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Nick Gilder

Sweeney Todd
Solo Artist
Nick publicity picture-2.jpg

Interview by Jay Cooper

Welcome to this insightful and humourous interview with the legendary Nick Gilder. From his humble beginnings in England to his formative years in Canada, Nick’s story is a testament to passion and the pursuit of musical excellence. Nick shared anecdotes of his early days with Sweeney Todd, to the thrill of crafting iconic hits like ‘Roxy Roller’ and ‘Hot Child in the City. Juno Awards for most promising male vocalist and best-selling single. Without further ado, I invite you to the world of Nick Gilder, a true icon of rock ‘n’ roll.

AY COOPER:  Thank you so much for making the time for me. I appreciate it.
NICK GILDER:  Oh, my pleasure, I’m happy to do this. BTW I am the original you know, I am THE Nick Gilder.

JAY:  You’re not a replacement, imitator or mega fan, saying I’m Nick Gilder (laughs)
NICK:  I am Nick Gilder (laughs)

JAY:  I’m going to do this and you’re probably not going to like it but I don’t believe everything that I read, so a history lesson of your journey?
NICK:  Don’t believe everything you read, except what I tell you. No problem. It’s been a long career, starting with Sweeney Todd and every possible place to play in Vancouver in the 70s. We played every single bar, high school and college event that we could play before Roxy.

JAY:  You moved to Canada at the age of 10?
NICK:  We were in England and my Dad joined the Canadian Army and got transferred to a military base just outside of Barrie Ontario, Camp Bolton. I just went to school, just a kid at school, you know a dreamer looking out the window, kind of bored, like most kids. But then my folks moved us back to England when I was still young. When I was in England, as a teenager somebody said, ‘Hey, do you want to come and try and sing with our band?’  We got together and I sang in a pub in a little village, just rehearsing, practicing, and singing a few songs. That lasted for a little while and then my folks decided to move to Vancouver. In Port Coquitlam, I went into a piano refinishing store and met this guy named Randy Shepard. I’m telling you my life story now. (laughs)

JAY:  I love it! Interesting background.
NICK:  Randy Shepard said, ‘Hey, have you ever done any singing?’. Maybe I had a look or something, you know? I said, well, sing in the shower and I sang with the guys in this band in England a couple of times. So we got together and entered a battle of the bands and that’s where I met Jim.
JAY:  Jim McCullough?
NICK:  Yes. We won the battle of bands at a high school. He said, ‘Look, we’ve got real shows with a real manager and booking agent. Do you want to come and try to do a few shows with us?’ So I said, well, yeah, I guess so, give it a try but I was scared out of my mind as you can imagine. It’s like, wow, this is for real. So we did that and the band at that time was called Rasputin. The first show was at a place in Vancouver called The Cave. We opened for Heart as they lived in Vancouver at that time. I thought we should change the name. My mom came up with the name, Sweeney Todd. I took it to the practice and it was like, yeah, let’s go with that.

JAY:  He was a nice fictional career character, Sweeney Todd (laughs)
NICK: Rasputin was a nicer character Lol. But you know, it worked. It turned into a kind of a glammy thing. People would come out and watch, what I guess they thought were freaky people. Pretty soon the audience was full of freaky people. Kind of outdid the band on many occasions. It was good fun.

JAY:  Sweeney Todd at the time, was a bar band. So what was the transition from Sweeney Todd, the bar band, to getting a record deal and becoming rockstars?
NICK:  Our manager at that time, Barry Samuels met a guy who said he was a record producer. He came and saw us and he said, ‘Oh yeah, I can record you guys’. So we went into a studio here in Vancouver downtown, Hipposonics Studio. We started to record an album and it yielded Roxy Roller, and you know the album came out and the first song was a song called ‘Sweeney Todd Folder’. I remember driving down the street with Jim on our way to a show and it came on the radio and we pulled over to listen to it. It was so exciting! But it didn’t do so well. So let’s try another one. We were on London Records at that time and went to the studio in Little Mountain, kind of a famous place here in town. Little Mountain Studio, and I thought, you know, I’d like to do this myself. I’d like to remix. So I just worked with the engineer to remix Roxy Roller. I wanted it to be much more like a heavier rock sound. That was the vision that Jim and I had for the whole record but there just wasn’t time to do the whole record that way. When ‘Roxy Roller’ hit the airwaves it was just Wow, it just took off and was the number one request for the entire summer, Jay. That was happening, just as Jim and I were leaving the band, which was pretty weird, to say the least.

JAY:  How did the song ‘Roxy Roller’ come about? Riff is just killer!
NICK:  Agreed. The original riff was cool. Jim started playing it and I started singing the song. It was one of those almost instant hits. I went home, wrote the rest of the lyrics and it was done.

JAY:  You were leaving the band that just had a major hit?
NICK:  Well, it was becoming a hit as we left. Jim and I went to Los Angeles and signed with Chrysalis Records and we spent a year making another album that went plywood in Surrey BC. I mean, it was just not an event at all. So, the record company, President Terry Ellis said, ‘I think you guys need to put a band together and recapitulate what you did up in Canada’. So we did and it worked again. It was very exciting to do that again. We did it playing in Los Angeles, at The Whiskey or The Troubadour was the first show.

