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Leaving Human Zoo

Everythings gotta change one day, and even the most stable bands sooner or later go through turbulent times, changing members, labels and music styles. For Swiss long-running hard rockers Gotthard the time for change came last year, when they signed a new record deal with Nuclear Blast and set a new heavier course for their music. Their latest CD Lipservice is unlikely to shock their old fans with experiments, its rather a welcome return to the sound that made the band famous in the first half of the 1990s. But those who joined the Gotthard following after their later semi-acoustic albums, may be quite surprised. Thus, we asked bassist Marc Lynn to give us a call and comment on the latest developments in the Gotthard camp
A lot of things happened in Gotthard before the release of the latest album Lipservice. You got a new label, a new guitarist, and your music changed quite a bit. From a band members point of view, how big are these changes? Can you say that this the beginning of a new era for the band?

Yes, definitely. We started about 13 years ago with an album in the rocky direction (Gotthard, 1992), but later with changed to an acoustic album (dFrosted, 1997) which gave us such a great success that we went in the direction of poppier rock, not heavy rock, for a little bit. The terms were that we wanted to go back to rock from the beginning, but we had to do it slowly. Our subsequent albums Open (1998), Homerun (2001), Human Zoo (2003) were a bit heavier every time. Last year all our contacts finished the record contract with BMG, the management contract (with Bottom Row Promotion ed.), so different things were happening at the same time. It was also when Mandy (Mayer, guitarist) told us that he was not that happy anymore and that he wanted to do other things. So the whole band thought over the situation, and we built a new structure, because we felt that we couldnt go any further with our old management and record company. They werent interested enough to do more for that band, and thats why we decided to make everything new. We built everything with the knowledge we had got over the last 15 years.

What went wrong with Mandy? What was he unhappy with? After all, he was a part of Gotthard for a very long time

I think Mandy always tried to be a single star. He tried to be one of these guitar heroes, and we have nothing against this, but our band is not made for this. Our goal is to make a strong band with strong songs, and everybody in the band played for the songs. Mandy was no longer that open to us like he maybe was in the past, and it was sometimes difficult to maintain conversation with him, because we had a thing he was not that happy with. In the end he came to us, we discussed everything, and he just said, Hey guys, I would love to do something else. He tried to make a solo album, but nobody was interested in that, so he went back to Krokus to play guitar there. In one way it was his decision, because we talked a lot about it and we said, Hey Mandy, are you sure youve made the right decision? Its a chance you may never have again. Its tougher these days to found new bands, but he said that for him it was time to go. Gotthard is not the band which owns the musicians.

How did Freddy Scherer get a job with Gotthard? We know that you played together with him in China 15 years ago yet before Gotthard got together

Yes, right. (laughs) That was actually a funny story. It happened one week after Mandy made his final decision. I went to the release show of another band, there I met Freddy, and there was something like bells in my head ringing. I said, Hey Freddy, give me your phone number, I have to talk to you about something. I didnt tell him what was on my mind, I first wanted to talk to the band members. I went to the guys from the band, and we had already talked about certain guitar players. The problem was to find somebody like Mandy, who was of the same age and still willing and hungry for rocknroll, which is not so simple to find. So I came to them and said, Hey guys, I met somebody yesterday, but dont laugh, because I played with him together many years ago! Its Freddy! They said, Did you tell him to come down? I said, No, I just wanted to talk to you guys first. Leo (Leoni, guitarist) asked his number and called him straight ahead, because we had known each other for years. Even Gotthard has known Freddy for years, because we would sometimes meet to have a beer or he would come to see our open-air shows. Freddy was actually in the offer before we found Mandy. We offered him to join the band but Freddy was busy with his own project at that time. Now we talked about it again, and everything was OK.

