Gotthard (Steve Lee)
It's hard, very hard. We have lost a great voice, I lost a friend, we all have lost such a great man, sincere, sensitive and an humble one. Dear Steve, after the ugly accident occured last August in Florence, you said that an Angel looked for you from the sky... and now you become that Angel.

Dear readers, I want to do share personal greetings also trhough SpazioRock, publishing a brand new interview and maybe the last interview by the singer. Certainly the last where Steve talks not only about music, he tried to tell the man behind the rock star, wit all its limitations, passions, hopes and disappointments.

Stefan Lee – that’s his real name – has always had what we’d all simply call “X-factor”, a skill that is born with you, that you carry in your heart and soul and that you can only find and then exercise, but you cannot create it. Steve was born in Zurich on August 5, 1963, he perfectly speaks Italian, English, French and German, he approaches music thanks to an instrument: drums. Yet, soon enough he finds out he has an amazing voice, with which he builds up, step after step, the ladder that will take him to the Olympus of Rock and together with him… Gotthard!
In 1987 he starts his own adventure in “Forsale”, and in 1992 he founds “Krak” with Leo, Marc and Hena… a band that, under the protective aegis of Chris Von Rohr of Krokus, would soon change its name into… Gotthard. I won’t tell you anything more about Steve and his world because all we need to know he will tell us himself, in the interview you are about to read…

Interview by Gaetano Loffredo
Pics by Donatella Lomma
English Translation by Elisa Bonora
Article by Gaetano Loffredo - Publish on: 07/10/10

Steve Lee, not everybody knows that your real first name is Stefan... how did you choose the nickname Steve? Did it sound better?
Well, actually on my passport the name is Stefan, but back when I was in primary school everyone called me Steve (my parents too, after all) and bit by bit it became my official name. As far as I’m concerned, “Steve” goes better with “Lee” which is my real surname.


Let’s start from the old days and a curiosity: not everybody knows that Steve Lee, before becoming the singer we all know now, was and still is fond of minerals. More than once you dragged your father to search for quartz on the Gotthard, and some time ago you even left for an adventure together with the experts Franz Von Arx and Paul Von Känel. Would you like to tell us something more about this experience and your memories with your dad?


Minerals have always fascinated me! At an early age I started to acknowledge the beauties that nature offers us... The search for minerals, along with wonderful mountain hikes, were often included in my free time schedule. Since I was too young to go alone, my father felt he was “forced” to join me. Since we were so close (about 1-hour drive from home) to a mountain (Gotthard) which is famous for its quartz, we obviously went there often!
The experience with the two crystal prospectors Franz and Paul was among the most exciting ones of my life. They invited me in the mine that they digged by working for more than 10 years, about 20 metres long, to witness the digging out of the biggest quartz crystal ever found in Switzerland (more than 1 metre in height!). It was like entering Ali Baba’s cave, so much it was shining! Really exciting...


gotthardlugano2010_04_600Then you even worked as goldsmith for ten long years, right?


Yes, it’s true. I think the decision to work as goldsmith also comes from my love for minerals and precious stones. I’ve always loved shaping and creating objects with my own hands (I still do, with the hobby of bonsai). Goldsmith’s art proved to be very satisfying to me and it’s a fascinating job, but music took over with time!


Beside minerals and bonsai, do you have more hobbies that don’t belong to the world of music and that you are able to practice when you’re not on tour or in the studio?


Life is too short and interesting to be wasted! That’s why I am always looking for time (maybe the most precious thing we have, as far as I’m concerned, at least!) for my hobbies! For example bonsai, like I said before, which keeps you in touch with nature and its phases that you have to respect. Then sailing, which I discovered only recently, but I took classes and got the licence... the best way for me to relax! I love doing sport (jogging, gym and swimming in general) to keep fit! With the passing of time, I’m more and more fond of eating up the miles with my Harley Davidson, which can almost be considered as Lee’s umpteenth hobby!


When you were 12 you started playing keyboards, that you went on with drums and finally vocals. When did you decide to spend your musical life exclusively working on your wonderful voice?


Things pushed me to that direction! Our singer had decided to quit, and our band (“Forsale”) was booked for an important show as opening band to “Marillion” in Locarno’s main square, Piazza Grande. I think it was July 1987, and since I was already doing backing vocals everyone pushed me to take up the new role of lead vocalist! But my love for drums is still haunting me today, and you can see it because I cannot stand still without moving some of my limbs in time!


Are you self-taught or did you attend specific classes?


As a drummer I did, I went to a music school etc... But with my voice, I can say I’m self-taught! I think most of my vocal training was done in the hours I spent singing on my motorcycle and in my spare time with my old friend Flavio (who was the above mentioned singer of the first lineup of “Forsale”), who also took part in some recording sessions as backing vocalist also in the CDs of Gotthard!


Are you still working on your voice after all these years? If so, how do you try to improve?


Of course, trying to evolve and improve is very important. The body changes with the years, and the voice too! Today I find a clear improvement in the quality of my voice, most of all thanks to my 20-year experience with my career but also to vocal exercises and warm-up that I overlooked initially... Ignorance is bliss! Luckily I didn’t ruin my vocal cords back then!


