Heart of Steel: Interviews

HammerFall
Following The Signs of The Crimson Thunder
With Joacim Cans of HAMMERFALL 

Interviewed by EvilG / Transcribed by Waspman


I got the new album just two weeks ago, and man, I love it! It's exactly what I was hoping for really.

That's good, that's the first time I've heard somebody that. Usually people say, "I was hoping for something else". It's been weird. I'm really satisfied with the album. I'm happy you like the album.

 

 

I guess we'll start, and you can tell me what is the Crimson Thunder?

The "Crimson Thunder" actually has two meanings. If you look at the cover there's the crimson sky, and in the song "Crimson Thunder" the way I describe it is "you will follow the sound of the crimson thunder." But actually it's derived from the song "Unchained" from our GLORY TO THE BRAVE album, which says "crimson thunder running through your veins." The crimson thunder is the blood that we have inside ourselves, it's a certain feeling. I mean, me as a metal fan, I have this feeling that I'm burning for heavy metal and I have crimson thunder running through my veins. That is, the actual meaning of crimson thunder.

 

 

The new album does sound one hundred percent like HammerFall, but it's not identical to the other albums. It's not really part 2 of another album, I think it stands on it's own. What, in your opinion, do you think changed or, what did you improve upon for the new album?

I think first of all the major difference from the past albums is the production. This production is more powerful, rawer, it's more heavy metal than ever before. The weird thing is that this sounds even more like HammerFall than we did before. It's kind of weird, but in my opinion we've finally found the sound that we wanted. A big difference I would say is that the core of the songs, or the majority of the songs, are more mid-tempo compared to previous albums. We are more Accept-ish compared to being more towards Helloween on the previous albums with the faster songs. Now, we create some thunder, it feels that we've taken a huge step up on the next level. In my opinion HammerFall sounds best playing mid-tempo metal songs. Though I do like fast songs.

I assume fast songs will still always be somewhat of a trademark that you'll do?

I think the diversity will always be there. You can do a song like "On the Edge of Honor" and then do a song like "Dreams Come True." Two songs which are the total opposite of each other but still within the boundriess of HammerFall.

 

Picture courtesy of JoacimCans.comYour last album was recorded in the USA and this time you traveled to Andi Deris' studio and worked with new producer Charlie Bauerfeind. First, were you happy with the results of the last album production-wise, and if so, why the change to a new producer?

I was really happy with the outcome of RENEGADE. The sad thing is that a lot of people didn't really understand the production of that album since we took away all the triggers and we didn't use any computers at all for that album. We wanted to get a really live sounding album and also get the live feeling from our performances, so I was really satisfied. Maybe the mix, the drums got kind of lost in the mix somehow. Maybe we could have pushed them up in the mix more, but RENEGADE gave us our first gold album. RENEGADE gave us our first #1 record in the charts. It would be stupid of me to say, "well no, I really didn't like that album." I was really satisfied on that album, and plus the type of production we had on it would never fit on an album like CRIMSON THUDNER, and vice versa. We actually thought about going back to Nashville but it costs a lot of money to take a production to the States. That and studios cost three times as much over there as they do in Europe. We invested a lot of money for RENEGADE that didn't pay off that much at the end. At the end of the day, this is the income that we have and we need to think a little more economical. When we started to search for a European producer we checked out Charlie and usually with a producer you check out his back catalog and he made every band sound more like themselves and that is something that I really like. when every band sounds like the producer, that is a problem in my opinion. With Charlie, I listened to Helloween, I listened to Blind Guardian, and he made every band sound even more like themselves. That is something I do like. If you listen to CRIMSON THUNDER you can't really say that it's a Charlie Bauerfeind production because it sound so much like HammerFall. With his experience and ideas, he just made us sound bigger.

So I assume that you would keep him in mind for the next record?

Absolutely. There is no doubt that we would work with him for the next album.

 

 

One other question related to producers. You originally worked with Fredrik Nordstrom, and since his band Dream Evil featured himself and the lead vocalist sang backup on some HammerFall albums, I was just wondering what your take is on his foray into the world of metal as opposed to being behind the console?

I think it's a great album. It's got really good and catchy songs I would say. Another thing is that my best friend is the bass player, and my girlfriend's friend - her friend is the drummer. I know all of the guys and we're going to take them on the second leg of the European tour as a support band. So it's a really great album and I'm really awaiting their next release to so what's gonna happen then. Maybe they'll get more serious, let's say they are 75% serious on this album. They need to get more serious because in the end they can't fool the fans (laughs). I mean "Heavy Metal In The Night" is kind of a funny song. ["Thunder. Lightening. Fighting..."] Yeah, "monsters, are dying, by axes."
(laughter) [It does have it's funny moments.] It's a great album though.

