- Profession: Classical tenor with Il Divo
- Age: 40
- Hometown: Lucerne, Switzerland
- Il Divo’s self-titled debut album went multiplatinum in 2004
- II Divo means “Divine Perfomer” in Italian; the group also includes American David Miller, Sebastien Izambard of France and Carlos Marin of Spain
- Kicked off their North American tour in Canada on May 18; there are 12 performances taking place in Toronto, Montreal, Halifax, Saint John, Vancouver, Edmonton, Winnipeg, and Saskatoon
- The group’s latest release is called Wicked Games
Tenor Urs Bühler is part of an international singing sensation, the musical quartet Il Divo.
Since the group was created by music mogul and TV reality star Simon Cowell in 2003, it has transformed opera into a cool, contemporary genre, winning numerous awards, while selling more than 25 million albums and performing at packed concert houses around the globe.
But when Bühler returns to his country home in Switzerland, he doesn’t flaunt his success with flashy cars. He rides one of his 13 vintage motorcycles, which include a 1971 Harley-Davidson Electra Glide and a 1975 Honda Goldwing.
What sparked your interest in motorcycles?
I’m actually quite a motorcycle enthusiast. I come from a little village in Switzerland, which is not really in the mountains but in the hills with loads of farms around. As soon as you’re allowed, or even before, the boys from the farms take the motorcycles and scooters and go to school. It’s affordable transport for everybody there.
We have about 6,500 inhabitants in the village and there are five motorcycle clubs in that village.
How old were you when you started to ride?
It was the year before I was allowed to.
In Switzerland you can pass your riding test at 18 for a motorcycle up to 125 cc. I did that immediately on my 18th birthday. I bought my first motorcycle about six months before, obviously against my parent’s knowledge. I took it sometimes at night and drove it up and down the road. It was an Enduro – just a little cross bike from an Italian brand called Gilera.
How did you pay for it?
It wasn’t very expensive at the time. About 2,500 Swiss francs, I think.
Since I was about eight years old, I’ve always worked on my school holidays. I always had a job somewhere. I worked for it and saved my money.
What do you own now?
I’ve got Harley Davidsons and old Goldwings – big old heavy bikes. I’ve got 13 of them – the oldest I got is a ’71 Electra Glide, which is my year of birth. It’s in black and red, which are my favourite colours. That’s why I bought it.
I got quite a few bikes from the mid-’70s, two or three Harleys – I like the ’76. The Goldwings – I’ve got one of each year of the first ones – I’ve got a ’75, ’76, ’77 and a ’78.
I recently sent pictures to a friend of mine and she said, “I think you have a problem.”
How do you decide which ones to ride?
To be honest, most of them don’t even run.
They’re just lying around in my garage in pieces and I have so little time since I’m in Il Divo to work on them. I love restoring them.
You do the work yourself?
Oh yeah. Big time. With the timberlands on, the mechanic gloves and my Harley Davidson baseball cap so my hair doesn’t get in the way. I get really dirty early in the morning hours.
What does a vintage Harley say about you?
Maybe it’s a bit of a valve – a way to try and escape from a bit of a square life.
I love sitting on a big, powerful bike. I don’t need to ride fast. But on a big Harley you feel very powerful and they got a lot of torque. You control that with your little hand and a twist of the throttle. I find that a great feeling and when you’re out on the beautiful countryside in the wind it’s wonderful. It’s such a feeling of freedom.
It’s cleansing for my brain as well. When you’re riding motorcycles you need to focus on what you’re doing otherwise you get yourself in a lot of trouble.
When you’re navigating sharp hills on your bike in Switzerland, is it similar to how you navigate the passagio in your tenor voice?
It is, actually. It is, especially if you don’t know it.
There are bends that start nice and smooth and close in all of a sudden and you have to react and that’s exactly the same with your voice.
If you hit a note, especially in the passagio, and you do it on certain vowels – certain vowels are easier, certain vowels are more difficult – depends where you come from if you have a big jump from low. There are always possible little points where you can just slightly be out of the ideal line.
It’s very comparable actually.
Have you got into any trouble?
I’ve fallen a couple of times. Nothing severe.
Do you get the same high from riding as you do from performing on stage?
You know it is somehow similar because when you’re performing you can not allow yourself to think of anything else than the song, the music, or the notes you’re singing. You want to transmit an emotion – a message in a song. If you’re not in it, your audience will not get it.
We perform for the audience – we perform not for ourselves. You’ve got to be in there 100 per cent or otherwise it doesn’t work.
What’s your best riding story ever?
I was in my early 20s and I was working as a fork truck driver and starting my studies as a music teacher and classical tenor. Friday afternoon, after I finished a shift, I met up with two friends of mine.
We packed our saddlebags. It was actually raining, but we said we have this weekend and we just went for a ride. We hit the road and rode down to France and made it across the border on the first night and we slept by the side of the road in the grass just underneath the bike. Then we drove further down on Saturday into France and all the way back home on Sunday.
We sat on the bike for 2-1/2 days. It was an incredible experience for me.
How about adding a new bike to the garage?
At the moment I’m torn. When I see somebody along on a brand-new Harley I think I should buy one brand new Harley. But I do like the old bikes.
I think they’re more beautiful and they’re also simpler to work on – there’s no fuel injection, no ABS in the bikes from the 1970s. I can completely rewire a ’70s Harley without having a plan. It’s fairly straight-forward and there aren’t many components. I love doing that.
I don’t know if I would buy a brand new motorcycle. I don’t think I would enjoy working on it.
I could add another bike everyday. But I swore to myself, if I buy another bike, I have to sell one first. I made that a rule for myself.
This interview has been edited and condensed.