Interview with Johan Hegg from Amon Amarth

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Johan Hegg

Amon Amarth

Interview and Live pics by HannTu

Transcribed by Mark Sinkinson

The Forum, 28th September 2007

I think it’s been quite apparent from my live reviews that I’m a pretty huge fan of Amon Amarth, and when the opportunity arose to do an interview with frontman Johan Hegg a couple of months ago, I jumped at the chance. I found him incredibly friendly, personable with a wicked sense of humour.


This is like the 4th time youve been to London in about 13 months, so what do you like so much about London?

(laughs) I mean, we like coming to London to play and hang out, it’s a nice city but the fact of the matter is it’s more coincidental than anything. I mean, the main reason of course is that in the past years we haven’t really played England as much as we would have hoped and wanted to, so we asked our management to focus on that. London on this tour was inevitable of course, it’s a European tour, but the other two things were first our own headlining show and then we did the special UK tour. But it’s a good town to play in.

You’re one of the most hardworking bands I’ve ever come across, besides the European tours, you have done the Sounds of the Underground tour in the US, played an amount of summer festivals and are now going on a North American tour after this European tour. How do you find the energy to do so much continuous touring?

I don’t know. (laughs) I guess it’s what we always wanted to do. It can be tough sometimes but every time you get up on stage and meet fans it’s totally worth it. That’s where our energy comes from because if it weren’t for the fans, we wouldn’t be doing it. So far this year, or since the album came out we’ve had really good tours, and so far this tour has been amazing too. It proves to be a good year for Amon Amarth.


How do European and North American tours compare for you personally? Are there any differences?

It depends on the kind of tour really. Sounds of the Underground was a festival tour with 14 bands so of course it’s gonna be a lot different. There’s a lot of people running around, short changeovers, we only played 25-30 minutes every night. It was very hectic even though you don’t really actually do so much work, it’s still very hectic all the time. A tour like this is more laid back, you can relax a little bit more…


You get to set the dates…

Yeah well, sort of. But also, you know, when we did the support tour for Dimmu Borgir in the US last year, unfortunately we had some crew issues, but that’s a different story…But otherwise it’s a lot more laid back…


Yeah because you’ve had bad luck with North American tours, you never seem to have any luck?!

(Laughs) Yeah we’ve had some tough times definitely.


What were your first thoughts when you heard you were going to be touring with Dimmu Borgir?

I though it would be a brilliant tour for us to go on. We attract the same amount of people as they do in Germany and places like that, but they are still bigger than us across the whole of Europe. They sell a lot more albums and attract a lot more people to the shows and all that. We couldn’t play a place like this in London…


Well, you did do Carling Academy in Islington which is quite big, and the Scala?

Well Carling was 700-800 people, Scala 600 people maybe?


Really? Seemed a lot more?

(Laughs) Anyway decent clubs but the point is, for us we want to grow and develop in countries where we haven’t traditionally been touring so much, which of course includes the UK, but also like Spain, maybe Italy, and Eastern Europe and also Scandinavia. And to be on a tour like this is probably one of the best ones you can do, to achieve that.


Speaking of Scandinavia, I think I read an interview with you where you said you’re not popular in Sweden. Do you have any idea why? Is that still true, firstly?

(Laughs) No, its changing. Every week now, you can see an Amon Amarth shirt when you are out. It was kinda weird actually. Me and Ted our bass player, we like to go to football games and we were in the beer tent and saw at least two Amon Amarth shirts. One guy recognized us, and came up and said hi, which is kinda fun you know. A couple of years ago that would never have happened, so it’s changed fairly quickly.


Okay, what has been your favourite summer festival to play at?

Oh man, there are so many good festivals. Wacken is an obvious answer but Summer Breeze is also very nice. We had a really good show this year, with Viking ships and shit. That was cool.


Do you prefer club venues or the festivals?

It all depends really. When we have crappy weather like at Rock Hard when it was pissing down for the first half of the set it’s not fun to be playing and people are hiding from the rain. But still you know, festival shows, it’s a good feeling to see so many people out there. But on the other hand, at club shows you get a closer connection to the audience and that’s also worth something.


