Sabaton Vocalist Joakim Brodén
Interview and transcription by EvilG
So you made it to some billboard charts, including even over this way in America.
Yeah, especially when it came to America, it was really unexpected. In Sweden it’s more common as we’ve been on the charts here before. But to be honest, be be on an American chart, where we haven’t really had proper distribution so far, it’s…almost a shock. A happy shock, but still a shock.
Considering you haven’t even toured over here yet, that also adds to the surprise. So hopefully this means things will change?
Yeah hopefully that will change now.
So what are the talks between you and your label or promoters? Is there any hope for something in later 2010 or in 2011?
2010 is full booked already I think. Our longest time off is 4 or 5 days without a show or recording of some kind. But it’s fun, we all love doing this. So that’s not the problem; the trick is getting into North America, South America, Japan, for us. We are calling it the World War Tour, where we’ve decided to fucking go, even if we go by ourselves and empty our pockets, we will get there. At the moment we are looking at early 2011 for North America. We’ve had 1-2 offers to support other bands there. It’s better for us to support there anyways because if we went by ourselves it would be a shorter tour, less people, and probably really small and crappy venues because let’s face it, even though we hit the billboards, it doesn’t mean we have a huge following. If we finally come to North America, we want those fans to get a really good experience, not us in a shitty club with a minimal stage with a crappy PA. So supporting someone is something we’re really looking forward to actually.
With THE ART OF WAR (2008) and now especially with COAT OF ARMS (2010) those of us in North America have been waking up to your band. You formed back in 1999, what changed over here that allowed you to gain this recognition over here?
When it comes to Coat of Arms, well last year we were with a smaller label, a moreso Swedish thing. And lets also not forget the power of the Internet and Youtube. In this sense, I fucking love the internet and the way music is flowing there. I’m happy that even so many have decided to download it. Not that I don’t care at all about the money and cash flow. It’s important if we want to get a show in the United States, being on the billboard charts, is a big deal for us. I’m just happy that we hit that position. We played two shows in America; last year at ProgPower and then 2008 at South by Southwest in Texas. So getting over there and playing some proper shows will happen. The internet is one of the biggest reasons that we even had the possibility of entering into the billboard charts. So yeah , it’s the internet which has helped us with North America.
In what became an over-crowded power metal scene, Sabaton has managed to carve out a niche and uniquely identifiable sound. I have my own thoughts on what this is so, but what is your take on how you’ve managed to not be just another power metal band?
Whoa…..I don’t know really. I think part of it is probably, maybe, our choice of the subject matter for lyrics. We sing about war instead of like other bands, like slaying dragons, fucking women, and drinking beer. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with fucking women and drinking beer, I like both, but slaying dragons? I don’t know about that, I haven’t done that (laughs). So I can’t really cover it. For some reason this made more sense. It started with the Primo Victoria. Me and Pär (Sundström), the bass player, together wrote the lyrics for the “Primo Victoria” song. With that song we had a huge sound so we had to fit lyrics to it. It was a tribute to those who went on shore on the beaches of Normandy (in WWII) . This provided the perfect subject for it. We actually enjoyed it so much that we actually said “Hey, let’s make the whole album about war.” because writing lyrics was no longer boring or a nuisance, it was much more interesting and engaging. It got use much more emotionally connected to the songs. I think that makes us stand out in a way. Possibly there’s a chance that my type of voice is not what you expect for that kind of music normally. You do have Grave Digger and in a sense, Accept and Running Wild who also have unexpected voices for that kind of music. But we’re not the hardest bunch to pick out from the crowd now if you know about music.
When when did you sit down and decide to write most all songs about wars and battles and wear camo on stage all the time making it your image?
