Drummer Anders Johansson
Interviewed by EvilG
Transcribed by Duke
Anders Johansson is not normally the mouthpiece for HammerFall. For that reason alone I was interested in doing this interview. As well, Anders has a long and interesting history in hard rock / heavy metal. I managed to squeeze in a few questions out his early days with Yngwie along with some questions about his solo and fusion projects along with the usual HammerFall stuff. Enjoy….
What was it like recording a new album in sunny Teneriffe this past November?
Actually, I recorded my parts in Denmark. But it was sunny there as well.
But you got to go to the studio there?
No, I didn’t, since I?d recorded the drums. I recorded for a few days and the rest of the guys were the for five or six weeks, I can?t remember which. They actually only mixed in Teneriffe.
So you never got to make the trip there?
No, I’ve never been there.
The words from the title of the new HammerFall album, unbent, unbowed, unbroken, what do you think they refer to in terms of HammerFall?
It?s something they came up with because they got flak. I don?t know why, they played power metal and people thought they were sellouts and stuff, which they?re not. They play the same stuff and these words state that somehow they?re not bending down or bowing and are not gonna be broken by what people say or whatever. It?s a bit complicated to explain actually, but something like that.
Were you in the studio when Cronos from Venom did his vocal parts, or did he do those on his own and send them in to the band?
Exactly, it was one of those tape sessions. Or mail sessions these days.
How do you think his guest appearance turned out anyway?
I liked it. I had no idea they were gonna do that, it was a surprise for everybody. We had a listening session in Denmark and it came as a shock for everybody. I first thought it was Oscar fooling around. He sounds like Oscar when he screams. That was kinda a strange thing.
From the new album, what are some of your favourite songs?
That?s one of my favourites actually, that one.
?Knights of the 21st century??
Yeah, melody-wise and stuff. Then I like ?Fury of the Wild? a lot, ?Blood Bound? was pretty cool and I like ?Secrets?.
There are a series of books by the author George RR Martin called ?A song of ice and fire?, I believe the song ?Take the black? is a reference to some of his stuff. Who in the band is a fan of this author and why did you choose this particular author?
Since Joacim is the singer and does all the lyrics, I?m sure it was him. I think the title was Oscar?s, so maybe Oscar suggested it and then Joacim developed it.
The new album has a lot of mid-paced HammerFall type of songs. Was it deliberate to have a different album that was more mid-paced and not double kicking heavy metal all the way through?
I don?t think they thought about it like ?now we?re gonna make it more mid-paced?. But all albums have had couple of fast ones. On the first couple of albums, in the beginning, they had more of them. But no one likes to play them and when we play them live, most people just stand there and don?t know what to do really. There are of course a lot of hardcore fans who like the power metal stuff, but somehow it doesn?t come across as easily when you play large venues. Me personally, I like that kinda stuff, but then again, the other stuff is nice too. The mid-tempo stuff is easy to play of course, when you?re tired? Girls seem to like that mid-paced stuff more somehow. Since we started, the band has grown commercially, but it?s not like it?s done on purpose, it just has happened by itself somehow.
Can you describe what your involvement is like in the songwriting process of HammerFall with how you contribute your parts and if it?s changed since you joined the band?
Basically it?s Oscar and Joacim who write the songs. But with every album it?s been easier for me to suggest changes or whatever, but it?s mostly just them who write everything actually. I don?t contribute much of anything to tunes and lyrics.
When you were first asked to join HammerFall, did the guys have to do any convincing or was thing something that you immediately felt you wanted to be a part of?
Not really, I didn?t know if I was gonna be able to tour as extensively as they wanted, cause I have a family and everything. So I thought about it for a while. After discussing it a bit I actually joined as a session musician first. They fired the old drummer and asked me to just finish off a few festivals that they had. After that, they were gonna get a permanent guy ? and they asked me. I wanted to of course, but the away time from home was so much. Now the kids are older so it gets easier all the time. Now Joacim has a child so I don?t know? It might be the same for him. They didn?t really have to convince me, I thought it was a cool band and we had fun, it was just that family thing. But of course, I joined.
Back when ?Glory to the Brave? was unleashed on the unsuspecting metal world, it was a breath of fresh air at a time when that style of metal wasn?t as big as it is now. When you first heard the band back then, what did you think of them?
I thought they were cool, I liked them. Actually it was my brother who introduced the band to me. He had been to a store where they were signing autographs and he had gotten hold of a copy and he played it for me when he got back. I thought it was cool, I thought HammerFall was the coolest band of the 20 records that he played me. My brother, he plays in Statovarius?