JAY:  You and Jim are in L. A., you have another record, you’ve got a band, and that’s when Hot Child in the City came out?
NICK:  Yeah, that was the second record actually on Chrysalis. The first one hadn’t done that great. We did manage to get an awesome cover with Pat Benatar off that record, a song called ‘Rated X’. Once we’d recorded Hot Child in the City, he brought in Mike Chapman. I had dinner with him and we talked about doing some recording and he said, ‘Well, I’ve got time to do three songs, Nick, that’s about all, it’s just my commitment’. So we did. We went in and did three songs of which Hot Child was one. And to be honest, I was like, kind of paranoid by the time it was finished, thinking, that’s so empty. He said, ‘Well that’s what’s so great about it, it’s got all that space. It’ll sound awesome on the radio’. Of course, he was right and it went to number one. You know, it took a whole summer damn near to get there, but it got to number one in the US and Canada!

JAY:  You now have this huge hit, ‘Hot Child’ and you’re number one. Now you’re touring with people like, The Cars, Cheap Trick, and The Babies.
NICK:  Good times, man. We went on tour to Japan with The Babies. Out on the road in the States with The Cars, Foreigner, and lots of bands.

JAY:  Any regrets about the path you took to achieve success?
NICK:  One of the mistakes I think we made back in the day was going back into the studio chasing a hit, when we should have gone back out on the road and got road honed. Because that’s where you learn, is out playing. Not in the studio. That’s where all my tunes came from back in the day, when I was out playing, learning what connects with an audience. What made it popular in the first place? It was the live show, not what was happening in the studio and trying to be clever, but the live show, the energy, the interaction with the people.

JAY:  Your songs, like ‘The Warrior’, have been performed by so many other artists. What’s the songwriting process for the ‘Scandal’ hit for example?
NICK:  What happened there is I got together with Holly Knight (Songwriting, hit machine). I had an idea for a song. I had the chorus for ‘The Warrior’, I think my publisher said, ‘You should get together with Holly as she’s doing great as a writer’. So I said, okay, we got together and I sang the chorus to her and she played it on the piano. Played the chords and she said, ‘Oh, that fits perfectly’. So we continued and got the verse and I went home and finished up the lyrics. We went into the studio and made a demo. Mike came down to help with the mix. Mike Chapman, who was her publisher called up after we finished the demo and said, ‘Please let me use this song. We need a hit for the Patti Smythe record. I promise you, it will be a hit’. I said, well, that’s a heck of a promise to make but got it to a guy named Roy Thomas Baker, who produced Queen, The Cars and I was like, oh my god, two bands that I adore and think are just awesome. So I was very excited that he’d heard The Warrior and wanted to go into the studio and record it with me. It was pretty tough. Holly and I were on the phone talking about it and at the end of the day, I can’t sort of complain because it went on to be a big hit, but it certainly would have changed my career if I’d had a hit with it. In reflection, I can see how a girl singing it has another angle to it. Like, an almost feminist sort of thing that empowers women. But, then I’d done that in Roxy, really, right? We still play the song in my set and it goes over with the audience participation.

JAY:  Best gig you ever had?
NICK:  Oh my god that’s a hard one. I’d say Canada Day in the Millennium Year. A couple hundred thousand people in Ottawa, on Parliament Hill. But they’re all fun shows. As far as a career highlight, I think it has to be Hot Child in the City getting into the Hall of Fame. June 18th, 2019. Gordon Lightfoot signed the plaque that goes on the wall.

JAY:  This might be an easier question for you - worst gig ever - like Spinal Tap Puppet Show bad.
NICK:  Oh Boy, oh man, I think the most upsetting gig that I did was here in Vancouver just because it’s my hometown. We were playing with The Cars, which always works. So we were out on stage and I noticed as I was walking out on stage, soft drinks on top of the amplifiers. I didn’t think anything of it. But we get through a couple of songs and all of a sudden the guitar amps go out. They’d spilt inside. There were no spares and we were standing there, looking like idiots, not playing, not doing anything and the crowd got restless and I was like, Oh shit, what are we gonna do? I think the first thing we did was plug into the last remaining amplifier. Everybody was like plugged into one just to play. It was ridiculous and I was like this is not gonna work so we had to leave the stage. In those days, you brought your equipment. And that’s the only equipment there was. The other band wasn’t gonna let you use their equipment. You know, it just didn’t happen.

JAY:  Is there anything that people don’t know about you?
NICK:  Really music has been my obsession and I think back about the days, weeks and months that would go by of me sitting in the studio down in LA at that time recording song ideas, endlessly. I had a publishing deal and I had to meet a commitment. So I would be doing that every day and those songs were quite good in reflection. I had other people cover my songs including Joe Cocker, Bette Midler and Kix did a cover of a song called Body Talk.

JAY:  Now, are there upcoming projects or tour dates?
NICK:  I’ve been working on new recordings. It’ll be another year out in the prairies, doing rock festival stuff mostly, and some casinos coming up. The season is approaching and it’s what I look forward to most and so does everybody else in the band. We’ve been together a long time now, this configuration. I love it. The energy level and feedback that you get from the crowd is just, it’s energizing. It is a great time to be had for everyone.

JAY:  What would you like to say to everybody who’s supported you over the years?  
NICK:  Keep on keepin’ on. I think where I’m at these days is just to keep moving forward. Keep your momentum going and try to see something down the road that you wanna do.

JAY:  Well I thank you once again for this wonderful chat!
NICK:  Jay, hopefully, we’ll get into your area and you can come down and I’ll make sure you’re on the guest list.

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