Here we are, back again in Geiselwind, Germany, strolling backstage at the Gotthard/Jaded Heart show. This time MetalKings.com presents a transcript of the conversation involving our reporter Dead Ripper and guitarist Leo Leoni, one of the founders and the driving force of Gotthard, one of the very best melodic hard rock/AOR bands on this planet. Just as Jaded Heart were doing the soundcheck, Leo and Dead Ripper were sitting in Gotthard's dressing room, talking…
MetalKings.com: Alright, first I'd like to know how the band started, how did all band members meet and find each other?
Leo: So from the beginning... Well, me and Steve (Lee, vocalist - ed.) started together cause we grew up in the same place, in the same area, and we were playing in a different band and I had the idea that we should work together. I had some ideas, I played some guitar for him in the studio and he sang some demos for me, and since then we started to work together. We got the bass player coming in, and then in the end while recording the first album we met Hena, the drummer, and we got Hena for us. This was back in 1989 or 1990.
MetalKings.com: But as far as I know there was also a band called Forsale...
Leo: Yeah, this was Steve's band where I played the guitar, I played some rhythm track there.
MetalKings.com: There was actually one album ("Stranger In Town") from them as far as I know, right?
Leo: Yeah, there was one album and a maxi-single out.
MetalKings.com: Is it possible that the stuff will be re-released some day in future?
Leo: It's been re-released already, something like two years ago.
MetalKings.com: But it's really hard to find.
Leo: Yeah, I think it's really hard to find cause it wasn't released on a big scale but I know it's been re-released then.
MetalKings.com: Well, and who influenced you in the very beginning?
Leo: Well, I think we started with The Beatles, and then like all the people of our age, we grew up with Led Zeppelin, Hendrix, AC/DC, John Lee Hooker or Jerry Lee Lewis or whatever, Chuck Berry...
MetalKings.com: And I saw you play Whitesnake stuff during the soundcheck...
Leo: Yeah, this is a logical continuation of this style or something. Actually we just had fun to play it today but normally we don't play it. Years ago we did it but tonight we just had fun, this just happened. (laughs)
MetalKings.com: I think it's a kind of fashion right now that any band participates in tribute albums. What do you think about it?
Leo: As long as it's tribute it's fine, I think. I hope that every band has its own ideas about how to do songs. We do cover songs, every album has a cover on it, it's just to make people know that these are the songs around and other bands. Especially the young kids, they don't know the past of the music, most of them don't know the past. So we're really looking forward to show them how and what music was around in the past and which music we grew up with, like on the new album there's gonna be a song from the Rolling Stones and you know, we keep doing it.
MetalKings.com: You did a song "I'm Your Travelling Man" on the "Dial Hard" album. How did you choose it?
Leo: Oh, there was an album from the band Cobra and Mandy Mayer (Gotthard' second guitarist - ed.) was playing there. We had the demo around at the time and then we had an idea to cover it, to bring it across cause the album was not available. So we were just looking for a song, it was one of what we already did and we just put it on the album.
MetalKings.com: OK, as long as I remember the first album had many versions of its cover. I mean the color was different. Whose idea was it?
Leo: It was just a joke that we came up with once. When a company did a proposition of the color there was different colors on it. And then we chose one, but in the end we said, "Oh, maybe it's a good idea to get all of them, right?" So we changed the color of the cover and I don't remember how many units we sold but I think it turned from red to blue, green to yellow. The blue one was actually the second edition. So we just had an idea for a kind of collector's item. I think the first batch came up with the white color but it was a mistake.
MetalKings.com: The "G." (g-spot) album had a sort of eggs on the cover. What do they mean?
Leo: They are just the eggs! (laughs) It was a nice picture which was looking like something else, like a nice ass but there were eggs on it.
MetalKings.com: Personally I think your "dFrosted" album is the best unplugged album any band has ever done...
Leo: Thank you for the complement!
MetalKings.com: And did you ever think about making a live video of that performance?
Leo: No, we didn't need a video out of that but the TV, they filmed that show, it was recorded by a TV station in Switzerland, so it was out as a concert. Not the same concert, but still the [unplugged] concert. It was on the air. And now we record a DVD from this tour...
