Blue Jeans Are Always There


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I don’t think Switzerland’s Gotthard need any introduction. The band has been on top of the hard rock world for nearly 20 years, and Steve Lee, Leo Leoni, Marc Lynn, Hena Habegger and Freddy Scherer have long become national heroes in their home country. Their brilliant albums are destined to top the charts all over Europe, their concerts are attended by fans of all ages, their songs can easily be called evergreens – isn’t it success? And this success is backed by immaculate professionalism and songwriting skills, as well as unbelievable dedication and, last but not least, personal charm of the musicians. Everything this band has is absolutely deserved. One can say that the story of Gotthard is a rare example of gratification for hard labor, commitment and sense of purpose.
Guitarist and songwriter Leo Leoni called me shortly before the release of the band’s ninth studio album “Need To Believe”. Our conversation started in a rather unexpected way. The first thing for Leoni was to ask if we had met before – one day he already had a chance of talking to a Russian reporter named Ksenia. I confessed that it’s my first interview with him, and Leo immediately told me that he was very glad to get to know me. I was definitely flattered…

I’m quite surprised… Do you remember all the journalists who do interviews with you?

Well, I try to keep my mind busy. (laughs) I think it’s very important, you know. When you meet somebody you have to remember it.

Great, it gives you the opportunity to find some friends in other countries, I guess.

Yeah, absolutely!

Ok, let’s talk a bit about your new album “Need To Believe”. Your previous albums were extremely successful, so everybody expect this very record to top all the possible charts. But does it really matter for you if it reaches the first position in charts and becomes a new “bestseller”?

Well, you know, when you do a record you try to do the best possible, the best you can. We tried to do our best while recording “Need To Believe”, and if you believe that what you’re doing is correct, then maybe your friends and people around you are gonna like it. And so you’re gonna get the success again. But in the end of the day I think it’s very important to do your best for the record. And then time will tell what’s gonna happen. So it doesn’t really matter for me if it’s number one. It matters much more for me, if while listening to the album, when it’s finished, I say “uuu, it’s great” or “mmm, it’s not good enough”. So in this case “Need To Believe” is a great record and I’ m sure our old fans and new fans are gonna like it, and maybe it will even help us to reach “extra fans” all over the world.

I guess that everybody’s asking you about the cover of the album, because it’s very impressive. And Steve has already explained its meaning. But could you say something about it from your side?

First of all the title is “Need To Believe”. It’s like: you need to believe in something, you need to believe in yourself, you need to believe that you can do something to reach what you want. So the cover shows a hand that’s squeezing a stone. It’s something like that: you’re so thirsty, but if you believe you can squeeze water from this stone… or juice or anything you want! So it means that all the things that seem to be impossible are possible if you believe in it.

Are all the songs on the album somehow connected with this theme?

We have the title track “Need To Believe” which is connected with that for sure. But I think it’s more connected with the band, I would say, because we believe in ourselves and in what we’re doing. Otherwise we wouldn’t play this kind of music. Actually we were playing this kind of music when it was almost dead, you know. And we believed in what we were doing and here we are! Almost 20 years later we’re still around the world playing our music, having fun and making interviews, which is nice. (laughs)

Your music videos are always so dramatic and interesting - do you have any brilliant ideas for a new clip?

A new video’s possibly gonna show up soon. The song is gonna be a part of a soundtrack. The movie is about a German boxer who was fighting against Nazism. And actually we’ve done already a videoclip, and soon it will be released. So there’s something coming up.

By the way, I wanted to ask you about this movie. Why did you decide to do this soundtrack and what do you personally think about the main character of the film - Max Schmeling?

