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LALU (DECEMBER 09, 2021)



After eight long years of silence, Lalu is back in business with an album back to the roots of progressive music... It is with great pleasure that Music Waves met with its main protagonists!
STRUCK - 07.01.2022 -
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Eight years, it took again eight long years for Vivien Lalu to give a follow-up to "Atomic Ark" which was released eight years after "Oniric Metal". But this time, a lot of things have changed, starting with a signature at Frontiers Records... For the occasion, Vivien Lalu and his acolyte Jelly Cardarelli -the drummer as talented as he is multiplying his projects (Adagio, Klone, Disconnected, Black Hellebore...)- wanted to make a "Yes metal" album. A successful bet, "Paint the Sky" is an excellent return to the sources of the refreshing progressive rock which calls for others very quickly...

We met twelve years ago now and at the time, I didn't ask the usual question of the site : what is the question you've been asked too often and that you're tired of answering ?

Vivien Lalu: "Why is Jordan Rudess playing on this album?" (Laughs). In fact, there are a lot of questions concerning the guests...

But we could have started by asking you why you took nine years to give a follow-up to "Atomic Ark". But we have to remember that three years ago you released the project "Celestial Spheres" which gathers a series of rather ambient compositions and soundtracks which were composed for various occasions (video games, television, cinema). You were already talking about this activity in your previous interview for Shadrane. Is the creation for all these media something you practice regularly?

Vivien : Yes, absolutely! It has calmed down a bit in the last few years but indeed, there was a whole period where I left the production of metal/progressive albums... to work in video game studios, to do sound design, to do music for video games... I also did music for commercials, documentaries...

And why this return to the roots of progressive album production?

Vivien : Actually, the fact of doing music for documentaries, for TV, even if it's great, it's the dream of every composer to be able to work in this field, it's still food. But I'm still passionate about prog, metal and the problem is that to produce albums like that, it's very difficult to do it alone. Until now, I didn't really have the adequate backing so I worked a lot with love money, that is to say that it was my parents who participated financially in the production because an album is expensive. So my family was involved in the adventure. For me, this signature with Frontiers Records for various albums is going to change the game because it allows me to concentrate on the music and to relieve my family also (Laughs)... It promises beautiful things for the future!

You are laying the card on the table at once, I mean that we won't have to wait eight years before the release of the next Lalu?

Vivien : Exactly!

So, you're back on track with a stable line-up as the presence of Jelly at your side seems to suggest?

Jelly Cardarelli : Until he fires me and finds a better drummer (Laughs) !

Vivien : Never say never, but it's not possible to find a Jelly-bis. No really, I was very lucky to find Jelly who embodies in my opinion the fusion of the two drummers I had before on this project : the very square, metal, heavy fact of Ryan Van Poederooyen and the really hyper technical and groovy fact of Virgil Donati -Virgil Donati who likes Jelly's playing a lot, by the way...

But Jelly, you have a hot actuality between the release of the last Black Hellebore, the next Disconnected...

Jelly : ... and it's not over yet because more albums are coming out...

... how do you manage this multiplication of projects or did you use the Covid which blocked us all at home to multiply the projects ?

Jelly: This is the positive fact about Covid that is to say that I sniffed it right out a few years ago to make the decision with my best friend to set up a recording studio, it's been a few years now... And since 2014-2015, we have been learning to make sound and by dint of making music, meeting people... I keep the studio running. And the things are that in 2016-2017, I joined Klone then Adagio: it made me quite a lot of promos as well as my studio.
And I happened to be in a very good period when the lockdown happened, at the very moment when my studio was operational, when I had free time... I have a lot of bands but they couldn't do concerts anymore and they came to me to record albums...

But at some point, we're going to get rid of this virus. In these conditions, you have to make choices...

Jelly: I often use Bruce Dickinson as an example because he has 18 lives - he's a radio host, a history teacher, a fencing champion, an airplane pilot, an Iron Maiden singer...- I think you can do it all: it's a matter of organization.
I spend a lot of time in my studio recording drums...

