Latest Release: Firebirth (Nuclear Blast)

Swiss hard rock band Gotthard has been producing high quality albums for many years. Sadly, in 2010, their front man Steve Lee was fatally injured in a traffic accident while on a motorcycle tour of the US. Most bands would have dissolved after such a massive setback. Amazingly, a new singer was recently found in Swiss born Nic Maeder who also resided in Australia whilst fronting his own band with his brother Sebastian several years ago. Gotthard have thus reconvened and recorded a new album Firebirth which will see the band once again playing huge stages. Loud had a chat to Nic about his new role and his thoughts on the circumstances.

Now that you’ve joined the band and have recorded a new album, what was your involvement with song writing?

As part of the audition we spent a couple of weeks together writing songs to see how it would sound if I had joined the band. I was very involved in the songwriting. In fact, four of the songs that we wrote during the audition are on the album. We sit around and try stuff. The songwriting process is just Leo [Leoni – guitar], Freddy [Scherer – guitar] and myself trying ideas like a twelve string guitar or a Hammond organ. It is just experimenting really.

Were they aware of your previous band Maeder and touring with The Screaming Jets?
Not really. They knew me from a few years ago when we were bringing Maeder over to Europe. We were doing a few gigs and got a record deal for Europe. We were supposed to do a tour with them so they knew a little bit about me. A mutual friend linked us up. They remembered they were going to be taking us on tour.

Had you seen them live yourself, prior to that?
I’d spent half my life growing up in Switzerland so I knew the band and had seen them live. Back in 1994, living in Switzerland, I had a band here that played at the same festival. My band was opening the festival and Gotthard were headlining it. I didn’t know the guys personally but I did know the band quite well.

Do you have any say in the set list yet?
Yeah, everything we do is a band decision as it is a real democracy. I let them decide though as they’ve been doing it for twenty years and they know what songs will work live. I suggest some things and we do put in more new songs than you normally would. It is a collective decision.

Gotthard has a massive back catalogue. What did you have to do to learn the material?
I sort of already had [done so] during the audition. It was a long process that started pretty much at the start of last year and it wasn’t until August [2011] that I got the gig. We were sending songs back and forth. I had learnt the classic songs. I put my voice to the songs and I had to learn a lot of the stuff so that by the time we started rehearsing for the shows, I already knew most of it.

Did you find yourself mimicking Steve’s delivery at all?
No, that was really clear from the beginning. They wanted someone with their own personality. The last thing that they wanted was a copy. I just do my own thing but obviously follow the melodies. The song goes a certain way but I put my own slant to it.

You’re probably going to get a few diehards that might not accept you initially.
Yeah, that goes with the job really and initially that was something I was really aware of when starting this, you know. I just have to do my best and not think about that stuff too much.

Did touring with The Screaming Jets give you work ethics that translated across to Gotthard?
Yeah, I suppose with the constant touring back to back, I learnt very quickly that you can’t party too hard or you won’t have any voice left. You finish a show and then go to bed. There are a lot of shows in a row. I try to get as much sleep as I can, really.

What sort of tributes to Steve are in the show?
There’ll be things we’ll be doing. The South American shows are warm ups. Later on there is quite a big thing that we are getting ready now. There is a song on the album that we did that is a tribute to Steve so there is a big section that is going to happen.

In the posthumously released Homegrown – Live In Lugano there was a “Leo vs. Steve” section. Is a similar segment happening?
No, we’re really staying away from those sorts of things. The idea really is to do different things. There are songs where I sit down on a piano and sing. I’m playing guitar in a few of the songs. We’re really putting together a show that has different things than before.

How do you cope with being in a band that is huge in Europe and known in America yet a lot of Australians are not really aware of the band?
I kind of really like it. Ha ha. Yeah, it is funny. I actually didn’t realise just how big they were in Switzerland. To me, Switzerland is a fairly small country with half the population of Australia but here the band is really big. We had to keep it a secret for while, when I first joined. We wanted to come out with a bang so we put a song together, did the video clip and then the big launch. Up until that moment, nobody knew that it was me. So I found myself in every newspaper and on TV. Since then, it hasn’t stopped. We’re constantly doing news, TV and radio. You go from not being known at all to being quite big which I did not expect.

Gotthard came in after the Bon Jovi and Def Leppard era.
Yeah, as you know, they’ve had a really long time to build up their career. The last eleven albums have all been number one albums [in Switzerland]. They have a really strong work ethic and it is the hardest job I have ever had. It is non stop. This is a much higher league and a big machine. There are a lot of people that work for the band so there are constantly things that we’re doing. We’re either doing interviews and then in between rehearsing for the shows and doing video clips, photo shoots and then running off throughout the production of the album doing things on the side. I’ve been here since August [2011] and really haven’t had a week to be able to relax.

On Firebirth, there is a song on it called “Right On”. It is possible to do a vocoder riff without sounding like Bon Jovi?
Haha, I don’t know. It’s a thing that they’ve done in the past with a few of their songs and Leo loves to have a go at it. He’d had that riff for a while and wanted to do a song with it. We thought it sounded pretty cool. It is a bit of a party song.

The album has variations from ballads to fast hard rock. What is your favourite style?
It is hard to say but one of the things that really got me into the band is the fact that it is diverse. There are so many different styles and as a songwriter it is a lot of fun to do.

How about favourite songs from their back catalogue? Songs like “I Don’t Mind”, “Anytime, Anywhere” or “Sister Moon”?
Yeah, “Anytime Anywhere” is still one of my favourites. It is the first one that I put my vocals to back in Melbourne. Initially for the audition they sent me three songs without the vocals on them. It was “Anytime, Anywhere”, “Top of the World” and “Need to Believe”. The first one I recorded and listened to thinking this could work, it sounds alright. That one has been the most fun to sing and I still love doing it.

Any chance that Gotthard will tour Australia?
We actually were talking about that as we’re touring Japan in September and so the other day we were with the manager having a chat about it. We’d really like to but it’s just starting to get so expensive when you get that far away. I’m sure we will at some point.