MetalKings.com: You mean, you are recording it live from on current tour?
Leo: Yeah, it is already recorded and gonna be released like in Feburary. We just have to finish it right now, we just have to put paperwork and stuff like that and then it will be ready for the release.
MetalKings.com: Will there be only a DVD or a live album as well?
Leo: Well, we have the best of ballads coming out in January and then on this side there's a DVD live.
MetalKings.com: OK, many people ask you this question and so will I. The music on your first albums was pretty heavy, rough and fast, but later you changed the style, I think, you became more melodic. I do understand that there must be some changes in style but why did you stop writing those fast and heavy tracks?
Leo: I think it was an evolution of the band and music, I don't think that we really changed the style. It was before and when we did this "Homerun" album we had rock tunes on it or hard rock tunes or whatever you wanna call it. And I do believe that Gotthard has always been the band that played what it really wanted to play since the very beginning. It's just you change your mind, you like to try out things, right? And of course the "dFrosted" album made us change from a bit heavy to AOR style, cause we saw when doing that live that more people were coming in, more young people, more girls, more old people who wanna have fun and listen to music, not all that stage-diving situation and other kinds of things that we were pretty famous at that time with. We've never been actually a metal band, so we had the kind of a situation when we didn't want to have accidents on stage or this kind of thing. And that was also one of the reasons why we kept going on with this melodic thing or something... But I think the music is still there and we're still a rocky band going on the stage.
MetalKings.com: I've learned from the BMG web-page that there exists the "Harley Davidson Shape CD" single and it contains a song called "Hey, Catch Me If You Can". What was it?
Leo: It was recorded live in Hamburg, and it's taken from that "Hamburg Tapes" EP. We have that mini-LP released in Japan with the title "Hamburg Tapes", and that "Harley Davidson" thing is two songs from that EP. And the shape CD was the promotional thing for the Harley Davidson company, and the loud noise of the motor of Harley Davidson in the beginning.. We had an idea at the time when we were doing a lot of biker festivals like "Free Wheels" and that kind of thing, so we had an idea to have this shape of the motor as a collector's item too, so this shape CD with live performance is not very often to see I think, there are three live songs on it. But I don't know what is that "Hey, Catch Me If You Can"...
MetalKings.com: I think it's just the beginning, the start, something like a roaring engine or whatever...
Leo: Oh yeah, I think so too. OK, I see, maybe the intro from Harley Davidson goes like this.
MetalKings.com: Also you have a different version of "One Life, One Soul" recorded with Spanish opera singer Montserrat Caballe. How did it happen?
Leo: At that time Montserrat wanted to do a tribute to Freddie Mercury, you know, she did "Barcelona" and she wanted to do this tribute and was looking for some bands around that could do it and reproduce some Queen song. But in the end she found out that there is this Swiss band Gotthard so she asked for some material, what we were doing and stuff like that, and she fell in love with that "One Life, One Soul" song. So instead of putting out a Queen song she asked if she could have "One Life, One Soul", she did the song in duet with Steve, so we accepted it and it was a nice complement for us to have this song on a tribute to Queen, so it turned out the way it is.
MetalKings.com: Besides "One Life, One Soul", the second edition of that single has a song called "Hijo De La Luna". What is that?
Leo: This is a Montserrat Caballe song. Actually it's not a Montserrat Caballe song, it's an old song from a band from Spain called Mecano and Montserrat just did it. I think the single is the only recording released around with Montserat singing it.
MetalKings.com: So you don't play on that "Hijo De La Luna"?
Leo: No, that single was released with "Father Is That Enough" and in order not to have Montserrat singing only lyrical and classical music we found that song so that it could fit on that 3-song single.
MetalKings.com: OK, have you ever thought about releasing a compilation of rare and bonus tracks because there are so many of them around...
Leo: I don't know, maybe some day somebody's gonna do it, but we are not here to think of some commercial thing. I think that fans are supposed to have them cause they buy everything, so we are here to do some music and not think about business. And if there are rarities or not, you know, shit happens! (laughs) Maybe one day it's gonna happen, we don't know yet. We have some rarities around, for example, on a Japanese version there's always one or two bonus or unreleased tracks like "Dirty Weekend", "Mad Love", "Immigrant Song" from Led Zeppelin, like a few things we did in the past.