Recording in particular this album "Paint The Sky" which is a very surprising album because it is extremely diversified: the first tracks are very prog rock with a 1970's spirit, then come more 1980's tones with touches of soul, pop or jazz-fusion everywhere. The references of the two previous albums that could go from Devin Townsend to DGM through Symphony X and here, we navigate between Yes, The Flower Kings and at certain moments the AOR à la Toto ('Lost In Translation'). What was your path to compose such a score?

Vivien : I'm already getting old (Laughs)! I don't see this as a problem, it's actually quite good in this specific case, because the older I get, the more I come back to my roots: I'm listening again to a lot of music from the 1960s, 1970s, 1980s and especially to the prog of the 1970s which is clearly my thing. It was an influence, a voluntary artistic direction at the beginning. I have in mind the image of the seismograph, that is to say that I start to record, things come out by themselves, I don't really know how it comes out, it comes out by the mile, so that finally, there are a lot of tracks that are not on the album, I only kept the best...

Maybe you save the rest for the next album...

Vivien : Maybe, but I already wrote three songs for the next album : I started with new material...

And still in this progressive rock spirit influenced by the prog rock of the 70's or by Toto of the 80's?

Vivien: That's indeed a big influence too... I'm bouncing back on that question, indeed, I have a dream that Frontiers will ask me to write an album in Toto's style. By the way, one of Jelly's biggest influences is Jeff Porcaro.

Jelly: Yeah, he's definitely one of my biggest influences...

As you said, in the past, you used to get love money to finance your albums. Isn't it paradoxical that you don't need them anymore when you go to the progressive rock side of the force by abandoning metal that you get closer to the sources of your parents Noelle and Michel who were members of the progressive rock band called Polène in the 70's ?

Vivien : Actually, my father has changed a lot over time. With me, he started listening to more "electric" stuff like Dream Theater : he wasn't necessarily a fan of heavy guitars or double bass drums... But he evolved a lot in that direction and that's the modern sound we have now for many years.
And I wanted to keep this modern fact even if the progressive metal has taken a really djent branch these last years with as a leader Haken who has a lot of djent influences. And for my part, I wanted to keep this modern side, heavy of this current movement while keeping retro textures which pass perhaps by the keyboards, Mellotron... which have a very atmospheric, dramatic side... like the good old Genesis records but with this modern production. And that's where Jelly comes in: what I wanted him to do was to give a modern sound to all these retro keyboards that I was bringing.
I didn't want to do a retro prog sound or anything like that where you have all these bands trying to sound like they did in the 70's with the same amps, the same mixers as they did back then. I was given an album to listen from a Nordic band and you feel like you're listening to "Fragile" by Yes and I'm fond of it, I like it a lot as a listener but it's not my style as a composer. But how did you manage to make this mix so fluid, I have in mind the intro of 'Reset to Preset' and this very contemporary drumming while we are clearly cruising in progressive rock waters?

Vivien : It is rather Jelly who will answer this question, given that -I'm just launching the subject- there is an over abundance of samples in this scene. Namely, when you listen to a prog metal album, you get the impression that it's an electronic drum kit on top and we wanted to keep a natural fact. I asked Jelly to perform this miracle of keeping this 1970's natural fact but with a modern sound: it's more his magic (Smile)!

Jelly: There is no magic: I did it very naturally. I received the tracks from everybody -Vivien recorded everything at his place, Joop recorded bass and guitar at his place too- and I recorded my drums on them and it was very natural : I only integrated Vivien's keyboards sounds which are his sounds, his personality -there is no compression...- I only integrated Joop's sounds which are his guitars sounds, basses...
And we are not of the same generation Joop, Vivien and me : they clearly have this 1970's Yes influence so Joop doesn't have a saturated sound on his guitar -it's clearly a crunch- so obviously we had this color. On my fact, I don't have a 1970's drum sound at all : I'm Dream Theater, Periphery, Haken, modern Toto... so naturally, my drum sound is like that. And it's just this alchemy, this mix of my drum sound with Joop's and Vivien's sounds that make this sound. There's really no magic: it's just our sounds that I simply mixed together.

