Helmut Lotti is back, or better: we have a new one. His toupee and pittaleer have been in the rubbish bin for a long time, but now Lotti also makes Tiritomba a thing of the past. No more evergreens, but an album with exclusively self-penned Dutch language tracks. “This is my musical rebirth.”
Text by Jeroen Denaeghel/ Fotos: Helle Vermeersch
An icy Monday morning in Antwerp. Neat in the Dries Van Noten suit, Helmut Lotti steps into the café Moscow on the Draakplaats. He orders a coffee and gets a pat on the shoulder from a regular ( customer ). “Congratulations on your new cd, man!”, says the guy. It is Hendrik Willemyns, singer from Arsenal. Helmut Lotti beams. The youngster from Merelbeke has become a hip rocker from Zurenbourg.
You are really now an Antwerpener. ‘From the City’, as they say. Not too homesick for the provincial life?
HELMUT LOTTI: (grins) When I was getting to know Jelle, I put a condition in our relationship: that I would never sell my house in Merelbeke and was going to always live there. A half a year later I had sold my villa and lived together with her in Deurne-Zuid.
So we know right away who wears the pants at home.
LOTTI: That has nothing to do with it. It shows how easily I step through life. You have stay-at-home men and bohemians, but I begin to fear that I belong in the latter category. That is not to say that I don’t like being home. So long as home is a home I prefer home. That would be obvious if you listen to the album track “Als jij niet bent “ “Home is where the heart is”.
So Helmut. What did you want to talk about today?
LOTTI: ( gives me a stupefied look ) “My album naturally.”
Seriously? I thought that you’d already said it all. Mijn hart en mijn lijf has been in every newspaper and on every tv programme. So will we now talk about cycle racing?
LOTTI:Why might I talk with you about cycle racing?
Because spring comes and it is also one of your passions. Or would you rather talk first about the album?
LOTTI: No, do Spring. Now we have talked about a home: I think that Tom Boonen himself thinks that “Home is where the heart is,” therefore he has returned to Monaco. I have great respect for Tom. He and Cancellara are really champions of this generation. Remember Cancellara in the Ronde Van Flanderen two years ago. Everyone was against him: He wasn’t’even handed a drink bottle. Yet he remained dignified in his long fall. He didn’t set course – like Pozzato – for someone to lose but only for himself to win. It failed, too bad. In Milan-San Remo last year the much faster Simon Gerrans stuck to his wheel and he lost in the sprint. He had to keep his legs steady but he still dragged at the head. You can call it stupid but I think it’s fantastic.
Who gets your preference : Boonen or Gilbert?
LOTTI: Boonen. I also think Gilbert’s a good rider but Boonen has a bigger motor. I also have the feeling that Boonen is more generous. I also love his relative power to spring. He has received a lot of flak but remains correct compared to anyone.
That's right. You can actually have nothing against this guy.
LOTTI: And yet he is treated harshly by the press. And why? Pfff, he did nothing more then other young ones his age do. He has himself tremendously well in hand, otherwise you could never put such a track record together. "
What do you think of the Armstrong affair?
LOTTI: I feel very sorry for cycling. On the other hand, there is an indistinct gray area. What is allowed, what is not. The late Frank Vandenbroucke told me once: Helmut, what is the difference between EPO injection and ten days sleeping in an oxygen tent to achieve the same result? The dedication? Is that then to be the difference between clean and doped?
But I prop when I hear that riders can no longer ride The Tour ( de France ) on bread and cheese. Of course, on that they will only cycle up the Madeleine at twenty not thirty per hour. Will the course therefore be less attractive? No. A breakaway will be equally spectacular. Doping only has to do with zeurzakkerij (?) and wanting to win. And we all know: the more money is involved, the faster something is stuffed up. "(Smiles)
Sounds like you speak from experience.
LOTTI: These days money is a goal, it’s obvious. ( silence ) But I’d better shut up because everything I say about money is used against me. Let's say that life is easier when you don’t need to worry about money.
Could you have made Mijn hart en mijn lijf without a regretful reckonning? As the second album in your career, for example?
LOTTI: Yes. Only I would have had to look harder at the budget. It would therefore never have been the same album. Now I'm able to experiment to my heart's content.
Why did it take twenty years before you could lay your egg?
LOTTI:That is not really true. Even in the early years of my career I had my own mind . For my fourth CD - Just For You - I wrote seventy percent of the songs. No cock crowed then, but now everyone suddenly screams bloody murder because I make an album with my own songs. People can't seem to conceive that I drop all commercial certainties for a step into the unknown. But I don't think it's anything earth shattering. Making that self directed album, is something I have long wanted to do. It feels like a debut. The tail that I could knit on my "Lotti goes .. 'repertoire, I have myself truncated. I could sing with great orchestras until my sixtieth galas but now I reposition myself and that is sometimes quite unpleasant."
