The term legendary in the music world is a term that is best used to describe a musician that has influenced the industry and has made a lasting impression on their music genre. When it comes to melodic hard rock, there is one vocalist/songwriter that epitomizes the genre and has left a lasting impression on the German and American scene and that is Claus Lessman, former lead vocalist of German greats Bonfire and now lead vocalist for a new juggernaut in Phantom 5. Phantom 5 is comprised of 5 staples of the German melodic hard rock world with members of the greatest bands to come out of the country; Featuring Claus Lessman (former lead vocalist of Bonfire,) Axel Kruse (Mad Max, former drummer of Jaded Heart,) Michael Voss (Mad Max, Demon Drive, Cassanova,) Robby Boebel (Frontline) and Francis Bucholz (former bassist for the Scorpions.) Phantom 5 is set to embark on another venture with the announcement of their 2nd release on Frontiers Records. With the extreme success of Phantom 5’s debut release, it seems that melodic hard rock is still burning bright and the fire has been reignited to even greater status. Rock In The FastLane had the opportunity to sit down with Claus Lessman to find out about the success of the debut album, how this band came together, the future of Phantom 5 and his parting ways with Bonfire after so many years. Here is my conversation with the great Claus Lessman………………..
Rock In The Fastlane: When you guys put together Phantom 5, the German melodic rock, you have a knack for writing great melodic hard rock tunes. If I was to pick 5 German bands and had to pick 5 guys from each, these were the bands that I would pick from. It came together well.
Claus Lessman: Talking about Michael for example, he is one of the outstanding artists, producers, writers; not because he is one of best friends. I have so much respect for him. It is truly an honor to work with him. I want to send a big thank you to Michael and all of the other guys for making this possible. Every guy just did his best.
Claus Lessman: Did you know that there was a vote a couple centuries ago where they were deciding on what language would be the universal and German only lost by a few votes. Could you imagine the rappers rapping in German. LOL. Dr. Dre’ or whatever. Sometimes history does the right moves, sometimes the wrong moves, but most of the time the right one’s. Plus, it sounds a lot cooler in English than it does in German.
Rock In The FastLane: Have you ever been asked to record any songs in German? While you were in Bonfire or at any time?
Claus Lessman: Yes. I think that was back in 95. I was out of Bonfire and Hans was out of Bonfire. I said “I wanna do something different and not what everyone expects.” I suggested that we do some songs in German. The record company liked it, you know and a lot of people said that we were ahead of the times, but it was to early for something like that. It was pop oriented rock with German lyrics. It was pretty cool. It was an experiment, but we went back to singing in English because it just sounds a lot better. Some songs are really cool for example there’s a song called “Rock N Roll Cowboy.” It’s about somebody being on tour and wherever you are you just love the feeling of being on stage with your fans. This song sounds a lot cooler in German. We did an English version, but the original song was written in German and it just sounds a lot more honest. I really like that song. Some people say it sounds strange. It sounds like Claus, but it’s not Claus because he’s singing in German, but it was me. It was some cool stuff. It was fun doing it.
Rock In The FastLane: That’s the most important thing. Having fun doing the music brings out the best in the song.
Claus Lessman: Right. Actually, the first album after Hans and I got together again we released an album called “Feels Like Coming Home.” We released it under Bonfire and there was also a German version of it which contained the original 6 track EP with these songs. Its called “Freudenfeuer” which is the literal translation of Bonfire into German. If you ever get a chance to listen to it, check it out. The English version has a blue cover and the German one has an orange cover which has all of the German songs on it.
Rock In The FastLane: I will definitely listen to it. I try to keep up on everything that you guys are doing. That was honest, when I said that the Phantom 5 album as a supergroup is really one of the best that I have personally ever heard. When I put it on for the first time, I mean, I knew what I was gonna get, but it exceeded that.
Claus Lessman: Thanks for saying that. What do you like to drink? LOL.
Rock In The FastLane: I like beer just like you. LOL.
Claus Lessman: “One Beer Please For Jon!!!!” LOL.
