@ HMV Forum, London
9th November 2012
Interview by Rhiannon Marley
Interview Photos by Michelle Murphy
When you think Sabaton, you tend to think battles, and apparently this even goes as far as their press info; “It’s always crazy when you hit the capitals,” explains frontman Joakim Brodén. “It’s the same in Stockholm or Berlin, too. There are more interviews, more photo-shoots, and it’s been especially mad today, since we’re recording!” Yes, the rumour picked up pace when confirmed by Sabaton’s own website that tonight is being filmed for their upcoming DVD, and those same reports whisper that it’s set to be a rather fiery affair!
After their renowned line-up change in Spring 2012, it’s Sabaton’s first tour with three new members, although a keyboardist is yet to be found. Does victory loom for the Swedes?
How have you all been enjoying the road and tour so far?
Joakim Brodén (JB): We’ve been out for quite some time now. We started in late August actually, and I’ve been home for three days since the 23th August. We had some touring breaks: about 5 or 6 days off, but no time to actually go home. Other things to do! [Laughs] We started off in Cyprus and Israel, working our way north. We’ve done most of continental Europe, and now we’re in the UK. Been here about a week and a half; it’s been fun so far!
All your pyrotechnics have been imported from Sweden for tonight’s show. Why did you decide to use them and film in London?
JB: Well normally, we have to do a London show, then get the fuck out just as quickly. But it’s a shame that so many bands do that, so this time, we decided to incorporate this big night into the whole tour. Having said that, it kind of sucks that the UK never seems to have a chance; everybody goes for smaller production, and leaves the truck and big stage-set at home for you guys. We thought ‘Nah, let’s do it for real: at least try it, and see if it works.’ So we brought the pyros and big stuff all the way from Sweden, and it’ll be the first time we’ve used them in the UK!
Have you had any trouble or mishaps with it so far?!
JB: Ahh, obviously there have been some minor accidents, but nothing major! [Laughs]
I mean, the flame-throwers do get really hot, but they open for such a short time – I think it’s a quarter of a second, or a third of a second, at the most – so even though it burns, your skin doesn’t have time to develop ‘proper’ burns.
Normally, you have a security ‘grid’, so that if someone in the band is outside the security area, marked with tape around the stage, it’s an indication for the pyro not to be let off, but I don’t like this, because I want to be close to the crowd, so I always tell the pyro guy; “Even if I’m there, I know where the flame-throwers are going! Don’t worry about me!” [Laughs]
It’s perfect; I just stand in the middle between them, and go “RAAAAARGH!” Bring on the pyros!
At one point when trying them out, I realised I wasn’t really centred, so my arm ended up actually IN the flames. I thought, ‘Oh shit!’ Luckily, I didn’t hurt myself; it was a bit red and smelled like burned hair, though! [laughs]
Since Carolus Rex is your first concept album around your nationalities, is it an emotional milestone in Sabaton’s career?
JB: When we started out, we didn’t think it was going to be anything special, other than a story about the Swedish Empire; it’s a 100-year history lesson, essentially. But since we decided to record in Swedish in the middle of the process as well… Actually, while I was singing in Swedish, there was some kind of personal connection to it.
Even though we speak decent English, Swedish is, of course, our native tongue.
Emotionally, that gets you closer, somehow. Naturally, I had a few emotional moments when recording in English on this album, and other albums, too, but it seems that there are more of those moments in Swedish here, when you know something is ‘right’, but you don’t know exactly what: those ‘sweet spots’. I’m sorry that that’s not so much the case for the English versions!
Why did you choose to record in English up until now, then? For marketability?
JB: Yes, of course. I mean, who’s gonna listen to a Swedish metal band singing about war history?! [Laughs] It would be a kind of fucked-up paradox: ‘Okay, NEUTRAL Sweden is out singing about World War 2, in Swedish!! What the fuck?! It makes NO sense whatsoever!’
Singing in Swedish didn’t emerge as an idea until this album. I was writing one of the last songs on it, Long Live The King, and just for fun, some words in Swedish popped into my head, during the course of recording. So for the pre-production, I recorded the chorus in Swedish and Par; the bassist, and I spoke, and he said, “Damn, we should record this full song in Swedish, because it’s really cool.” So we wrote that in Swedish, and then we said, “No actually, we should make the whole ALBUM in Swedish!”