There was never one moment that it all happened. It started with the Primo Victoria (2005) where we decided to make the the album about war. Then it was “Lets make the next album about war.”, then “Hey, if we write about war, maybe we should wear camo pants! Yeaaaaaaa!!” Still today it keeps evolving and progressing, I don’t know how, I mean, we actually have the opportunity to do what we do, and what we love. There was never any master plan, and not to bash Kiss at all as I love that band, but there was never a Gene Simmons master plan on how we were going to do things. We realized it around Attero Dominatus (2006) and while we were still making the album The Art of War (2008) was really what we want most and what became what our fans wanted to hear from us. All in all, I would be surprised if EVERY Sabaton album was about just war. In fact I know, not every Sabaton album will be about war but the majority of our albums will be about war. We are discussing making an album that is not related.
Will there be a theme to it, or just about anything?
We haven’t gotten that far (laughs). We do plan things of course, with shows, stage appearances, pyros, everything. We do plan things, but when it comes to the music we’re happy enough that we never had the need or the wish to have a master plan. I write a couple of songs and show the band and it’s like “Yes we like that one, we don’t like that one.” Then whatever we want to play, or sing about we have the opportunity to do it. We don’t’ have to make a plan about it, we can sing about it. If it’s in between Deep Purple and Amon Amarth, then we say lets do it if it’s a good song. We like the freedom to be able to play what we like, it’s cool.
In late 2009, online, you asked fans to submit ideas for battles to sing about for the new album and reportedly there were 1000’s of entries. Were any of them events you hadn’t heard about, that you ended up using?
Oh yeah. The most obvious that I can comment on is the song “White Death”. It’s strange, the song is about a Finnish sniper called Simo Häyhä. He fought in the Winter War (1939–1940 between Finland and the Soviet Union) and had several hundred, I think 505 confirmed kills with a sniper rifle and an additional 100 or 200 with a sub-machine gun. And this was in fucking Finland! It takes us maybe 5 hours by boat to get over there and maybe 1 hour by plane, maximum. Yet we didn’t hear about this guy! Several Finnish fans sent us suggestions about him. That as an example is really something. I mean, how the fuck could we miss this? It’s something that everybody who is at least interested in Finnish history knows about. For us it was news. That’s a perfect example from the stuff we didn’t hear about. Of course with the song “Midway” it wasn’t really news to us. But we got a couple of ideas about it that we didn’t really know where it was like “wow, that’s an interesting aspect of it.”
I’ve seen the trailer for your new video "Uprising" and it looks phenomenal! When’s the release date for online viewers?
It will be the first or second of August. We’re going to go down to Poland for an August 1st premiere which is the anniversary of the start of the Warsaw uprising. I’m looking forward to seeing it as well as I’ve only seen the trailer, the same as you (laughs). So I’m really excited. I’ve seen some additional footage without music when we were back in Poland in early June and it looks great. We actually told the director to cut as much as possible of us, Sabaton, headbanging, out of the video because we had actual real good actors. I’d never heard of the Polish ones before, they are the main male and female actors in the video. It turns out they are really famous in Poland. Also in the video is Peter Stormare who of course we all know from Armageddon and from Prison Break. He grew up only an hour and a half drive away from where we live now. He’s the same kind of fucked up person as we are (laughs). It’s a pleasure to see professional actors, even though we’ve been making music videos with 2-3 people in the production and then the band, you know you play the songs over and over and over for five hours. They do there to get many different camera angles of like the drummer or whatever. But this time it wasn’t like that at all. We were actually done after playing for maybe 2 – 2.5 hours in costume. I did some additional acting which was scary because I’m not an actor. It was really nice to have the focus on the story that we were telling instead of just six guys headbanging.
Did you guys request Peter Stormare to play a role in the video?