Actually it’s not we who decided to make this soundtrack. The producer of the movie knew the band from the past and he wanted to have a song from us. And we started then a new song which is called “Unconditional Faith” - and this song and the movie are more or less of the same story. And to be a part of this film is a very important thing, because this movie is not just a movie, it’s also a kind of a documentary. It’s a true story, and it’s great if you can be a part of history of the world. I don’t know if this movie’s gonna be successful or not, but it’s a very important story from our history. Max Schmeling was a great person in Germany at that time. He was so famous and so strong by himself, that Hitler and Co just couldn’t make him shut up. He was a German who was against World War II, so it was a very interesting thing, you know.

So you’re quite “carried away” by the idea of this movie, aren’t you?

Yes, I was impressed by the story of Max Schmeling. The guy was completely against World War II at that time, that’s pretty amazing.

Would you like to make any more soundtracks in future?

Maybe – we’ll find it out. I mean, of course you can’t be everywhere, though it would be nice… (laughs) It’s not the first time we’ve made a soundtrack – we made a song for “Frankie”, which was a kind of soup opera, it was coming up every night. And I think it’s nice. Actually we’re already talking about something that may come out in the future. I don’t know, we’re open very much for everything. Any Russian movie for us? (laughs)

Well, unfortunately I’m not a movie maker, you know… But why not? In general, do you think that your music is good for movies? I mean, some bands think that it’s a different kind of “show business” which is not for them…

Well, let’s look back in the past when the movies didn’t have the audio. So they had these movies with Charley Chaplin, who was the only “artist” there, and he wouldn’t speak in the movie, right? And then there was some music underneath. I think when you write a song you have your own movie in your head. Or it can be a part of your own life that is also a kind of movie. So if you can combine these things together, it’s cool. And maybe the producer or the director may listen to it and think “oh, that’s exactly the music that I’m looking for” – so once again, why not? I think it’s a great thing!

Do you have any changes in your musical style on this album comparing to your previous albums?

I don’t think there’s a big change – I think there’s a modern touch in it, so maybe the sound is more up-to-date, more “2009-2010”. But I think we still remember our roots – classic rock or hard rock from our first nine records, and that’s what we’re doing live every day. So there are some little changes, but no drastic changes. I believe the old fans can say “yeah, that’s Gotthard’s record the way it’s supposed to be today”.

As you’ve already said, your music is strongly associated with classic rock of the 80s. Do you think that something classical is always better than something new?

Well, if you wear jeans, you’re always gonna wear jeans, never mind the shape. I can compare our songs to the blue jeans. The colors can change a bit, but blue jeans are always there.

What do you think about more “modern” musical styles with this tendency to use electronics and synthetic sounds?

Is it something like Linkin Park you’re talking about?

Well, Linkin Park may be an example…

I think it’s good actually. I mean, everybody’s able to express himself the best way he can or he wants. And as long as they deliver quality and honesty, I think it’s great. You have to be a bit open minded to accept everything that’s going on around the world. And I think there’re lots of bands with lots of fans, that come across with great songs and great music. Never mind what kind of instrument they use for recording their songs. But I don’t mean I like everything! Sometimes I don’t like it when they sing about death and killing themselves and a lot of violence. It’s not my cup of tea, honestly. (laughs) I’d like to talk about love instead of it.

Don’t you think about using some new instruments or new technologies in your music?

Actually I’m using lots of different instruments. I play mandolin and lots of other things. I often change the tuning of my guitars just to make my life a little bit interesting. (laughs) A little bit exiting. Yeah, it’s nice to play an instrument, but to play it good you need much time. And time is sometimes, you know… kicking. (laughs) Finish the record and then go back on tour… I have a piano at my place and I wish some day I’d have time to learn how to play it. There’s still some time open for me!

Let’s take a step back and discuss your new record a little more. Are there any songs you personally like more then all the other ones?

I think that “Need To Believe” is a great song. I like “Don’t Let Me Down”, which is a typical Gotthard rock ballad. “Right From Wrong” is one of my favorites actually. It also has very “rocky” sound.

On this album you have a bonus track for Japan – “Speed Of Light”. Why did you choose this song to be available only for your Japanese fans and what makes them so special for you?

