Gotthard comes out of the shadows

What are they up to these days? At the beginning of the year Gotthard informed us that they decided to carry on, bravely, despite the death of their iconic singer Steve Lee, and the fact that some people might be shocked. One can wonder if Lee’s powerful aura will not become a difficulty for the band itself and for their future new singer. As a way to leave the past behind, the band released a DVD of one of the very last gig recorded before Lee’s death: Homegrown –Alive in Lugano.

On Thursday, September 22th the guitar player, Freddy Scherer was on air on Anarchy X to talk about it with us. It was one of the first interviews given by the band since last February’s announcement.

How are they? What will become of their music? Who will be their new singer? We had so many questions to ask them, too many for your two favorite radio hosts, that we asked some listeners to take part in the interview.

You can listen to this interview (in French only):

[audio:interviews/Gotthard.mp3|titles=Interview Freddy Scherer (Gotthard)]

« Steve’s family, his father, mother and sister, called us several times, to tell us that he would have wanted us to carry on under the name of Gotthard. »

Radio Metal: How are you?

Freddy Scherer (guitar): Pretty good and you?

Radio Metal : We are fine! We heard the new Gotthard’s live concert, and what a performance! It is really nice to hear the band again!

It is true this is a particular performance, because of all the things linked to it, because of Steve’s death. We recorded it on the third to last gig of the last Need to Believe tour. In fact we recorded it in order to take a break, we wanted a year off to work on the new album and on an acoustic project, but unfortunately everything has changed… The DVD was supposed to be released in January, but we thought it was not a good thing to do only three months after Steve’s death. So we waited for the first anniversary of his death.

How did the band go through these times right after Steve‘s death? What happened and what have you done until today?

The first months were very difficult because you know, if there is a death in your family, you can still go out, you can go anywhere, in a restaurant or a bar. Here, there were no places for us to go to; we couldn’t run away because each time we went out, the neighbors came out to ask us questions. And when we went to a restaurant, the chef himself came and asked us questions. The two first months were really intense. We took time to talk, just the four of us, we discussed about our thoughts, about what each of us wanted to do. It was a way for us to cope with the situation as well as we could. Two or three months later we met again and talked about our projects, in order to know if we would carry on playing music together , under the name of Gotthard.

There were so many aspects to consider. First we all wanted to go on creating music, and secondly we all wanted to do this together. And the most important thing was that Steve’s family, his father, mother and sister, called us several times to tell us that Steve would have wanted us to carry on under the name of Gotthard. They told us that he would have carried on the same if he had been in our place. Considering all these things, we decided to go on, but we didn’t know if it was really possible because it wasn’t enough just to want it, we had to find a good singer.

So in February-March we began slowly to announce that we were looking for a new singer. Six months later we have almost decided who it will be. I think almost 450 singers have sent us emails, pictures and recordings, etc. Luckily the management team made a pre-selection, so in the end we received only 150 applications. We invited fifteen singers to Switzerland in our studio to spend some time with us and think together about music and about Gotthard. I can tell you that we are hesitating between two or three of them. Auditions are closed and one among those who came to see us will be our new singer. It is the final stage, we are composing music and writing songs with them and we see how it goes.

Are they famous rock/metal singers or unknown ones?

You can find both among them, there are very famous ones and others nobody has heard of. Today, we can still choose between two or three singers but we decided not to give out their names because it can be disturbing, for the famous ones. I believe that in about a month or two we will have made our decision. It is really important for us to take all the time we need. A year has already gone by; we want to take as much time as we can. Besides, we began to write songs for our next album, we began two or three months ago and at the moment we already have thirteen or fourteen songs that we have already worked on in studio. We’ll see how it goes. For now, what matters most for us is to make a choice and then make the album with the new singer, because I believe it is very important to introduce him for the first time with a new project, so that he will be able to show everyone his own nature. It would not be a good thing to introduce him on a tour, playing our old songs, because naturally, everybody would compare him to Steve, and he will not be able to make a name for himself.

Did you have any specific criteria to select your new singer?

We had a list of about ten criteria, and in our minds the new singer had to meet at least five or six of them. The most important condition is that he must be a person we can easily live with, someone we can get along with. Our new singer has to be a person who can stay with us in the bus on tour for several months, spending time together and writing songs. That is why we take our time; we want to be sure to make the best decision. We spend time with the applicants, eating pizza, drinking beer. We talk and chat with them; we listen to them, sharing their thoughts. The human aspect is definitely important.

Gotthard was not born yesterday, we help each other a lot, and we take care of one another, so the new singer must fit in the band.

