Interview and pics by Marko Syrjala
In the following interview, Nikolo Kotzev discusses his career with Brazen Abbot, Nostradamus, Baltimoore, and an upcoming project. He also recounts tales of the many people he has worked with and some he almost worked with over the years, including Bruce Dickinson, Glenn Hughes, and Joe Lynn Turner. Brazen Abbot has so far released five studio albums: “Live and Learn” (1995), “Eye of the Storm” (1996), “Bad Religion” (1997), “Guilty as Sin” (2003), and “My Resurrection” (2005), as well as a documentary DVD called “A Decade of Brazen Abbot” (2004). Also, Nikolo Kotzev has released under his own name the “Nostradamus” (2001) project and also performed in Baltimoore’s “Double Density” (1992) and “Thought for Food” (1994) albums.
BRAZEN ABBOT AND ÅLAND…
You’ve lived in Åland for a long time. It’s a pretty strange place for a Bulgarian to live in.
Tell me about it. Yeah, almost eighteen years. I met my future ex-wife, so that’s how it happened, and I’ve now been a Finnish citizen for a very long time.
But you didn’t have to go to the Finnish army or anything?
No, because I was a bit older, maybe 30… 35, or something. I’ve been to the army in Bulgaria, that was not fun.
How long was that?
Two years, so the Finnish army would probably be like a holiday to me.
So after you moved over here, you started to contact various people in the music scene?
I did a couple of albums with a band called Baltimoore, and at one point, we couldn’t work together anymore. We had to split, so I was very hungry to write new music and have a band and wrote material for a whole album and decided to have a project. Because of the place, Mariehamn was so small… if I were in a big city, it would’ve been easier to get in a band and start working, but as it was, I didn’t have much to choose from and decided to create what I needed to work with rock music. That’s what I did. I had built a recording studio, wrote the music, and was looking for singers. You probably know of Gï¿½ran Edman, who was with Malmsteen, so I called him, and he agreed to do the whole album. Everything was set, but at the time, we were on rival Japanese companies, and his people were very picky about that and wouldn’t let him sing the whole album, but only two songs out of eleven. At this point, we were doing the drums with Ian Haugland (of Europe), and he played Glenn Hughes, who he was touring with, the demo, and Glenn agreed to do three songs, which was fantastic. I now had two singers that would sing five songs but still needed a singer for the remaining six. Finally, I got Thomas Vikström, another Swedish guy with Stormwind, and had a major hit, which I can’t remember right now when he was younger. So, destiny had decided that I would have three singers in Brazen Abbot. I believe actually that I was the first guitarist that started a project with three singers. Later, when many others started calling all kinds of people and putting together kinds of all-star bands, I had been doing it for years. At first, I was afraid the thing wasn’t going to work out with all the different singers and all that, but they all came from the “same school,” so it did actually work out really well.
How much discussion did you have with Glenn and the other singers on how to sing a certain song and so on?
Very much, I mean, I’m the producer, and I’m the person who’s paying the bills, so obviously they have respect for that. I was so honored to be working with them that I hardly dared to say anything.
They actually all came down to your studio to work with you, as opposed to you just sending them some tapes over the mail to sing on?
No, I have never done that, and I hope I’ll never have to. I don’t believe that this is how it should be done because you leave your songs at the mercy of someone else. But as I said, they were all so brilliant that there was hardly anything to do about the way they sang. Glenn is… he’s a god, he’s from another planet, he’s indescribable. Joe [Lynn Turner] has such talent to hear the right melody, so it’s always been a pleasure to work with him. He’s very commercial, but he’s a rock singer. We discussed much more when we were doing Nostradamus because I was the person who knew the concept best, and I was the one who kind of knew how I wanted the song to turn out. I had worked with the concept, the story, and everything for a year and a half, so when they came down to the studio, I just gave them a clear direction of what would happen and what I wanted. Nostradamus was a huge thing, and obviously, the singers didn’t know the songs that the other singers did, so I was the missing link, and there were many discussions. We were tied to a certain story, so the lyrics had to fit into it.