We didn’t have the extra studio time booked, so I was thinking double-time. Usually, studio time is from around 9 or 10 in the morning, then I go to bed at about 3 or 4 the following morning. 12-14 hours or so.
Which language do you think lends itself best to Sabaton’s style?
JB: For this album, I’d say Swedish, but it only makes sense to sing in Swedish because it’s about Swedish history. Normally, I’d say that English fits better, even though I’m not as good at it, but at least most people understand me!
Were there any difficulties blending the playing styles of each of your new members with the material, as recorded by the previous line-up?
JB: There weren’t any problems at all.
Basically because I write all the music beforehand, and many of the guitar solos and drum parts are already set in stone; they were just performing what I’d already created. In that sense, it’s not much of a change, obviously.
I think the biggest difference was stage-related. 500 shows together with the previous guys means you have a built-in GPS system: ‘Okay, Rich is gonna be here, Oscar is gonna be there, so I can jump backwards and know what’s going on without hurting anyone.’ At the first show we did with the new line-up in San Antonio, Texas, the first thing I went to do in the first song was jump backwards, as I always do during that part. But obviously, because it was the new boys’ first show with us, they were behind me! [Laughs]
No disrespect to the old boys at all, but we grew up together, starting a band as teenagers. Everybody wants to be a rock star at any price, and we were teaching each other how to play, but when it became too much for everyone, with recording an album, playing 100 shows, keeping a family and everything, we had to have a new line-up.
Where the new boys were concerned, we were in a position to pick insanely good musicians – again, not disrespecting the old guys in any way at all, but we had our pick, and we were very lucky in that sense. Starting out, no-one really wanted to play with us when we were 18, because we were kind of crap! Now, we’re still crap, but we’re an established band, so we can choose good musicians! [Laughs]
Do you think your new boys bring anything different in a live capacity to the album that maybe wasn’t there on the recorded versions?
JB: Oh yeah – it’s much more well-played, in the sense that, for example, they do some solos that connect to the melodies just as the old guys did, but for other solos, they just improvise completely over the riffs that are already there. Some nights, it’s just jaw-breaking!
Usually, I run quite actively onstage, but sometimes, I just stop and go, ‘What the fuck, can he really do that?! Is that possible?!’
It’s a really nice experience, because obviously, the new guys want to prove to us that they belong there, and especially prove it to the fans. It becomes a spiral: they see that I’m going out there every night, giving it my all, and they think, ‘We can’t let this old fucker own us!’
So they go even crazier! It’s a good mix, because you can see we’re all having fun, and they’re not tired of it; they want this more than anything.
That was one of the main criteria Par and I were looking for in new boys as they had to want this more than anything else…that was the number 1 thing.
Nobody actually did a musical audition, we just said that firstly, they had to want it so much, and secondly, that they couldn’t be a diva or an asshole! If they ticked those two boxes, they were good enough. We’d already decided that we shouldn’t even consider people who we weren’t 100% sure could handle this musically, so we met them all over a beer and in fact, Robban the drummer had played with us before, when the previous dude’s knees broke down, but the other guys had been in bands that were good friends of ours, so even if we didn’t know them personally to begin with, so we had a good idea that we would get along well.
We didn’t want to do auditions, because then we’d have to go all official and announce, ‘Oh, we’re looking for NEW BAND MEMBERS!’ One, that would mean we’d have to go through a whole load of people who’d recorded a YouTube video, and had done 3000 retakes to get it right, and two, we didn’t have the time, because we had an American tour coming up, and we didn’t want to cancel any shows.
Has there been any writing on the road with the new guys already? Any new material in its infancy?
JB: We’ve been doing some jamming for fun, but nothing is set in stone, because I only really write every now and then, but the old boys in the band didn’t want to, or couldn’t, write music, whereas the new guys want to try. So we said that as soon as we take a break from touring, we’ll schedule a studio lock-in for a week and compare what we’ve got. If it works, we’ll write a song together; if it sucks, we won’t! [Laughs]
You’re in the third year of the Sabaton cruise as well; are you still getting as much of a thrill out of it now as when you started it?
JB: Yeah, I think we’re getting more of a thrill now than ever, actually. It was getting a bit…not tiresome, but some of the old boys didn’t really want to do it to that intense level any more, even though I’ve always wanted to do it, it drags you down a bit.
