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Interview conducted March 20 2020
Interview published March 27 2020

"…and for me this is Gotthard 3.0…"

Metal Covenant talked over the phone with Gotthard's Leo Leoni about the band's new album, 13.

Tobbe: Your new record, 13, was just out, so tell me a little about it.

Leo: I'm happy that it's out actually. It's coming out in a very weird period. Especially in Switzerland, all the stores are closed, so. [Laughs] But I'm very happy. The album is great. Everybody loves the album. We've had good reviews out there. Things like "It's a new Gotthard classic.", which is good.

Tobbe: Isn't the title 13 just an easy way out from lack of ideas maybe? It's kind of simple, you know.

Leo: No. You know, some people think that there's a lucky 13 and sometimes 13 is bad luck. So far, whatever we did was working out very good. You know, number 13, 13 songs, recorded at Yellowhouse studio 13, coming out on Friday 13th.

Tobbe: In what way do you look at how the band develops the music from one record to another?

Leo: You know, every phase in life gives you a different point of view and I think this is the main cause of how the band develops. Of course, our career is out there since 30 years and you're not thinking in the same way as you did in the beginning. A lot of things change. The band develops and the music around the world develops too and has changed a lot.

We try to stay ourselves and, like, come up with new records, with new influences, and some new sounds, even if you play with the same old kind of instruments. We try to not repeat ourselves and I think that's a very important thing. I guess, for bands that have been there for many years, as we have, that's the main recipe of what we need to do.

And actually this is a great development, because now we have Nic [Maeder, vocals] on his fourth record, and it's great, and it's sounding great, and for me this is Gotthard 3.0, and then we will see what is gonna come up with this 3.0 in the future.

Yeah, everybody is happy. Everybody is pleased, from band to record company to management. And the press is very happy. So yeah, seems like we did a new classic.

Tobbe: And when Nic lays down the vocals nowadays, does he feel more relaxed now than he did for, like, 8 years ago?

Leo: [Laughs] I don't know. I think that these questions you're supposed to ask him. But I think, somehow yes. You know, it's always a pressure to put out a new record and of course maybe there's less pressure because it's not the first one, and we know each other, and we've worked together all those years. But still, if you have to come up with something great, you have to put a little bit of a pressure on yourself, otherwise it's not gonna be great again. A little bit of pressure is good.

Tobbe: Gotthard is used to have number 1 chart positions in Switzerland, but internationally it's harder to be successful. Yet, do you still try everything you've got to make it even bigger outside your home country as well?

Leo: Well, we try to do our best every time. And with luck enough we will enter the charts, and with luck enough we'll get number 1 in Switzerland, and with luck enough we're entering the charts in other countries, as we did already in the past.

But to hit number 1 is very hard nowadays, especially 'cause you need a lot of power and support from the record company and from the whole industry. Especially with smaller countries, like Switzerland, or Sweden, or Norway. In Europe actually a lot of countries are in a similar situation. It's not like a big market as America. In Europe maybe the biggest markets are possibly Germany and England, and, you know, the rest are little, little countries. If you look at countries like Italy, Spain and France, they are very concentrated on their own music, on their sound, you know. And it's always been like this.

So, we try to do our best, first of all for us and for our fans, and then with luck enough you hit something cool. But you always have to try your best, like every day of your life. You know, just try to get the best out of it every day.

Tobbe: Tell me about your version of ABBA's song SOS.

Leo: Well, you know, as everybody knows ABBA has been a great, great, great influence. A great band, great melodies, great songs, you know. Same as the Beatles, same as all those great artists from the past and of course you listened to this as a kid. But the story why it ended up on our record started a long time ago actually. Gotthard wanted to do a complete cover record and SOS was on the list.

Also Steve [Lee], the former singer, was a huge ABBA fan. We were checking a few songs and SOS was the one that hit the table, you know. But all of a sudden this project was taken apart and we forgot about it and left it aside. Then Nic, on the last recording session, said he got an offer from national TV for a tribute to ABBA. For an anniversary or something. And he picked up this SOS song and he played the demo for us. It was cool, 'cause he brought his blues thing. It was very simple, with the piano, the vocals and just kind of a beat underneath.

Then we were talking and I said "Listen. We had the same idea back then.". The thing is that when we do a cover song with Gotthard we just want to give it our touch, like "Okay, this sounds like Gotthard, but it isn't.". We always had this feeling and then Nic had the same feeling too. You know, by accident, like almost 15 years later.