Can you tell me something about working with Tony Harnell on the latest Brazen Abbot album, “My Resurrection”?
A special guy, has a very clear sight of what he wants to do, great performer. When he was at my place recording, I think it was autumn. We spent a lot of time talking about different things. We even considered eventually starting a project together with his guitar player and me at the time in TNT, Ronnie LeTekro. Still, it ran into the sand. We didn’t do anything about it. He’s a good guy, very strict about his diet and stuff like that, never drinks milk. Because when these guys come to me, I have to learn about their eating habits. I live alone, and they stay with me, so I’m the host and cook the food and stuff, so I have to know what they eat. Alannah Myles stayed for ten days when we were doing Nostradamus. She’s also from another planet, completely not of this Earth.
Tony Harnell in Swedenrock at 2004
You recently released the Brazen Abbot anniversary DVD?
Yes. The Brazen Abbot DVD is meant to be a documentary giving information about the band, and I got really mad at Frontiers, who started selling it as a live album, and it is not a live album. If it were, I’d have picked different songs and made them differently. It’s a documentary with a lot of music in it. Beyond the fact that I produced and directed the DVD, I’m really proud that there’s not one note that has been replaced. Usually, the bands record a DVD, then replace everything but the drums in the studio, and then call it “live,” but it’s not live. It’s just a lie.
In the past eleven years, have you ever considered doing actual touring with Brazen Abbot?
A: I’ve been trying, actually, but there is a problem because Brazen Abbot is not big enough to hold the tour, and it’s not small enough to do small clubs. It’s like somewhere in the middle. If you want to do a big tour, we won’t be able to pull in enough people.
To do a tour, you’d probably have to pick one singer?
That would most likely be Joe Lynn Turner, we have spoken about that, and I know he wants to do it. Actually, we were on the bill for the Monsters of Rock in Bulgaria, which crashed miserably.
Who has played in the Brazen Abbott band recently?
The Brazen Abbot band is now a couple of English guys, Wayne Banks, Dave Knight, and Nelko Kolarov, the keyboard player.
Making the album must have been a lot of work about doing the Nostradamus project, but how about playing the whole thing live on stage?
I would love to do that, and I have attempted it a couple of times, but it all comes down to finding the budget. You see, record sales, in general, are going down, people are losing interest in rock music and all that. It would take a lot of money to put it on stage, and I don’t have that. I wouldn’t really go to the bank and have a huge loan and then have three people in the audience and then have to pay off the loan for the rest of my life. It’s about taking a risk, and not everyone has the guts to take that risk. I know that if it’s made well, it will bring in money, it will become a huge production, and we can travel around and do it. I mean, look at the “Beethoven’s Last Night” and Trans Siberian Orchestra. Classical and rock music is a winning concept, so maybe one day it will happen.
How possible would it be to get the original cast that was on the album doing the shows?
It would not be difficult at all. I know because they all love Nostradamus and are all very proud of what we achieved. Obviously, it’s still going to be a financial question because I can’t really get these guys down to wherever we’ll do it and rehearse for a couple of months and stay there for two weeks to play it, without getting the money, we all have to live on something. As you know, if I engage 60-70 people for three months, that’s a lot of money, how would I be able to pay that? I’m not one of these rich people who drive BMW or Mercedes S class’s latest model. I’m working for my living. But still, it’s amazing that I can live on making music. It’s a luxury that not everyone can have. I haven’t been in Deep Purple or Rainbow, so I don’t have that kind of stature.
In terms of records sold, was Nostradamus more successful than the latest Brazen Abbot album at the time, “Bad Religion”?
Yes, it was much more successful, which was the sign that I had found the right concept. People want to have something extraordinary in these times of TV, DVD, email, downloads, and all that. Five years ago, I said to everyone I know, “Believe me, the future is in live playing because you can’t fucking download that.”. Casting and picking all the right people took me a long time because I really wanted to find people who had the right background, who was famous but still good. After all, not everybody famous today is good. I decided not to call it Brazen Abbot because I wanted people to see it as something different. I was aiming at people who never even listened to rock before as well. Also, having Allannah Myles, who came from a completely different thing, was a good decision because the sales were good. I was very happy with the results.