Claus Lessman: Actually, I don’t like that word supergroup. All of these guys are in Phantom 5. When this thing came into being, it was not our idea, it was the idea of the boss of Frontiers Records, Serifino. He was coming up with these words supergroup and stuff like that, and everyone was like, woah!! I don’t wanna use that word. Because it’s always hard without not having written a single note or some lyrics or recorded some songs. You have to deal with words like supergroup or all-star band . It puts a lot of pressure on you and peoples expectations are so high. I think it is there for business people to describe something that is coming up and who is in this project. The band said, “You can use it, but we will never use it.” We are just a bunch of musicians who tried our best to write good songs and to record a nice piece of melodic hard rock. I like the album. I think that we did a really good job with it. If it’s going to be a supergroup someday than I have nothing against it.
Rock In The FastLane: Everything that you did with that album was fantastic. I am a huge fan of melodic metal and ever since I heard Bonfire in 1986 and you guys just have a knack for it. I put the Phantom 5 disc on in the car and it gave me that same experience.
Claus Lessman: Yeah, it does sound great in the car. When you play it in the car, it’s really nice in the car. I like it, I still do. We just started writing songs for the follow up. We got some cool ideas for a couple of songs, so I’m really looking forward to doing that.
Rock In The FastLane: I am glad that you guys are still doing what you do for the fans. It is greatly appreciated.
Claus Lessman: That’s the only thing we can do, you know. I’m not a carpenter, I’m not a butcher, I’m not a baker, I just write some songs. That’s all I can do. If the people like it that’s even better. Especially the Phantom 5 stuff. After the painful split from Bonfire that’s the best thing that could’ve happened to me. Working together with my old friend Michael Voss from back in 1989; that was the first time that we played together and wrote songs together. After 25 years almost, we met again and it was like time was standing still. It was the same thing like 89. Everything came about so naturally. It was so much fun writing and recording the songs. It was the best thing that could happen for me.
Rock In The FastLane: You guys really blended well on the album. Did you and Michael do most of the writing on the album?
Claus Lessman: Together with Robby the 2nd guitar player. I was never used to it, I was only used to Hans writing with me. I had no comparisons. When Robby came up with these huge guitar riffs I said “Wow!” He made me feel like some new-born rock n roller. If you’re together with the same woman for decades you might still love her; there’s always something new in other girls. That doesn’t mean that you don’t love your wife, but it’s interesting and it makes your life more interesting. That was the experience when Robby came up with those riffs. It was just such an inspiration for the melodies and the lyric’s. Most of the songs were written by Robby, Michael and Me.
Rock In The FastLane: Since you did the writing, do you have a favorite song on the album?
Claus Lessman: Well, maybe “Someday,””We Both Had Our Time” and “They Won’t Come Back” are the one’s that stand out for me.
Also, it was interesting, the whole writing process. We decided not to go into a studio or at somebody’s home studio or places we were familiar with. Michael and I went to the Bavarian forest, in the mountains and rented a little house and brought some mobile equipment. We had animals around; there was nothing. It was snowy outside. We had barbecues, nice drinks and nice conversations. Everything came so naturally. Maybe that was one of the reasons the songs sound so fresh like they were; I don’t know, some people say they sound or had the feel like back in the 80’s. That’s what we were talking about a lot at the time. Maybe it was the wilderness. There were so many animals. In the morning they came and said good morning to us. It was really nice. On some songs, you can still hear, because we used a lot of stuff from the mobile recordings, on some songs, on some of the vocal tracks you can still hear some of the animals. I won’t tell on which songs. Some people want to know, but I won’t tell. It was a real good experience and real good memories.
Rock In The FastLane: That’s really neat. It’s probably a lot easier to write with a friend like that too. You opened up all of the freshness and new.
Claus Lessman: The chemistry was right. When you have a friend by your side you can’t go wrong. If you try out melodies and stuff, there is nothing to be embarrassed about. When you write with somebody else, big writers or whatever, sometimes you feel embarrassed because you don’t hit the right notes or the melody is not good enough. That made it a lot easier to work with a friend just be yourself and let yourself go.
Rock In The FastLane: You guys really did put out a great album. If Frontiers is going to do a second one with you guys, I can’t wait.
Claus Lessman: Thank you, again. That’s what they said. We are already working on it, writing, buying drinks already for the winter day’s.