MetalKings.com: What are your relations with various bands like Bonfire, for instance?
Leo: Yeah, we have some relations. We know them, we did a few gigs together. I think they do their own music, we do our own music. If they can survive with what they do that's fine, I guess. The thing that they do is what they like and that's the most important thing for them, I hope. I think we live in two separate worlds cause Bonfire want to keep that thing that they had in the past and we want to evolve, so we made it our way and did the way we wanted to do it, and they do the same. They keep playing very much the same style they had before, but for Gotthard it's different, we don't wanna be a copy of ourselves. I think that it's a learning process cause you keep doing it through all your life, live performances, albums and I think it would be a shame if the first album sounds like the last one, not even AC/DC are doing that. Even if it sounds like it's not, check the AC/DC history and there's not an album sounding like another one.
MetalKings.com: OK, you're a guitar player, so what do you think of guitar heroes like Yngwie Malmsteen?
Leo: Malmsteen is a great guitar player, I mean, he used to be cause I don't know what he's doing now, but he is still a great guitar player, has a lot of feeling. I know that there's Steve Vai or Joe Satriani around but it's not really my cup of tea. When I was a kid, I tried to be one of them and then I figured it out it was not my cup of tea. I prefer to write simpler songs and concentrate more on other things in the playing, kind of Gary Moore or older guitar players... I don't want to do it fast though I love Van Halen, for example, he's one of outstanding guitarists, I think, cause he managed to put feeling, craziness, fastness, all that stuff together somehow. Malmsteen is a great guitar player, I respect him, but I just don't wanna copy them, I try to be myself, to have my own tone, my own sound, and I'm here so serve the song. Cause for me it's a challenge to write the song that will go around the world. As a matter of fact if you take Van Halen for example, the most famous song from Van Halen is "Jump" where most of the guitar stuff is not there, there's just keyboards there. But it's always a matter of taste.
MetalKings.com: You tour Germany a lot, what do you think of Helloween and Gamma Ray?
Leo: Oh, it's hard to say. Helloween were big in the beginning and they still do their music, Japan is still a very big market for them. And Gamma Ray too, they are good musicians, they are doing what they like. I think it's good but I've never been into that heavy metal, German or speed metal or whatever, though I believe that all they are doing is nice. I mean, it's great that people buy their records, accept their music but I'm not the guy who goes freaked out... They had some good songs like "Future World" but I don't really care from what style the song is coming from, like with "Still Got The Blues" by Gary Moore...
MetalKings.com: I'd like to know more about the meaning of some songs. One of them is "Father Is That Enough".
Leo: The meaning here is simple. I think there's been and will always be some kind of relation between a father and a son and always gonna be something like 'one head against the other head'. The song shows that the son wants something from his father and the father always wants something else from his son, not in a bad way but ideas or something...
MetalKings.com: You mean, the generation gap...
Leo: Yeah, exactly, generation gap and that kind of thing. Something like 'I don't care if you want to be a musician', and the father always wants his son to work in a bank. And in the end you reach what you have wanted with your own life and you look back at your father and say, "Now you see, I've made it big or something, so my way of thinking was working out", that kind of relationship. I mean, you should try out what is in your heart and what you believe in.
MetalKings.com: And who's that "Mountain Mama"?
Leo: "Mountain Mama" is Switzerland, the country. Switzerland is full of mountains so we call it 'mountain mama'...
MetalKings.com: From the first sight it looks like a love story...
Leo: Well, it's not a love story, it just sounds like an ironical thing, like a relationship of a Swiss person with his own country, maybe with your country too. And in our case it is Switzerland cause we come from there.
MetalKings.com: And I think you are the biggest band that has ever come out of Switzerland...
Leo: Well, I think for sure in the 1990s and 2000s we are the biggest band. Of course, in the past Krokus were around, and there were many other bands with different styles like Young Gods or Yello, many different artists went out of Switzerland. But I think of the rock acts we are big, yeah, but in general we have a very important music scene, we have Swiss-German or Swiss-French artists like Stefan Einhelm and others, many of them are working in France and Germany too.