It's an amazing song, SOS, but we always had this feeling that the lyrics would not fit the melody, or the melody would not fit the melody of the lyrics, you know. It's a very strong sad message, talking about, you know, "What happened to our love, my love?". But the melody is very happy. We went more heavy, and darker.

We brought the blues into this great song actually. I hope that everybody understands what we did. And we did it with respect, and I hope ABBA are gonna love that. You know, if you talk about losing your love, actually you're not that very happy, but maybe it was different back then. [Laughs] Losing somebody was like "Woo hoo! I'm single again.".

Tobbe: You have recorded songs made by other people before, so what's fascinating about making covers for Gotthard?

Leo: The fascination is that you can interpret the song in your way. A great song remains a great song, you know. It's a matter of "Why not do it?". I mean, everybody did it. Beatles did it, Stones did it, Elvis did it, everybody. So why not? There's nothing wrong with it. [Laughs]

Tobbe: About the album's artwork. What does the front cover symbolize?

Leo: Actually people believe they are two bulls, but they are not two bulls. They are two cows. Actually typical Swiss cows. The picture is taken from a combat. You know, it's a tradition in Switzerland. The question is which one of the cows is gonna be the queen. Actually that thing happens in the nature too. It's not like the human beings did something bad. And we like the picture. You feel the energy and the power. And it's not the first time we have Swiss cows on our covers. Made In Switzerland also [Live album, 2006].

Tobbe: Gotthard's style of artwork often changes a lot from record to record. Do you just have a lot of different ideas, or is it hard to decide what goes on the cover of an album sometimes?

Leo: You know, every album is different and you have to come up with something different, that is interesting to the fan. The artwork is supposed to relate to what's on it. It's boring to always have the same cover, isn't it? Imagine if all the records would come out with just all black covers.

Tobbe: Alex Motta is playing the drums on the album. You know him well already.

Leo: You know, he was the first name that came up to get this record going. Hena [Habegger] wanted to take a break and then we thought it was a good idea to have somebody with a similar style. Alex has been playing with my other band CoreLeoni and he's very similar to Hena's groove, you know, and therefore we asked him and said "Listen. Do you wanna play on the record?" and he said "Yes, I'm gonna do the record, but I'm not interested in the tour 'cause I have enough to do already.".

So therefore we recorded the record with him, but for the tour we have Flavio Mezzodi, who is the Krokus drummer. Sadly Krokus just did their farewell tour. We thought it was a good idea to audition Flavio and we ended up having this situation. Which is cool, I think. Everybody is happy, everybody's got a job, and the record is great, and we're gonna get ready for the future tour, which is postponed due to that virus.

Tobbe: Is it a little bit strange to have such a well-established band as Magnum as support act on a lot of your tour dates?

Leo: Well, it's kind of interesting because when we started our career we opened up for Magnum. We're talking about 30 years ago. So actually it's cool. It's like a circle, which hopefully will go again, again and again. But it's great. I mean, the fans are gonna love it. You know, they have their own particular kind of music. I think it's a good package. Why not? And it's not a support act, but it's a special guest, so. It's a great thing.

Tobbe: I guess we try to stay positive, but is there really any hope left that you will be able to play the festivals this summer?

Leo: There's some shows that are already in discussion. It all depends now on the situation. We just have to see. It's a terrible situation. But we hope that everything is gonna be settled as soon as possible. I mean, it's a disaster for everybody. So let's cross our fingers and hope that it's gonna be all good.

Tobbe: With the tour postponed you will have some downtime and will you do some CoreLeoni stuff now?

Leo: Actually we're checking some of the recordings we did on the last tour and we're planning to maybe do a live record. Yeah, that's what I'm doing. And cleaning some guitars, cleaning the studio, and doing some house keeping. [Laughs] Which is cool. It's not that bad. In the last few years we didn't take any long breaks, so why not? It's nice. And it is time to clean my stuff. Clean the guitars, change strings. [Laughs]

Tobbe: Where do you see your project CoreLeoni in the future?

Leo: Well, I don't know. Let's see. It's not a project, but in fact a band that I have. And we try to get it everywhere possible, you know. We are here to play some great music that has been forgotten for a while. It's a cool thing to do. You know, Gotthard goes on, and I'm the Gotthard guitar player, but on the other hand I'm the CoreLeoni guitar player. [Laughs] As long as I have power enough and enough energy I'm gonna take the time to do it, in the best way I can.

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