Have you ever been to the Far East or South East Asia?

I have never been to the Far East myself, well, I’ve been to Tokyo. I guess that’s about as Far East as you can get! That’s about it actually.


Would you plan to do a tour there some day?

We hope that we’ll be able to do a tour in Japan, and we were actually trying to work something out for this fall, I’m sorry, I mean this spring, but whether or not that’s going to happen I can’t really tell you. That doesn’t look too bright right now unfortunately. Hopefully we’ll be able to come over there soon.


It’s quite a big deal getting everybody over there?!

Yeah I mean, pretty much we would be opening for Arch Enemy and Shadows Fall so we wouldn’t get any money, and our label would have to put in a lot of money to support us and stuff like that, and I’m not sure that’s gonna happen. Hopefully one day we’ll be able to come over.


With Oden On Our Side

Let’s talk about the new album. How well was this album received around the world?

Really well actually. I haven’t really read any bad reviews, of course I haven’t read every review! Its been very well received in the media and especially by the fans.

Which is interesting, because a lot of the fans see WOOOS as a massive improvement on FATE OF NORNS, do you have anything to say to that?

I can totally understand that. For starters, the production is so much better. But also I think the songs are better. Even though I cannot think that you don’t have any clear hit like “Pursuit of Vikings” or “Fate of Norns” which are two of our absolute favourite songs of all time, and for the fans as well. But I still think in general it is a big improvement. But you know, it’s not something that we walk around and think about, I still like FATE OF NORNS a lot, it’s a good album, but definitely this is a big step forward.


Okay this is quite a long question. Metalheads are notoriously hard to please, and criticism and praise of AA revolves around one thing. Some people praise you for producing consistently high standards of material and production, others think that you have settled yourself into a groove and are stagnating, without freshening your sound and lyrical content. What are your thoughts on that?

That’s the way it is. We’ve never wanted to change our style too much. Of course we need to progress and I think we do that, but we don’t take giant steps or change our musical direction with every album. We try to improve our style with every album but without changing too much. I don’t see that as a bad thing, necessarily. Sometimes, if you try and change too much you lose our integrity and, in my opinion, you lose your personality as a band, you lose direction and…


You lose what the fans loved in the first place…

Yeah exactly I mean, of course you could gain new fans, but that’s what we try to do by just being ourselves and keep writing as good music as we can and producing better and better with every album.


Singing and music

I find it amazing that you guys can create this epic and grand feel without the use of keyboards and orchestration, but only with use of amazing riffing and guitar melody. What’s the songwriting process in the band like, and who’s the primary riff-master?

JH: That guy (points to Olavi Mikkonen, who is behind us with a guitar and headphones warming up), Olli is historically responsible for most songs but also Johan (Soderberg – guitarist) over here has started to contribute now, after a long while! (laughs)

JS: I don’t see what you mean after a long while (laughs)!

JH: But seriously, usually like when we write something it’s usually Johan or Olli bringing an idea or a song to the rehearsal room and then we all work together to get a song, and put it together. Then either I will bring a lyrical idea or start writing a lyrical idea I get from hearing the song. So that’s how it’s normally done.

Why do you never play the Victorious March in German, when it sounds so much more brutal? In my opinion, I think it’s a brilliant song, it sounds better in German.

(Laughs) Well maybe! Maybe it suits better in German, I don’t know. I never actually rehearsed the lyrics for that one until we went to the studio to record. I’ve never actually learned the complete lyrics in German; I just had a piece of paper! I mean, it’s never been a special idea to do it in German, it was just a fun thing to do, also as a gift from us to our German fans who have always stuck by us.

How did you develop your growl, who were your influences, and do you do anything to maintain your voice other than getting drunk every night?

I don’t know, I guess I’m just good at screaming! (Laughs) It’s a gradual process; I’ve done this for a long time and changed my vocal styles a little bit. I guess its trial and error really, I’ve started to learn how to use my voice in a better way and also lately I’ve learned how to actually warm up my voice. Apart from that it’s beer and eating pussy I guess! (laughs)


Do you guys have day jobs?