Nowadays, which instruments would you play if you had time?

Guitar, even if I don’t think I can become a great guitar player, but the way I play it is enough to compose new music! At the moment I enjoy playing Didgeridoo (Australian instrument of the aborigine) that helps develop the breathing technique.


In 1987 you met Leo Leoni with whom you founded Krak, which then became Gotthard. Do you remember how you met Leo and which your first expectations were?


I especially remember an euphoric Leo who wanted to conquer the world! Instead, I was already very much disappointed by promises from the record industry and its “vultures” greedy for money (the musician’s money, to be clear). It was him who gave me new strength and willingness to try again.

gotthardlugano2010_11_600It took five years to release your debut album that launched you in the orbit of music business. How did you feel when turning from perfect stranger to famous artist in his homeland and then also abroad?

 


It was a gradual process, so I almost didn’t realize I was becoming famous! In this job you’re too busy writing, doing concerts, doing interviews... being creative always... you don’t have time to be aware of other things that don’t matter much anyway. I mean, I’ve never been a musican to become famous (which is probably the n.1 factor for almost all the young candidate singers, or so it seems!).
Being famous is not really a burden for me, actually when people are polite and respectful I even enjoy getting compliments and talking a while.


Today, 22 years after you met Leo, is there anything you would correct in your career, or would you do everything just the same way?


Of course, some mistakes were hard to put behind, but they were helpful to make the band grow. I think I would walk more or less the same path!


The life of a rockstar is filled with honour but also with all kinds of duties. One of them is the sacrifice of one’s private life, maybe that’s why you came to divorce with Karin, your ex wife. To what extent did this affect the course of your career?


Unfortunately the price to be paid is often high! I tried to match the two things, but being away from home for months took its toll. Private life and life as a “rockstar” don’t go well together and collide sooner or later!
My career was not affected so much, on the contrary... some lyrics and musical ideas were even born from this experience (which I wouldn’t wish to anyone, anyway) that is part of life.


gotthardlugano2010_05_600And today, how is the love life of the man who was elected the sexiest Swiss last year?


It’s going well, thanks. I found a balance and I’m happily in love with my partner Brigitte who supports me in all of my activities (not only professional ones)!


Back to music now Steve, you have met so many rock stars in these years during your tours... is there anyone who particularly impressed you, in a positive way?


I especially remember Ian Gillan (vocals in Deep Purple) being very kind the first time we played as opening band in 1996, he said “feel free to play the cover of “Hush”... I like your version more than ours!”. That is still one of the best compliments I ever got! Idols of the past, I’ve met many and luckily they have all been kind... maybe Bon Jovi went over the top with his “quarantine”, he wanted everybody in the backstage to disappear while the band approached the stage... huh?!!


And I ask you, is there anyone who didn’t meet your expectations instead? If so, who and why?


No, nobody in particular, I think the real stars must not hide behind strange claims or twisted images of their own ego.


Rainbow – Rising, one of your favourite albums, was the one who changed the history of rock. Were there, after Rising, any albums that equally drew your attention? Which album would you advice today to a boy who has just begun listening to hard rock?


Of course... many! Surely, with the years the tastes and ways to listen to the albums change (especially if you make music as a job...)! Among my favourites there are CDs dealing with serious issues like for example “Queensryche - Operation Mindcrime” or the legendary “Dark side of the moon” by “Pink Foyd”... but they’re too many to be listed!
To the young I would advice to listen to everything from blues to punk rock of the past, and to get a wide picture of music... that is, a personal hit list of favourite albums, without necessarily stick to the fashion imposed by the “majors” and the various “field experts”!!. Anyway, a modern album that I would advice is “Black Bird” by “Alter Bridge”, which is really a blast!


Even now, after your success as a musician, do you need to believe in something? If so, what?


Like the song says, in positiveness and the positive side of people! In the fact that things can be changed if everyone is committed and believe in what they do. Pessimism has never been rewarding!


Which piece of advice can you give to all the young guys who are trying to become the new Steve Lee? What, or who, do you think they need to believe in?


Most of all in themselves! They must love the work they do and do it with passion, with their body and soul!
A school music surely helps in the path to become a professional, but the pleasure in making music is essential.
Another piece of advice is not being in a hurry and sign record contracts without having talked to experts in the field (you often end up paying a high price for success...)!


Last question, Steve: the year that has just passed was filled with satisfaction for Gotthard, the beautiful Need To Believe and so many concerts. What awaits for us in 2010? Can you tell something in advance to the die-hard supporters around the world?


Surely a second leg of the tour!
Scandinavia in February, Russia shortly after, then on with summer festivals here and there on this planet! Of course, the songwriting for the next albums will be there too… but this is another story!


Ok Steve, thank you for your time, that’s all and I give you the chance to say hello to your very warm fans…


Thanks to you Gaetano and thanks to all the fans for keeping Rock n’ Roll alive with their support! May it keep on burning for long and warm our spirit!


Cheers, Steve Lee & Gaetano Loffredo




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