GOTTHARD – Where They Are
On October 5th, 2010, Gotthard singer Steve Lee passed away when a tractor-trailer skidded into his parked motorcycle on a rainy Nevada highway northeast of Las Vegas. Lee was among a group of motorcyclists which included his girlfriend Brigitte Voss-Balzarini and bassist Marc Lynn, the group stopping on the side of northbound Interstate 15 – about 50 miles north of the Las Vegas Motor Speedway – to put on rain clothing at roughly 5:15pm local time. Steve was 47 years old.
“I was with Steve on vacation,” Marc Lynn remembers. “This tragic incident happened actually while we were stopping on the motorbike track. He died on the spot, immediately. He didn’t have any reaction, nothing. It was like when you turn off the power. He was gone immediately. I was involved in the incident, but I wasn’t injured. I was lucky; the truck’s trailer missed me by a metre to a metre and a half.”
Steve’s demise led to thoughts of ending Gotthard. “As we came back home, the band met,” the rhythmist divulges. “After all of the newspaper and fan stuff was over, we sat together and discussed things among the members. Our feelings went up and down and left and right, so at first we thought that the story was over, that that was it. Then we talked to each other about how we felt and stuff like that. We were talking about the past, the good and the negative things. Of course we were talking to each other about the future. Everybody wanted to make music; all of Steve’s friends wanted to make music together, and that was the rest of the band.
“As time passed, we decided ‘Let’s try it again. Let’s make music together. That would be the best thing.’ The decision was how to make music together. Did we want to make a new band name? Did that really make sense? We decided to keep the band name because it’s not only the work of Steve, but it’s even been our band name for 20 years. We decided to go on with the band if we found the right man to be by our side, which was of course Nic.”
It was publicly revealed on November 20th, 2011 that Swiss-born Nic Maeder would occupy the vocal position from thereon in. “We released the news that we wanted to go on if we found the right voice,” Marc explains. “Through our management we had almost 450 tapes come in, from singers who wanted to sing with us. We were listening to them and there were 30 interesting singers who we sent playback songs, songs without vocals that they could sing on. One of them was Nic. Nic was actually a little bit different because he was suggested by a mutual friend. We didn’t know Nic personally. From this demo, we decided to invite people or not to invite them.
“For us, it was clear from the beginning that we weren’t only looking for the right voice but for a person which fit in the band. We didn’t search for a star, or a substitution for Steve. We looked for a new band member who could bring the story of Gotthard towards the second chapter, to a new point or to a fresh point. Nic was the guy who surprised us the most with input, with creativity, and as a person himself. It was just a magic moment. As we met Nic, every day was a step further. After about two weeks of working together, we had already written four songs which all made the album. We feel like we’ve known Nic for a long time already, so maybe it was a certain kind of destiny to find him. For us, it was like winning the lottery.”
Nic’s musical preoccupations began at the age of 13. “I started playing guitar at that time, and started singing a few years later,” the vocalist discloses. “Pretty much like everybody, I just played in bands here and there and had a lot of bands before. My previous band was a band called Maeder; we were signed to Warner Brothers, and had an album out (September 2007’s Maeder, issued by Locomotive Records). I’ve really just been doing this for a very, very long time. I got to the point where I met the Gotthard guys, and started doing this.
“I had known Gotthard for a long time, obviously living in Switzerland. Back in ’94, we even played together at the same festival where my band was opening the festival and they were headlining. It was a band that I had known for a long time, and really appreciated. When I heard the news I applied for it, and just thought that it could be something really good. I suppose the first time that I put my voice onto one of their songs and listened back to it – which was actually for a song called ‘Anytime Anywhere’ – I thought ‘Yeah, this could fit. This could work,’ and really just carried on. When I met the guys for the first time, everything was just so natural and there was a good vibe between us. I think it was at that point that I really decided that this was definitely a 100% for me.
“It took awhile, but at first I was actually living in Australia and sent them three of their songs with my voice recorded to them. From that day on, I think it was pretty much about seven to eight months until I became a member. I actually met the guys for the first time in April 2011, and that sort of went on until August when I moved to Switzerland. It took quite awhile; I went back and forth between Australia to Switzerland three times that year. It was a long process, but an understandably long one.”
The frontman considers himself half-Swiss, and half-Australian. “I was born in Switzerland, and my parents migrated to Australia when I was about two years old,” he imparts. “I really just grew up doing a couple of years in Australia, a couple of years in Switzerland, and then Australia again, and Switzerland again. I really just grew up doing school in both countries.”