 

 

I saw your new video for "Hearts on Fire" just recently and it looks awesome. I think it's your best video so far. I was wondering, who put up all the money to do the video?

Well, Nuclear Blast paid for the whole video, but in the end they will deduct some of the money from our future royalties. The director is another really close friend of mine, and if you have good friends you make good deals. Of course you pay for the actual cost of the video like this, especially the computer animation. That would cost a fortune, but we got a great deal. Where did you see it by the way?

Someone had a link posted online to watch it. I think it was some website in Sweden.

That's great! I don't care about our video being posted on the Net, since the mainstream media is working against metal.

Yeah true. Especially here in Canada. I don't even think they'd even  bother airing the video here.

We're going to try and get on VH1, but you never know. Up here in the northern parts of Europe, I'm seeing it every week now, so that's pretty good.

Wow! You mentioned how RENEGADE went #1 over there.

Yeah, on the Swedish charts, the TV/video charts.

That blows a lot of people's minds who are involved in metal here in North America because real metal bands are not at all in the limelight.

The coolest thing is that two weeks ago, there's a new show now, "Hearts On Fire" went on there, and we went #1 again! This really proves that metal is really strong here.

So why did you choose to have "Hearts On Fire" be your first single and video?

As soon as I got the song from Oscar I heard the opening guitar riff and I got this feeling. I try to follow my intuition and I got this feeling that this is the single. I called Oscar and told him. He said "well, I'm not so sure, there must be other songs." No, no, this is the single. In the rehearsal room, the rest of the guys said the same thing.

It's the first song that grabbed me when I listened to the album. It's the chorus.

The chorus is so straightforward, it's in your face. It's simple but it's catchy. It's heavy enough for the metal fans, and it's still commercial enough for maybe their doubters. Maybe they hear the song once or twice and find themselves walking around and singing the chorus.

 

 

Originally I remember reading that the video was going to be pushed back because of an injury that you received from a certain scumbag. I don't know if you want to talk about it, but I was going to ask if they've caught the guy who did that?

No, he got away. I don't think he was from this city, so he's probably hiding somewhere in the south (of Sweden). There are actually people waiting in line to talk to this guy.

For sure! Every HammerFall fan!

And other people as well. He better stay away from this city for the next 10 years. But for the video, I mean, it looks cool! The scars and everything.

I like the skeletons and everything walking around in the background. That looks cool.

I mean, if you've seen Army of Darkness, you've seen the influence.

Are you a big fan of horror movies?

Especially the Evil Dead trilogy.

The first one especially, or all three of them?

All of them. I love the first one. The third one is more of a comedy with a full-blown budget.

Yeah, I like the first one, it's kind of more twisted.

Yeah, I like the first one with the audio commentary track with Bruce Campbell. I can watch that over and over again.

 

 

So back to CRIMSON THUNDER. Besides "Hearts On Fire" what other songs on here grabbed you right away and you consider to be the next single or to be your favorite songs on here?

It's impossible to say. I like all of the songs. I mean, we were working so hard on every little part in every song. I think I'll have to wait to answer that until after the tour when we know what songs we like to play live. I think "Riders of the Storm" will work really well live.

When I first saw the track listing and I saw "Riders On The Storm" I said "what are they doing? Covering the Doors?". (laughs)

(laughs) Yeah. It's a typo on the cover. It's "Riders of the Storm". I think the four-track promo said "Riders of the Strom", What the hell is a "strom"? I don't know. (laughter)

 

You did two cover songs, one is not available on this release, but on the one I have it's "Angel of Mercy" by Chastain. Many HammerFall fans may not have heard this song before, so what made you select that one to cover?

I think you answered that question yourself. 

Many people may not have heard it. (laughs)

True, and we pick kind of obscure cover songs from time to time, just to put some light on really good bands that aren't really around anymore. Just trying to promote the 80's in the best way we can. First of all, it's a great song, and second I wanted to hear what this song would sound like with male vocals, and also with a big full production. In the first place we didn't want to put this song on the album, it was only going to be a bonus track, but I thought this song mixed so well with our own compositions. I mean, in the end it feels like a HammerFall song. I talked to David and they are going to re-release the album now. It's perfect, we did the same thing with StormWitch. They released their greatest hits right after we did the single for GLORY TO THE BRAVE for the song "Raven Lord". It's just a way for us to pay tribute to the influences on HammerFall and without these bands there would never be a HammerFall.

