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Crystal Ball: Fake tattoos and real chemistry

We had to wait a full six years for their return and now the Swiss band Crystal Ball is back. Along with a new singer, there have been line-up changes on the bass and the guitar. On their European tour with The Poodles, founding member Scott Leach was available to answer questions and introduced the three new members to us. Moreover, he talked about marketing strategies and the real chemistry within the band.

You have been on the road with The Poodles and Kirk for three days now. How has it been so far, audience-wise etc.?
Pretty good. The first club we played at was in Italy; it was quite small but packed with people. The second club was a little bigger, so it wasn’t completely packed but the feedback we got so far has been good. We are happy and our music has seemingly been well received by the audience. Being on tour with The Poodles and Kirk is a good package deal.

Yes, you’re an excellent match!
Yes, exactly. We and The Poodles in particular. Kirk are a bit more progressive.

How did it happen that they are part of the tour? Did the label make this decision?
Yes and no! We were just looking for a third band to join in. They were interested because they just released an album. So it was matching our schedule and besides, it doesn’t need to the same kind of music. Since there will be many The Poodles fans at the shows, we are a perfect match.

After an extended abstinence of six years, you decided to bring Crystal Ball back to life. How did you make that decision and why didn’t you choose a different name?
For obvious reasons. It would have been much harder to start up again under a different name. Even though we were away for some years, many people are still familiar with our name. Thus, it is some kind of sales booster because back then, we did not sell an inconsiderable number of records. So it is much easier for us to follow up on that. Besides, Marcel and I are the founding members of Crystal Ball. Therefore, it’s legitimate what we did and the other members left the band voluntarily; no-one was kicked out. So why not keep the name?

You and Marcel are the only founding members left. Was there ever the option that Mark Sweeney would join in again or was it clear from the start that you were going to look for a new singer?
No, that was out of the question. Actually, he left us only in 2010. We wanted to start up again already back then but the sparks just wouldn’t fly; there was no chemistry, so working together was not an option anymore. So when he left, we knew we needed a new singer. This wasn’t too bad for us though, we took it as a new challenge.

How did you find Steven? Did you know each other before or did he apply for the singer position? What did he have what other singers didn’t have?
We were looking for a singer for a long time; for almost two years. Dozens of people auditioned for the job. In addition to the voice, technique and sound, the chemistry has to be right. That is crucial! With him, the chemistry was right because he has a similar history than we do and he is just on the same wavelength with us. We had almost given up hope and then we got in touch on Facebook by chance. The reason why we got in touch was not because of the singer position. Then I learnt about his history and at the time, he was playing with Jürgen Blackmore, who is Ritchie Blackmore’s son. I saw one of their videos and I thought it sounded pretty good. Then I went to see them live to find out whether I was not mistaken (laughs). I was also impressed with this, so I invited him over for a session and studio recordings. Everything happened very quickly and easily.

But he still lives in Germany, doesn’t he?
Yes, he does. He lives in Unterthal.

So this doesn’t cause any problems when you have to meet up for rehearsals? Or do you arrange everything via Internet?
What shall I say; of course, it would be easier if he lived nearby. However, the situation is manageable.

So he comes over for the weekend and then you rehearse intensively, or how does it take place?
Yes, exactly. If he were our drummer, this wouldn’t work. However, we as a band can rehearse together, and he rehearses his part at home with the music and then he comes over to sing with us. We can rehearse without him every week. He only comes over before the gigs. He can just go on a plane and doesn’t have to bring anything along since his voice is all he needs.

Yes, this is convenient. You probably think that this blows because you can’t do that as a guitar player (laughs).
(laughs) Yes, in this regard being a guitar player blows. However, this also involves a financial input. On the other hand, nowadays flights are not that expensive anymore. €150 once a month is tolerable.

Besides, he can stay with you guys, so he doesn’t have to pay for a hotel!
Yes, exactly. It’s not that we hate each other (laughs).

Oh, you don’t? I figured that would work best within a band (laughs).
This probably goes for the famous ones then (laughs). But no, we take care of the song writing, have rehearsals or sometimes even go out.