June 2012’s Firebirth marks Nic’s inaugural Gotthard full-length. “During the audition process, they got me back from Australia to spend a couple of weeks together to write songs – to see how the band would sound with me in it, and the songs that we would come up with really,” he recounts. “We ended up writing four songs that are actually on the album. It was a great way to get started really, I suppose. I wasn’t really used to writing with other people before. This was really new for me, but it turned out to be a fun process and an easy one. That’s how it started. Once I finally joined, we just kept pretty much writing the same way we were doing and wrote the album fairly quickly.”
Firebirth reunites Gotthard with Paul Lani, who handled production duties. “We of course were looking at which producer could bring us to the point we wanted to go,” Marc begins. “We talked about new producers for a long time, and they all fell to the wayside. One was burnt out and the other one was busy, so we came back to Paul Lani. We already recorded G. (1996) and Open (1999) with Paul as an engineer, and Homerun (2001) and Human Zoo (2003) he just mixed. We thought ‘Why don’t we give him the chance to be a producer?,’ because we remembered that he was really creative at the time. Together we prepared to present Nic to the public. We decided to present Nic with the song ‘Remember It’s Me’ and with a video, so we decided to bring over Paul Lani for the first test and that was the recording of ‘Remember It’s Me’. The way we worked together was perfect so we decided to make an album with him, which was a very good decision. About two weeks before finishing the album, I was asking everybody ‘What do you think of Paul Lani? Would you ever record an album with him again?’ and everybody said ‘Immediately.’ Paul is really in one way a freaky American person, because he has such weird ideas. He works like crazy all the time though. He’s musically really top quality; he was the right choice for us.”
“Leo was co-producing the album as well, and they really worked well together, and probably sometimes actually had opposite ideas,” Nic notes. “They then sort of pulled the songs in a different way that was totally unexpected. It was a really good collaboration with those two.”
‘Remember It’s Me’ was the first composition that the vocalist wrote together with Gotthard. “‘Remember It’s Me’ was an idea that I brought to the band musically and lyrically,” he offers. “It’s a bit of a love song, and sort of love lost in a way. I guess wanting to be with somebody for a really long time, and finally being with them but not wanting them anymore; that was the concept behind it.
“‘Give Me Real’ was another one… I’d have to have the list here right now…”
“‘Shine’?,” Marc offers.
“No, that was Freddy…,” Nic corrects. “Let me think… ‘Remember It’s Me’… ‘Take It All Back’… They were the ones that I had the initial ideas for. Everybody brought in about three to four, because usually somebody will bring in an idea and then we just dissect it. Everybody would then put their own little bit in there.”
The basic idea of the number ‘Yippie Aye Yay’ was contributed by Marc. “We worked it all out together,” he acknowledges. “Freddy brought the bridge in, and Leo brought in the track’s name. Nic brought in the lyrics. I’m not a big songwriter; I’m more the bass player. I go on holidays, and have a good time. I’m hanging out at bars, usually (laughs). I just had that idea, and the guys helped me to make it happen. For us it’s teamwork though. Everybody does something. I’m more the administrative guy and the drummer more takes care of our fanclub and stuff like that, so everybody has his little job which has to be done. Those guys – Freddy, Leo, and Nic – write really great songs. They wrote the basic ideas usually, and the rest of us came in. We brought in our ideas, and helped them. Made a little change there, a little break, and things like this. It was really teamwork. Somebody brought in a basic idea, and then we jam around until we have a good song.”
“Usually Leo, Freddy and I will sit down, and one of us will come up with an idea for a song,” Nic expounds. “We’ll then dissect it musically. Once we’ve figured out the musical side and the melodies and everything, usually I will then go off and finish off lyrics. Sometimes the other guys will be helping with lyrics as well though. ‘Yippie Aye Yay’ Marc brought to the table as well, for example. Everybody has a little bit of input in there. There’s quite a bit of teamwork.
“The only one that I didn’t write lyrics to was ‘Where Are You’, which is a tribute to Steve and were Leo’s ideas musically and lyrically. All I really did there was just help him with a few translation bits and pieces here and there, but that was really the only one that I didn’t write.”
‘Shine’ is simply a love track. “It’s just about meeting somebody that shines so much that you just can’t stop thinking about them,” Nic augments. Queried as to whether ‘Shine’’s lyrics speak generally or from personal experience, the frontman refuses to be drawn. “It was kind of half and half,” he laughs.
‘Starlight’ was the second composition that Nic wrote with Gotthard. “That was an idea that came from Freddy initially,” he credits. “Lyrically it was a bit of a laugh, a bit of a funny take on the whole wanting to be famous thing that everybody seems to want these days (laughs). It seems that there’s so many reality shows and this and that that it’s become such an important part of popular culture to want to become famous. It just takes the piss out of it.”