 

 

The other song which came as a surprise, on the North American version, is "Detroit Rock City" by KISS. I wouldn't have guessed that KISS was a big influence on HammerFall, so how did that song get selected?

I think KISS is a big influence when it comes to stage act. When we play Europe, it's impossible to get everything to a stage prop. Last tour we had a castle with a drawbridge. We put a lot of money into that. Kiss have always been some kind of an influence when it comes to that. Oscar is a huge Kiss fan. I'm not really a big fan, but I think some of the other guys in the band thought "should we do a Kiss song?" - well why not? It was just a way to maybe flirt a little bit with the Americans. In the first place I wanted to a song by Malice called "Sinister Double". [That would of been a more obscure one!] Yes, but it was a little too tricky for me to sing. He sings quite high and if I don't do as good as the original...well the Kiss song doesn't really sound as good as the original, but what the hell. Then we consider doing something else (other than Malice), and that was Kiss.

 

 

You've definitely covered a lot of cool songs, like Twisted Sister and Dio, and Accept. It's been cool, I prefer to have a song on a B-side. It seems like everyone is doing the tribute album thing these days, it's overkill.

That's something we put in the contract when we do a tribute album, is that we would be entitled to use our song in a year or two. We give them the right to use our version for a year or two, but then we can use it as our own b-side or something. I don't like to have our fans go out to buy a full price CD just to get one song, that's doesn't make sense.

 

 

My last question regarding cover songs, have you ever thought about covering the song "When the Hammer Falls" by Canada's classic heavy metal band Helix? (laughs)

(laughs) Uhhh....not really. I did an interview a few years ago where they asked me if I could name as many songs as possible that included the word "hammer", and there's a lot of really good songs with the name "Hammer" in them. I never thought about the Helix song.

There's less bands with the phrase "hammer fall" though.

That's true. I think Queen had a "hammer fall" thing. I think Shy, their last album had one too.

When I first heard HammerFall in 1997, Helix popped in my mind. Being from Canada, Helix came to mind.

They're not doing anything right now are they?

Brian Vollmer, the singer, is still putting something together with himself and no other original members, but at least he's still doing what he wants to do I guess.

Well, that's the way it should be.

Yep. So you guys landed the very awesome opening slot on Dio's North American tour. How fuckin' cool is that eh?

Well, actually, that's probably the coolest thing to happen to us! We've been looking for an opening like this. A lot of bands want to have HammerFall as a support band, but to play dumpsters and toilets and venues like that it doesn't make sense. We were looking for a bigger band that we could support, maybe invest some money for the future. Then my agent in Sweden told us about the Dio tour and we told him to check it out. He called me back and told me that they wanted us! So we just said "Yeah! Let's do it!"

 

 

Do you have any idea yet of how long of a set you'll have?

About 35 minutes. That's enough.

Yeah, that's not bad. Is it just the two bands?

HammerFall will open up, and then King's X will play, I think it's a double support act, I think we get 35 minutes each. I don't see a problem with that.

 

 

Do you think you'll play your Dio cover song live? Maybe he'll come out and sing it with you!

If I do he'll probably come out and punch me in the face! (laughs) I think he will play it. Maybe for the last show, if we get to talk and become friends, then maybe. That would be SO cool!

Yeah, playing with a legend right?

Yeah! I mean, I've done that once already with Udo, doing "Head Over Heels" with Kai Hansen from Helloween for "I Want Out". Also "Raven lord" with the Story Witch singer live on stage and of course "Child of the Damned" with Warlord. Yeah, it would be really cool!

 

 

Definitely! So you've been over here before on your 1998 tour with Death. Not a lot of European power/traditional bands come over here that often, do you think you a bigger fan base over here than some of your peers? Or do you think that HammerFall just happens to be a bigger band in North America than some others?

After LEGACY OF KINGS, we doubled the sales after the tour with Death. It was only about 25,000 copies, but that's pretty good for a heavy metal band in the States. RENEGADE didn't give us a proper tour, then of course the album sales...it didn't sell that good. There's a lot of bands that want to do the States, but in the end they know that it's a lot of hassle, as I said they are gonna play dumpsters, no showers, no food, no money - and they'd lose a lot of money. But now we've decided since we got the Dio tour to invest some money. I mean, we're paying out of our own pockets in the end for this tour. We want to more or less prove that heavy metal is alive in North America. If it isn't, then we've gotta wake up the dead! We gotta force feed the Yankees with some European metal! If it doesn't work this time....it's more like do or die now...either we make it or we'll go back home and never return, but at least we want to give it a try.

