Interview with Pontus Norgren of Hammerfall
Interview by Anthony May
Photography by Michelle Murphy
We managed to meet up with Pontus Norgren of Hammerfall, just before they go on stage at KoKo, Camden shortly…
Tonight is the last night of the tour, what are your plans for after the tour ends?
For myself it’s going to be going home to the family, celebrate Christmas and just relax, be home. It’s been two months now so it’s been a long one, but after that I think we’re starting the plans at the end of January for what’s going to happen, we’re going over to Miami to do the 70,000 tonnes of metal cruise, but that’s the next step.
70,000 tonnes of metal looks like a lot of fun.
Yeah I think its a good idea. We have a lot of cruises in Sweden, rock cruises, and they go for like 24 hours and that’s it – overnight, a couple of shows and then back. This goes for 2 days with 2 days of festivals then one day off somewhere in the Caribbean islands and then it goes back, and the same shows but in different times so people can watch it differently, so you have time to see the bands.
To touch on the band’s history, you famously made your mark through music contest ‘Rockslaget’. Do you feel this process benefited you as a band? If so, how?
I wasn’t in the band then, but it started with a competition in Gothenburg, and that was the starting shoot for Hammerfall, and Joacim and Oscar decided this is going to be it, now its this forever, and they started it in a very strange period when it was grunge and everything, there was no metal going on anywhere, but they really succeeded with it.
What are your thoughts on current televised contests in the public eye, such as X Factor and other talent shows?
Sometimes when it’s competitions and stuff like that, yes you can become an Idol, but if you don’t have the background then …nowadays you don’t need to be in a rehearsal room all the time but you can see that the people that win the competitions sometimes, they’re not musicians. They’re really good singers but they’re promoted and produced and everything by the TV company, and in the end when they come out and do an album they get songwriters to write the songs and they can’t handle the performance live I think. I think you need a background for that.
‘Infected’ is your first album to be produced by James Michael, and band members. Why did you decide to make the change from long-time producer Charlie Bauerfeind?
I came into the band on "No sacrifice no victory", the last album, and I came in when all the songs were written, everything was done, and I came into the studio more or less as a newcomer, and we worked with Charlie and he’s a great producer, an amazing producer I have to say, but then we were discussing after that, we have a studio, we have a huge rehearsal room in Gothenburg where we have the studio and everything, and I’ve been producing a lot and the guys said that maybe we can record it ourselves, and I said that’s no problem at all.
Then I was listening back to the older albums, how it really sounded before Charlie was involved, and I thought there was more fun in the music, so we decided to try and record it ourselves and to try and get that spark. I said to Oscar, come on do the stuff you think is cool, that you did when you started because if we put it into this its going to be different – a new thing but a little bit old school anyway.
Then Joacim really wanted to work with James Michael as a song coach more or less, then he ended up saying "I’d love to mix the album, you know be a co-producer", so we went over to Nashville for a month, had a great time, and he did a really great job. We’ll see what happens next – maybe Charlie comes back?
Are you happy with the way the album has gone down with the fans?
Yeah, some don’t like it because we took away Hector, but he’s just on vacation, he needed a vacation so he’s drinking umbrella drinks somewhere maybe the Caribbean, but he’s not gone or anything, I think that was the only shit we’ve seen. Of course everyone has their own opinion when it comes to music but I think it’s gone down really well. We’ve seen on the tour that they really like the new stuff.
The album cover of ‘Infected’ was originally due to be a biological hazard symbol but was changed to a bloody hand. Can you explain why the design was changed?
We had a problem because the band Biohazard suddenly contacted us and said they had copyright and everything on that sign, and that process took to long because we looked and found that they can use it of course, but biohazard is a sign used everywhere, its sort of an open sign – anyone can use it. But by then it was too late, we ended up in a boring process just trying to figure out how to work it and it took too long because by then we had to turn in the actual cover so..
You’ve mentioned Hector is on vacation, so he will be coming back then?
Yes of course, he just needed a vacation after fifteen years. I think when the whole theme came up with the songs and everything and we started to listen to the demos, it started to become something different for all of us, because we didn’t want to dress in armour, it wasn’t that type of songs, and I think Hector is sort of there anyway, we have him with us on tour.
The theme became a sort of zombie idea and then Hector didn’t fit in. We can’t zombify him so we can’t use him.
How would you describe the band and your music to someone who hasn’t come across Hammerfall before?
The music is very melodic metal, and of course Hammerfall comes from Sweden, and in Sweden we have a tradition with the folk music and stuff, and I think that has affected us a lot through the years.
As Joacim and Oscar say, it’s a part of the Swedish traditions, even if the Germans say that we are the Swedish-German pride you know, because we still do the melodic metal in a very pure German way. I think its more or less, what I remember back in the 80s in Sweden, everyone played a type of this music, there was so much melodic twin guitar things going on.
I think for the newcomers there’s a big party going on in every show because we love to play and we have fun on stage all the time and I think that comes out through the music also.
When you buy music yourself, do you prefer CD’s or legal mp3 downloads?
I prefer CD’s because I like something to look at. I want to be able to read thanks lists and stuff like that. I’m not into vinyl, a lot of my friends are collectors, I like CD’s.
I think for us musicians the mp3 format is the best tool ever because its so easy to carry along, you don’t have to leave it all on the shelf at home, you can put it on the computer and have it with you all the time, so I like that.
I use mp3’s a lot when I’m learning songs, going through albums and stuff.
What was the last album you bought?
I haven’t bought anything on the tour. I think actually the last one I bought was a Swedish album with our drummers father in it. He’s a brilliant piano player and is doing folk music in a jazz version. I think that’s the last one. I bought it because I wanted to have it on the tour.
Ok thanks for your time.