Of course the second condition concerns the voice. On one hand we are not looking for Steve’s double, but on the other hand we need someone who sings in a similar style but in his own way, so that we can keep on playing our old songs.

It would be a good thing if he doesn’t look like Steve physically, so that people would not think that we wanted to replace him with his double, because it is not true. And as I said, the singer must be about our age, in the same style of music and he must have a voice that fits with blues rock and metal music or something in between.

« I think almost 450 singers have sent us emails, pictures and recordings etc…. […] I can tell you that we are hesitating between two or three of them. Auditions are closed and one among those who came to see us will be our new singer. »

Even if you introduce him with a new album, your new singer will be in a tricky situation. Steve’s presence will remain and he will inevitably be compared to him. Isn’t it a thankless role for him?

We have discussed it with them and they know about it, and the one we will choose will not be our singer only for one year. Even if he has the same type of voice, or a better one, there will always be people who will not accept it, even in five years. Steve has his own fans, and whatever happens, there will be people who will say: “It is not the same”. The only thing we can do is do what we think best; we can do things we like and things that suit us. If after twenty years with Steve, we can appreciate practicing and writing song with another singer, with a different voice, it means that we are heading in the right direction. As I said, we are doing our best; anyway, whatever we do, there will always be people who will not like our new singer, even if we chose Bon Scott or whoever. But we really hope that most of our fans will accept the change, because our music will always be Gotthard music. I already know a lot of the new songs; it will be very “Gotthard”. The trademark will not change.

How did you react when you first auditioned someone to sing Gotthard songs?

I must admit that it was not a very good afternoon for the singer, the atmosphere wasn’t festive. Fortunately, we managed to overcome the situation. We all thought: “Just picture all the singers coming to the rehearsal room and see all of us looking down at the floor; it will not put them at ease.” The applicants came several times and we get more and more used to it, and now when we go to the rehearsal room, I can’t say that we have completely got over it, but we like what we see, we are happy, we look at each other and things happen. We are happy again to play, and we changed everything in our room. We painted the hall white to bring more joy inside, so that it doesn’t look too sad. We changed everything; we have new drums, new amplifiers, etc.

So, a change was finally necessary for you, in your familiar environment?

Yes, exactly. There is a moment when you can’t bear the chaos you are feeling inside anymore, you want to get over it and carry on. You have to make the effort, because it is really easy to give in to despair, and fall in an endless abyss of sorrow. A year after, we can make it; we have not fully recovered yet but we are close to it. It works again; even the interviews we give help us now. To write songs, practice, do things, enjoy ourselves, it helps a lot.

« The first days, I received phone calls from journalists who told me that they knew some friends of mine, they tried to reach me through these friends, in order to get my private number. They wanted to know where I lived, etc…They did the same things to all of us, and their behavior was really bordering on bad taste. »

While we are on the subject, did you worry when you had to talk to the media, right after the accident?

We would have preferred not to talk until the release of the new album, but the management team told us that it would not be possible, because the media want to be informed. We finally understood that we could not hide behind doors. We gave really few interviews. It is the first time today, with the live release, that we give more interviews.

Musically speaking, do you think that this chapter of your lives will have an influence on the album?

It is a bit soon to tell, but I think it will. Somehow we are transforming a negative energy into something positive, and that means that we put more energy in the album, when we play our instruments. But I think we will able to tell in one or two years. Our aim will be to release this new album, with this new singer, go on and make another album after that: in short our aim is to last. We are very optimistic, we all want to last, that is what matters the most, but it will not be easy. Life is not always easy, but we consider it in a very positive way.

You told us that the journalists urged you to give interviews. Was there a moment when you held it against them? Did you think that they were behaving in an indecent way when they looked for information after Steve Lee’s death?

That was quite striking the first days. I received phone calls from journalists who told me that they knew some friends of mine; they tried to reach me through these friends, in order to get my private number. They wanted to know where I lived, etc…They did the same things to all of us, and their behavior was really bordering on bad taste. But I can also understand that, as a journalist, it is your job, you want to know, and you try to find information. I think I remember that in the first interview we gave, ten days after his death, we didn’t say a thing. So they began to ask people around us, our previous producers and managers and ex-journalists that we knew. But in our mind, it was really important not to give interviews, right after the announcement. First because you are still wondering what really happened, because you are just realizing it, and you know that there will be questions such as: “Will you carry on or not?” Anyway, at this moment, you don’t want to talk at all. On the other hand, I know this is their job and they don’t want to harm us, but that’s the way it is, we really didn’t want to do such a thing. As I said we wanted to remain silent, close the doors and do things sheltered from the world.