Why did you choose Nuclear Blast as your record label? Even though they are broadening their scope of bands, they are still pretty much a metal label, and as far as we remember, you dont like to be called metal

(laughs) Right, we are not a metal band, we are one of the classic rock bands. First of all, the thing is that Nuclear Blast wanted us big time, because they are trying to open up a little bit. They need new bands, they wanna have different directions. And for us it was like that: about one year ago we had offers from BMG, Warner, almost everybody, but we saw the problems the big companies are going through. We had been signed by a major before, and nothing happened. For instance, in Russia nothing had happened for a long time, until three years ago we played there, but it didnt go any further after that. We had great support in Switzerland, but as to the rest of the world, they have done almost nothing. Moreover, we knew that the merger between Sony and BMG would soon happen, but we didnt know when. We were afraid that if we sign again to BMG today, we will sign to people which will no longer be there tomorrow. In this case we would have been stuck, because we would have had to ask for support to promote our album. So it was time to make our own label for Switzerland, because there was no company which we really could agree with, even Warner, because they laid off about 400 people in Europe last year, and we saw that the big industry wasnt going the way we wanna go. We wanted to be on the list of 10 artists of a label, not on the list of 445 artists of a major.

You said after the release of your previous record Human Zoo that you lost some of your audience with it. How do you think your audience will change with the release of Lipservice?

I think its a matter of fashion. The people, especially in Western Europe, are sick and tired with the radio stations that are only playing pop stuff. But if we had made a full-on rock album at the times of Human Zoo or Homerun, it would have been too early for such a thing. We waited a little bit to bring such an album out at the right moment. Then, we have new support from Nuclear Blast, so we knew that we can go back to rocknroll without losing any fans, because Nuclear Blast are doing a fantastic job, not only in the metal scene, but also in the rest of the scenes. We see it now when the album is released that we have so many great reactions to it, and its not a matter of being more rock or less rock. This album is fresh, its living, it has good songs on it, and the sound went back to the basics a bit. We didnt put too many instruments on it, its almost like a live album, and we have received so many good reactions from such different people, that we are sure now that we have made a right step.

By the way, what does Lipservice mean?

(giggles) Lipservice has a double meaning. When you tell people that your album is called Lipservice, they usually think about sexual things. (everybody laughs) Yes, it is like this. But really lip service is when you tell me on the phone, Hey, I love your album, its fantastic, youre gonna be a title story in my magazine next month, and then you write a bad story about us. If a friend claps on your shoulder and says, Hey, you are fantastic!, and when you turn your back, hes talking bad things about you, this is lip service. This is a thing which happens daily. You see it the most in politics or when you turn on the TV and theyre trying to sell you shitty products. Its a thing that has happened to us in the past.

As far as we understand, the album has been released in a variety of formats. On the internet weve seen a regular edition, an edition with one bonus track, and another one with three bonus tracks. Where are these bonus tracks coming from?

There is no edition with three bonus tracks, its a little bit more difficult. (giggles) We wrote and recorded 17 songs, and we released 14 of them on the actual album. On the Swiss version there are no bonus tracks, but theres a video for Lift U Up, our actual single. The singe went to number three in the Swiss charts, and we decided that its more important to give the video out than one song more. In Germany, they dont have the video, but they have a bonus song called Cant Stop. We put it on to complement the album there was some space left, so we thought, Hey, lets give it to the people! The CD costs a lot of money, so we want to give the people whatever we can give, so if a song is good, lets put it on the album. There is also a third song, which is especially for Japan, Nobodys Home. This makes a total of three tracks to jam around, they did not make it on the album, we just give them away as bonuses.

The song Lift U Up, especially its beginning, sounds a little bit like the old British band Slade. Was that intentional? Were Slade an influence on you?

Thats funny. Youre right in one way, but its not exactly about Slade, because one person hears Slade, another one says Sweet, and one more hears Gary Glitter. (everybody laughs) The purpose of this song is to put together 30 years of music. The beginning is like the 1970s, then we have a loop running under the whole song, which is something modern, from the 1990s, but the chorus is a positive 1980s music. We put 30 years of music all together in one song, but the main key for us was to make a happy song. Its not boring, its not destructive, as it often happened in the past few years, for us rocknroll is a positive thing.

Weve noticed a few outside people among the songwriters for this album, they are named Anders Wickstroem and Fredrik Thomander. Who are these guys?