It’s nice to have people around now who you can get along with no matter what the conditions. Even if you’re doing a smaller gig on it, maybe in America with around 200 people there, with a smaller stage, there are no perfect circumstances. But we’re not like, ‘Oh damn, there are no showers today’, or ‘It’s a bit tight onstage’; our reaction now is, ‘Alright! Let’s go!’ The mentality of the band now is that if we can’t kick ass and rock out in front of 50 people, then we don’t deserve to play to 50,000. And I like that mentality.
Regarding all the wars you’re famous for citing, do you like modern military writers such as Robert Greene and Rob Johnson, or prefer older philosophers like Sun Tzu, whom you’ve already quoted?
JB: For semi-military stuff, I’d say Tom Clancy; he’s borderline military, but for some reason, I’m starting to go more and more into documentaries these days than fiction, unless it’s the perfect marriage, like The Pacific or Band of Brothers – a wonderful TV series.
I’m not too into military fiction, really… I don’t know why, but with military history there’s plenty enough of that to read already!
What is it about the psychology of war that fascinates you? Do you take something from strategy or battle and apply it to your daily life?
JB: Not really; there’s only one thing I’ve learned for myself, and that was from Sun Tzu, in The Art of War. He doesn’t say these words exactly, but the line in our song of the same title as the book is ‘I will win, but never fight.’ It’s pretty self-explanatory; about winning a war without ever having to fight in it, which is what that chapter in the book is about.
I guess what fascinates me the most is what such extreme circumstances as war can do to people. Let’s take an example of, I think it was northern France, when the Germans invaded…in order to protect his own family, a doctor, the village favourite whom everybody loved, would inform the Nazis where the Jews were, so that the Nazis could pick them up and send them to concentration camps, but an old potato farmer outside the village…whom everybody hated, was hiding several Jewish families in his barn, to protect them instead!
People you expect to do great things can turn out to do really bad things, yet people you don’t expect anything from can turn out to do great things.
Do you think the fact of what it can do to people makes war so marketable? In films, literature, art, and music?
JB: Well, it’s a strange thing that it is so marketable, but in the long term, I think it’s a good thing.
I don’t like the idea of censoring or not showing stuff like that. I mean, the best probable way to make sure it doesn’t happen is to show kids blood and gore, so that they’re disgusted by it and are less likely to think about wreaking it 30 years later, when they’re running a country.
I don’t know what the fascination with it is, but I think it’s got something to do with the fact that, if you take it down to a story level, it has everything in it that a good story needs.
It has drama, certainly; that’s why it fits with music, because it provokes all the really powerful emotional responses.
It has despair – not just slight sadness, but proper despair – and depression and it has euphoria and victory after battle, and everything in-between….it just fits with the music.
In that case, do you intentionally write to the ‘power metal’ epic genre, or do your interests just happen to coincide with that category?
JB: Ooh… I just write music, and then whatever sounds like something I like, I follow! [Laughs]
I never planned for Sabaton to be power metal; we just do our thing!
First, I write the music, and make it sound as much like Par and the other guys and I would like it to sound, but before we decide which topic it goes into, we start doing research and listening to the mood of the song. Obviously, you can’t take a happy, cheerful tune and make it about the Final Solution or the Holocaust.
Even if you don’t intend to write to the genre then, do you think the symphonic edge of Sabaton is developing the power metal style as it exists in 2012?
JB: I don’t know, actually. I just want to write good songs, and perform them live.
Whether what I do creates something new, or just re-uses old stuff, I couldn’t care less, because a good song is a good song. If anyone has a strong view that our music either progresses or regresses, I don’t really care if it does or not! [Laughs]
And last question, Joakim: if you could pick three albums to take with you to a desert island, what would they be?
JB: Rainbow Rising – Rainbow, Heaven and Hell – Black Sabbath, and…the third one probably shouldn’t be a Dio album! [Laughs] Although he was one of the greatest to ever walk this earth… My third choice would actually be a strange one: U.D.O. – Faceless World. I think it’s a highly underrated album; it’s actually better than many Accept albums. Most of them, actually…
Three Dio albums would make as good a Holy Trinity as any, in my opinion!
Thanks for your time today…