Did you write all the songs together or was this mainly your responsibility?
About half of the songs were written before Steven joined the band. However, we did revise the songs with him so the vocal lines are matched to his voice. In some cases, I did it but we also wanted that he makes his contribution and he didn’t need to follow any guidelines. The other half of the songs was the result of cooperation within the band. Most of the basic ideas are mine but everyone can make their unique contribution.

So you wrote the music and the lyrics?
Partly. I wrote the lyrics for maybe seven or eight songs. There are two or three songs that were written by an independent writer; someone Steven knows very well. We wrote the other songs together. At first, we just recorded “lalala” and then we started writing the lyrics.

Personally, what do you find easier – writing music or writing lyrics?
I would say that I find writing music easier but sometimes there is a topic that just gives me a flow of ideas. Maybe it requires a bit more effort because I’ve been doing the music thing for much longer and I don’t write lyrics every day. And when it comes down to it, English is still a foreign language to me. Even if I’m an advanced speaker, it’s not as easy to express myself than it is with music, simply because I’m more experienced in writing music.

How does Steven feel about that?
He would probably agree. English is also a foreign language to him.

I was just wondering because of his name. But you all got these nice stage names.
Well, yes but Steven is his real name. However, I don’t think that his name comes from an English-speaking region, it might actually come from the Netherlands. But I’m not entirely sure.

How about you?
Well, Scott Leach is not my real name; I picked it out years ago. I used to know someone who called himself Leach, but it had a different spelling. For some reason I thought this sounds American, so I adopted it. The reason for this is the show business. When you’re looking for a singer, and you publish an advertisement and you sign it with Heiri Müller, no-one will care. If you sign is with Scott Leach, dozens of people will call you. This might sound crazy but it’s because they think an English name is something better.

Maybe this is also a way of protecting one’s privacy here in Switzerland?
Yes, it is one of the reasons. But then again, in the Facebook age, it doesn’t really matter much. At least we don’t have people waiting for us in front of our doorstep. And we are not that famous that we get overrun by our fans. Anyway, there are always some crazy ones out there, so using a stage name gives you some kind of protection.

How about your new bass player and guitar player? How did they find their way into the band?
Well, at first Markus Flury was our bass player since we didn’t have one anymore. I knew him from Charing Cross. After a few months, it happened that our old guitar player could not play with us any longer due to lack of time. We really wanted to take-off with our new singer and since he was playing in other bands as well, we told him that he had to make a decision. But he couldn’t really decide. So we had to tell him that we would start looking for someone who could make up his mind. Instead of looking for someone new, Markus became the new guitar player – which was also his wish because he actually is a guitar player as well. At the same time, I met Cris. I knew he was a bass player and I asked him whether he was interested in playing a session with us and so it all came together.

But what made you think that someone who is playing in Stoneman could be a match for Crystal Ball?
I met him during one night out and I got the impression that he was a cool dude, and also a very nice one. He just made a reliable impression on me. For this reason, I figured I should invite him over and see how it goes. He might have other musical preferences but that doesn’t matter as long as he likes what we are doing and he sees that something is going on with us, so it’s a good match. Therefore, the fact that he was with Stoneman wasn’t an obstacle for me and he actually isn’t in the band anymore.

Did he give up Stoneman for you?
No, that decision was made within Stoneman. I’m not unhappy about the decision but I would have never said to him that he couldn’t play with them any longer.

I think that anyhow, the two bands might have gotten in each other’s way sooner or later.
Yes, I think so too. But this also depends on what is going to happen with them now but I don’t really care! The chemistry within our band is like a new beginning and it’s a perfect match. It’s enthusiastic and fresh, but not as fresh as within a newcomer band that has no idea about what’s going on. We are on a high level but the fun is still there.

On 29 November, you released your new album “Dawnbreaker”. From what I have read so far, the album has received very good reviews. How did your fans receive your new album and how well do they receive your new singer?
So far, we have gotten only positive feedback. Of course, there are people who don’t like it but they wouldn’t tell me that. Many people say that it sounds great – back then, it was alright but now it’s terrific!

I still remember you from the old days. Therefore, it is kinda strange for me to listen to the old songs that are now sung by Steven because in part, they sound completely different than with Mark.
Of course, I see this from a different perspective, so to me it’s not that different. There is a difference but I like it better the way it sounds now.