MetalKings.com: And have you ever thought about recording a song in a different language, not in English?
Leo: Well, (laughs) Switzerland has four languages so you mean singing a song in four different languages? (laughs) We chose the English cause it's set for everybody. (laughs) I don't think we will record a song in German, for example. At least we do not think about this at the moment. You never know, maybe one day you wake up and say, "OK, it will happen". But for the moment it's not on the list. The thing is that we want to stay a little more international with English, with rock'n'roll, cause the language of rock'n'roll is English since day one, so we just kept the tradition.
MetalKings.com: Actually you will have a compilation released in the near future, right?
Leo: Yes, "One Life, One Soul - The Best Of Ballads". There will be two previously unreleased tracks such as "Looking At You, Looking At Me" and "Ruby Tuesday" (Rolling Stones cover - ed.). And also in the end of the CD there's a hidden track, which is "Heaven" played by the Bulgarian Philharmonic Orchestra. The song was actually taken as an anthem for the protection of castles of Europe. There's a union that wants to keep the castles and oldest ruins and old monuments in a good shape. So they made a European association and wanted to have an anthem, and Bulgaria, where there are three castles, took that song as an anthem. So they used the song as an anthem, and they wanted to have a classical orchestra and ended up with that Bulgarian Philharmonic Orchestra. But we didn't know that, we just knew they were using our song, we weren't involved but the result was pretty good and we thought it was a great idea to bring the song to the album. I think it was worth doing it.
MetalKings.com: Your "dFrosted" album had five new tracks that were not released anywhere before. Were they just outtakes from previous albums or written especially for that acoustic CD?
Leo: No, they've been written for the "dFrosted" album.
MetalKings.com: OK, one more question about covers of your albums. The album before "Homerun" was called "Open". What's the meaning of the name and cover?
Leo: The meaning of "Open"? That's the first thing you have to do to listen to it. If you don't open it you won't take it out and won't listen so it was like a way to explain, "OK, if you want to listen to the album first you have to open the box. Then you have to open the CD player so there's always that 'open' everywhere." And 'open' also means open-minded, which says that we wanna try out something different, so you open your mind and listen to what's going on. That is the meaning of "Open".
MetalKings.com: And what about the song "Hey Jimi"?
Leo: Uh! (laughs) OK, to cover a Jimi song...(he means Hendrix, of course - ed.) is pretty heavy and what he did was already on the top, I think. (laughs) It was just a way for us to say, 'thank you' to Jimi for what he did, and make people, you know, go and listen to what he did cause he's a great artist and not with us anymore, just a way to say 'thank you', make a tribute, bring some licks and tell a story about who Jimi was. This was not more and not less.
MetalKings.com: Yeah, the song is full of his song titles...
Leo: Yeah, names of songs and you've got the guitar licks coming in, a little bit of jam in the end. We didn't really want to do a Jimi Hendrix song cause it's already done.
MetalKings.com: Who is responsible for booklets of your CDs?
Leo: I guess, the record company, and there's also another guy who is working with booklets or something. Actually we look at it, we like it or we don't like it, but most of the times the guys do really good job.
MetalKings.com: I mean, the "Open" album didn't have lyrics in the booklet in its European version...
Leo: Yes, it's true but we just wanted to keep something for the fans in the Internet so that the fans could see our homepage and find something interesting. We didn't want to make people go like 'Aha, everything is done'. We wanted to make people and fans go and search for things. Our bass player Marc (Lynn - ed.) takes care of the website.
MetalKings.com: Yeah, as far as I know he played in China before joining Gotthard but did he record anything with them?
Leo: I don't know about that. He was involved in their first album but I don't know if he was recording the album or not. I've got no idea about that, just that he was on the cover and on the album but no information if he recorded a song there or not.
MetalKings.com: What's the meaning of a boomerang on the cover of "Homerun"?