I don’t think it’s the matter of being “special” or “not special”. (laughs) It’s just a rule that’s been around for many years in the world. Now the rules have changed a little bit because of the Internet, but back in the day you were supposed to give some extra track on the Japanese market because of the piracy and the import problems. The price of CDs was so high there, that normal Japanese people would buy an import CD, that would cost less, then the one that was released in Japan. That’s a kind of a marketing situation. It’s the matter of recording company – it’s not the band deciding to give an extra track.

But can you say a few words about this song – for your European fans?

When you give an extra track it doesn’t mean that it’s worse than all the others. When you write songs for the record, you write… let’s say 20 songs and then you pick 15 you need. And then you decide which ones of these 15 – 10 or 11 or 12 – will be there on the record. We always come up with the idea that the album is supposed to have great songs on it, and these songs should be different. And sometimes you have two songs that are a kind of similar, so you can use one of them for something else. It doesn’t mean that one song is better than another one. I believe “Speed Of Light” is a great song. It was supposed to be on the album two weeks before - it was in the track list for the record. But Steve Lee changed his mind, or it was the recording company – whatever the situation was, this song ended up to be extra track. “Speed Of Light” is a great rocky song, and it’s one of my favorites by the way.  

Where do you get inspiration and themes for your songs?

Well, what inspires me is my guitar and my life. I’m playing guitar most of the time – on tour there’s always a guitar to warm up. And sometimes something’s coming out and you go like “oh, that’s interesting!” and you start from there. (laughs)

Your music is so energetic – what in your life gives you the energy to put it then into your songs?

I think it’s the fact that I get up in the morning, I can stand up and walk. And I’m alive – there’s a lot of energy coming out, isn’t it?

Oh yeah! Are you going to come and share your energy with Russian fans? There are some European tour dates on your web site…

There’re only dates for this year. And the dates for the next year they’re discussing now. So very possibly next year something would happen. It won’t be the first time we play in Moscow – we’ve been there three times.

As far as I know you once took part in the “Star Factory” TV show here in Russia…

Yeah, you’re talking about Roma (Roman Arkhipov), I believe.

Do you still remember him?

Yes, actually I did some stuff for him – threw some ideas at him. I think he’s a great person.

Well, but actually I intended to ask you about another thing: do you think there are any ways like that (I mean taking part in TV-shows) for good musicians to become really famous?

Well, I think projects like that are nice. They can bring music to people and a lot of people can dream about taking part in something like that and try to achieve some target – why not?

And do you know any Russian musicians apart from Roma?

I met Tatyana… I don’t know what her surname is… But I think she’s a big artist in Russia. (I have no idea who’s he talking about – ed.) Then I met the guys from Gorky Park. Sadly I didn’t meet Tchaikovsky, but I know this musician too. (laughs)

Do you have any “success formula”?

Believe in what you’re doing and don’t fall in love with your song too soon. You can always look back and say, “Hmm, maybe I can do something better”. And in the end, if you’re quite auto critical, maybe you can reach something.

Do you feel like you’re a star?

I feel like I’m a human being and I don’t know what it is to be a star. I am who I am. Maybe people believe I’m a star and maybe I AM a star, ‘cause people think I am a star… But I’m a human being first of all.

Do you expect your band to be something like The Rolling Stones? Are you ready to play for the rest of your life or do you think you can find other things to do?

To be like The Rolling Stones… Well, I’m still alive and you never know what’s gonna happen in the next 15 years from now. Maybe I’ll be still around. We’re around for almost 20 years. So maybe there’re 20 years to go – let’s find out!

What does one need to believe in?

In oneself. And that it’s gonna be peace in the world one day. And love. You have to believe in love.

Thank you very much for this interview.

Thank you and say “hi” to Moscow from me.

Gotthard on the Internet:

Special thanks to Yury “Surgeon” (Irond Records) for arranging this interview

Ksenia Artamonova
August 27, 2009

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