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Gotthard and Krokus are the most popular hard rock bands from Zwitsterland. What is less known to the general public is thealso Swiss outfit China. Their self-titled debut under the AOR connoisseurs still a much sought after item. With the comeback album 'Light Up The Dark' soon to be on the shelves, the band tried to create a melodic sound with a modern approach and put it on record. Lords Of Metal taked about it with singer Eric St Michael and guitarist Claudio Matteo.

By: Guus | Archive under hardrock / aor

Congratulations on the new album 'Light Up The Dark'. It's been a long time we heard something about the band after the release of 'Natural Groove' in 1995. What happened the last fifteen years? You took a break or what?
Yes, we had a long break with China and some of us started several acoustic projects. I started with Marc Storace and Brian Kofmehl the trio called Acoustical Mountain, this was a fun project without ambition for a CD, mostly cover songs with some of our own tracks from China and Krokus. The trio was around for many years all over Switzerland. In the year 2000 we came back with China and did a small revisited tour but again without ambition for new tracks. There were only ten Shows we did for fun. After that we all went separate ways…

Alright, over to the very first start in 1988. Most of our readers don't know that your debut was a real classic for the AOR fans. What was the main reason it became so popular?
The first China album called 'China' was a really fresh and spontaneous record, like always the first record there is nothing to compare with, we had this revolution vibe going on which made us write great songs. We had also a major label at our back for strong support worldwide. Money was never a question so it allowed us to really work professionally.

'Light Up The Dark', the new album, recently was released on Metal Heaven. Why did the band choose that particular label? Was it the only option perhaps, and how did you get in touch
Today the label situation is totally different than 20 years ago. This time we worked only with people who like our music. Metal Heaven was from the beginning really interested in working with us for a European release. After releasing the record first in Switzerland because of the many show requests in 2010 we decided to work with Metal Heaven for Europe also because they have pretty much our style of music in there catalog. On the Europe edition we have now three bonus tracks on it just to stand out a little from the Swiss release of LUTD.

Three songs were also on the track list of the 'Very Best Of' compilation from 2008. What did you decide to move these tracks over to 'Light Up The Dark'?
Those three songs were the first three we wrote after the reunion and the versions on the “very best off” were only demo versions. It was clear from the beginning that we wanted to re-record them and put them on the new record. Those three songs are not the three bonus tracks on 'LUTD'.

Can you tell us what the main difference between 'LUTD' and 'Natural Groove (1995). What is so special and makes it a milestone? And do you think you can reach other interested music fans with the new release?
In 1995 all the grunge bands came alive like Sound garden, Nirvana, Pearl Jam and with 'Natural Groove' we also tried to jump on that train which makes you always look like a bad copy. The singer Doug McCowan was also a different guy who left the band right after a little tour. 'LUTD' is more a back to the roots and honest album with some updated sounds and composing. We had again this revolution feeling like on the first record and we did not care too much about what was going on around us. Only the good vibe and energy of the band made it happen. After a fifteen year break we kind of started again from zero, for us LUTD is already a milestone and the feedback we've gotten so far seems to prove that also with new fans.

I myself filtered out one remarkable song of the album and that is 'Gates Of Heaven'. For whom was this song written, and is it your favourite too?
Yes, 'Gates Of Heaven' is also one of our favorite songs, but we love also some of the heavy songs! Eric came up with the idea and after we all work on it including Chris Johnson. It's mainly a song for anyone who has lost someone and hopes to see them again.

The writing process for the lyrics and the music, did you do that as a team or is someone dedicated to do that job. Is there a reason for that?
In the band we are almost all song writers, on 'LUTD' I came up with a lot of the riffs and cords, in the end it needs the whole band to make it happen. If the band is exited for a new idea it does not matter who came up with the riff, important for us is that everyone likes it, that's the only way to make the sound come across well. For the lyrics and story we really trust in Eric, as an American guy I don't think he needs any help, we support him when it comes to melodies. We also check every new song live to see how the feedback is from the crowd.