Vivien, you are a fan of Alan Parsons Project's "Tales of Mystery and Imagination", would your future ambition be to go even further in the pop and melodic fact to release the ultimate progressive pop record?

Vivien : Listen, I'm glad you've launched me on this subject because I really like pop music... The fact is that I'll never make the same album twice : it's the case of many artists who don't like to repeat themselves... But it can be dangerous ! For example, I haven't listened to the last Steven Wilson's album, which has been much talked about.

Personally, I don't listen to Steven Wilson anymore, but I'll make an exception with the last Porcupine Tree...

Jelly : I listened to 'Harridan' from Porcupine Tree, it's monstrous !

Vivien : Coming back to pop, the one I like is Sting, The Police... all this kind of music and under the guise of mainstream pop, it's super technical, so much so you could call it prog.
Going back to your question, I would love to do that and it's funny that you mention Alan Parsons who also works with Frontiers. I would love to have Alan Parsons on a future album... : that would be great !

As for the surprises, the track 'Standing At The Gates Of Hell' stands out. It starts in a powerful prog metal mode and turns into a groove-laden jazz-fusion/canterbury and then returns to the initial metal theme. How did you come up with the idea of a very original song and how did you manage to keep it all flowing?

Vivien : The story of this piece is quite funny. I went to bed very late and this piece came to me during the night between 11pm and 5am... It was during the lockdown, I was playing a piano sound that had a distortion effect. I did this pattern and to go back to the image I was talking about earlier, the seismograph went off (Smile)...: I just kept experimenting. It was a "challenge" for Jelly - even though there is no challenge for Jelly...

Jelly : When I got the song, I said to Vivien : "I think it's too much ! (Laughs)

Vivien: I told her I made a mistake by writing a song with three drum scores... Going back to Gavin Harrison, I love the live show they did with three drummers with King Crimson. And at the time I had this idea, I thought it would be great to mix three different drum parts and finally, Jelly did it and he played it: it was a completely experimental piece where we jammed... and by the way, you did it in one version...

Jelly : Yes !

Vivien : Each drum was recorded in one version...

Jelly : It's a jam !

Vivien : Same thing for Joop ! And I think this track must sound very jam.

The record has a very bright overall tone, and many compositions convey unifying melodies and good vibes, (the opening track 'Reset To Preset' or 'Paint the Sky' are for example in this spirit). There is also a very pleasant communicative positivity that sometimes has to do with the sweet nostalgia of the past (the relaxing intro of 'We Are Strong', the 1980's flavors of 'Paint the Sky' with Steve Walsh particularly solar). Is it a kind of feeling that you have had during the composition?

Vivien : Absolutely! The context we were in while the album was being written clearly influenced the writing of this album. When I was writing, at 8pm, everyone was clapping by the windows: there was a positive vibe despite the fact that we were all locked up. The fact that I wrote this album in this environment is reflected in the writing.
Not all the songs were written during that period -for example 'Paint the Sky' was written before- but most of them were, including 'We Are Strong', the final song that tells us that we'll get out of this, that humanity will be able to do its introspection and overcome its demons: a positive ending!

Your approach as a keyboard player is also more integrated to the set, less in the soloist/virtuoso fact and more in the research of sounds to set the atmosphere and give the color to the song. How did you approach your role as a musician in the record? And as we mentioned in the introduction, did your experience as a composer for documentaries change your approach?

Vivien : Absolutely! Precisely, I position myself as the one who gives birth to the music, the keyboards just allow me to write this music because I write the parts of the other instruments on the keyboard... but I don't see myself as a keyboard virtuoso at all: I just use it to start...

... and so to answer the question you've been asked too often, that's why you invite Jordan Rudess...

