Interview with a BONFIRE - CLAUS LESSMAN - August 2004 - Chris Galea


The German metal scene has always been a fortress of melodic Power-Metal. One proof of this is the popularity of predominantly power-metal festivals that attract thousands each year. Another is the fact that several English 1980’s metal bands are being revived, quite ironically, within this territory.

Unlike the myriad of European power-metal bands who have called it a day over the last 2 decades, BONFIRE’s consistency and refusal to over-indulge in technical complexities seem to have paid off. 18 years and 10 studio albums after their debut’s release, this german band still rocks. In this telephone interview vocalist / founding member Claus Lessman talks about reviving the band’s past while keeping in touch with the times.

(A brief note for the reader: a disturbed phone line limited our communication during the interview. Although I have done my utmost to remain faithful to Claus’ responses, there may be some slight anomalies between his exact wordings and what follows…..)

Keeping Rock Alive

Chris: So what are BONFIRE doing right now?

Claus: Right now we’re playing festivals…..and also enjoying the summer, which has not even arrived yet.

Of course, much of a band’s success today depends on the band’s ‘live activity’, not simply for monetary remuneration but also since it offers opportunities to get in physical contact with fans and potential fans. I ask Claus whether he finds it difficult to incite audiences at such events.

Claus: It’s very easy I think, because nowadays - in the days of Techno and Hip-Hop (involving heavy use of sampling – C.G.) - the crowd seems to have discovered a renewed hunger for live Rock’n’Roll again. So we don`t find it difficult to get the crowd excited.

And then there was Bonfire…..

BONFIRE’s first album, “Don’t Touch The Light”, saw the light (excuse my pun!) in the pre-C.D. era of 1986 . This was a collection of 10 blistering anthems, occasionally reminiscent of compatriots Helloween but with somewhat more ‘traditional’ themes. Of course their trademark vocal harmonies and Claus’s unmistakable voice would feature in subsequent releases. But the band’s roots actually go back further, back to the distant 1981 when they were still called CACUMEN and actually did a number of recordings under this name. Strange how these elusive albums took 2 decades to be available.

Claus: A lot of fans were asking us to release the old stuff, but we always had problems because the songs and the rights for the songs were still subject to the old contract and owned by the old record company. And so we had to wait and wait and wait…….and eventually after 20 years we were allowed to do it.

We’ve waited too long now to wait even another year (to release them) and told ourselves let’s do it now or never, so we released them. And it was really great fun going into the studio and remastering the old stuff.

Chris: And what do you remember of those days, 2 decades ago, when you originally recorded the songs?

Claus: Ah yes, a lot of things! A lot of things come out into our minds again when in the studio. We also realised that the production of the old record was very similar to how bands produce records nowadays. In fact some songs sounded as if they had been recorded just a couple of years ago.

Chris: How do you think the Rock / Metal scene in general has changed since then?

Claus: I think that now there are lot more musicians from all over the world. When we started out there were not so many bands as nowadays. So when a kid starts playing guitar, for example, he can find excellent teachers today. In our case, we had had a hard time finding good teachers to take guitar lessons so most of the stuff we had to learn by ourselves. And I think this is a big difference between then and now.

"I would advise the young bands to save some money for a good lawyer, instead of buying too many strings and drumkits."

A glance at BONFIRE’s repertoire seems to implicitly suggest that the band has been continuously aware of its roots. There are the ‘retrospective’ songs balanced by melodic rock anthems, and it’s not the first time that a song in their native German language is thrown in. Then there are a few ‘politically correct’ songs. One such example is ‘Thumbs Up For Europe’ (from “Fuel for The Flames” - 1999) that beckons a united European Union. Does Claus think that the E.U. reality has affected him as a musician?

Claus: No, I don’t think so. However I think that a united Europe will be a very good thing. After all it has always a very hard time for anybody who wants to do something, but especially for the less proactive people who are content with just waiting for opportunities. So basically I think the E.U. is good for our children.

In spite of this we must not forget or deny our individual cultures, as a result of abating national boundaries. Countries such as Germany, Italy and others, have started their own (cultural) traditions which each should continue to be proud of.

Chris: So the E.U. bears both risks and positive aspects, right?

Claus: Yes - as anything else after all. Where there is light there is shadow as well!

Chris: The most recent BONFIRE studio recording, “Fire”, was received with mixed criticism. It seems some critics expected a heavier album. What are your comments on this regard?

Claus: Well, we never know how things are going to turn out when entering a studio. We just start writing songs and things develop by themselves. Besides I think it is part of the freedom of a musician and of an artist to do what he wants to do. It’s very difficult to please everybody. So we had said let’s do this album, and the band liked it as it turned out. If there is some criticism about it, that’s O.K., that’s all right and fair. Maybe the next album shall be harder again….

Claus gives further details on the forthcoming BONFIRE C.D…..

Claus: The songwriting should start in October and maybe we’ll enter a recording studio in January (2005). It will be out, I think, in March or April of next year.

Chris: Are BONFIRE’s songs reflections of personal experiences or are they a means escape from everyday routine and problems?

Claus: Well, I think it’s a mixture of both. Most of the songs are based on personal experiences, but it’s very likely that listeners can associate themselves with some of them and feel more optimistic as a result.

Playing with fire

Chris: I was honestly impressed by your very original band web-site (www.bonfire.de). Could you talk to me about it…..for example about who runs it is, and especially about that “Rock ‘N’ Roll Cowboy” game that there is?

(Click ‘Competition’ from the site’s menu.)

Claus: (laughs) The website was designed by an English guy who is an old fan of BONFIRE. He had met us while we were on tour in England the 1980’s. We met coincidently and he said; “Hey guys, what do you think about having a good website – I’m a website designer.” So he worked together with us to create this new website which was nominated for the Echo in Germany which is a very prestigious award.

Echos are annual awards related to direct marketing, and given in various categories.

Claus: The game was actually based on something funny in real life. When we toured the United States it was always like that game. You never knew if we were going to make it to the show on time or not. And since many fan members seem to ride motorcycles we thought it would be a good idea to feature the bikes in the game.

Beware troubled waters

As Claus suggested earlier in the interview, there are several young bands striving to make themselves heard. As a veteran rock musician, what advice could he offer them? (His reply seems laced with bitterness…….)

Claus: I would advise the young bands to save some money for a good lawyer, instead of buying too many strings and drumkits. There are so many sharks out there ready to rip them off, so they will definitely need this money.

--Chris Galea - luciferlament@yahoo.com

Claus LessmanMetalKnight8/26/2004


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