Yeah, I know. I?m a big Stratovarius fan as well. I hear you have an upcoming short tour of North America that you will be doing with Edguy. Can you tell me a bit about your past experience of playing in this part of the world?
Well, I?ve had great experiences before, because in the 80s both me and my brother played with Yngwie Malmsteen. We did some larger tours and played larger venues, in Canada also. With HammerFall I?ve been there one time on tour and one time to record. The tour was opening for Dio. It was cool. It wasn?t really as big as it used to be in the 80s, but it seems like metal is coming back somehow. More and more bands are going there, Stratovarius are going there? maybe it?s going back to the glory days, as it is in Europe.
Were you disappointed that you on had a shorter set, I think it was 30 minutes, on the Dio tour?
Or was it just cool opening for someone like Dio?
Yeah, it was cool. We opened for Dio with Yngwie as well, so I knew the guy. The strange thing with that was that we didn?t even get warm, it was over before it started. I’ve never done that before, 30 minutes and it?s over. But it was good, I think it was six weeks we did or something.
You’ve played with your brother Jens in many projects and bands. Do you miss being in a permanent band with him?
Musically, yeah. Personally also. Somehow I?m used to not being in a band with him now, but musically he?s so good that it?s always good to play with him. And it?s a lot of fun also.
It was a bit of a strange situation at the time, but there was an offer to join Stratovarius?
(laughs) but somehow it didn?t work out.
I felt immediately that there was some weirdness going on, so I never thought about that as a serious thing. I talked to my brother about it and even with Timo and it was like? you only had to read their homepage to know what was going on. We talked about me recording the drums here at home and Jens was gonna fly over and maybe record something here. But Timo was into that freaking people out kinda thing, so he stated somewhere that I was gonna quit HammerFall. And the guys in HammerFall believed him somehow so they were kinda angry and upset that I was gonna quit, so I had to call everybody and say I didn’t join Stratovarius. Timo, I think he was really ill at the time. He was nice on the phone but he wrote things that?
He said something about wanting to break toilets with you?
Yeah, yeah, that is true! He?s a nice guy, we got in touch last week and talked for a long time. He?s a cool guy, but I think he?s manic depressive a bit. When he?s manic, I think he gets anxious if things don?t happen all the time, so he writes things on the Internet and he does things just to get excitement somehow. It would have been cool to record an album with them though. It would have been musically cool to do something differently, but I know I would have to join permanently and they have a cool band, they have the old lineup again. It?s probably the best thing.
I read in your bio that you were in the Swedish navy way back in 1982. Was this a mandatory service?
Yes, it was.
So you didn’t ever consider being in the navy as a career?
No no no no! It was the worst time of my life actually. It was really awful.
What did they have you doing back then?
First I did what everybody did – shoot and crawl around in mud. But then I was listening to signal notes, surveillance or something, you listen to Russian submarines and stuff like that.
Back in the navy, that was when you met guitarist Yngwie Malmsteen. What can you remember from that first meeting and what was he like back then before he became the guitar hero that he is today?
He was nice. I remember when I heard him play the first time, I freaked out. I thought “this can’t be true”. Nobody played like him back then. There was Ulrich Roth who played a bit like that, but he didn’t have the speed to be that kind of guitar hero. He was amazing, nobody could believe it.
And he was so young then.
Yeah, when I met him he was like 18 or 19. It was unbelievable.
Did you do any recording with Yngwie back then?
Yes, we did. When I was in the navy we used to hang out in his basement where we recorded some things.
Do you have a copy of it yourself?
I have a bootleg of it that I bought in Japan!
Were you surprised that Yngwie remembered who you guys were when he went to the US to start his Rising Force band?
No, not really somehow. We kept contact all the time on the phone when he was in Steeler and Alcatrazz and all that. We called him all the time and he called too, I think he wanted to speak some Swedish.
Since you left the Yngwie band, have you ever considered reuniting with him again for doing something, time permitting of course?
Oh yeah, it would be cool. I did a tour with him in 2000 actually.
You toured Sweden right?
Yeah. But he has a strange management and the problem with Yngwie is that it takes a lot of work to hang out with him somehow. He?s a nice guy and I have nothing personal against him, but he?s never on time and it?s like a time consuming thing somehow. When you rehearse, he shows up really late and things like that, he?s a bit of an airhead.
A few questions about your drumming, being the drum god that you are (haha). Can you talk a little bit about the drummers in metal and hard rock that have influenced you or that have recently grabbed your attention?