Vivien : Well, people who are very good at what they do. And that's why I have invited Vikram Shankar for the piano because Damian Wilson wanted a piano/song interlude... I told him that I'm not very good at the piano and that I would prefer to invite someone who can play the piano well, it would be much more beautiful. And since I was listening to what Vikram Shankar was doing at that time with the Evergrey singer -Tom Englund- I was really into Silent Skies, so I told Damian that we should contact Vikram Shankar. Since then, the two of them have become great friends: I'm also a dating agency (laughs)!
I'm very happy: even if it's a personal album, I let Vikram and Damian write it: it was their little space. The funny thing is that Vikram knew my album "Atomic Ark" and even if I didn't interact with him, the contact was very natural.
So, yes, I like to involve people but I don't have a list of guests to make an album with them. It's just that at some point, there is a need that is being felt for a reason x or y...

We notice several times the use of short passages that clearly evoke famous bands like for example the choirs from the first seconds of the first two tracks 'Reset To Preset', 'Won't Rest Until The Heat Of The Earth Burns The Soles Of Our Feet Down To The Bone' or at the end of 'We Are Strong' that remind Yes or the pop passage in the middle of 'Won't Rest Until The Heat Of The Earth Burns The Soles Of Our Feet Down To The Bone' that sounds very Beatles. Is it a deliberate choice to refer to these well-known figures that will inevitably appeal to the listener?

Vivien : The Yes reference, yes clearly because my goal was to make "metal" Yes! And the Beatles part came more from Damian, for example, on the track 'Emotionalised', Damian really wanted to pay a tribute to 'Sun King' by the Beatles: there is quite a story about that track that he has told me late one night and it was important for him to add this tribute.

Jelly: I love this part!

The song 'Paint The Sky' appears twice, once sung by Steve Walsh and as a final track in an instrumental form and played by Simon Phillips on drums. Both versions work so well that we wonder which version you have originally composed?

Vivien: Basically, the version that was written is the one that Jelly plays on. I recorded the version with Simon Phillips a few years ago but when I found myself incorporating the track into "Paint the Sky", as we were working on this album as a band -with Jelly, Joop, Damian and myself- on all the tracks, it would be a bit silly to have Simon Phillips with Simon.
Jelly : Of course, but at first I didn't want to do it, I was really not in the mood: I was very, very afraid... I was thinking that people would compare my game with Simon's and that scared me. But in fact, we have a very different game even if Simon is a great influence. But in the end, it works really well and today, I am convinced that people will love my version (Smile)!

To support you in this adventure, you have gathered an impressive line-up, including Damian Wilson as lead singer. Is it Damian's eclectic fact, able to sing metal as well as soft rock, that has guided your choice?

Vivien : Absolutely! For the assumed choice and the purely prog 1970 artistic direction, and even if it may sound cliché, I really needed an English singer. Damian has been a friend since 2000 but we had never collaborated together.
I wanted to do a prog metal album: Damian has already sung on big guitars, as we saw with Threshold. But he's also the singer of Adam Wakeman, the son of the keyboard player of Yes, and he was the singer on a tour in South America with his father Rick Wakeman: so Damian already knows this English progressive rock universe, he's naturally made for it.
Damian is a completely assumed choice: he is indeed able to sing in the register of Ian Anderson and the heavy parts.

You manage to get a very wide spectrum out of him, especially in 'The Chosen Ones' where he shows a lot of different tones, being subtle and delicate on the verses and holding the notes in the choruses. Did you particularly have to drive him to get what you wanted or did you let yourself be driven by his own inspirations?

Vivien : No, it's a machine! You see, this band is like a construction site: Jelly is a bulldozer and Damian Wilson is the steamroller (Laughs)! Making an album is like doing a construction project (Laughs)!

Jelly: But in the end, you didn't drive it at all.