 

It seems like some European bands are at a point in their career where they don't need to come and play to the American audiences because they're doing so well in Europe. So it seems that the U.S. gets left out, just as the way it is.

Yeah, but for me HammerFall is still kind of a new band. We still want to see if it works. That's why we do new countries on every tour. We could play it safe and do more shows in Sweden and Germany, and then sit at home and count the money, but it's not about that. If you have achieved something, you look for something new. We've conquered some territories so we're looking for world domination! Well, not really, but it sounded cool, so I had to say it! (laughs)

(laughs) I was thinking the same thing. (laughs)
A couple questions now of a more historical base. You were involved in a pre-Hammerfall band with some of the members of what is now Lost Horizon, in a band called Highlander. Can you tell me a little bit about that band, and did you guys ever write or record any original material?

Well, I joined that band back in '91 and they asked if I would like to come out and do one show. I said naaa, and then said, "well, OK, let's do it". I ended up staying five years in that band. Most of the songs that we played back then, are the same ones that you'll find on Lost Horizon's debut album. They were a little faster and we wrote all the lyrics. They're basically the same songs, but now they're more up to date sounding. Yeah, a bunch of cool guys, the same guitarist, same bass player. And the drummer we had, the first drummer, is now the bass player in Dark Tranquillity. We were just a bunch of friends having a lot of fun. We never did anything except two demos. [So there WAS something recorded then?] Yeah, 2 demos and it's not on the Internet yet, but you never know if they'll use it as a bonus thing or something but I'm holding on to the demos here.

 

 

Has your vocal style, do you think, changed or is it basically the same as it is now?

I think I have developed a lot. I started singing pretty late. I did some singing when I was 16-18, but nothing really serious because I wanted to play guitar. I started really singing at 21. At that time, it sounded OK, a little strained, I couldn't last for a full show, but I had my moments. When I was younger I wanted to sound like Geoff Tate, but I sounded more like Lemmy from Motorhead. That was my problem and was why I didn't want to continue to sing because I didn't like my voice. It seems like every year I find something different in my voice. Also, I'd say it's changed from GLORY TO THE BRAVE, up until now. I have worked hard to get here.

Were you always able to sing as high as you can now?

No, no. I could maybe hit the high notes once a week. If I hit it on a Monday I would be horse for 4-5 days. Now, I have more of a correct technique, I know my limits. That's the first thing a singer needs to know is their limits.

 

 

In 1997, when GLORY TO THE BRAVE came out, and Nuclear Blast signed the band, it kind of seemed to some people that it was a big step for them to sign a band like HammerFall because back then your brand of heavy metal wasn't as big as it is now. Did you expect things would get as big as they have?

No. No one could expect that. I mean heavy metal at that time was nothing. Iron Maiden toured in Sweden and they played in front of 600-700 people. I mean, no one debuted at that time. No one at Nuclear Blast believed in HammerFall except for the boss, and he said "I want to sign these guys". A few months later, we became the most successful band they ever had. I expected to sell 5,000 albums. If we sold 10,000 that would be amazing. Now I'm sitting here, and we've sold...a few more (laughs). Even in my wildest dreams could I have imagined something like this happening. Just to record an album, to me, was enough.

 

 

For myself, when I first heard you guys in '97, at the time I was primarily listening to more extreme music and the old stuff the 80s, and at the time it was a complete breath of fresh air for a band like HammerFall to bring back what was once good about heavy metal. I found that when you guys came out, very quickly a number of other bands adopted and revived the style of the 80s and sounded somewhat like HammerFall. What was your opinion when you started to see other bands popping up who were following in your footsteps?

Hope for the future. That one band can make a difference. We have to get united. What we need now is not old bands to come back again, we need young kids, when they pick up a guitar for the first time they say "hey I want to play heavy metal." That is fantastic. There's a lot of copycats out there, not copying HammerFall - I think other bands have bigger problems than us. A lot of bands sound like Gamma Ray or like Helloween etc. and a lot of them sound exactly like them but a bad version of it. These bands will release one album, maybe two, and they're gone. But the few bands who last, even when metal goes down again, you'll still have some bands who will survive anything.

Do you see metal right now as being on somewhat of a high point?

In some territories yes. In Sweden and Germany definitely. In the States we'll have to spend the time. I don't think that the power metal part of heavy metal will survive that long. The happy, fast, over-melodic type of metal will survive for that long.  I spoke to a lot of people, sales people in record companies who say, "I have a really good album here, but I do not want to say it's power metal because I can't sell it because the record stores are saying no". There are too many bands sounding exactly the same at the moment.