Rock In The FastLane: LOL. That’s a good start right there.
Claus Lessman: Oh, yeah. Its always fun. We cook together, have barbecues. That’s what makes the whole thing interesting. We don’t sit down and say “Ok, Now We Write! Now we are getting serious!” Not getting serious, let’s have fun. That’s also something which was hard, for a German, as I am, back in the 80’s. That experience, the first time we came to the US everybody tried to have fun. We said, “Why are they having fun all the time?” “This is work.” This combination between fun and work was something that was hard to understand for German’s, at that time, 30 years back.
Rock In The FastLane: It seems like everything is a lot more serious here now too. That is just the impression that I get.
Claus Lessman: You might be right. Everyone thinks that if you don’t do it right you won’t get a second chance. I think that’s the wrong way to do it. First thing should be, try to have fun. That is the way the whole thing started. A lot of these rock n rollers they couldn’t play guitar, never had singing lessons, they just did what they did. Now, they think that you have to do it right with the first notes that you sing. If you don’t hit the note right then that’s it for your career, but that’s wrong. Just get out and have fun. If you write a song, it doesn’t have to be complicated, as long as one person likes it, you reached your purpose for the song. That’s the way that I always try to look at it. If I write a song and just reach one person with it. That is the purpose for the song and if it’s more, great. The Beatles started the same way. That’s just the way everybody starts out.
Rock In The FastLane: When you write the songs is the hook what you go for? Is it what you build the song around?
Claus Lessman: Exactly. That’s the way I do it. If it’s not a hook, it’s not a song for me. Sometimes some words come out as well, but the first thing, I think, is the melody. When you go out and listen to a song. Imagine you just heard a song, you try to remember it, you hum it, you whistle it or whatever, you don’t remember the words, but you remember the melody. If the hook is right, the song might be a good one. That’s the way I’ve always felt. If the hook is right then I start working on lyrics and other stuff.
Rock In The FastLane: That says a lot about your career and what you have been able to do. The albums that I’ve heard, the amount of excellent songs that I can remember right now and I know the melody and I know how it goes, over all of those years, that says a lot to the quality of the material that you have written.
Claus Lessman: It’s all stolen. LOL. They have shops here that you can buy them. It’s always hard when you are starting to write songs and new material sometimes you have to write shitty songs as well. You don’t believe in yourself anymore because that’s the way that it is, you have to write shitty songs first to see the difference in what is a good song and what is a bad song. It opens your mind for breaking out in a sense, to where you don’t want to go. That’s a natural process. Sometimes its a real hard way to go. It’s always hard, you know. This is really hard nowadays to write new melodies. There are only a couple of notes and I’m sure everything has been written already. It’s wrapped differently. Like new clothes. A Lot of times you read in the papers that somebody has to own this song and this line from that song. In most cases people don’t do that on purpose. Sometimes people are influenced by these songs and these artists. Somewhere deep in your mind it sleeps. They don’t do it on purpose.
Rock In The FastLane: Remember when I sent you that email and said that I thought the Phantom 5 album was one of the best supergroup albums that I have ever heard and you said “Thanks for the flowers?” I thought that was hysterical. I never heard that before. LOL.
Claus Lessman: That was just literally translated from German to English. That’s what we say in Germany. “Thanks For the Flowers.” Now maybe I will use it in some lyrics. LOL. Nobody will understand, but I think they will get the message. I have an English friend to let him take a look at the lyrics before they are printed for the album. There was one song on the album “Branded” I think, 2011. There was one line in it, translated from German to English sometimes it works and sometimes not. This one said “The Last Shirt has got no pockets.” He said that this doesn’t exist in English. You know that when you die, you can’t take anything with you. He said that there may be some miss understanding or whatever. It’s the same thing as “Thank you for the flowers.” Maybe I should use these lines anyway. No matter what he says.
Rock In The FastLane: When you guys did “Sword and Stone” from the Shocker soundtrack. I know that it was a KISS song. How did that come about? I heard the KISS version of the song and to tell you the truth the Bonfire version blows it away.
Claus Lessman: Thank’s for the flowers again. LOL.
