I recently spoke to Nic Maeder and Marc Lynn from Gotthard to talk to them about their forthcoming album, Firebirth.
Festivalphoto: Your new album, Firebirth will be released on 1st June. First of all, where did the name come from?
Marc: It is a little bit with the story over the last one and a half years, you know since we found Nic after everything. After the accident with Steve of course we were down on the floor and you don't know what to do, and then you see you want to make music together and you decide to go ahead if you find the right person, and then Nic showed up and you felt, "wow this is the guy, fits perfectly, not only the voice but also personally", and then the band caught fire. And the fire is burning in you and you're hot like the first album to make a good record, a fantastic record, and its like a new birth you know, just like a rebirth and we tried to combine these two things in one word. That's why if you've seen the album cover, we have the Phoenix on it, the phoenix was the whole process from the accident to now, the phoenix burns when he dies then out of the ashes creates new life, and we see a parallel situation with what the band went through int he last one and a half years.
Festivalphoto: How would you describe the sound of the album compared to your last few albums?
Nic: Definitely going back to the roots, that was a conscious thing that we really wanted to go for a raw sound and not such an over-produced sort of thing. Just really going back to the basics and make it more natural sounding
Marc: Of course we were talking a lot in the band with Nic, and everybody said from the past albums what they liked or didnt like, for all the albums what has changed?, is this positive or negative?, we were really reflecting the last twenty years and thinking about how can me make the new line that Gotthard sounds different than the last albums, but not too different because we have a new singer, new songs but how can we make it that it still sounds like Gotthard. Then we discovered that we felt the last album was a little bit too much over produced, the guitar sound changed a lot for example, and in the early albums we had more angles and things were not so rounded, it just had more character, and we wanted to go back there, especially if we do a restart. The difficulty was that someone who puts in the CD at the end should realise "Yes thats Gotthard, like I know them but they are different".
I think how you maybe recognise this is the way of songwriting, it's typically Gotthard, and what we really changed about the sound is that we learnt that less is more, we recorded only what is really necessary, not adding 7 guitars and 50 keyboards and whatever, and this makes it direct. Every instrument is in your face and you have mre dynamics, you have more blues, you hear even the little things that happen. Then we added some...like games you know, we make a stop but not everybody makes a stop and maybe the bass is now playing the last note, just so people listen to the music and are going "Oh, there is something happening there". Little things, not too much, or changing the drumbeat once at the end of a song, just to make the album a little bit different than the rest. To make a step forward, sometimes you have to look in the past and that's what we did. Then of course you have to have the courage to do some steps.
Festivalphoto: You released the song "Remember Itís Me" which was the first chance for fans to hear Gotthard with Nic Maeder. How has the reaction been from the fans?
Nic: You don't know what to expect, you really don't know, and it was actually the first song that we'd written together and the vocal in the song "Remember it's me" is the actual vocal take from the audition. We'd actually spent two weeks together as part of the audition, we spent two weeks together writing songs and we did four songs there and all four ended up on the album, and "remember it's me" was the first one. The thinking behind that was, because that was a really big decisive part for the guys, to have me as the singer, and that song was a big part of it and in a lot of ways they thought that if that convinced them, then maybe people would see it the same way, and really the reaction was just amazing, absolutely amazing.
Marc: More than we expected. We expected way less, and nobody was negative. There were people who say "no I cannot switch that fast, I need more time", but nobody said it was a bad song or a bad singer or a bad band or something. Most people say "Wow fantastic, great, congratulations you chose the right guy, it sounds amazing", and especially for you personally, "Welcome Nic, welcome to Gotthard family". I think many fans suffered with us in this hard moment and about the steps we have done, really thought about the right steps, and even internally they could feel with us, we are going to do the right steps so they were kind of involved. They understood why we did what and in which way, and they accepted that and appreciated it, and they showed us with their warm welcome for Nic.