JH: No, not really. I mean, me and Ted are the only ones who actually do work. Ted does it because he’s restless and can’t sit still. He has to be doing something and loves to be a housepainter or whatever. I have the opposite reason, if I sit at home and don’t do anything, and if I don’t have anything to do I won’t do anything. I need something to actually get me going, plus you know, you make a little bit extra money, it’s never a bad thing.

JS: You’re supposed to write lyrics when you’re home, not fucking drive trucks…

JH: Well you’re supposed to write songs, and I don’t see any songs on the table now.

JS: Oh I have songs, I have songs.

JH: Yeah well I haven’t heard anything yet so I’ll believe it when I see it, and I haven’t shown my lyrics yet, so fuck off! (Laughs)

Would you ever trim your beard?

I did actually before this tour!


Oh you’re joking. I can’t tell the difference.

I cut about this much off (measures about an inch with his fingers). It was starting to get really worn and thin at the ends so it had to be cut.

That was a silly question my friend asked me to put in, he’s been dying to ask that for like forever. Okay, do you follow things like politics and the world situation and its problems? Would you ever consider incorporating those into the lyrics of AA?

We’ve never been a political band, so no. I follow it myself, but not rigorously. I don’t necessarily have to watch the news, I don’t necessarily have to buy a newspaper to see what’s going on. But you know, when I get the chance I watch the news or read a newspaper. I try to keep updated in my own lazy kind of way.

What football team do you support, and what are Sweden’s chances next year in the European Championship?

JH: Of course I support Djurgardens.

JS: I agree.

JH: And I actually have to agree with my German friend Holger here, I think our chances in the European Championships are slim if any. I don’t see it happening. Unfortunately we have a coach who is skilled at bringing the team to the actual Championships, and that’s admirable, but he constantly chooses not to play the best player in the right position, and you can’t really understand why that is. So I think we have no chance of succeeding. I hope I’ll eat my words, but I don’t really care about the national team though. It’s kinda funny, I was in a discussion about this with somebody who supports another team in Sweden, and he was like “yeah but how can you not love the national team?” and I said “hey, I’m a Djurgardens supporter first, Sweden second.” (Laughs) It’s hard to explain you know.

No no, I can completely understand. What kind of music are you listening to nowadays?

All kinds of weird stuff, and all kinds of common stuff too actually. Lately it’s been a lot of Motorhead.



It’s always a lot of Motorhead, but lately maybe a bit too much. I really like Motorhead and I think they only get better with the age somehow.

Right right. Okay last question, what’s in the bag for a new album?

Well, we haven’t really started working on anything yet. As Johan says, we have all of us separately have some ideas that we haven’t brought together. We’re gonna continue touring, and when we finish this tour and the tour in the US, and then when we get back home we’re going to go into the rehearsal room and start working on the new material to put everything together.


Do you write on the road? Cos I know some bands don’t, they hate writing on the road?

Yeeeeahh, it’s hard to say yes and it’s hard to say no. For me personally it depends, all of a sudden you get a good idea and you write something down of course. But it’s not like I sit there with a pen thinking “What should I write about now”. If it comes to me, I’ll write something, but that’s the way I always work when it comes to writing lyrics. I like to listen to stuff, or I can get ideas from anywhere, and I just start writing.


Are you still constantly learning about Norse mythology and the Viking history?

I sort of keep updated but I wouldn’t say that I read a lot any more these days, I used to read a lot more before. I’ve been looking for two books especially which are hard to come by but I haven’t found them which is really annoying (laughs). So I try to keep up and I try to read every once in a while, read some of the good stuff, the old stuff that I’ve read before. If I find something new that’s interesting I’ll read that, but it’s not like I’m diving into all the books all the time.


Okay well that’s all the questions that I have. Thank you for doing this interview!

No problems, thank you!


Thanks to Andy Turner at Metal Blade UK for setting up the interview, and many apologies for its lateness!