At your record release party in Lucerne, you had a tattoo artist on-site who was ready to tattoo your fans with the Crystal Ball logo. How many of them got an actual tattoo and how many got only a fake one?
Two of them got a real tattoo.

I see. And they were your girlfriends?
(laughs) No, one of them was from our crew but there was also one fan who had one done.

This is quite impressive if someone does this for you and your band, isn’t it?
Yes, in a way it is.

How would someone get this kind of an idea who is barely tattooed or doesn’t even have any tattoos at all?
I have none! For two reasons: First of all, the Facebook age. People are exhibitionists. I see what people show of themselves, how they present themselves. Then I thought to myself, why not do something like this if people like to show off. This was more than an illuminating thought. I had never really thought about it this way and then I started googling. There are temporary tribal tattoos for children and so forth. There are big companies that offer this as a publicity gag but I have never seen this done by a band.

Is this an item that is being ordered often from your web shop?
Well, the shop has only been open for two weeks now. I’m hoping that this will attract more buyers but maybe not many people know yet that they can order the tattoos from there. But we do distribute them at our gigs – free of charge. So we still have many in store. You can also order them from info@crystal-ball.ch. They will be then sent to the buyer.

With your single “Eternal Flame”, you applied to the preliminary selection for the Eurovision Song Contest. Unfortunately, you didn’t make it to the next round. Actually, it is well known that Switzerland does not have one bit of a chance at the ESC. What do you get out of participating in this contest anyway?
I received the final version of our video and I believe it was on the following day, when I read somewhere on the Internet that the closing date for applications was still one week away. So I had this illuminating thought. Every kind of promotion is good. Here [in Switzerland] it can be expected that your music will never be played on the radio or on television. I never thought that we would actually win or be sent to Denmark. I just thought it would be great to get into the finals for Switzerland, which is being broadcasted on a Saturday night. Half a million people see you there and then know who you are. And I also figured that we would maybe have some kind of an exotic status. But then this voting took place where nobody understood how it actually worked. We never knew how many votes a contestant actually got and half of the decision was made by the TV people. The truth be told, the TV people made the decision. If this was a smart move remains to be seen. I have my doubts anyway (laughs). For us, the show would have been an opportunity. But we are not sad. We didn’t live to be in this show and it was never our goal. It would have been something we would have taken with us on our journey. We don’t have to apologize for that. Making Rock’n’Roll music means to do whatever you want to do and everyone else can kiss our asses. And if we decide to participate in such a contest and there are other rock bands that think this sucks, they can kiss our asses as well. We just promote ourselves, and thus increase our degree of familiarity.

Lordi also participated in the contest and they even won. In Switzerland, it doesn’t matter what you do, you will be worn down if you participate in the ESC or just want to participate.
Well, we didn’t want to win. The Poodles also participated, even Wigwam did.

Next May, you are going on tour with Krokus. What else is on your agenda for the upcoming months?
We are just in the process of booking single gigs. We are hoping that we can add one or another festival for the summer. We definitely would like to do something in the fall. I don’t know whether there will be a big tour again; maybe we will go to Sweden again. There are always inquiries coming in. Maybe we would like to travel to regions where we haven’t been before. Maybe there would be the chance to play a few weekend shows in Scandinavia. Time will tell. In the end of this year, we want to focus on writing new songs.

Do you already have any ideas?
I do have a few ideas but we haven’t really gotten started yet. The past three months have been quite busy due to the band promotion. So this has fallen a bit by the wayside.

When are you planning to release a new album?
Mid-2015 is our goal. In spring or summer, it’s hard to tell. We would like to keep up with our rhythm to release an album every 1.5 years.

Alright. Finally, I would like to know if you had one free wish for each of your band mates, what would it be?
Actually, I wish all of them the same thing (laughs). I wish all of us that we will stay together in this constellation – which is very good as it is right now – and that we reach the point where we could make music full-time. This would be my wish and the wish of each of us. I’m not talking about being world famous or filthy rich, but being able to do this as a full-time job.

This is a very good wish and I hereby thank you for the interview.
You’re welcome!

Bandwebsite: www.crystal-ball.ch


Author: Sandy Mahrer, transl. A.Venho, photos: Band
Date: 2014-04-27

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