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Talking about others involved on 'Light Up The Dark'. Claudio is the only original member in the band. How did the others join the band, and what is their background?
No one of the original guys was available for the reunion, Freddy Scherer with Gotthard, John Dommen quit playing drums eighteen years ago and also the singers of the first two records are not anymore into making music. Beat Kofmehl played bass on all the China records but he did not join the band at that time because he had his own band "Killer". Eric is also an original member from 1989 and sang on the 3rd CD 'Go All The Way' before that we also did a live record with him. Billy La Pietra is a American guy living in Switzerland and playing in several coverbands, Mack Schildknecht is a good friend of ours with that young edge playing in bands like Asskick and Adrenaline 101, he was not really happy with those bands so he joined us in the effort to rebuild the band.

Let me ask something about the production and mixing. Two expensive Americans were responsible (Chris Johnson and Michael Parnin). Why especially them and not somebody from Europe? Aren't they not much cheaper? Do you think that they improved the sound you wanted and hoped?
Chris and Michael are two close friends of Eric's from past projects. After asking them to come to Switzerland for a China album they were really exited about it. We also wanted to make sure we had an international sound going on the record and this was mostly impossible to do on your own. A producer has to start working where the horizon of the band is and exactly that happen with this guys. Also the big experience thy brought into the band only helped us and yes they improved the sound we wanted with an American touch.

And why was it not an option do to the production job yourself? I mean, I guess you have a lot of experience yourself in a studio environment?
I personally don't think it is a good idea to produce on your own. It is always good to have another opinion from professional outsiders. We did the demos on our own but for the real thing I don't think so. We are also used to working like this and almost everyone has home-recording stuff but to make it sound real you have to crank up the amps especially for rock music. I think that's the way for any rock band, sure if you do pop music all electronic you can do it on your own at home.

Are you still satisfied about the end result after the album was put out, or would you do some things different next time?
We are all still exited about it. This record shows the soul of the band right now and we hope people feel that to. Doing a record is like painting a picture; you can always put some more color on it, so the big deal is knowing when to stop.

Something about the artwork of the new album. It is pure and simple. It is a black and white photo with the bandmembers. Can you give your comment about why you guys kept it so sober?
We had many changes in the past with musicians, so we decided to put a picture on the cover so people could see right away who is in the band. The cover fits also to the music; it is sober, honest and simple. It shows also some tough and dark sides of the band. Like 'Deadly Sweet' and 'Trapped In The City' but all in all we did not want to reinvent the wheel again. We are just a simple rock n' roll band.

A personal question for you. What means rockmusic to you nowadays and to what bands do you listen to these days that truly inspire you? And are there maybe morworthwhile things in live that inspire you ?
We still love bands like AC/DC, Led Zeppelin, Bon Jovi, Van Halen. But we truly like also bands like Nickelback, Daughtry, Disturbed and Chickenfoot. In the early days rock music played just a few bands and Iron Maiden and Judas Priest were already underground heavy metal. Today those bands are in comparison with the new metal bands almost crossover. Personally I think the development of rock music is amazing and one thing is clear, rock never dies!

Is there a possibility you will be able to play your new stuff live in the nearby future? Are there plans already to tour or to support a major band?
We try to play as much as we can and we would love to have a decent tour with some major bands but I think this is going to be difficult for us. We've gotten some requests from Germany, Portugal, Austria and Norway but they're all just single shows. If somebody offers us a tour we will check it out but at the same time we have families with kids so we can't just run away and do a big tour without getting a bigger tour bus. But you never know what happens. If the radio starts to play our songs and we end up with a hit things change…:;o) Basically we really love what we do and hope to get some more shows….

To wrap up this interview. I want to ask you if you have something to add or just have a shout to our readers !
I hope the readers of Lords Of Metal will listen to our record not only once but twice and turn up the volume! And last but not least, I hope you buy the record!

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