When you announced that your musical career was to carry on with a new singer, did you get some negative feedback from closed-minded fans? The type of fans who could have said: “Gotthard was about Steve Lee and nothing more, they don’t have the right to carry on,” etc. ?

I would say that it happened in one email out of twenty or thirty, so yes of course. But even in that case, we could not know if it came from fans or from people who didn’t like us from the start, so it is hard to say. I can tell you that it was positive at 90%. We can see that people from our inner circle support us and hope but also doubt that it will work. We can either succeed or fail. Gotthard have made music for twenty years, the band is well-known, we made several albums, and we left our mark. I don’t think everything will tumble down. I f we make a good album with good songs and a good singer, we will be able to succeed.

« I remember when I saw him two or three hours after the gig, when I waved goodbye to him he said: ‘It is awesome that we don’t have to get back to the bus, in ten minutes I will be in my bed’. »

Let’s talk about the live album; it looks like it was already planned before Steve’s accident and his death. Why did you decide at that time to record your concerts to make a live album, knowing that before this live album and the previous one there had been only two studio albums?

First of all, we wanted to take a year off. It was the first time we didn’t want to give any electric concerts for an entire year, especially in Switzerland and in Germany. We had given so many gigs! We never took a break in any of these two countries and their surroundings areas. We gave about ten gigs a year, or more. At that time we felt that it was too much. So we planned to record this live album we wanted to release in January or February of this year. This would have given us time to take a break because as I said, we wanted to give acoustic concerts for a change, by the Fall; and at the same time we wanted to prepare the next album that would have been released in 2012. But the main reason was that we didn’t want to give any electric concerts for a whole year, especially in Switzerland and in Germany, while making sure the fans could still have something.

In the end, do you think this live album is the best way to pay tribute to Steve Lee, because he was at the height of his ability on stage?

In my opinion, Steve improved himself through the years. No one could say that he was an old singer about to lose his voice. On the contrary: he kept improving his voice, he became better and better until the last year. I don’t know if you can call it a tribute. In my mind, it is not a way to pay a tribute to him, because it was not planned to be so. But fortunately it is one of his best performances, especially concerning his mood on stage. One can easily hear it.

He was a person who liked to stay at home. He was happy even if he had to stay at home for a year. He liked Switzerland; he liked to be on tour there, going on motorbike rides. He liked being on tour as much as he liked staying at home. This live performance is really special, it was the end of the tour, it was the third-to-last gig of the tour so Steve was very relaxed, he was really happy, you can hear it through the way he talked to people that night. I remember when I saw him two or three hours after the gig, when I waved goodbye to him he said: “It is awesome that we don’t have to get back to the bus, in ten minutes I will be in my bed.” He was calm, he laughed… It was definitely a special night, all our friends were there.

As I said, it is not a tribute but it is surely one of the best nights we had, and luckily, this is the one we chose to record. We have immortalized him at the height of his glory.

It is true that when we listen to this live performance, he is really good and impressive. I guess that this album is quite authentic because you could not work on it in studio. Concerning live albums, people often criticize the fact that some bands re-record their bad vocals parts in studio. But because of the circumstances, you were not able to improve anything.

This is true. The only thing we had to do was to cut some of his speech between the songs because he really talked a lot that night. When you are there, attending the gig, it is funny but we could not let a two minutes long speech between every song so we had to cut some of it. But as far as the voice is concerned, we didn’t change anything, we just could not! [Laugh]

On this album, Steve speaks several times to his fans in different languages, especially on the track “On Top Of The World.” Did the band always want to overcome the language barrier, in order get closer to your audience?

That’s right. The other reason is that we gave this gig for the Harley-Davidson Swiss Harley Days manifestation. So there were a lot of French, English, Belgian and German people there. That is why he made the announcements in two or three different languages. But of course, considering that the Swiss know more languages than the other, why not use them? I am sure people like it: if you are in England you can speak English, in Spain you are able to say some Spanish words, and you can also speak Italian considering that Lugano is the Italian part of Switzerland. We can speak French, German, not yet Japanese, but it still helps.

In addition, the band has already recorded several songs in different languages in the past…

We did it twice; we did “Anytime Anywhere” and “Lift U Up” in Spanish. From time to time, the management team told us that we should write songs in different languages, so that it would be easier, but we always said no, we didn’t wanted to, we sing in English. For instance, they wanted us to sing in Swiss German in Switzerland, we said: “No way!” And then we went to Spain and we felt the need to sing in Spanish, because there were so many good gigs there, with a thrilling atmosphere! Some journalists told Steve that it would be nice if we could sing at least one song in Spanish.

On this live that will be available soon, there is an unreleased song entitled “The Train”. Where does it come from?

