He talked about it first on Radio Metal, a few days after the official announcement of him being Gotthard’s new vocalist. Weeks before the release, on June the 1st (ED: interview done in April), of Firebirth, his first album with Gotthard, Nic Maeder agreed to answer a few of our questions and a few of yours on the air during our show Anarchy X.
A few months ago, we were talking to an almost unknown singer who had just been chosen to fill Steve Lee’s shoes and who was introducing himself to the audience. This time, he’s talking as Gotthard’s frontman to present the new album and the coming tour. An album which goes back to bluesy hard rock roots taken on by the band to clearly convey the message that this is a new beginning. And Nic Maeder confirms this: Steve Lee’s passing has made the band realize how fragile life is. As a result, this album is overflowing with the joy of living and ends with the moving « Where Are You », almost entirely written by guitarist Leo Leoni, in which the band, with a series of questions, talks to Steve Lee and asks for news from him.
Radio Metal : First of all, how are you doing ?
Nic Maeder (vocals): I’m good, we’re practicing a lot these days, getting ready for the tour. We’re having a lot of fun.
We talked in November, only two or three days after you had been announced as Gotthard’s new official singer. Plenty must have happened since then.
Yeah. Since then, we finished writing the album. We started recording in mid-December and we spent four months in production. Now that we’re more or less done with it, we’re starting to do some press and we’re rehearsing a lot as well.
And how was it, working with the band ? What was your part in writing the songs ?
During the audition process, we had already written four songs which, by the way, are all on the album, including « Remember It’s Me », which is the first song we wrote. In general, we often get together, Leo [Leoni], Freddy [Scherer] and myself, to write. Each of us bring a few ideas to develop, that’s how it has worked since the beginning.
Did the chemistry in the writing process work out well since the beginning? Were you all going in the same direction ?
Yes, definitely. Well, of course, everyone tries to pull things his way: I hear the songs in a certain way, Leo in another and Freddy in another. However, I think that’s what makes for balanced songs, because everyone must compromise from time to time and when we manage to do something where everyone’s happy, it’s great.
When listening to the album, we find a kind of « back to the roots » Gotthard. We can hear that sharp hard rock with blues elements that was on older albums like Dial Hard or G. Was that something you wanted from the start or did it happen naturally ?
We wanted to do a « back to the roots » album. That’s exactly it. We didn’t want a too spectacular production. Even for the drums, nothing was done with a click-track, everything is really natural. We were there telling ourselves « Let’s start the song and we’ll see where it leads us ». We tried to keep the natural aspect of it, as much as possible.
What caused you to want to go back to Gotthard’s roots ?
All the band kind of wanted that. I don’t really know the reason. Everyone talked about it from the start. I think it was kind of premeditated. [Laughs]
Was it something that they had planned from the start or did you bring it with your own influences ?
That’s hard to say. There are a few songs that I brought and that were pretty hard rock bu, for example, the song « Remember It’s Me » which I also brought and which is completely the opposite. I really think it’s a mix. We started with the idea of doing some rock and to go « back to the roots ». We built it from there. We very well could have ended up somewhere else entirely. When you start with an idea in mind, you never know where you’ll end up.
It does kind of break the progressive evolution that Gotthard had taken until Domino Effect and Need To Believe. Little by little, the band was going towards a more modern rock with a more polished production. Is this a way to announce a new beginning ?
Yes, I think so. It wasn’t thought out that much, but it is definitely a new beginning for everyone. It’s a new chapter, so we had to do something different. Everyone wanted to go back to the roots.
This album seems to express a joy of living. Wasn’t there, following the passing of their previous vocalist, a consciousness of the fragility of life and a will to live more cheerfully ?
Definitely. We’re having fun, everyone’s smiling, everyone’s glad to go on, the vibe is really positive. After having talked about it a lot, we know that we very well could not be here tomorrow.
When it comes to the vocals, one must admit that your voice is pretty close to that of Steve Lee’s. Is that something you worked on, or is it entirely natural ?
No, that’s the way I sing. It’s funny because some people think our voices are similar, others who don’t think so at all, and others who are in the middle. It’s really weird. Let’s say that if there were voice categories, we would both be in the same.
Does it bother you to be compared to Steve Lee ?
No, not at all. It happens from time to time, I had to be ready for that. [Laughs] But it’s not a problem, it’s perfectly normal.