When I was a kid, the first thing I listened to was Deep Purple in hard rock, so I listened to Ian Paice a lot. Then of course the Rainbow drummers like Cozy Powell. But I used to listen to fusion and all that stuff a lot also. It wasn?t really heavy metal drummers that I used to listen to when I was younger. Neil Peart of course, by the way! That?s also not really heavy metal, but he plays hard, or hard-ish, music. These days, there are a lot of guys that you hear popping up everywhere. One guy I heard lately was Virgil Donati, an Australian guy that was pretty amazing.
I suppose you grew up in a musical household since your dad was a famous Swedish jazz musician. Did he ignite the spark in you to become a musician?
Not really. He died when I was six years old, so we never really hung out with him that much. We never played together and he very rarely played at home. And he played jazz, so it was really different from what we did. But somehow we inherited the musical abilities maybe. When I was really young, I always thought it was impossible to become a musician, because in Sweden not many musicians in the 60s and 70s made it internationally. But when we started playing with Yngwie we got out of Sweden. I don?t know how much that mattered physically, we never really talked about that.
For drumming, what songs do you find more difficult, or at least enjoyable, to play in HammerFall?
None of them are really difficult. They?re pretty much the same actually. They?re all very metal. ?Fury of the Wild?, which we?ve already done at gigs, that was fun to play. And I always liked Heeding the Call, HammerFall and those somewhat fast ones. The lower mid-tempo ones can be a drag to play sometimes, but it’s more of a song you have to play with HammerFall, not so much the musicianship thing.
Do you have any plans to play on another more fusion-oriented album like the one you did with Allan Holdsworth?
We have some plans. I?ve recently talked to this guitar player called IA, he plays in Freak Kitchen and is like a fusion guy. We?ve talked a bit but it takes a lot of time, so maybe. And Allan Holdsworth, but he also takes a lot of time and is a bit airheaded also.
You have a solo album out called ?Redshift?, I haven?t heard that one, so what is it like and do you think it?s something many HammerFall fans will be interested in?
Oh no! I don?t think so, I KNOW they wouldn’t! It?s a strange album, it has a bunch of drums on it and weird sounds and stuff like that. Most HammerFall fans will definitely not like it. There?s a few of them who write on the homepage that say they like it, but they seem more open. It’s not metal at all.
I have your album called Johansson, the last Viking? I thought it was a really good album, but it was kinda unheralded and not really promoted a lot, it didn’t get a lot of attention.
No it didn’t.
Do you know the reason why, and do you think there will be another album with the same lineup as ?The last Viking??
We recorded another one, but I don?t think the vocals are recorded yet. It?s a bit strange, but we’ve both had so much to do with HammerFall and Stratovarius lately. Last year we could have done it, but then we did a bunch of other stuff, like jazz records. It?s on hold or whatever. I?d also like to say that we don?t have a proper record label so it seems kinda pointless somehow.
When you listen yourself at home or in the car, do you prefer to listen to more technical stuff like fusion or jazz than to put on a metal album?
Both. I listen to anything really. In the car I now have Annihilator, actually, and I have some Planet X, it?s like fusion-metal. They have a drummer that?s really wonderful.
Do the Hammerfall guys ever have to rein you in and tell you to play songs a little simpler? You have a background that?s a bit more technical, do you find it hard to just play to the song?
Sure, here and there it comes up for discussion. In the rehearsal room normally, cause there I think it doesn’t matter so I play more sometimes. And they complain. Here and there they go ?what was that all about, I didn’t understand anything?. I try not to, but when one of them fuck up royally left and right, I start doing it just for the hell of it and then I have an excuse. But usually I try not to do it that much, just a little bit sometimes.
Do you spend much time when you?re not busy with HammerFall working with your Heptagon record label?
Yeah. Sometimes we have to order records and talk to distributors and I deal with that pretty often actually. Not for long hours, but here and there, a few hours a day maybe.
From the Stratovarius DVD, and also from the website of your brother, many have come to learn of his awesome sense of humour. Is this something that you have in common with him or do you just think he?s crazy?
That?s something we always have done, I did that shit also sometimes. But we haven?t released any of the stuff I’ve done. I don?t know, we’ve always been like that.
Something in the Swedish water?
Besides touring with HammerFall, do you know any other musical things you will be doing this year?
Not really, no. Nothing definite.
That?s all the questions I had in line. Is there anything else happening with HammerFall that we should know about?
No, you seem to know more about it than I do.
OK then, thanks for the interview and all the best with the tour!
Thanks to you as well!
Past HammerFall interviews in Metal-Rules.com:
Following The Signs of The Crimson Thunder
With Joacim Cans of HAMMERFALL (2002)
Oscar Dronjak (April ’99)
Oscar Dronjak of HammerFall (Oct. ’98)