We had planned to give some acoustic concerts at the end of the year and we had put aside two songs: “The Train” and “What Am I?” that we had included in the Greatest Hits Of Ballads that was released last December. We kept these two songs for our project but considering that in the coming year there will be no question of playing acoustic shows or not, we decided that it was the best way to close this twenty years chapter of Gotthard with Steve. It will surely be the last album involving Steve to be released, unless some record company decides to release another best of. But it will be the last regular album, so the best thing to do is to put this song on the album and close the chapter. In some interviews, some people had listened to the lyrics, it talks about “life as a train”, about the fact that life is as it is and no one can change it. Of course, because he died after that, many people think : “If you listen to the lyrics, it is sad, he sings that he will leave, that he will die….” That’s not true. Anyway, this is the last song we made, the last we completed in studio. There are a lot of tracks that we began to work on, but the lyrics are missing.

So it means there are no other unreleased songs by Steve that the fan had never heard…

There are, but the lyrics are missing. We listened to every track we had, there is nothing interesting to release, nothing as good as it must be. When the chorus is missing, it is worthless. Now I think that Mister Steve would not be very happy if we told him we were going to released half-finished songs.

You will not do like Jimi Hendrix’s family, who have released new albums for forty years.

Yes, that is incredible, I wonder in which basement they found all this stuff, but I can say that’s a bit unbelievable.

Nicolas [Radio Metal listener]: In your next album, you will surely write a song dedicated to Steve, but how will you do it? What will it be about? Will it be about his personality?

We already started to record a song about him, but we will not describe how he was because we know him. It will be more like an open song. Now that he is gone we would like to know if he is alright, where he is today. Is his soul still alive? Is he somewhere above the clouds? It is more a question than a statement and it will be a ballad: not a pop ballad, but a dramatic one.

Nicolas [Radio Metal listener]: So you will write a song as a letter sent by someone who is waiting for the answer?

Yes that’s it, just like we did when we were kids, when we wrote letters to Santa.

Radio Metal: Maybe Steve Lee has become Santa now! [Laugh]

Yeah! [Laugh] But we really did it like that, we send it in the air and we hope that maybe someone will hear us.

Danny [RM listener]: According to you, how is the rock and metal cultural landscape in Switzerland?

It’s been twenty years since our band came out and Switzerland is the country where we are the most successful. In my opinion Gotthard is not a metal band, but more a hard rock band. It means that our music is liked by a lot of people. There were bands like Krokus, Celtic Frost or Coroner, and considering the size of Switzerland, there are lots of hard rock and metal bands. I always think that, because of the size of Switzerland, there are a lot of things that are easy to do, like be on the radio, etc… You barely need a management team or a record company. Of course, out of the country, things get harder. But for each new band, there are clubs where you can play; there are music festivals, and radio stations that really support Swiss music in general. I can tell you that it is the right place to play music. And some metal bands such as Celtic Frost, Coroner or Krokus have become known in other countries.

Radio Metal: These bands are precisely among the ones who left their mark on rock music.

Exactly. When you read the interviews given by Kurt Cobain or by Dave Grohl from the Foo Fighters, they both say that they were inspired by Celtic Frost. Sometimes you must look to the past, see what was around twenty or thirty years earlier, when they were kids, to understand from where their inspiration came from.

Léo [guitar player] told us that there was a time when it was difficult for Gotthard to become marketable abroad, because the way your music is classified in the CD sections depends on the country. In Germany, which is really a country devoted to metal, Gotthard is almost considered as a pop music band; on the contrary, in France it is considered as a metal band.

It is true. When we told them that we were a rock band, they didn’t know where to put us. “Yes but what is it? Death metal? Neo metal?” No! We make rock music and that’s it! But it is true that in CD stores they classify music by genre: jazz, classical, pop and you had to look in every section to find Gotthard.

Do you have anything else to say?

Most of all, we want to thank every person who sent us letters and emails from France, people who told us that we should carry on and that they would support us. It helped us a lot. We really hope to come back next year and play in France because it is a big country. Fortunately, on the last tour we played with Deep Purple and they showed us not only Paris, but also towns such as Nantes, Toulouse and Marseille. So we hope that the next time we come to France we will give more concerts and not only in Paris.

One last thing: what is your favorite Gotthard song?

With all these songs, you ask me to choose only one? [Laugh] It changes every week, and every month… But still, I choose “Anytime Anywhere”.

Interview conducted by Spaceman and Metal’O Phil, on September 22th, live on Anarchy X.

Transcription: Isa
Translation: Lynda
Gotthard website: www.gotthard.com

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