Another singer that I hear a bit in your voice, particularly in the beginning of « Remember It’s Me », is David Coverdale. Was he an influence for you ?
Not really. It’s not really my style, I was more of an AC/DC guy. Leo made me discover Whitesnake but it wasn’t that big of an influence.
Firebirth will be available on June the 1st and « Starlight » will be the second single. It’s a good opener for the album, especially because of it’s really rock’n’roll vibe. What can you tell us about it ?
It’s the second song we wrote together. It was still in the context of the audition. « Remember It’s Me » was the first, this is the second so it’s pretty funny to see that this is the one we’re using as the second single.
It’s never easy for a singer to fill the shoes of a deceased emblematic frontman. Usually, when a new singer appears, after the departure of an emblematic figure, popular among the fans, he gets criticized a lot. With you, it wasn’t the case, which surprised us.
It was pretty incredible. I must say that I’ve been greeted very positively, through messages or letters… I’m really lucky! It’s great and it’s good for the band as well. We were also surprised. We didn’t know what to expect because it was a delicate situation. But we had no other choice but to just go ahead and see what would happen. I think we’re lucky and it’s great.
Often in this kind of situations, there are many fans asking for the band to change name or to stop. Did you hear from such people ?
Personally, I didn’t see any but I’m not really looking for them either! [Laughs] I’d rather just focus on the work I have to do. What I’ve read was really positive, as well as what I’ve been told. I’ve heard that there were a few whiners but generally speaking it was really nice.
About the song « Where Are You », which is an homage to Steve Lee and which ends the album, wasn’t it weird for you to talk to him through this song even though you didn’t really know him after all ?
No… Actually, it’s also a song we wrote during the auditions. Leo really wanted us to do it. He already had plenty of ideas for this song, actually, he almost had everything, the music, the melodies. What I did was to try to translate his ideas and especially to sing in the way he wanted me to. That needed several tries to get it right. It was pretty difficult for Leo but we made it to the end. The version which is on the album is a recording we did while we were writing the song. It was the demo and that’s the version that stayed. It’s really the pure version of the song as it was.
You were previously talking about the fact that you were rehearsing for the coming shows. Additionally to working on the new songs, you need to learn and master the old ones. Did you meet any difficulties in that process ?
Clearly, there are songs which are harder than others, I have to get used to that. But on the other hand, there are plenty of songs which I already know since, during the audition, I recorded about twenty songs with my voice. So I worked a lot beforehand. I had to manage for it to work for them and for me since we’re going to play a lot of the old songs, so it had to work.
You just said that you recorded some old songs, will you release them one day ?
[Laughs] I don’t know… Maybe some day…
[Laughs] I almost want to take that as a « yes »
To be honest, I don’t think so. It was really audition material for us but after all, you never know, in a few years who knows.
It would’ve been nice to release them on the limited edition of the album for example.
It could’ve been, yeah. [Laughs]
In January, for the Swiss Awards, you performed live for the first time with the band, on the song « Remember It’s Me ». How was that first performance for you ?
Yeah, that was the first time in front of an audience, but it only lasted for tree minutes! [Laughs] It was really short but it was cool to get out of the studios to go towards the people.
A listener wants to know if you’re ready for the shooting of the new music video which will take place on Sunday April the 15th (ED: interview took place on April the 12th)
Oh, yeah, definitely! [Laughs] We know what song we want to do (ED: « Starlight »), we have more or less a good idea of what’s going to happen. The last music video was shot in Lugano, which was pretty easy for us since that’s where we live. For this one, we’re going to Berlin, so we’re excited to get out of Lugano, it’s gonna be cool.
We didn’t even know !
[Laughs] You had to be part of the fan club for that !
Fabien [Radio Metal listener and member of Gotthard’s fan club]: I read in your biography that you have done an album with Clean Dirt, and I heard it was great but I can’t find any information on this album !
That’s old! I think we released that album in 1993. I might have a few left. I think it must be really hard to find. I think I have a box left in Melbourne with about twenty of them. [Laughs] I’ll have to find them.
Did you think about getting a keyboardist ?
Yeah, that’s being done, we have one for the rehearsals.
Will he be a full-time member or will it just be for the live shows ?
Only for the live shows.
Okay, and what’s his name ?
I can’t say that just yet.
Interview conducted on april, 12th, 2012 by Spaceman & Metal’O Phil
Transcription : Isa
Translation : Stan
Gotthard’s Website : www.gotthard.com
Album : Firebirth, out.