Gotthard enjoys much press attention in Switzerland, and so the vocalist’s life has greatly changed. “It ended up being you wake up one day, and you’re in every newspaper and the news,” he muses. “It’s been going on since it was announced, and hasn’t stopped. It’s just been quite intense in that way, but I’m just really grateful that the fans have been so welcoming with all the messages and everything. The fact that the band is able to continue this way and the fact that the fans understand that is really amazing.”
A music video was filmed for the track ‘Starlight’ in an old animal food factory near Berlin, Germany. “We invited some of our best fans from the fanclub to be a part of the audience,” Marc exclaims. “They got to know Nic, and welcomed him in a fantastic way. Our fans supported us fantastically during these hard times, and they really welcomed Nic. They were actually just so happy that the band was continuing. Every single one of them I think told us that. It was great.”
‘The Story’s Over’ is one of Firebirth’s heavier tunes, meanwhile. “‘The Story’s Over’ is actually something that we wrote about the press,” Nic reveals. “As you were saying, the band is very big in Switzerland and we get followed by the media a lot. I suppose when you might be doing an interview with somebody and you say something in passing that’s not even part of the interview, that might end up as the headline or what you said might be completely twisted that are not anything that we would’ve actually said. I think that was really what we were talking about in that one.”
Swansong cut ‘Where Are You’ pays tribute to Gotthard’s late vocalist. “When I heard ‘Where Are You’ for the first time, it really, really touched me,” Marc confesses. “Leo sent it to me through mp3, and I said ‘Wow, this is an amazing song.’ Every time I hear it, this song is so sad and so touching and so sensitive that you have to hear it in the right moment or you have to skip it. We’re not even talking about the musician – let’s leave the fact that he was a musician aside. We lost a friend who we were together with for 20 years. Of course we miss him, but on the other hand you don’t know what’s after death. Maybe there’s a new life, and that’s why the questions ‘How are you? What are you doing? Where are you? Is life great? Are you dancing on a rainbow? Are you singing in the rain?’
“Leo wanted to use the most specific text lines of things Steve used to sing about in certain songs, and create a song which remembers him, which talks to him. For us it was maybe even something where we could say ‘Okay, now the story is closed.’ We passed a year and a half thinking about ourselves, closing the story from the past. Steve will always be with us, but even for our future we have to go ahead. The band’s future is with Nic, so it’s maybe even a song where we can say ‘Never forget him – remember him. We’re calling. How are you? Hope you’re good,’ but for us it’s time to move on.”
Whether ‘Where Are You’ will be included in Gotthard’s live set as a tribute to Steve is uncertain. “There are many songs from the past which will be included,” the bassist confirms. “Whether ‘Where Are You’ will be included we still have to decide, because it’s really, really emotional. Even Leo who wrote the song said that he wanted to make a longer break between the second to last song and the last song for people who want to skip the song.”
Performing past Gotthard tracks, Nic will obviously lend vocals to numbers originally sung by Steve. “I’m pretty faithful to the songs,” he reckons. “There are certain melodies that the songs have, but I definitely interpret them I suppose and put my own little twist on them. I just sing the way that I sing, the way that I’ve been singing for a long time really. The last thing anyone wanted was to try to be too poppy. Already during the audition process I recorded over 20 songs or something like that, so I’ve had a good chance to work on them already. They’re actually really good fun to play.”
“We never want to have a copy,” Marc stresses. “We want to have an original, because a copy for us is a cheap situation. We really closed the story, thinking about the past. We’ve already had 20 years together; that’s much longer than most bands have with their singer, and we’re really thankful for the days we had the time we spent together. Now a new story should start though, and we want to have a singer who is free and able to express himself. That’s really important, that he feels comfortable with everything he’s doing and that he can develop his voice for the people.”
Firebirth marks a second chapter for Gotthard. “Really, the idea is to go as long as we can possibly go,” Nic clarifies. “This is something that the band never had in mind, to just do a couple of albums. There’s been 20 years, and hopefully we can do another 20.”
“We’ve tried to open up a second chapter, to go on and maybe even have success like we had before, maybe even more,” Marc concludes. “The important thing is to be happy though, to be able to have a great team, to have a great band. We want to kick ass live of course, making great records, playing music together, playing music with a bunch of friends, and having fun. That was always the main goal of the band, and that shall remain.”
Firebirth was released in Switzerland through Musikvertrieb and elsewhere in Europe via Nuclear Blast Records, all on June 1st, 2012.
Interview published in June 2012.
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