These two guys are songwriters from Sweden. We met each other once and they said, Hey, why dont you come up, we have a few ideas for you guys. We thought, Why not? You have to be open, and if the guys are great, why dont we get together and write a few songs? So Steve (Lee, vocals) and Leo went up to these two guys and spent a weekend there. After a weekend they came back with four ideas, and all of them made it on the album. Together they achieved a great result. One of these songs was Lift U Up, which everybody has pointed to and said, This is a fantastic song! They brought more ideas to us later on, and they didnt make it on the album, but it was a great new experience, especially for Steve and Leo, who had written most of the songs in the past, to have another hand in the process.

For Lipservice you worked with producer Ronald Prent. Why did you choose this guy? His services must be pretty expensive, since he worked with guys like Rammstein

But we are rich! (everybody cracks) No, Im just kidding. We searched for a European producer, because for the first three albums we had to go to America, and last time we worked with Marc Tanner, and all of that didnt make us feel really happy, so we thought, We have to be in Europe, and we are Europeans, so lets hire a European producer. Our new manager, Uwe Block, who managed Scorpions and Supermax in their heyday, had the connections to Ronald, and Ronald is a really nice guy. Hes not the guy whos only working for the money, he also works for the sympathy. We found each other really fast, and we had a really fantastic recording together. Id choose this guy again, because hes nice to work with, he has a really fantastic knowledge about the equipment, about sound and everything, and its never stressing working with him. I have only good things to say about him.

Can you compare the work with Ronald and the work with your previous producers, for instance, Chris von Rohr? What are the differences?

I have to say it like this: Ronald was co-producing with Leo, and Leo was the main producer. They found a good link together, they talked a lot, they were on the same line working together. And when we worked with Chris or Marc Tanner, there was less talking and more doing. Maybe talking was really the key for success, for making a great album. Even before entering the studio everybody sat together, and we talked about what we can do better. We went through all the albums, and we realized that we wanted to go back, that an album should live, like the G album (1996). But at the same time, we didnt want to go back to the beginning in terms of style and sound. We went over all the things, and we discussed with Ronald and Leo where we wanna go to. And they figured it out perfectly on the spot.

You worked with Chris for many years, many people even considered him a band member. But before Human Zoo you suddenly went separate ways. What happened?

It was an easy thing. I think the bottle that we opened together was just empty after many years of working together. Chris has seen the direction that we wanted to be, and he was a kind of dictator. It was great in the beginning, but when we looked at the way he produced the Open album after the work was done, we were not that happy, so on Homerun he was just a co-producer. Maybe he took this too personally, I dont know, but were still in contact, and talking together. But even as far as the songwriting goes, I think the bottle is empty now. There is no fruit anymore to take out. The time came for us and Chris to go separate ways, you are not made to work with the same producer for the whole life. Of course, many people saw him as almost a band member, but I can only say that its their problem. (laughs) At the time he started with us, he was really out of the scene. He was really big during his tenure with Krokus, but that was a long time ago. We gave him something he lost with Krokus, we gave him back the life in the music business, and he gave us his experience, so it was a great deal for both parties for many years. But if it cant go further anymore, because we see it really differently, its better to stop before we make bad things.

We remember Chris saying on television that Gotthard reached its peak with Homerun. But speaking about sales figures, what has been the most successful Gotthard album so far?

(sighs) Thats hard to say. I would say the most successful album has been dFrosted, the acoustic. This one really brought together the rocky people and the overall radio people who are not generally listening to rock. I can tell you that we sold four or five times that many copies of this album as we did before. This was really the big bang for us in Europe, we made a big step towards our next albums, and of course, we wanted to take these people with us. Thats why we went back to rock so slowly. In 1999, when we made Open, there was really no space for a rock band anywhere in Europe, especially on the radio and TV. I hope, of course, that the new album will be successful as well, at least because we are finally released in so many countries. Over two weeks our CD has been published in 42 countries, South America will follow in about five weeks, and North America will follow in about 2.5 months.

You missed some of the touring last year, because you had a bike accident. Can you explain us what happened? And how is your health at the moment?