Isabelle A and Kate have also gone with the the alternative tours, but were never taken seriously. Don’t you fear a flop?
LOTTI: Of ourse I afraid to land between the shore and the ship, but that does not seem to be happening. For the first time in my career I won the title Meteen Mee CD on Radio 1. I had never dared to hope for that. I am also pleased that Radio 2 keeps me turning. It has always been my dream to get airplay on both stations.
You complained earlier about your lack of street credibility. You said, "I can write four hundred songs, but they will always continue to see me as the guy from Tiritomba.
LOTTI:"That was indeed a frustration that began getting harder to live with. I'm over that now. I also realize that My Heart & My Body will not march by itself. I will have to work harder than ever to convince my new audience. But whether that album now sells a thousand or ten thousand copies, I will never regret my choice. This is what I wanted, and I will therefore always be happy with it. "
Guys like Stef Kamil Carlens (Zita Swoon), Bjorn Eriksson (Broken Circle Breakdown) and Nicolas Rombouts (Dez Mona) contributed to your album. Did you become aware of your street credibility rising among people from the surrounding Flemish rock scene?
LOTTI: "Yes. At first I wanted to swim with people who were at home in rock music for their knowhow. That these guys have credibility, is naturally a great bonus. But everything comes from of their musical luggage. "
Don’t you fear that the old fans will drop out of your new genre?
LOTTI: "Some will have difficulty. On my website, I notice that the opinions are divided. And sometimes the very fans I did not expect are very enthusiastic. "
Was "credibility" the drive to make this record?
LOTTI: "No. I thought it was important that people know me as I am and not see me as some kind of cartoon character. Therefore it had to be over with the pitteleer and white bow. Eventually they don't recognize you without a dress suit. I did not want to be Nana Mouskouri on her seventieth, still appearing with the same hairstyle and glasses. "
So basically you saying that you have been a marketing product?
LOTTI: "Er, I was in the first place, an international, successful singer. And yes, I was also a marketing product. But it's just not one without the other. If you sign a contract to make five Lotti Goes... CDs, you can't say half way through: we're going to throw the lot down. I wanted to do things correctly. I've always been loyal. "
FINISHED WITH IDOL STATUS
How come you held onto this for almost twenty years and now suddenly no more?
LOTTI: "Age has something to do with it. In the genre that I was doing, I was at my ceiling. I had no desire to repeat: Lotti Goes Classic, Lotti Goes Elvis, Lotti Goes Latin ... If an album of mine came out, people asked: "What are you going to do next year?" While they must have still been listening to the to the CD. 'What will Lotti do now? "That was the key question. It seemed as if the music itself no longer mattered. Some people bought my albums blindly as a Christmas present for their mother and formed an opinion without having listened to a note. "
So what? Meanwhile you succeed at the box office.
LOTTI: "Yes, but money isn’t everything? It just wasn’t satisfactory. "
Yet, many aspiring artists would like to stand in your shoes.
LOTTI: "It is for all the same: the first fourteen days of fame are fun, but then only the first fourteen days."
Hoera ik ben een ster is a cynical song about fame. "I sign their breasts, abdomens and buttocks. My death sentence and also my last will. ' You're completely finished with that idol status, I think.
LOTTI: "Right. I will gladly keep singing, but the Lotti landscape leaves me completely cold. I do not need to be the star. "Nowadays I like nothing better than to appear unannounced at the performance of another artist to sing some songs. So I recently jumped on stage at The Broken Circle Breakdown concert. I realize that I also get the chance because I am Helmut Lotti. But being in the spotlight does not really interest me; I just have the urge take to the stage because I like to sing. Even being a backing vocalist would amuse me. "
Another excerpt from Hoera ik ben een ster! "Hey, I like to play the cliché. Am really that cool son that you know from on TV. "It seems a difficult relationship, you and your fans.
LOTTI: "I have been unkind a few times to people who have clung to me. I'm ashamed about it, because they mean well. But at some point I couldn’t take it anymore, that people with Argus eyes followed me and had a ready opinion about everything I did. The original English text of Hoera ik ben een ster! is much harder: "Some people know me better than I do. They label me depressed when I forget to smile. They drive me insane with free advice on my music and style. '"
I never thought that your fans would dare to do the job of musical critic or stylist.
LOTTI: "That's just it, annoying. Everyone has their say without knowledge of affairs. If you don’t like my music, you're free to listen to something else. But I don’t prefer that, of course. "
SLIGHTLY LESS ELVIS
It surprises me that you felt the urge to necessarily write your own songs. "I'd rather be an entertainer like Elvis Presley. To such an ultimate singer-songwriter as Bob Dylan, I can't listen for two minutes ", you told me ten years ago.