Nostradamus is becoming pretty hard to find in records stores?
I’ve licensed Nostradamus to SPV for seven years, and they could have sold four times more, it was coming back to me in 2008, and then I’ll make sure that it’s out there in the stores. I had to buy one online because I ran out of copies and needed one fast.
Earlier, you mentioned a certain Bruce Dickinson. Were you at any point going to work with him?
Yes, he was supposed to be the Inquisitor [in Nostradamus] too.
How far did the negotiations for his involvement get?
Really far, he would come with his private plane to my home to record the part, but then something happened with Iron Maiden…
Bruce Dickinson in Finland at 2002
Well, they had reunited already. I think they accepted a new policy that he should not do projects. It’s a pity he had just done this thing with some Dutch guy, and after that, he was about to do my project. We had even negotiated the fee and the timeframe, but then I got a call from his manager, and obviously, it didn’t work out. I’m not sorry about that because Jï¿½rn Lande is just… a monster.
Were you a fan of Bruce’s solo stuff or a Maiden fan?
I was looking more for the right personality for the Inquisitor, and Bruce Dickinson is an incredibly intelligent guy. He’s very intelligent, and he can do that really scary way of singing, so I was planning to use that for the character of the Inquisitor. When you choose well-known people to do a certain role, you more or less do typecast because think of if I made Glenn Hughes Nostradamus and Joe Lynn Turner King Henry, it wouldn’t work because Glenn has always been the person that would fit really well for the role of king and Joe has always been the person that would fit really well for Nostradamus, he’s always talking about this third power, incredible stuff going on, he’s really into the theory about reptilians, secret worlds, it’s nice to sit down and listen to him, he can talk for hours. He’s a conspiracy freak. We speak and speak and speak. I always speak for ten hours and then record for one hour with every singer; everyone speaks. What we did with Glenn Hughes was really cool. We sat down, and I put on Made in Japan and narrated it. He commented on the whole concert for me from the beginning till the end, “Now I’m doing this and look at that…”, things that no one would even know. He’d say, “I’m very, very sick here, I had such a fucking hangover, that’s why I’m turning around…” and things like that. It was really cool watching this whole concert.
THE NEW PROJECT
You had Jorn Lande [ex-Ark, ex-Masterplan] on Nostradamus and then again on the Brazen Abbot album “Guilty as Sin” was he too busy to be on the new one “My Resurrection”?
He had contractual restrictions then because he was working with Masterplan, and his manager was advising him not to spread around on too many projects.
Jorn in the studio with Brazen Abbott
Would you like to work with him again in the future?
I would. He’s a fantastic singer. He’s a great singer. Actually, I’m writing a new rock opera, where he has agreed to take the lead role.
I was going to ask you about the new opera that you’ve been working on.
Yes, it’s taken a long time to do that because it costs a pile of money, and I hope that the situation will be the same when I’m ready to start recording, that Jï¿½rn will still be available.
Have you any others in mind that you’d like to have involved in the new project?
I have talked to Joe Lynn Turner and Göran Edman, and they’ve agreed to be on the rock opera, but the other singers are not decided yet. There will be eight singers, three female and five male.
Can you tell me anything about the concept of the new rock opera?
Yes, it’s a fantasy story inspired by a Bulgarian tale that I read, folklore from this area. I put together a story that deals with human values, the eternal battle of good and evil. There’s also a love story. It’s an education in terms of how people should live their lives. It has a social value as a story, but it will have a darker feel than Nostradamus. I haven’t yet decided if it takes place on this planet, in another dimension. It has some stranger characters in it, and it’s going to be filled with violence, dark feelings because I really wanted to make a statement that this is not a fairytale but something much scarier, much darker.
Nikolo in the middle of playing a guitar solo in Turku at 2006
Is it probably going to be a double album?