Nic: I think they're really happy that the band is continuing you know. We just filmed a video clip on Sunday in Berlin and we had a whole heap of fans come down, we needed a crowd and everone was just so happy, telling us how happy they were that the band was continuing.
Festivalphoto: There's a song on the album "Where are you" that's dedicated to Steve Lee - I have to say I really like that song.
Marc: For me too actually. Leo wrote the song and the idea was that he used some special parts of lyrics from the past and he wanted to create a song in the way, hey how are you, what are you doing. Nic helped him to arrange some pieces so that it sounds better and he can sing it better, sing it perfectly. This is the only song that even today sometimes I have to really push away the emotions when I listen to it. Usually I hear the whole album in my car when I am driving to the rehearsals, but the last song, sometimes I skip, because it's not the right moment to hear it. I don't know why, it's just because it's such a sad song you know, it brings the emotions up. When I heard the song for the first time, Leo sent it to me as an mp3 and I listened to it and called Leo and said "Leo, this song is great, don't even touch it, don't change it" and then we wanted to add some band stuff in the studio but everyone said no, this is the song, leave it like it is. Of course for us its necessary. Steve will always be part of Gotthard and he will always be with us in our hearts and I think this homage is great, but for the future there has to be space for Nic. Thats why it's great that we can bring that last song for every fan, we leave even make a little bit more break between the second to last song and the last song, for everyone who wants to skip it, or listen to it, they have the chance. Great homage.
Festivalphoto: You've just finished shooting a video in Berlin. What song is that for?
Festivalphoto: When is that going to be released?
Marc: This friday. it should be released this friday, they're just preparing it.
Nic: The video won't be ready this friday though.
Marc: No, that will be in two weeks. The thing is actualy we have songs that would fit better for the radio, like for example "Shine", this would be a perfect radio song, but we already came out with "Remember it's me" to present Nic, so we thought now we try it on the rock way, even if the radio stations will not play it, but we did a second version, unplugged for the radio as an acoustic style. The song is great in both versions so they can choose whatever they want. We hope of course that they play the rock version because we are a rock band.
Festivalphoto: You're due to tour South America next month with Unisonic, who alongside Michael Kiske and Kai Hansen include former Gotthard member Mandy Meyer. How is it going to be touring with him again?
Marc: Yeah we will have bleeding nose and black eyes (laughs). No of course not, Mandy and we, we split up because we spent a long time together and maybe he's an oler guy than us, we're extroverted and he's more introverted, so he never really said what he wants or thinks, and oncewe didnt understand each other any more, but we never split up with any bad feeling. He just said "Hey, I have to go my way", and we let him go in that way, and even right now, I think already Leo and Hena have called him up to arrange for the tour. I think we are all professionals and if the time is ready to go on another highway then you have to let him go. It's great, I know Dennis the bass player so we know each other already, so I think it will be a fun tour. Kosta, the drummer, is working in our management, but Bottom Row, so when you know 90% of the band then I think it will be fun.
For us it's great because we're making the first steps in South America, opening up for them we don't have to play for so long, because for us it will be the first time, a new situation on stage, a new singer, Nic has to learn how we act and we have to learn how Nic acts and its a perfect warm up. We do many shows together this year, even opening up in Japan for them, they are opening up in Spain and Germany for us and in Russia two - we have two gigs in Russia confirmed.
Marc: Right now, ten minutes ago. So yes a positive situation, I think we will have a lot of fun.
Festivalphoto: The only UK date you have at the moment is an appearance at Firefest. Are there likely to be any more UK dates added?
Marc: Right now, no, but we are working on it. I hope that maybe January or February that we add more shows, because every time we have more concerts in the UK, and we will see. Maybe we have to wait for the album reaction and maybe after the Firefest when the album is out and doing well then we'll get more offers from England. I don't know exactly, the booker is working on it, we hope so because we like to play in England - where else can we eat fish and chips and drink a good Guiness?