Im a rocknroller, you know. (laughs) Everything I do is 100 percent. I went on the race track with some dealers from Suzuki, which is my favorite bike. I got a 1400 GSX, made a few rounds there and then I said, OK, Ill take a race bike. I went together with an instructor, like crazy we made a few turns, and before the last turn I didnt wanna risk anything anymore and said, Lets finish, Ive had enough for this weekend, lets go back slowly. And at that moment I lost the concentration. What happened is that I broke my shoulder bone, it was crashed in three or four pieces, so they had to put some implant in me. I had to go through the whole recovery process, I discussed it with the band, they saw that everything went OK, that I had proper specialists behind me, and they said, OK, lets see. Whats important is that you should be set up for live shows. In the studio we can hire a studio musician, but we dont want to take another bass player for touring. They still had to hire another bass player, a friend of ours, for a few shows because these shows were already announced. But then they said, We need you live, in the studio we can hire another one. Still I said, No, I think I can do both. After four or five months I was back in the shape to play the bass. It was a tough time, because you have to build up all your muscles. I still have a little bit of a problem with that, I have to build more muscles, but this will take some time. As to the movements, doctors promised me that I will regain 80 percent of my ability to move the hand, and Ive already regained 85 percent. Im really happy how it worked out. I told the guys, I will not die like this, youll have to shoot me! (everybody laughs) Maybe it was a little sign, because one week later I wanted to make a parachute jump. Maybe the parachute would not open, you know. (a new burst of laughter)

Speaking about touring we remember seeing an announcement of a festival somewhere in Central Europe, with the following line-up: Ozzy Osbourne, HIM, Gotthard and Pungent Stench. How was it like performing at such an event?

Unfortunately Ozzy never showed up. This was to happen in Frankfurt, but the organizers cancelled the show, because they didnt have the financial backup to organize everything. We had to cancel yet another show in Spain supporting Motley Crue, because this was to happen this Saturday, but on Friday and Sunday we are playing in England, and we didnt find any flight to make it to this show. What happens now is that the album is coming out late, and we fixed open-air shows yet in spring, because the organizer didnt even want to hear our new album, he trusted us anyway. Yet the real tour starts in autumn. We will go over the whole Europe, and we are 100 percent sure that we will come to Russia, but the problem now is time. Our album has been released in so many countries, and so many countries where we havent been want to have us that we are under tremendous pressure of time, and it may happen that we will come early next year.

And how was it like playing in Moscow and St. Petersburg back in 2003?

I just cant tell you, it was fantastic! Its no lie, I had one of my biggest experiences ever. First of all, in the past when I was growing up we didnt know anything about Russia, there was no news coming out of it. But now Russia is open, and I got to visit it! What I found was fantastic people, fantastic food, fantastic places, and it was an unbelievably positive surprise. The funny thing was that in St. Petersburg we played at a great open air festival, and when after the show we went to Moscow by train all across Russia, it was something great for both us and the opening band Kingdom Come. Then, of course, playing in the Kremlin was unbelievable for us, because, first, we were one of the first bands with a real rock set which played there. Second, only 1,000 tickets were sold in advance, and we thought that it was gonna be an empty hall, because the hall fits about 6,000 people or something like this. But in the end about 4,500 people showed up, and it was really fantastic. We have a special letter signed by President Putin which thanks us for coming to the 300th anniversary show in St. Petersburg, and its a great honor for us.

Its great to hear it, but the show in Moscow for us was rather strange, because the audience had to sit down in their chairs. How often have you had to play in the venues where the audience is sitting, and how much does this fact influence your performance?

The problem is not that the people were sitting. The problem was that as soon as they stood up, somebody advised them to sit down. (laughs) Of course, theres still a bit of an old regime in Russia, which will pass away over the next few years, I think. But I dont care if people sit or stand, the most important thing is that they come to our show. The rest is up to us if they sit, stand up or lay down, its up to us to show them how good we are. By the way, when you enter Hammersmith Odeon in London, you see chairs everywhere. Everybody is sitting there, its the same thing. When you play a lot of shows like we have done - we have played over 1,000 shows as Gotthard you see that the audience is standing in most of the cases. But we have had about 15 or 20 shows where the people were sitting, so in one way we are used to that.