Yes that’s because we like him as an actor and our booking agent in Sweden is a friend of his. He knew of us through a Swedish band called H.E.A.T. which are on his label (the band is signed by Peter Stormares record label StormVox). They even played with us, supporting us for a couple of shows in Sweden and Europe. So we thought, we’d ask him…he’s a really good actor. So put it out there and see what happens. The manager said “Yeah, Peter gets 50 or maybe more suggestions about making music videos every year, so I’ll ask him, but don’t get your hopes up.” Then we heard back “Hell yes, I’m coming!” just like that! What he said made the difference was first that we came from his part of Sweden, and secondly, when most bands ask him to be in their music video they ask him to show up to like a desert outside of Vegas and have him play the bad guy, shoot people, go party and fuck hookers. But he said we had something different here, with a plan, a vision, telling a true story. It was not “Hello will you be in our video?”. It was like, “Hello would you like to participate, you would be playing the role of SS-Obergruppenführer von dem Bach.” I really admire him as an actor, and even more after. After we recorded the video with him we had such a fucking blast (laughs). I could tell you of a few things that happened but well (laughs)….
It’s not safe to publish.
No…it’s not (laughing).
The song title “Uprising” and what the song is about made me think of a film that I really like called "Uprising" which stars such great actors as Jon Voight and Donald Sutherland. Did that film at all inspire the song, or have you even watched it?
You mean the one with David Schwimmer from Friends as well?
Yes and Leelee Sobieski and Hank Azaria.
Yeah, actually I got that movie from our web master half way through the album production. I had about 80% of the song written already and some mock-up lyrics, temporary lyrics. I was signing “rise or fall” not “Warsaw” at that time. He heard it and said he had a movie that was about this stuff, so he gave me a copy of the movie. It was really a good help in finishing the song. I also saw a CNN Documentary that I found online…probably illegal, but if I could of paid for it, I would of, but the CNN Documentary aired in the early 2000’s like 2003-2004 and it’s about the Warsaw uprising. It featured a lot of interviews from the survivors who were actually fighting. Stuff like that is really a gold mine when trying to get a closer connection to the song.
What do you say to critics who on the surface look at your songs and image and think that you glamorize war and battle?
(starts laughing) I don’t know if I’m laughing or crying. Let me just say that if someone says we are glamourizing it, well ok, they probably already made up their mind. But I would say read the lyrics to “Cliffs of Gallippoli”, “The Price of a Mile” and then come back again. Nine out of ten would probably be like “Oh wow, you’re right, sorry.” Sometimes we tell things from a soldier’s perspective, sometimes from the spectator’s perspective. Nine out of ten people actually re-evaluate us at that time. That remaining 10% are those who will probably never change their mind anyway. If we get new fans, I’d be very happy, we need them all we can, but I would think we’d be in trouble if we disappoint our already existing fans. That’s the main fear [not whether or not that 10% understands]. When writing new music for the new album I never had such performance anxiety before because even though “The Art of War” was so massively hyped, it was considered our best album so far by most of our fans, and many people discovered us on that album. So when we get a good review of course we’re really happy but the main fear is letting fans down, the people that have been coming to shows and buying the albums, and them thinking “I saw them three years ago, and they were better then, they’ve passed their peak or prime.”. That would be really bad actually.
Do you think fans might eventually grow tired hearing songs about war and battle, or is that what is keeping people interested in Sabaton?
Maybe both…if we did another concept album just about World War II for the next one, some people might think we can’t come up with something new. I’m quite sure this makes things more interesting for us and our fans. I think that’s the reaction we’ve been hearing. We are singing about something that people can more easily relate to. It’s hard for us to say as Swedish people who haven’t had a fucking war in 200 years! Our official stance in WWII was neutral but we were one of the only ones trading Nazi gold for money, the Swiss were doing it as well. So as a fucking neutral country we were basically assholes in that and it’s not something we are very proud of you know.
That leads into a question I wanted to ask. Most of your song’s subject matter doesn’t cover what happened in Sweden in wartime, whether it be WWII where Sweden was neutral, or any other war that affected Sweden. Is there a reason why you haven’t chosen any Swedish battles or history for inspiration?
