Interview with Lionel Wernert & Gipsy Bacuet of the Lee O'Nell Blues Gang
By Mick Michaels
Cosmick View: Hello, and welcome to The Cosmick View/MBM Ten Pounder! Thanks for taking some time to chat
CV: Describe your definition of the band’s sound and style and how does that definition uniquely describe the music?
Lionel WERNERT: Well, I’m the leader, composer and guitarist of Lee O’Nell Blues Gang, a five pieces band; and I’m happy with that sound question and not only a style question to describe the band. Nevertheless, since our debut, I’ve always tried to mix a vintage sound with modernity in composition. For this second album, “This is Us,” released in September 2022, we’ve also added much more guitars and background vocals to tend to a Contemporary Blues Rock and a more produced album. I used to work with only few pedal effects, to get the real sound of the amps, and the one I use are a French model Scribaux Amps, made by a fabulous man who became a close friend…always working on what I’m looking for. It is really a chance to be able to work with the manufacture.
CV: Today, everyone talks about artist and audience connection. Is such a level of connection actually achievable for an artist and if so, how have you made the connection to your fans?
Lionel: I think that fans are fans if and only they recognize themselves in you music; in the way you approach the songs. I think they need to be in a common universe but also they need to get surprised by what you will put in your songs. I think musicians really need to have studied and digested a very large musical culture to be able to bring something new. Nowadays, you can’t invent music and that is what is interesting: to produce something new without repeating or copying what has already been produced. We are all influenced by someone, and if you can produce something in which people feel your main influences without saying that you are a pale copy, then you have succeed. When I decided to form my bad in 2019, I already had this idea in my mind. That’s maybe the reason why I’ve waited so many years to lead my own band. I was waiting to find the exact voice which could tell stories with different shades. I found it in my wife’s voice. And it was the same for the guys; I needed some musicians who came from different universes with different experiences. My drummer comes from real Rock, my bass player from Blues, and my keyboards from Classical piano and jazz. For those reasons, I think we succeeded in making a rough connection with our audience. But nothing is won by advance, and the hard work is not to deceive them in your next album…. They have to find something new and something they already recognize at the same time. It’s a very short and close combination you have to create.
Gipsy BACUET: I think that if you are true on stage, if you sing with sincerity, you cannot do something else that connects with people. Even if you sing a part of your life, a lot of people recognize their life in your songs. The music you produce movs people as well as someone else’s music moves you. When you are on stage, you are under the spotlights, and audience is in the dark, but it’s important to make a sign to someone, to smile to someone who is looking and listening to you. We are doing this “job” because we love people. Artists are nothing without audience and the interactivity while shows. When you go on stage, it’s to express yourself and to give something to people. They say that applause is the food for artists. That’s right!
CV: Is fan interaction an important part of the band’s inner culture?
Lionel : Yes it’s important for the way they give back to you a kind of recognition about your work, but I will never be influenced by what they could ask or suggest. The music world is now a much more commercial world than a creative one. And for that reason, I will keep on doing what I want to produce. I will keep on expressing myself in my own way. I hope that will keep enjoy coming to our concerts, and keep on buying albums, but I will never let me influenced by some commercial suggestions.
Gipsy: In that world you must keep being yourself with your integrity, your own style you have developed and created. This is the reason why the public who discovered you began to appreciate you, then to buy your album, then to follow you.
CV: Can a band truly interact with its fans and still maintain a level of personal privacy without crossing the line and giving up their “personal space” in your opinion?
Lionel: Of course thanks to all the social media platforms, it’s easy for fans to contact you for whatever reason. Some of them are nice and caring, they congratulate you on the concert they just shared or write you all the good things they think about your latest album. But some try to become more than fans, and there, yes, you have to know how to set limits without being mean so as not to pass for someone you are not.
Gipsy: Yes, but the line is very thin…and I think it’s a part of the “game»”. There are so many kind people at the end of the shows, but there also are some who are here to destabilize you even by messages entire weeks before or after your concert. The harder thing is to respond to people with bad intentions being careful not to create controversy. You have to find the right balance. But in life you always have the choice. But most of time, fans appreciate when you send them a little message for their birthday for example. Of course it can encroaches on your time, because you too you have a personal life; but from the moment you decided to go on stage, you must know such things can arrived.
CV: Is music, and its value, viewed
differently around the world in your opinion? If so, what do you see as the
biggest difference in such multiple views among various cultures?
Lionel: I don’t know for music generally speaking, but regarding to the “style” we play: yes it’s different. We are a Blues Rock band, and for example in France, where we are living, Blues Rock is not our culture. It comes from USA. So it’s a bit difficult here to be such a band, recognized by festivals who prefer artists coming from USA, or England …. I don’t understand and share this point of view. I’m a self-taught child of rock and I grew up listening to all the 70’s rock legends coming from England and USA, same for the Blue. So, this culture is a part of me and now that I’m trying to bring it in. I really realize that I was born in the wrong country.