Claus Lessman: I like the song a lot, you know. We were writing with Desmond Child in Los Angeles at that time for the “Point Blank” album. After we recorded the song “Price Of Loving You,” I think it was and we did the mix for the album one evening he called the studio and said that I have this project with Wes Craven for a soundtrack for a movie called “Shocker.” I have this KISS song I think this song would be good for you guys to perform it. If we want to have a listen to it. We said yeah this is a big chance and a big honor for us. So we went to the studio to listen to the song and said “Yeah, we’d love to do it.” So we did it. Pretty cool version. It was a hard time singing for me, because Desmond was standing right next to me when I was singing in the vocal cabinet. He was dancing around. I said “Desmond, can you please do me a favor.” I was really angry then because I couldn’t stand it anymore. “Can you please let me do my job. If you don’t like it, we can stop it now and I go back to the other studio and finish my mix and we won’t be on the Shocker soundtrack.” So he said “Ok” and he went back to the mixing console. He let me do my thing. He wanted me to sing like Bon Jovi and hit all these high notes. That was way to high for me. I could do it the way he wanted it, but it wouldn’t sound like me. Then he said ok. I was fun. LOL.
Desmond Child, he’s not a little writer, he is a big shot and still is. It made me nervous, you know. Plus, he was sweating a lot. LOL. When I’m singing I prefer to be alone, not have someone dancing next to me.
Another funny story was when we met Desmond for the first time. We were in New York writing with some other people in New York. For example, Bob Halligan we wrote “Bang Down the Door” with him. There was this one show at the Cat Club and our manager said that we were going to meet Desmond Child tonight. He asked him if he wants to write with us. When I met him he asked “Why do you guys want to write with me?” He expected to hear something like “Because you are such a great songwriter, you wrote so many hits, Blah Blah Blah.” I told him well, our manager told us that it wouldn’t be such a bad thing to try to write a song with you. I said “To be honest, Desmond, its really nice meeting you and I have a lot of respect, but I actually don’t know if the outcome will be the same as Bon Jovi, Cher and Aerosmith or whoever, doesn’t mean that it is good for Bonfire.” That was something that he was impressed with because he did not expect that. I think that was the reason he decided to spend some time with these German rockers and write a song. Sometimes it was complicated, but in the end it was a good song and good work. It was fun.
Then another story, he was on a diet or something, we were writing the song and we got hungry, he was sitting there in a muscle shirt and uh, so we ordered a pizza. We asked him if he wanted to order something as well. He said “No, I’m not hungry.” When the pizza came he ate a lot of our pizza. LOL. He forgot about his diet, he was always judging his love handles or whatever and it was funny watching him. He was watching us eating pizza and couldn’t resist anymore. That was it for the diet. So many funny things about this big, big writing hero, Desmond Child. He’s a very nice person and it was fun working with him.
Rock In The FastLane: That is a great story.
Actually, stories that maybe I’ve never told them before. It’s not so much private, but this is not a normal interview and just the outcome of a good conversation.
Rock In The FastLane: I like to do it like that. I like to get to know the artist and how these songs are written and whats behind the writing of the songs.
Claus Lessman: That’s exactly the way it is. Sit down and write a song, sometimes it happens that way, but the stories are what make the songs.
Rock In The FastLane: Those were great stories. With such a big time writer like Desmond Child and hearing those stories. Great stuff.
Claus Lessman: I have to laugh to myself because I have not thought about that for 20 years now. The pizza and all that. LOL.
Rock In The FastLane: Out of all of the albums that you have done, what is your favorite, based on how you felt your performance was?