Yeah actually, that’s a really interesting question. As I’ve said, we (Sweden) haven’t been involved in a war in over 200 years. So it doesn’t fit to sing “We were neutral! We were neutral!” (laughs). But if you go back into the late 1600’s when we were ruling over half of northern Europe including Germany and Poland. We had quite a big empire. The thing is, this subject has always been, well not always, but it’s been a symbol for neo-Nazis and racists in Sweden. With King Charles the 12th the empire, that’s something that in their eyes they view as Sweden’s glory days with the empire. We do want to get away from that, racists, and neo-Nazi’s. That combined with the fact that it’s easier to find facts about more recent wars than ancient ones. We can watch video of eye-witness accounts. I mean, I really hope that maybe one day we could do an album about the time of the Swedish empire in the 1600’s and 1700’s, even the Napoleonic wars. That might not be very recent but it’s not legend or myth like the Battle of Thermopylae.
I know you’ve covered suicide bombers with "In the Name of God" on Attero Dominatus (2006), but is there any kind of military conflict or event that is recent, for example, recent conflicts like Iraq or Afghanistan that you would not want to touch? Is it too politicized, too recent and still developing?
We do not like to stir political propaganda. We like to tell stories. As you say, getting into the current for example Palestinian and Israeli conflict would really be pissing people off. We did cover the Faulklands ("Back in Control" en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Falklands_War) and with “Panzer Batallian” it was about the 2003 Iraq war or was that Desert Storm or Operation Iraqi Freedom…
Or was it “Enduring Freedom”? (laughs)
(laughs) So we did cover some stuff with that. But who wouldn’t want to be rid of Saddam Hussein? It’s kind of an obvious thing. But we pissed a lot of people off like with some songs like "Back in Control" about the Faulklands War. Argentinean fans, a whole bunch of them, took it way too personally. But…hello, we are telling a story here. It’s from different views all the time, sometimes from a spectators, sometimes from a soldiers perspective, sometimes from a nation’s point of view. Unfortunately Argentina came out on the wrong end on that song, but don’t take it personally. That’s what’s really funny about the Germans because they will happily sing along with lyrics like “Attero Dominatus”, they will shout along. Maybe it’s someone like at the distribution office might have trouble with this. Most people don’t care about these things anymore. They know were are singing about what happened like if we’re singing from a Russian soldiers point of view, we have nothing against Germans at all. We don’t like Nazis but that’s common.
It seems like you have an affinity for Poland with songs like “40:1”, “Uprising” and even “Aces In Exile” with Polish fighter pilots, fighting with the British while Nazi’s had a hold of their country. So what is it about Poland that has continued to inspire you to write songs from their country’s or their soldier’s perspective?
Well two things I guess. One was the way they were treated in the war. Britain and America sold them out. They came to the conference and were discussing about how they would divide Poland’s borders when the war was over. It was Vyacheslav Molotov who said “why are you bringing this up, we’ve already sorted this out”. The assurances that the Polish Prime Minister had were [forgotten]. Winners write the history and Poland’s role has been forgotten in that sense. And also, the Polish really took to the song “40:1” to their hearts. They are an amazing crowd, and an amazing audience. The amount of attention that the song got was amazing. So we figured, oh shit, we got over a million views in a week on Youtube because somebody posted the video for “40:1” with Polish subtitles. This was amazing and we were on the Polish national TV news and stuff like that is definitely amazing. That really, in a sense, made us love the country and the people. It’s not a “hit song” but a very high percentage of the Polish population have heard of the song. We thought people would come to the shows, wait for that song, and only be interested in that song, and then leave…but that wasn’t at all the situation in Poland. In 90% of the cases people got into what we were doing. They were shouting, moshing, headbanging along to all of the show. You play for one hour and 45minutes and they are still jumping and having fun. Of course they will be jumping even more when we play “40:1” and “Uprising” and stuff like that. They never saw us as just a band that wrote that one song and it was over. It was more, “these guys are singing about something that matters and is forgotten even by some of us”.
So you think it’s a crime that some people forget historical things that have happened, and the reasons why they happened? The saying goes “Those who don’t know history are doomed to repeat it.”.