Vivien : No, not at all! On the other hand, we talked a lot when we were in lockdown. We spent nights on the phone but more on the conceptual level because he shared a lot of his ideas, the subjects he wanted to tackle in the songs... but he didn't receive any direction from me on the vocal line: he just enjoyed himself!
Indeed, I like what he did on 'The Chosen Ones', it surprised me : it's very anthemic, there is a very catchy fact...

You talk about anthem, I imagine that you are impatient to play it on stage?

Vivien : Absolutely!

I see you're smiling, Jelly, you'll have to choose between Disconnected, Klone...

Vivien : I can't engage myself on everything : I'll have to make choices (Smile) !

And finally, what are your expectations for this album ?

Vivien : For this album? Well, I see this album as a reboot because musically it's very, very far from what I did before and as I'm very critical of what I do, I don't like to listen to "Atomic Ark"...

Jelly: ... which I love!

Vivien : ... It's weird because I make the music but I'm not really a fan of my albums! But I really enjoyed this return to my roots, which corresponds to my current aspirations as a music fan. As a result, I take more pleasure in listening to this album and I hope that this pleasure will be shared because honestly, we really made this album with love: we had a lot of fun making this album!

You talk about sharing but to come back to the previous question, in the case of the majority of the bands, the pleasure of sharing happens on stage... is it something that you also consider for this comeback or on the contrary, like Arjen Lucassen from Ayreon or Star One, it is not a pleasure and you don't consider especially to be on tour?

Vivien : We love the stage! Personally, I have a lot of pleasure and even if I'm not a big fan of "Atomic Ark", I took to play it live. And I would like to find the same thing with this new version of the project but I don't think it will be with "Paint the Sky" because it's...

Jelly : (Laughs) !

Vivien: ... we'll see (Laughs)! No, I think the tour will come with the next album...

But concretely, it puts back a tour in the year ... ?

Vivien : Pfft, I don't know, I don't think before 2023...

Does that mean you'll release a new album in 2022?

Jelly : Yes !

Vivien : We'll try between the end of 2022 and the beginning of 2023...

Jelly: Really big!

Vivien: I've already written three songs and we're going to work hard to get it ready to play live in 2023. Since it's a reboot, there's a whole new audience to reach...

So a future new album in the same vein as "Paint the Sky"?

Vivien : Oh yes, and even further in the Yes...

Jelly: We're going to go further!

We have started with the question that you've been asked too many times, on the contrary, which one would you like me to ask you or which one would you like to answer?

Vivien : I don't know! Oh yes, what is the next film I'm planning to see in the cinema?


Vivien : I'm waiting for the new Matrix to come out!

Jelly : Oh, me too : I can't wait anymore even if we'll be disappointed but...

Vivien: ... like all the great sagas...

And we come full circle in the sense that the Wachowskis are doing a reboot at the same time as you're doing one with Lalu... Are you going to tell us soon that you did the music for the film?

Vivien : (Laughs) No, not at all, but I really liked the trailer because they took an old song and gradually it turns into epic music: I love it! But it's true, there's a huge parallel with the album "Paint the Sky" with the Alice in Wonderland side: humanity trying to have a better world. And this is at the heart of the news with the Facebook metaverse, the virtual world promised to be better than our real world... This is completely the concept of "Paint the Sky" and the collage that Travis Smith has made for the cover, it's exactly that: you have the real world behind with stars, a cold space, etc., and on top of it, the virtual world with Alice -a human being- painting a wonderful sky...
The idea is that changing the setting will not fundamentally change our problems. We may find Earth number 2, we may make the metalverse into a magnificent virtual world... as long as we haven't done our introspection as human beings, as a species...

... We needed a philosophical reflection to end this beautiful interview in the most beautiful way...

Vivien: And it ends well, on a positive note: 'We Are Strong' which concludes the album!

Thank you and it was a real pleasure to meet you, especially you, Vivien, twelve years later...

Jelly : Thanks to you !

Vivien : It was my pleasure! I was really happy to see that you were part of the media present for this promotional day...

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LALU: Paint The Sky (2022)

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