Claus Lessman: That’s a tough one. A lot of people say “Fireworks” is the most outstanding. I must admit that I wasn’t mature enough for “Fireworks.” It’s a good album for me, you know, but the way I sounded and performed on it I wasn’t mature enough. That was at the very beginning of our musical career and I hadn’t been on tour enough. There was something missing. I would say if I would have recorded it in 89 for example that would be the right time for me as a singer. I like the “Knockout” album which was considered to be a flop. A Lot of people said, especially the record company because it didn’t sell enough. They expected bigger because of the big producer Rheinhold Mack. That was a very special person. It was a really good time. I like “Knockout” a lot and the Phantom 5 album. The last one is always the best. I like “Fuel To the Flames” as well. There was maybe one album, the “Free” album for example. It sounded like it was coming out of the garage or something. I think that it has good songs on it, but I think it was the complete wrong way to produce it. I mean, if an album says AC/DC for example and it contains Gloria Estefan for example to make it really extreme. That is not the right thing. If it says AC/DC it should be AC/DC. It was like that with the “Free” album. We produced it in the wrong way. We went the complete wrong direction with that album. We thought it was time for a change and we have to do something new. We should’ve done it the way we always did it. The songs are cool. It sounded, I wouldn’t say shit, but compared to the other albums, but it was a shock to the fans. The fans were saying “What are they doing now?” It sounded more like grunge; let the grunge fans do what they do and let the melodic hard rock fans do what they do. That was a big mistake. We lost our identity with that album. They couldn’t understand where we were heading. I wouldn’t do that again. This would be something that you could do on a solo album or something, but not an album that says Bonfire on it. The fans expect big harmonies, big production, that’s what they’re used to. If it says Bonfire, it should be Bonfire.
Rock In The FastLane: How do you feel the about the music scene now? There are not a lot of bands carrying the torch and working toward the standards that you guys set. The fan base is still there.
Claus Lessman: It’s a tough scene right now. It’s tough for bands starting up. The business changed a lot. The fans are still here even the younger people are listening to hard rock. The business is set to make big bucks right away and not invest any more. The studio scene has almost disappeared. Nobody can afford to go into a big studio. Everyone has a studio at home. Its a big difference. Talking about the atmosphere of rock n roll, who recorded in that studio all of that, the feeling is missing. Its music in general nowadays. For example we went from vinyl to cd’s we lost a lot already. What can we do on a cd cover that we could do on a vinyl cover. It’s a huge difference. No we go to downloads. If you like it you download it and forget it. There is no substance. It’s not worthy anymore. You put thousands into a production, blood sweat and tears, you know. When your finished with the album it’s nothing but dust on a hard disk. That’s the way business people look at it. Then you look at the live scene, only the major artists are selling, the Bon Jovi’s, the Springsteen’s these guys are still filling the stadiums. I can remember before he left this planet, Ronnie James Dio playing in front of 300 people. I was like “What the fuck is this?” This is not the right thing. This is a rock n roll god. Is he not a superstar as Springsteen or Bon Jovi? If you talk about rock music on the radio here in Germany, the only thing that you hear is classic rock, every day the same songs. If it comes down to AC/DC, for example, everyone is a rock fan. Everyone wants to go to the concert, everyone wants tickets. They sell out the stadiums, 60,000 people, twice or three times. Then after the concert is over they don’t want to listen to rock anymore. They don’t call the radio stations and say “Hey, play some more of this shit.” The radio is Germany is horrible. You can’t listen to German radio. People are only interested in the big stars. They don’t listen to the up and comers. They don’t go to the shows in the club, they don’t by the cd. That’s the same thing in the US, I think.
Rock In The FastLane: Yeah, the radio stations here are classic rock as well. Same songs, same format since the 70’s and nothing new. Fans here are the same way, everyone wants to go to the big shows and nothing else.
Claus Lessman: One other thing that I experienced is when we played Rocklahoma and it was the VIP Tickets. This is one of the worst things that I have ever seen. Its big in the US and now over here in Europe. Keeping the fans 100 meters away and sell the contacts to the people who have the money to afford it. Music is not something that you are selling, you are delivering, you are giving music to the people to experience. What the business does is selling the music. The word music business, 2 words that don’t go together. One part is music and the other is business. The musicians are doing the music and the sharks are out there are doing the business. If you don’t watch out they will eat you up, as a fan. This is something that they should not forget that music is emotion. With this VIP Stuff, it’s one of the worst things to happen to music in the last 15 years.
Rock In The FastLane: They are taking the art out of music. It’s an expression. It’s for people to interpret how they feel.
Claus Lessman: In real life. Its a 2 class society, with the real fans outside of the VIP area and away from the stage. With the money, the real fans are not buying that. No one can afford that.