Festivalphoto: How hard a process was it to find a new singer for Gotthard who could follow Steve Lee ?
Marc: Hard, and a long process because you don't know actually what you're looking for, you only know what you wish to have, and for us it was not only important to have someone who can sing, for us it was important that someone can sing the old things, but has his own character but what this meant we didnt know, but the main important thing is we didnt want to have a single star in the band, we want to create a new band, a team where you present a band, not only a singer, or Gotthard with a singer in the background. A team where everybody has the right to say everything, like a new band in that way. You never know when you find him. That's why we decided to go ahead with the band, but only if we find the right person. With every alternative person, or when you're not totally happy it may not last that long like it should. We decided this and it went out in the newspapers, magazines and wherever, we had around 450 tapes flying in. After certain sort out, you can imagine that 50% are over..how do you sya...they over-valued themselves, so there were remaining about 30 people who had an interesting voice, so we sent them some playback stuff from us, we sent them three songs for them to sing on it, and from these demos which came back, we decided yes or no, and then for the ones we said yes to, we invited them to jam with us for two days in Lugano, we made one day in the rehearsal room, and the other in the studio, and the rest of the time was talking, going out for dinner. Every time, the first question we asked was "where are we going for dinner?". Where the two days in Lugano were really good, we asked them to come back for maybe two weeks so that you have a longer time to know somebody and see how creative they are, and try to write some songs together and sometimes you see after a few days that the bottle of water was empty already, and the magic is not here like you want to have. You don't want to just give positive input to the new guy, he should also give positive input to us.
Nic: Basically it was a long process for them, but an equally long process for me in a lot of ways. I was living in Australia at the time, so the trip from there to Switzerland I did three times that year. The chemistry, right from day one when we first met, everything was just so easy, you walk in, start speaking French, I've lived half my life in Switzerland so I had the swiss side , yeah it helped us click in a lot of ways I suppose.
Marc: We tried to take it easy in that Rome was not built in a day, and if you want to make the right decision it goes automatically a step forward or not. What surprised you was the first thing when you walked it.
Nic: Yeah the first thing we worked out was where we're going to eat tonight.
Marc: Where are we going to eat tonight? Ok we'll reserve a table.
Nic: One thing about these guys is that they love food and wine, and I do as well, so it was fantastic, they were showing me all the wines of the region, fantastic wines in the Southern part of Switzerland. So there was the music but all the other stuff as well.
Marc: Yes because it was important that we find the person that fits and there is good communication, he is a nice guy, and we won the lotto with Nic, maybe it was destiny that we found each other. He surprised us by one addition a few weeks later when we called him into the rehearsal room, we'd prepared about five songs we wanted to play together, and at the end of the jam he said "hey guys, I've just prepared one more song" and he went to the piano and played and sang one life and soul. This really hit at us, attention, this is the first guy which gave us something back that we did not expect, so we asked him directly if he could stay ten days longer and there these four songs were born. Anyway we sent you home.
Nic: yeah you kept sending me home.
Marc: We had about eight persons who still had to arrive and we wanted to finish that list just to be sure that's him, but we already knew Nic had put a high level that we did not think the others would reach. Anyway we invited them, tested them to finish the story and then in the middle of July we decided yes its Nic, and we called him immediately and he was doing a show.
Nic: Yeah Leo had called me earlier that evening and said look I've got to call you later and chat about something. I was in Melbourne and just finished one of my gigs, so it was about 3 or 4 in the morning, I was packing my guitar in the car and got the phone call. I had all the boys on the speakerphone and they asked "what are you doing for the next..
Marc: "What are you doing from tomorrow on for the future". So he got the gig and he was freaking out, "oh wow thats fantastic", and then after about two minutes of happiness he said "I need a drink, wow I need two drinks". Then about two weeks later he came to Lugano and since then he hasnt left.
Festivalphoto: OK thanks for your time guys.
Marc: Thank you too.