Yes. I don’t think it’s important to know exactly on which date that something happened. This was something from history class where I was always thinking “Why the fuck should I remember exactly which year what Swedish king ruled?”. I knew it was in the late 1600’s but that was enough. What is important is what happened, what were the consequences, what was the igniting spark. Like the start of World War I or World War II – why, how, and approximately when – that might be interesting. I don’t know how it is on the other side of the Atlantic, but history here in Scandinavia, and at least in Poland, and Germany it’s focused too much on remembering dates to make it easy for the teachers instead of what happened. So yeah I agree. It’s not a crime, but it’s very important. I don’t know how old you are but I’m turning 30 this year and my mother is in the Czech Republic. She was on the wrong side of the Berlin Wall growing up and I’ve been there myself while it was still there. I have met people who were in concentration camps and things. I think if you are in your late 20’s and above, you are going to have some kind of relationship with this because you’re bound to even have say a friend’s Grandfather who was involved, especially here in Europe.
Well my Grandfather fought in World War II so I’ve always been very interested in that history.
Oh?!? Where was he fighting? You guys (Canadians) were on Juno Beach right?
Well even though I’m a Canadian, back during WWII, the province I’m from was not a part of Canada. I’m from Newfoundland which was still pretty much controlled by Great Britain at that time. So my Grandfather fought with the British in a separate Newfoundland division called The 166th (Newfoundland) Field Regiment.
Wow. Where did he fight?
North Africa and in Italy.
So facing the desert fox then? (Erwin Rommel)
Yes. So he was over there for most of the war from about 1940 until around the end of the war. A number of my relatives, great uncles, etc. were involved in WWII so there’s a number of family stories about their experience. So for this, it’s not really just “history” when it’s someone whom you’ve had a personal relationship with, it becomes more real.
Yeah, it really is real. A member of the family who was going to Auschwitz, but they didn’t send them one by one or five by five. They had these gathering up concentration camp areas then they could put 2000 people on one train and all at once they are gone, sent to Auschwitz. And this person escaped maybe 2-3 days before he was to be shipped to Auschwitz. So I think in a sense, if someone is maybe 16 today, they are not going to have second hand experience even, like we have where we met somebody who was actually there to tell it so there is an emotional connection to it. For them it’s going to be more of a fucking history lesson which might be totally boring and uninteresting. I’m afraid that in maybe 15 years or in 35 years, they are the ones who will be presidents or prime minister’s and they may do all this same shit over again.
Let’s hope not!
So on a lighter note, you also do some songs that are more, I guess you could say ‘in praise of metal’. For example, songs such as "Metal Machine", "Metal Crüe", and the new one "Metal Ripper". Do these songs play out well live? Do people think they are just something for fun or maybe a joke?
The idea was a tribute to metal and generally 99% of the time they are received really well. In the end of a show, for the last two years now we close all our shows with a medley where we start with “Metal Machine” and we switch to “Metal Crüe”. This is how we’ve ended every show since 2007 or something. It’s really a good way of saying thank-you to the audience, it’s been a fucking blast. We’ve been singing about death, misery, people dying, so now let’s open a can of beer and party. I don’t drink on stage though for two reasons. I don’t want anyone to see a member of the band or me drunk on stage because it’s fucking disrespectful. You want to be able to put on a good show and do a good performance, so then you shouldn’t be drinking. Even though I might have a beer with dinner or with supper, the reason why I don’t drink beer on stage is also because it’s carbonated (laughs). I’d burp into the microphone which wouldn’t be very good. So by the end of the show these are not the hardest songs to sing so I open a beer and have a cheers to the audience so if a burp sneaks through in just that final party part of the show, I don’t think anybody’s going to die from it (laughs).
When writing these kind of sings, like for example with “Metal Ripper” you put in some lyrics from some classic metal songs. How did you choose them and did the riffs in the song inspire the selection of what might fit where?