Leo: The boomerang is the thing that shows that everything you do in life you give away and it's always gonna come back. So if you give shit to somebody the shit gonna come back and hit you. So if you do something good it's coming back, like with "Homerun", if you did a base you did a point. So this is the way of life, you just need to take care of what you're doing.
MetalKings.com: You have a song called "Good Time Lover", I heard it as a live version. Was it ever recorded in the studio?
Leo: No, we just did it live on our first tour, it was just a B-side to a single and on the Japanese version (of the "Dial Hard" album - ed.), I guess. The song has never been released in a studio version. I think we had a demo version somewhere, played it live for a while as a special track when nobody knew about it, and we made it the way it was and that's it.
MetalKings.com: Do you have any side projects apart from Gotthard?
Leo: Yes, we did an album, me, Steve and Marc. The band is called Crak, it was the band before Gotthard actually. We did an album but it's never been released. We mixed it two years ago. One day it's gonna be released, there are 10 tracks on it, one of them is "Downtown" which later appeared on the first Gotthard album. I also did a maxi-single, some studio job but not something really big or in any way important.
MetalKings.com: As far as I know nearly every musician in Germany has day jobs. What about you?
Leo: Well, I'm a professional musician (laughs), if you wanna put it that way. Music is my profession, I've been doing this since 1987 and I don't have any other jobs.
MetalKings.com: And do you make enough money to live from your music?
Leo: Yeah, not so much to be a millionaire but enough not to die! (laughs)
MetalKings.com: OK, on the "dFrosted" album you have the new track "Love Soul Matter" and there's a children choir singing on it. Was it recorded live and whose idea was it?
Leo: You mean, those kids, right? Well, the kids are the future. We've been kids and we were the future in the past, right? And I think that love is the most important thing in the world. No love - nothing's gonna happen, we will destroy everything. So we wanted to have the kids. I have a good friend, he is a teacher, he's playing guitar too and used to be my teacher at the time. We always stay in contact, and I asked him if kids in his school could sing that song. And he said, "Yeah, it's gonna be happening," so he let me out to have the kids signing the song and we recorded them live, which was a good idea, I think.
MetalKings.com: And how did you come up with the DVD idea?
Leo: Two years ago our fan club organized something like a historic video of the band and we were happy enough with that. I think the time has come to make a real DVD of Gotthard. We're celebrating now a 10-year birthday, me and Stevie work together for about 13 or 14 years.
MetalKings.com: It is of interest that Gotthard's line-up never changed...
Leo: Yeah, we just add some people...
MetalKings.com: So do you really have no conflicts in the band? What keeps you together?
Leo: No, we don't really have conflicts. I think that everybody's here to give his best to this project, everyone is on this ship. Of course, you have conflicts in music, if you shoot for the best you have something to work on, right? It's like in a company, there's always something to be fixed, something to work on it and I think we are working and we're not planning to get a big hat. We've been around for a while, we did from small clubs to big arenas and we're still doing it without any kind of problems, and when you're doing something no kind of that situation is gonna show up. I think, that's what our secret is, to be honest, to work on something and have a nice relationship with your friends. Basically we're in the same boat and if the boat starts shaking everything is going down.
MetalKings.com: I'd like to ask some things about Japan. You changed several companies there. Why?
Leo: It's hard to say why 'cause this is the business side. As soon as you touch the business side there are businessmen coming in. I think, if we changed the company probably there was some good reason to make it. And I hope that our management does its best to search for the best solution to keep this band going on. And if it happened, well, that was it, there was a reason to happen. Of course, we're informed, we know the reason why and the current result was that we went up and not down, so the change of company in Japan was a vivid solution just to keep the band going. We stuck with BMG in the beginning, and then it was not what we wanted it to be. So now we have a good record company which we are very happy with, and they did a very good job on that "Homerun" album and I do believe they will do a good job on the new one, I mean, the compilation record. It's gonna be the next step to get in the studio and make an album that is planned to be written and recorded next year.
MetalKings.com: Well, your albums are mostly released in Europe and Japan. What about the USA?
Leo: You see, there's a matter of market. In the USA we have the direct import and probably the album is already released there cause it is released in over 50 countries or something like that. So I need to look at the list and tell where the album is released. (laughs) But OK, in America to release an album is not that easy 'cause simply to release an album is not enough.