There does seem to be somewhat of a backlash against power metal. You hear people making fun of the D&D style of metal. Are you trying to distance yourselves from that type of tag?

Actually, we do the same thing now that we did in 1997. We just follow our hearts, writing music that we would buy ourselves. This album, there's a darker side to the lyrics. There's not so many swords, not so many fights, heroics... I feel like I drained myself a little bit when it comes to that.

 

 

A question about another band that you were involved in, and that it Mrs. Hippy. I was wondering is that band still on the back burner that you'll do something with again?

No. That was a band that I had just before joining Hammerfall. We had all these songs and I always thought that the songs were way too good to be left unreleased. So I just called the guys to see if we should go back to the studio and fix the tape a little bit and release this. We all felt the same. In my opinion it's a really good album, combining the aggressive stoner rock music with traditional heavy metal vocals. I don't know, in the end, the stoner rock hardcore fans couldn't take the melodic metal vocals, and the metal fans couldn't take the monotonous music. It was like in no-man's land. We haven't done anything since '95 except for getting into the studio for a weekend and fixing the tapes.

 

 

Another band that you're involved with, and I've read that you were very excited about being involved with, is Warlord. Do you have any other plans coming up with them?

We did a show this summer at Wacken. Warlord never played live in the 80s, so this was their first show ever. That was really cool for me to be part of that, since I grew up on Warlord. The plan now is to record another album after I'm done the European tour. Actually, if there's time, because there's the Japan and South America as well, so it may not be until the summer. We'll definitely record and release another album.

Blari Witch Warlord

 

Also, I noticed that there's a website JoacimCans.com.

Awwww...Yeah, it's a bit funky. It's weird. It looked pretty cool for a few weeks, but then I forgot how to do it, and I added a picture and it looked big and bad, so I just said, "fuck it!" (laughs)

(laughs) What are your plans for that website then?

Actually my dear friend is developing a new one. This one, I have some, um, unnecessary information.

 

 

I saw on the news section you've formed a publishing company called Metal Heart Music and Publishing. What is that all about?

Listen to a sampleWhat I'm doing, is at this moment I have two staff writers (Peter Stålfors and Ronny Milianowicz), three if you count me in. It's us sitting down, trying to write music that doesn't fit into HammerFall, or my friend's (Peter Stålfors) band Dream Evil, or Dionysus (Ronny) because we all play metal. It doesn't fit into the other guys' bands. At the same time they have so much music inside them. I told them "I'm going to form this company now and collect all our songs and see if I can sell it to other artists." Tomorrow we've got a band coming in here to my little studio and we're going to do pre-production for their upcoming demo, this band is called Dreamland. I'm helping them to get a record deal. I also act as a sub-publisher for other publishing companies. That's the main goal, this is something for the future. It's started really small. It can be bigger than you'd ever expect, you can check out www.metalheartmusic.com.

So is the music still metal?

It could be anything, metal, pop, anything. I mean, I've helped write a musical in the past four years. It's written for symphonic orchestra. The sky's the limit, I don't mind. I love music.

Do you believe in the philosophy of "metal first" or music is just music?

A good song is a good song but my heart beats for heavy metal, that's the music I really want to perform and do, but on the other hand you write songs that don't really fit. I don't want to just toss them away. So maybe I can sell them to someone. That's the basic idea. If you go to the website, there's a download page. There's three small clips from the musical from the pre-production, and a small clip from the band Dreamland from the second demo.

 

 

Cool, I'll have to check that out. In regards to future plans for HammerFall, your DVD that came out this summer, was excellent. It was great to have a mix of interviews, humor, and live. I was wondering, in the future, have you thought about doing a full-on live DVD, one concert?

Yes. That's all I can say, we've thought about it.

The Wacken section on the DVD was the best looking and sounding live section of the DVD. When I was watching it I thought "man, wouldn't it be cool to have this entire performance".

On the upcoming European tour we're going to record a bunch of shows for a live CD, and a full production for a few shows for a live DVD.

 

 

Are there any other things in the planning stages for HammerFall that you'd like to let people know about?

Not really. Now, we're releasing the album in Europe and the rest of the world except for North America, when it comes out on November 12th. I don't know why.

Everything comes out later here it seems.

It's weird. They made sure that it will be out the same date, and then something went wrong. Yeah, we're going to release the album and then enjoy the tour for a while. We'll see what happens next year!

 


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