Gotthard is among the few very popular hard rock bands in Europe. But you see, all the big hard rock bands of the moment are not very new bands like yourself, Bonfire or Europe have been on the stage for more than 15 years. Why is that happening? Why arent younger hard rock bands getting big?

Of course, its because the record companies have neglected their jobs in the past few years, with CD copying and stuff like this. They went into the direction of fashion, and theyre never putting the money in young bands so that they could grow up. They never invest any efforts to raise, like a soccer team would say, new players. Right now they have big troubles BMG merged with Sony because they had no money anymore, they failed to cope with CD copying, and they lost all the good people who were working for them. In one way, the big industry is destroyed. What they do right now is going back to the artists that sell really good, and these artists are old rock bands which have been on the road for more than 15 years. The rock fan is still a CD buyer, hes not the guy who downloads and burns a CD. So the industry is going back to the roots in a way.

So do you think the situation is now changing for the better?

No, I think they still have imperial thoughts. If they want people to go back to buying CDs, the industry has to make them cheaper, and they can make them a lot cheaper, or they have to raise the quality. When you come to a music store, you have so many bands on offer, you dont even know what to choose. For me, the albums I personally buy straight ahead are albums by old bands. If a new Bryan Adams is out, if a new Bon Jovi is out, if a new AC/DC or Tina Turner album is out, I buy them. These are the bands that constantly bring out quality albums, so when you go to a store, you dont even listen to them, or you maybe listen to one song, and you know that you buy a good album. But as to young bands, you dont know if they are here tomorrow, you dont know whether there is more than one great song on it, you dont know how they are live, because they usually play playback, and these are all faults the industry made. The industry went for fast money. I dont know what theyll do in the future, but of course, they will have to change something in their minds.

OK, and how was it like 15 years ago? Was it easy or difficult for you to get a record deal in the beginning of your career? At that moment, things like grunge and alternative music were big, but still you had success already with your first album

It was funny in a way, we didnt have any problems with getting a record deal. We went to America to finish the album on our own, and we didnt go the classical way when you visit all the record companies searching for a deal, and then you record the album. We first recorded the album and then we went to search for a deal with a finished product. Back then we had great support from Chris von Rohr, who helped us in a big way, he even brought us in contact with BMG, who after a week confirmed that they wanna sign us. It was not easy still, because rock was not in fashion. But you have two possibilities go ahead or change your sound, and Gotthard is the band that chooses what we love to do, not what the fashion is. So we went ahead, even though it was a little bit harder, but we gained great experience, and now we are ready to restart even after 15 years.

Before Gotthard you played in a band called China. Can you tell us a few words about that period of your career? And where are the members of China now, apart from Freddy?

China was bound for great success, but unfortunately, they never had the support of a good manager. They had fantastic support from the record company, but money is not everything, and the organization was missing. They had to do everything on their own, and this is really tough. The second problem was with singers they changed three singers over four albums, and the death of a band comes already after the first change. Not many bands have succeeded with new singers, maybe Iron Maiden, AC/DC and Deep Purple are the only ones. The time was passing, and the record company finally said, OK guys, we have tried everything, but with no results. They stopped supporting the band, the album deal was over, and even though the band tried to go ahead with little tours, but everything split up. The drummer now works in a music store close to the place where I live. The other guitar player is a rock and pop VJ, the bass player who came after me is working for a computer company dealing with the Internet and stuff like this, and Freddy is with us.

Is it still possible to get China CDs somewhere?

It should be, but the CDs are old, and some of the big stores have taken them out of their stocks. In Switzerland you can sometimes find them, and on the Internet you can for sure order them at, there they have almost everything.

Lets go back to more recent events now. How did it happen that your song One Team, One Spirit became the anthem of the Swiss Olympic team? Was it written specifically for this occasion, or did you write it before and then just used it for this opportunity?