MetalKings.com: There's also one thing that the American and British scenes had problems with, I mean, drugs and alcohol. What's your attitude to it?
Leo: Well, I don't know what the problem is, but I know that Gotthard has never been involved in that thing, probably it depends on a different life style. I can talk only about Gotthard cause I've lived with the band for about 15 years. I think we are here to do our best job, we are very happy, and even if there's a problem, you have to solve it without taking drugs, alcohol or trying to get out. We're all human beings, God gave us a brain and a heart to solve the problem. Sometimes shit happens but I think that a human being has to be strong enough to solve the problem by itself. I don't know, maybe some people think it's cool to take drugs and alcohol to get inspiration or something, I don't know. I never took drugs so I can't give you any image of life from that side, so it's not with me. The only answer I can give you is that we work, we keep going and we're a healthy rock'n'roll band.
MetalKings.com: When will the work on new studio album start?
Leo: Next year, I think. After we have this compilation out, we will stay a little bit away from the scene, but there's an album out so that people can enjoy it, it has a little more music. That's why I think the new studio album will be released in something like 2003. Maybe a single or something for Christmas next year, no touring, so we will have time to write a good album like we've always tried and always did, I hope. We don't write one song, we make an album so that fans show up and pay for an album, and they deserve an album with 10 or 12 songs on it, and all of them should be good songs, so that we can make our fans happy. I guess that's what Gotthard always did and we want to keep this tradition for the fans. So we take the time to do something good.
MetalKings.com: Well, sometimes you don't play big arenas and do clubs. Why?
Leo: You know, we don't have this kind of attitude like 'OK, now we did the stadium so we won't go back to clubs anymore'. Of course, if there's a good offer to do something we do it, that's a part of our job. And I mean we love to do it, we love to play in the clubs, we like to play arenas, we like sport halls or something. And no matter how many of them in the hall, 1,000, 2,000, 3,000, 10,000, 20,000 - I mean, in the end they are all your fans and that's the most important thing.
MetalKings.com: So is it possible that you will play in Russia one day?
Leo: We haven't played in Russia so far but we had an offer to play in Belarus. It didn't work out and I really don't know the reason why. Time will tell. I believe that Russia is a great market, they now have problems to solve somehow and for sure we would love to play some shows there, cause I think people like rock'n'roll music.
MetalKings.com: OK, Leo, thank you very much for the interview. It was really a dream come true!
Leo: That was a pleasure for me as well. Thank you!
In addition to this monster of an interview, Dead Ripper managed to talk with the other guitarist of Gotthard, Mandy Mayer, but the Jaded Heart soundcheck was so loud that the following is the only fragment of the conversation that survived…
MetalKings.com: Tell me about your career.
Mandy: Well, I started with Krokus, then I went to Cobra and later joined Gotthard which I knew through their manager.
MetalKings.com: How many albums did you record with Krokus?
Mandy: I didn't record any albums with Krokus, it was just my start in music. Basically, I did a tour with them, the Hardware tour and then I went to America, toured there and then I left and did a bunch of music projects like Cobra, Katmandu, Asia and a project with Patrick Moraz who was a keyboarder of Yes. I was also in the Stevie Morse band in America.
MetalKings.com: Why did Katamandu make only one album?
Mandy: I think it was the problem with contract. The record company wanted us to do only one album and probably they were interested in more but the band went aside.
MetalKings.com: How did you like working with Dave King (singer of Katmandu)?
Mandy: Dave is nice, I like working with him.
MetalKings.com: And how did you end up in Gotthard?
Mandy: Oh, it was Chris von Rohr, he was the bass player of Krokus, I'd known him for a long time and he invited me here.
MetalKings.com: What's your opinion about bootlegs?
Mandy: OK, I think it's OK if the bootlegs are for private use but when they start to sell it I don't like it. If it's for friends that's nice but if people make money out of it the thing should be stopped. Sorry, but they beat the drums so loud that I think we have to stop...
MetalKings.com: OK, thank you anyway. It was really nice!
Mandy: Thank you!
-- Dead Reaper, MetalKings.com
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