Gipsy: But thanks to webzines like yours, thanks to radio shows all over the world, our music can be discovered and maybe we will have the chance to play outside our borders. We will soon start to play in Belgium, which is a country where Blues Rock is much appreciated by the audience. They are more open-minded than the French.
CV: Do you feel that a band that has an international appeal, will tend to connect more so to American audiences? Would they be more enticed or intrigued to see the band over indigenous acts because of the foreign flavor? Lionel: I would be very surprised if you could tell me the name of a French artist known in your country. Our language is not practiced around the world. And a lot of French bands, from the moment they play a style such as Blues, Rock or Jazz, cannot sing except in English . That music was not born in France, so for me, there is no point in playing these styles of music singing in our language. France is definitely an old country with old mentalities and old traditional culture.
Gipsy: I really join Lionel in that way of thinking. As I’m the lyric writer, I didn’t even try to make a song in French? That doesn’t sound Blues or Rock. It’s impossible for me. If you like a style of music, you like it in its totality, and it isn’t worth trying to make it yours only adding your native language. I think that is ridiculous. Sorry for our French friends and audience who might read that, but that’s what I think. And that is also why I work with American friends to try to have the best American accent possible in my way of singing. I think that to speak in another language than your native one may be fun with a foreign accent, but not when you sing.
CV: Has modern-day digital technology made everyone an artist on some level in your opinion? Have the actual lines of what really is an artist been blurred?
Lionel: Oh, a big yes! The lines have been blurred! You can make music by yourself with whatever modern technology you want, if you don’t have any culture you will definitely not be an artist. And the only way to know if the artist is really one or not, put him on stage with musicians and let him jam with them…you’re gonna have your answer. My point of view is that without any global culture, a big music vocabulary you will not be able to express yourself. That is why I’ve listened, practiced and studied all the riffs, the phrasings of so many legend guitarists such as Eric Clapton, Albert King, Peter Green, Eric Gales, Joe Bonamassa, Deep Purple, Rainbow, Thin Lizzy and many more….
CV: How would you describe the difference between an artist who follows trends and one who sets them?
Lionel: The artist who follows trends is not an artist; he’s a product who will never have a long and interesting career. An artist is the one who really create or bring something new in the music world, often without the recognition he deserves.
Gipsy: And the actuality joins us here: How tabloids have been able to write “Who is this unknown singer?” speaking about Bonnie Raitt after the last Grammy Awards ceremony? Were they joking? You know real artists often die in indifference, and their work is often recognized by the general audience only after their death. And then everyone claims “ oh what a great artist he/she was!” Money destroys all today. But sincerely, I’d better have a small and good audience that comes to share our music than a big one that doesn’t care!
CV: Has music overall been splintered into too many sub-genres in an effort to appease fan tastes in your opinion? And has such fan appeasements, in actuality, weakened music’s impact as a whole by dividing audiences?
Lionel: Yes, in a way all those sub-genres divide audience. And that is exactly what we face here in France every day. That is the reason why we decided with Gipsy not to belong to any label. We decided to put all the caps at the same time, composer, lyrics writer, promoter, “booking agency” and so many times we receive answers from Festival that our music is to Rock for some of them or to Blues for others. In reality, the programmers don’t let the chance to their audience to discover new universes. Themselves, they don’t like so they impose their point of view to the audience.
Gipsy: Someone here in France wrote about us ”Lee O’Nell Blues Gang, the band that has it all figured out when it comes to putting some Rock in Blues and vice-versa.” We think it’s a good way to define our music, but some doors can be closed for the same reasons. We don’t want to be classified in too short and restrictive genres or sub-genres but here in France, we don’t have any choice. That is the way it is. That’s why we do our best to be discovered in England, USA, and Europe countries where audience is much more open-minded.
CV: What can fans expect to see coming next from you?
Lionel: We would like to surprise them even more and those who are already filling us are also going in this direction.
Gipsy: This year, we will have the chance to be openers for great bands and artists such as Ana Popovic, or The Cinelli Brothers for example , That will allow us to be discovered by new audience. And we also already have the chance to collaborate with Jade MACRAE…a fabulous Australian Singer and background vocalist for Joe Bonamassa, with lyrics work. Maybe one day new and more important collaboration will appear.
Lionel: We really hope that with such webzines as yours, our music will meet more audience in lot of different countries to star touring everywhere.
CV: Thanks again for taking some time and talking. It is greatly appreciated.
Lionel: Thanks so much to you Mick, and the whole team of The Cosmick View!
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