LOTTI: "That's right, although I now find some music by Dylan good to listen to. My musicians have forced me to listen a bit better to that man. (laughs) I think Neil Young's self written songs are beautiful. That's already come a long way, right? "
Come on Helmut, Harvest by Neil Young is the best there is?
LOTTI: "Absolutely, beautiful ... But I unfortunately don't like his singing. I really needed get past his fragile vocals to learn to listen. He sings very soberly, but now I know why he does that: you should tell a story and then the voice is subordinate to the message. If you sing with too much bravado and pathos, you lead the attention away. I have that problem especially with those r & b singers. They have so many tricks and strokes in their vocals that they appear to sing from a minaret. Then the essence of a song is lost to me. I have also ensured that my voice on my new album sounds very sober. "
I didn't even recognize your voice.
LOTTI: (irritated) "I think that's a very strange comment. There are many more who say that. Do I sound so different than before? "
But you said yourself that Stef Kamil Carlens, the producer of your record, has had you sing otherwise. The Elvis sound had to go out.
LOTTI: "Hola, he asked me to take out the Elvis sobs. And he's right. If I want to tell something authentic, such tricks may distract the focus. But my voice has never sounded as true as now. "
What is the most important for you now: singing or writing songs?
LOTTI: "It remains for me to be more an entertainer than the writing, but I like that I can bring something of myself to the public."
So you still stay with a little Elvis?
LOTTI: "Of course. That is the red thread in my life. But that does not mean that I will also sing songs from him during my performances. I will not necessarily bring my hits. The concert repertoire should be my last album and - above all - what I make of my life. "
That's bullying your fans, I think. I saw Iggy Pop in Brielpoort once. He wouldn't sing even one The Stooges song, I was mad.
LOTTI: "I may do my own thing surely? Why do I always have to satisfy the wishes of the people? If they want to hear my older work, they can always listen to my old albums. "
You're going to disappoint people.
LOTTI: "But I hit it just right with myself? I do not have responsibility for other people? Am I perhaps their psychiatrist? (laughter) No, seriously, I will still do my best to dish up a fantastic concert to people. "
Also new are the fat guitars on your album. That surprises me. I take you back to the Charlatan times to a performance of Mauro's rock band Radical Slave. You walked around like you were in the trenches of World War I with a painful grimace and those yellow plugs in your ears.
LOTTI: "I can not stand noise, that's all."
Doesn’t that happen live, with loud snare drums behind you?
LOTTI: "Balorkesten can be as loud to hear. It all depends on how loud the amplifier is set. Noise and genre have nothing to do with each other. I once rehearsed with Placido Domingo. He stood with his back to me and still shattered my eardrums. Noise is not always dependent on the decibels, but also of the sound frequencies. If they leave a high guitar solo somewhat sharper, you become deaf as a pot. "
We learn even more about you on your new album. Voed mij op is about your daughter.
LOTTI: (annoyed) "No! This is not about my daughter. "
Sorry about your relationship with your daughter.
LOTTI: "Wrong again! The song originates from the experiences I had with my daughter. "
Are we nitpicking? Why do you tackle my wording?
LOTTI: "Because everyone does that to me. "Lotti writes song for his daughter," I read in the newspaper, when I have said in an interview that the relationship with my daughter only inspired me. But my childhood has also influenced the text. I gone to be with tears because I hurt my mother. Voed mij op also goes there. "
You know what I find strange? That people can still underestimate you. Despite your intelligence I have the impression that people still find you a clownish figure.
LOTTI: "The perception seems difficult to steer. When I joined Marc Uytterhoeven on Morgen Maandag, they said: "Tiens, he's just not as stupid as he looks." But people forget quickly. Ten years later in De Slimst Mens, the reactions were the same thing: Allez said, “he’s not a calf." And now, with Twee tot de zesde macht, some thought that I had received answers in advance: a dubious compliment! "
Yet you go on ahead. You may even talk about Antwerp politics on Reyers Laat. And there you haven't concealed your love for Patrick Janssens. It is not often that an artist comes out with his political beliefs.
LOTTI: "We live in a democracy, so why shouldn't I state my opinion? Naturally I got along to forums. "That he at no time comes from his million dollar villa in Zurenborg and on the evening only steps onto the Plantin Moretuslei. If he dares, at least! Now you must know that in Bourgehout my album has made the day ( laughs )
Are you one of the artists weaver fears?
LOTTI:I have no views on that. Only I do not understand that the people of Antwerp have voted for him. Janssens has achieved much in Antwerp. Why would you vote for the “party of change”?
What has Janssens achieved?