In most of the cases I write the music, the vocal melodies, before I get the lyrics in there. But when it came to, well let me be honest, it’s not something I’m very proud of….but normally I’m one of the guys in the band, I’m not bashing anyone or complaining about “you guys should come to the studio more rehearsed” but when recording the PRIMO VICTORIA album I was actually taking a shit in the bathroom and a knock came on the door – “hello what’s happening here?” and they are like “you have to come out and sing the final song.”. That’s where it hit me…“fuck I totally forgot about that song.” I had been so into everything about the production with everything from reverbs to the instruments it turns out I didn’t have the lyrics and I hadn’t recorded the final song. So I wrote them there. There were a bunch of magazines there by the toilet so I actually wrote lyrics there on the toilet. It was a comical solution and a joke at the same time. Then we did it again on “Metal Crüe”. Then with the new one I wanted to call it “Metal Ripoff” but you know…(laughs) The guitarists would not have that (laughs). So we agreed to compromise and rip off the intro riff to Judas Priest’s “The Ripper” and open the song with that and then call it “Metal Ripper” and steal some vocal lines from bands we liked or stuff like that with anything from Deep Purple to Crimson Glory, even the European German band, Heaven’s Gate.
I know there has been talks about a Sabaton DVD release – are there any new developments to report there regarding a possible release time-frame?
We had been doing the recordings of the DVD material. There were supposed to be two automatic cameras shooting the drummer and keyboarder. Then the lighting truss was not raised as high so they covered the cameras for the first recording and stuff like that. Between all this just recently, as you know, we had a record label change. We had already decided on the DVD we even have material from our first show together ever from 1999. So we decided that people have been waiting long enough, we should release something now, or we could release something now but then it would be an average/regular DVD. So we decided that for the whole World War Tour from late September / early October until late November to have a film crew with us to document the whole tour. We also want to focus on the backstage stuff that happens behind the scenes. We want it to be the motherfucker of all DVD’s, like a triple DVD package or something! We’ve filmed Sabaton for 10-11 years, everything. In the end we could make something and release it now and get a big one out later. And no matter how much I love the internet for getting stuff for free, I want a way to actually get people to actually buy stuff by giving them something that is actually worth paying for. If you make a crappy album in your own home studio, well maybe not crappy, but I mean something where you try to cut costs at every fucking corner, then of course people will download it because you didn’t have to pay much for it or you have a fifteen song album of which ten are fillers. Instead of bashing people and trying to hunt them down for downloading, make sure you make such a good album or DVD that people will WANT to pay for it and support the band. So that’s better than hunting them down like you’re the fucking Gestapo or something.
So maybe later in 2011 the DVD will finally see the light of day ya think?
Yes, 2011 definitely.
Are their any other things going on with Sabaton that we didn’t touch on here that you’d like to include?
Hmm…yeah, or yeah, tomorrow I’m heading into the studio to do the final mixes and recordings and stuff for the re-releases for our previous albums!
Cool, and they’ll all come out through Nuclear Blast?
Yes. This means they will be available properly for those who haven’t been able to get them properly. It will be done with the same theory as the DVD. We actually have lots of live recordings, and without going deep into details, other friends and musicians we got to know along the road who joined us live maybe on a Sabaton song. We got new original material and really ancient material that we recorded as it was never recorded before now….the ones that didn’t make it to the albums, or ones that I never finished.
Are there rough release dates for this stuff yet?
I know OUR deadline is the first of August to deliver our material. We’ve done most of it already. So I think it may be about when we start touring, so late September / early October for Europe and maximum one month later for the United States I think.
Well thanks for your time and the awesome music. Hopefully we’ll see you over here in Canada soon.
Thank you and I’d love to, I’ve never been there, I’d love to come. Are people as friendly as the rumors suggest?
I think so yes, but it depends on who you ask.
I think people in the United States are kinda friendly but kinda keep to themselves maybe.
Well it seems people in the US think us Canadians are a friendly lot…so speaking from the inside I can’t really say if that’s the case, but it seems that this is what other countries say about Canada..so maybe it’s true. Come tour here and you’ll find out!