We have done many things for sports. Around 1996, we made a song called Fight For Your Life for Andy Hug, a kickboxing champion. In 2001, we did a hymn for the Swiss national ice hockey league on the Homerun album, and then the Olympic Committee of Switzerland came to us and asked us to make a song for the Olympic team. We had already written this song, because we had to release a best-of album to complete the deal with BMG. We just wanted to say thank you to the people, and we made a double album with one rock disc and one ballad disc. We named it One Team, One Spirit, because we had been together for 15 years, and we wanted to go ahead. And this was a very fitting reference to the Olympic Games, because when you go to the Olympics, you have to be one team and one spirit to win any medal. The song was already there, and this was a funny thing.

How was it like working with Motserrat Caballe on the single One Life One Soul (1997)? What kind of person is Montserrat?

(laughs) All these years after Freddie Mercurys death Montserrat Caballe wanted to do another album like this, and she did a record called Caballe And Friends. She went to check out artists of all Europe with the help of her record company, and she discovered our song One Life One Soul. She asked us if we would like to do something with her, and of course, we agreed, because, first of all, it was an honor for us, and second, it was something special. Whether its rock or classical music - who cares? Whats important is that its music. So we went to a studio in London with Mike Moran, and Steve and Montserrat established a great connection. We come from the Italian part of Switzerland, and she comes from Spain, so we have a bit of the same southern groove and almost the same language. We later met at shows in Switzerland, and in the middle of our set we invited her to sing one or two songs. She also invited us to classical concerts in Switzerland and in Spain, and we spent many evenings talking and having fun together. Even these days we call each other when she has a birthday, for example. Or when we have a birthday theres a fax coming from her or something like this. She said something great after all this time we have been together she said that after Freddie Mercurys death she never believed in friendship in the music business until she met us. But when she met us, she again believed that friendship among musicians is possible. And thats a really fantastic thing to say.

In the song Homerun there is a middle piece with fragments of live performances of other songs we can hear pieces of Hush, Free & Alive and Mountain Mama. What is the meaning of this section?

The meaning lies in the title Homerun. This is our homerun, its a bit of review of what we have done all the albums, all the great hits we had. The meaning is remember our homerun, and there go little parts of songs we have made. The song goes in the same direction as One Team, One Spirit.

What is the song Dirty Weekend about (bonus track on the Homerun album ed.)? We have been unable to find any lyrics for it

Its all about the other meaning of lipservice. (everybody laughs) You say dirty weekend about everything about love, about sexual things, its the story of a moment in life in somebody in our band. Thats all I can say. (giggles)

How do you see the future of Gotthard in 15 or 20 years? Will rock music remain as interesting and exciting for you as it is now?

I think so. Otherwise we wouldnt have reached this far now. We have seen the times when rock wasnt modern, when we were out of fashion and we had no support. But anyway, we went our way, because we love what we do. So I think we will go ahead. It may not happen if somebody gets sick, and Steves voice wont last forever. But thats not happening now, and thats important. I think we can do another five or six albums, and then well see where we are, what we have done and where we stand. But I cant tell you where we will be in 20 years. If I could tell you this, maybe I would round up the interview right now and head right there. (laughs) One thing I can say is that as long as nothing happens to a band member lets cross our fingers - our four-piece main team will surely go ahead.

Great! And now let us ask you one final stupid question why did you decide to name the band Gotthard?

Gotthad is a big mountain in Switzerland, and inside it theres the longest tunnel on Earth, its about 17 kilometers long. Its a mountain rock, and the Romans had to cross Gotthard to reach the center of Europe. So it was a national border in a way. We come from the southern side of this border, which is still a part of Switzerland, but the language spoken there normally is already Italian. On the one hand, we wanted a Swiss name, which shows that theres a border and we come from the other side, that we are not normal German-speaking Swiss people, that we come from the southern part. But the idea was first born as a joke. When we went to America to record the first album, we had a long list with many different names. And some American guy walked into the studio, looked at this list and said, Gotthard this sounds great! What does this mean? We explained him everything, and he said, If you turn one t upside down, the English meaning will be got hard! (everybody laughs) And there we have the lipservice effect, the double meaning.

Special thanks to Markus Wosgien (Nuclear Blast) for arranging this interview

Roman Patrashov, Natalie Khorina
June 22, 2005
10 2005
the End


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