Rock In The FastLane: What’s bad is that the fan’s blame the artist’s, they don’t blame the business people.
Claus Lessman: That’s the way it is.
Rock In The FastLane: I really wish that I could’ve seen you guys in the US. Hopefully one day.
Claus Lessman: Maybe, you never know. We didn’t plan on Phantom 5 playing live after the first album. Maybe if the 2nd one is accepted like the first one we might think about that. Play some festivals and some shows. We didn’t want to do that same thing again, playing small clubs, playing support for so and so, we didn’t want to do that. That was not the right thing for this. Someone said, let’s keep it simple. Plus, everyone is from different parts of Germany so it’s not easy to come together do rehearsals and stuff. It was a big surprise for us how the Phantom 5 thing came together. Maybe it’s gonna be another surprise with a second album. We would be glad to do some festivals and some shows, maybe in the homeland of rock n roll, the United States.
Rock In The FastLane: We would love to have you, I know that I would?
Claus Lessman: I’d love to come back. I’m in love with the country. I have some song lines in my script book, sometimes I feel if I was born in the wrong country and the right country would’ve been the United States for me. I still have that line in my script book. Maybe one of these days I will write that, along with the song “Thanks For The Flowers.” LOL.
Rock In The FastLane: LOL. Yeah, maybe Desmond can dance to it.
Rock In The FastLane: How about the acoustic stuff that you and Michael Voss are doing?
Claus Lessman: It’s all playback. We did a festival with UDO and Doro, 7-9,000 people. It was fun going out there as an acoustic duo. People were looking at us like What the fuck is going on here. It was fun going out there as an acoustic duo. We had fun. It was in the late afternoon, it’s not time to rock it’s time to relax.
Rock In The FastLane: There are not a lot of bands that can go up there with an acoustic and do that.
Claus Lessman: It’s hard. Sometimes its hard. We have a good history, Michael with Casanova and Mad Max and me with Bonfire and we have a good mixture with the songs. We have a couple of Bonfire songs, a couple of Casanova songs, a couple of Phantom 5 songs. Its fun doing it. We are playing with Tyketto in November.
Rock In The FastLane: Danny Vaughn, he is really an underrated musician.
Claus Lessman: He really is an outrageous singer, he’s really great. A very nice person too. I recently saw him playing in an Eagles cover band called The Ultimate Eagles. All English guys and he’s the only American in the band. It’s excellent. I’m looking forward to the tour with Tyketto, they are good guys.
Rock In The FastLane: How about any last words?
Claus Lessman: I just want to thank you to Frontiers to putting this together. Serafino, they started the whole thing. They asked Michael and mentioned the names to see if they would be interested in doing this. It’s great to have people that have confidence in you.
Rock In The FastLane: Frontiers is a great label. What they are doing is fantastic, keeping the melodic rock alive.
Claus Lessman: They are keeping the banner up for melodic rock. You need guys like this.
I’m concentrating on the acoustic stuff now and starting to write for the new Phantom 5 album.
Rock In The FastLane: You obviously did something right if they are bringing you back for a second album.
Claus Lessman: The whole thing started as a project, that doesn’t mean that some day it will be a band. People want to know, when are you going on tour, let’s keep it the way that it is. It’s still only a project. Sometimes a project only lasts one album. We are already doing a second album and that is pretty good for a project.
Rock In The FastLane: Any other things that you would like to say or get out there?
Claus Lessman: I just want to say thank you and thanks to the fans for supporting me after the painful split from Bonfire. Lot’s of respect to everyone who believes in me and I just don’t want to disappoint them. I always give my best. Tell everyone to keep on rockin’
I would like to thank Claus Lessman for giving me the opportunity to sit and chat with him. It was an honor to speak to a musician/songwriter that I have been a fan of since 1986. From his former days in Bonfire to the new Phantom 5 project, Claus Lessman continues to deliver perfection in melodic hard rock and he is the consummate professional. Claus has epitomized the true definition of melodic hard rock vocalist/songwriter and his music will transcend time and generation.
Check out Phantom 5 at: https://www.facebook.com/Phantom-5-Fanclub-430989523755364/