It is, yes. Actually, it is starting to get a little too long, it’s 22 songs, and I think the right limit is one hour and forty-five minutes. It’s hard to put 22 songs into that. I’m going to have to cut something.
So you don’t have any idea who’s going to be doing the female roles?
No. The lead female role is for a young girl. She has to be young. As well as the lead male singer, he has to be young as well. There is also a very evil character, so someone like Alice Cooper would fit perfectly. I actually tried to get Alice Cooper for Nostradamus for the Inquisitor’s part, but I never even got through to his manager.
Concerning the band you were in before Brazen Abbot, Baltimoore, the “Thought for Food” album was really good. What happened after that?
We were just too different, and we just couldn’t write together in the same direction, so it became difficult to stay together. “Thought for Food” was a good album, but I realized that from my point of view as well, it was better to break up because I was spending my time doing something that was not really mine. Baltimoore would always remain Björn Lodin’s project even though we had decided that we would both be frontmen now and had a verbal agreement that it was not going to be only Björn’s band because I don’t want to spend years working my ass off for someone else to walk out with the trademark. From then on, I realized that I wanted to create a trademark of my own that I can carry with me when I leave, which is how it’s now, I can take whichever singer I wish, and it’s still going to be Brazen Abbot. In the beginning, it was Glenn Hughes’ new band and then Joe Lynn Turner’s new band. I was from Hungary and all that. People have to learn that Brazen Abbot is Nik’s project, and when you’re there for a long enough time, slowly, they will.
Ian Haugland was also in Baltimoore at the same time. Was it through him that you contacted the other Europe guys on the early Brazen Abbot albums?
Yes, Mic [Michaeli] and John [Leven].
A couple of years ago, Europe reformed, and you had to get new players in?
ODDS AND ENDS
You’ve had some of the greatest Swedish players in your band. Have you ever worked with any Finnish musicians?
Not really. I never really had any work relations with Finnish people. I only knew a good Finnish guitarist, Jaakko Havukainen; I think his name is a very good guitarist, pop guitarist, played on boats and stuff like that. I played some odd jobs with some good musicians. I have even played with Danny [Ilkka Lipsanen] very long ago, “laughs.”
Live in Turku at 2006
For example, how well do you know Finnish bands like Nightwish, Amorphis, and Hanoi Rocks?
Not really. I kind of listen a little closer to Stratovarius. Today I saw five minutes of Nightwish on DVD, which was disgusting… because they had done exactly the thing I mentioned earlier, gone in the studio and replaced the fucking whole of it, and I hate when they do that. I mean, why? Aren’t you ashamed that you have to replace what you’ve done onstage?
I would suggest that it was largely thanks to you that Joe Lynn Turner and Glenn Hughes got the idea of working together on the Hughes Turner Project?
It’s true. They asked Joe one time, “Is it because of Nik that you did HTP?” and he said, “Yes, as a matter of fact, it is. It’s because of Nik and because we got together on Nostradamus that we decided to do the HTP.”
Joe and Glenn doing HTP press in Finland at 2002
HTP was more of a rock thing than what Glenn was doing with his solo thing at the time.
Yes, you could tell, especially one of their albums is very strong. I don’t remember which one it was because mine are CD-Rs that Joe gave me and signed them for me. I even have a pre-mixed version of one of them, which is like the working version they had to hear to songs. He knows I will never go out and buy it, so he just gave me one.
Did you know that Joe Lynn Turner did a duet recently on one track with Candice Night on Blackmore’s Night’s new album, and did it surprise you?
I didn’t know about that, but it doesn’t surprise me at all. I know that Joe wants to work with Ritchie. It’s a pity that Ritchie doesn’t want to revive Rainbow. I know Joe would be up for it because we have spoken about it. And why not? He would be mad not to. They were never in a fight, actually, Joe and Ritchie… actually, they’ve fought a few times, but they split into very good terms like friends.
Because of the Deep Purple reunion?
Yeah, it was almost like… Gillan had come in and stuff like that, politics.
OK then, I guess we’ve covered all the bases until we meet again.
Thank you, guys!
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