remain free and in control, even if the road is difficult alone. I’m also clear the record industry today is probably no longer interested in groups like ours. Maybe our field of action is reduced, but it’s better to remain modest than to lose your soul.”

He adds: “There have never been so many promotion modes, but it’s difficult to stand out in the growing mass. Certainly, we lack visibility in general, but we are also lucky to have certain magazines who have trusted us for many years. However, word of mouth and the stage remain some of our best means of promotion.”

Leonetti is an artist who wears his emotional heart on his sleeve; the intricate, expressive dynamics of Lazuli’s music and his searchingly powerful voice provide the sonic tapestries into which he weaves his poetic, allegorical lyrics.

Their 11th album’s tracklisting includes the aptly named upbeat opener Sillonner Des Océans De Vinyl (‘Cross The Vinyl Oceans’), an ode to music, but also encompasses the melancholy he felt during lockdown. Triste Carnaval (‘Sad Carnival’) is a story told from a child’s perspective whose mother makes him a superhero costume for the school carnival, but he turns up wearing it on the wrong day. Had such an incident befallen him? Leonetti laughs: “It’s a nightmare many of us have or have had – arriving in pyjamas at school! I experienced it when I was six. It wasn’t exactly pyjamas, but I arrived in disguise at school a day before the planned carnival.” 

Disturbingly, Égoïne translates as ‘hand saw’ but Leonetti explains, “I compare myself to an oak tree threatened by a saw. The idea is that human beings, feeling immortal, stronger than anything, are surprised by an icy winter that calls into question these certainties.”

The romantic, allegorical song Lagune Grise (‘Grey Lagoon’) is about the love for his wife. 

“I had the vision of our two beings reunited for eternity, dancing in silence, at the bottom of the lagoon of Venice, like two amphorae [Greek vases] escaped from an underwater wreck.”

An innately violent feel to La Bétaillère (‘The Livestock Truck’) emanates from a childhood memory of passing a truck crammed with animals leaving for the slaughterhouse. 

“I remember the smell, the looks, the moos…” he says with a shudder.

However, closing track Le Grand Vide (‘The Big Void’) is the most representative of his state of mind during lockdown. 

Says Leonetti, “It’s a mixture of absolute, simple happiness and at the same time, anguish and a loss of bearings.

“The songs come from my imagination: they are little phrases that pop up in my
mind. They take a direction, then the subject defines itself little by little and it ends up making sense. Once I have taken a step back from my writing, I realise my songs have gone to look in my experiences, in my feelings and in the world around me.”

Eagle-eyed fans will notice it’s not just Thorel’s keyboards left-hand playing the bottom end this time. 

“Arnaud plays bass on three songs, but Romain keeps his usual role of left-hand bass on keyboards on four songs. He also plays bass on French horn, and not forgetting
Claude, who plays bass parts on the Léode in certain places.”


(Image credit: Eliot Photography)

The recurring Lazuli bee motif appearing on 11’s cover has several meanings, significantly the homophonous studio name L’Abeille Rôde, which translates as ‘the bee is flying’. 

“I did it as a joke at first. Then we liked the idea of this tribute to The Beatles and the world’s most famous studio. This imagery has followed us for a long time, and it resembles us; we are in our studio like industrious little bees in a buzzing hive,” Leonetti muses.

“During the lockdown, the insects regained power. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen so many butterflies, dragonflies, bees… like a rebirth, so it’s quite natural these bees came to take their place on the cover.”

Leonetti designed the cover and band imagery. 

“I’m the only one in the group who likes to draw, do computer graphics and video. I’m lucky they let me do so and I take advantage of expressing myself there too. My brain is constantly bubbling. I need to create; it’s my way of feeling alive.”

A series of European live shows this year culminates in a six-date UK tour during November/December including Planet Rockstock, the Cavern Club and Trading Boundaries.

What did it mean to finally play the Cavern Club last October? 

“Playing in The Beatles’ lair – don’t wake me up!” Leonetti enthuses. “I don’t know
what this represents for the English, but for a frog-eater, it seems unattainable! We enjoyed every moment, often overwhelmed by our emotions. I remember the moment when Claude, Arnaud and I found ourselves backstage during Vincent and Romain’s improvisation – we hugged as if to freeze this moment, telling ourselves we were living something amazing together.” 

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.