LOTTI: "More and better bike paths, the establishment of the MAS, the Park Spoor Noord, the slogan '' the City is for everyone ', and so on. He has created a positive team spirit. Antwerp has become a very nice city to live in. "
Maybe you just live in the nicest part of Antwerp and elsewhere is a less pleasant place to be?
LOTTI: "Gosh, I have also been in Deurne-South and lived in the heart of Antwerp. I found it cozy everywhere. "
AUCTION OF MISERY
Besides your residence and music, you have also changed your looks in recent years. The outing of your new hairstyle in 2009 was even national news.
LOTTI: (laughs) "Be quiet! Het Laatste Nieuws set the paparazzi on me even then. "Caught without hair!" stood ( as a caption ) under a dingy picture. So you should know that I had walked around Antwerp like that for three weeks. If you need to find out in a hurry, the paparazzo is worthless to you. "
It was the start of a total makeover. You also threw your off your pitteleer and bow tie and went to confront Story and Dag Allemaal. How did Piet Roelen, the man who had carefully protected your reputation, find those antics?
LOTTI: (ponders his words) "On Piet's advice I succeeded in a certain direction. We have put together a fantastic track record, but at some point I wanted to proceed that way no longer. "
I hear rumors that you've fired him. Is that correct?
LOTTI: (bone dry) "Pete is on vacation in Curacao, but also represents my interests from there. We work together for that matter, we can't dismiss each other. (sigh) I understand the people who spread such rumors. Why does that interest them anyway? "
You are intelligent enough to know that such things go with the life of a public figure.
LOTTI: "For that reason I have also stood aside for a number of years. I just want to sing. It's because of guys like you that my situation doesn't get any easier. "
What do you mean?
LOTTI: "Do you still remember Big Brother (yours truly was once participant; ed.)? Always the producers asked me in the House to act. "When the chickens have teeth, I will participate in such a program," I replied. Then came the reality shows like The Pfaffs, the Planckaerts and Astrid in Wonderland. With all due respect for those people, I think reality TV is objectionable. It has triggered a lot harmful shifts in showbiz. Initially you had to do something as BVs, but suddenly it was insufficient to be seen baring your breast on a TV show. I have nothing against Betty, but you will still be thrown in the same heap. And because much of Flanders looks at the Pfaffs for their private life, people think that I must also do that in the boekskes ( popular press/ gossip rags ). Well, there I pass. "
I am no fan of the tabloids, but I find difficult BVs that for the first twenty years, are eating out of hand of the boekskes and then, as soon as the career is going well, give them the finger.
LOTTI: "You see it in the headlines: Story and Dag Allemaal… over fifteen years the boulevard-press has evolved into the gutter press. You’ve got to see those covers. This auction of misery; you don't want to be there? "
Don't you think that you owe a part of your success to them?
LOTTI: "Why? I do not think dEUS or the cast members of The Broken Circle Breakdown - today quite successful - have worked with Dag Allemaal. Anyway, if I needed the boekskes to sell records, I'd even prefer to open a chip shop. "
The boekskes claim that your wife, journalist Jelle Van Riet, has an adverse impact on your career. You already had a Colonel Parker, you now have a Yoko Ono on your side?
LOTTI: (laughs) "She doesn't sing? Jelle has seen what was lying in my stomach from day one. I am someone who finds it difficult "no" and I am very happy that she gives me the power to do that sometimes. I also appreciate that she empowers my ideas, as with recording a Nederlands CD. "Then the people will better understand what you want to say," she said. You don't know how much she helps me. For months she has worked to prepare for my new start; she even rewrote my website. In return I try occasionally to be there for her. Also no article that I've read leaves Jelle out. "
"Then I come home and beat the flames from the hallway. Then I come home and it smolders behind the wallpaper. It makes me desperate and scared, but you hold me in the tongs ', you sing in Je Lijf is als een vuur. You live with the Flemish Mata Hari
LOTTI: "I must disappoint you, it's about a friend of mine. He was in a bad relationship, but whenever he came home, she was there in lingerie, ready to pounce on him. The sex was too good to burst it. Silly calf, I think. "
Do you think so? Maybe you miss something.
LOTTI: "No. This is really not for me. If a relationship is not good, it's not good. Full stop. "
I have the feeling that your marriage with Jelle transcends all the previous lovelife.
LOTTI: "There is indeed more fondness in it. The first time I dealt with her and my daughter, Jelle read me the riot act. "Have you actually heard how you are going against your daughter? You communicate completely wrong with her! " she said. She was willing to collide heavily with me to protect my daughter. At that moment, I knew she was the one. They get along so well together, I have rarely encountered such a someone in my life. "
Home is where the heart is. Thank you for this interview, Helmut.