Interview by Jarod Lawley
Photography by Graham Hilling
12th January 2015
On a rainy day in Kentish Town, we had the pleasure of discussing Sabaton’s latest record, metal in the mainstream and weirdly enough, The Village People with Sabaton’s frontman Joakim Brodén and new drummer Hannes van Dahl.
So how are you guys doing?
So far so good thank you!
You played the UK just a few weeks ago, so how does it feel to be back?
It feels good to be back. We had two successful weeks in general in the UK, and I think all of us have been longing to come back here, with this venue and all the production we’re bringing, we couldn’t be more psyched actually.
I’m still a little bit disappointed about your climate, every time I come here I like the people, but your weather sucks ass.
To be fair it’s not normally this bad, but it’s pretty bad today.
Yeah, that’s what they say.
Heroes is your seventh album, so what do you feel it adds to your discography that you haven’t already put in?
Oh, I dunno! That’s up to the listener I think actually. We could still make claims that, “oh, our latest album is the best one we ever did, buy it!” But I think in the end it’s up to the listener, we shouldn’t tell people what to think, that’s up to people to decide for themselves. But according to me, I don’t think that when we make an album we shouldn’t think about which direction we’re going in, we just wanna make sure that we get the nine, ten, or eleven best songs on that album and then I guess time will tell if it is a good one or a bad one.
The album has been number one in Sweden, Finland and high charting in a lot of countries, how does it feel to be a metal band in the charts?
It feels good of course, aslong as you can stand behind the things we are doing and know that it’s actually heavy metal music , that is for me very important- that I know that I support what I do one-hundred percent. And yeah, maybe it’s a little side of metal that’s going strong!
And I think it’s really cool because heavy metal is a little bit of an underdog compared to the major, more commercial music genres, but I think sometimes it speaks more about the heavy metal fan than the music itself.
Yeah, metal is popular, but why isn’t Britney Spears or some of the others selling so much? Because they don’t have fans that are so loyal that they actually buy an album and follow the same bands for years, and choose to use Spotify instead of the Pirate Bay discount, which is quite a discount because it’s one-hundred percent! (laughs)
Would you embrace mainstream ventures, would you go on television, would you be played on mainstream radio or do you prefer to stay underground?
We actually have a rule that we do everything that allows us to be Sabaton and doesn’t put us in a strange situation or go dancing with the stars, or whatever.
No, no compromises when it comes to what we do.
We’ve been on the major Swedish morning show where there’s news normally and then they have an artist, but then it was a serious interview about us as a band and then we played three songs. Anything like that of course, being played on the radio and doing interviews, but if they want to put us in a documentary/soap thing or anything like that or play a role that’s not us, then we say no.
Do you think Sweden’s more supportive of metal? Because in the UK that would that would never happen; you’d never get a metal band on television for a breakfast show.
Yeah I actually think Sweden is quite open to it.
More and more for sure, but it comes to a point where it’s a difference for us in the UK and in Sweden.
We are a lot bigger as well (in Sweden).
But that’s good for us because it comes to a point where they don’t have much choice; they need to put us out there.
We never had the media when it comes tor radio or magazines, they wouldn’t come and review our shows, but now we’re playing Gothenburg in front of six thousand people, these big magazines want interviews and we’re like, “Sorry, we don’t have the time.” (laughs)
Nuclear Blast made a video for the song “To Hell and Back”, how did this come about?
We thought it was an idea that was a bit different, because the song is about an American guy Audie Murphy, and we wanted to show not only the war side of it, but a big part of his story is the post-traumatic stress disorder, so that’s why that video shows a bit of different light from what we’d normally do. I’m happy with the video, but it didn’t come really as good as I hoped, because there are too many pictures of us and shit and we’re not very hot. I would have liked like we did on “Uprising” where it’s a bigger focus on the story we’re trying to tell rather than us head banging.
Do you think visuals and aesthetics are important in your band or is it more focused on the music?
Well looking like The Village People in camo pants we can’t so no can we. (laughs) That’s the truth.
Can we hear a Village People song tonight?
Yeah. What do you wanna hear, we’ll rehearse it! We’ll do the whole repertoire.
When you made your album Carolus Rex you made Swedish and English versions, which one do you prefer playing or listening to?
Oh Swedish hands down. Doing it in your native language puts it a whole different light. I can say something in English in two or three ways, but in Swedish there’s probably fifty ways of getting that message across. And also I won’t have to do another retake because my pronunciation was shit.
Also, even though I don’t think in Swedish when I’m speaking to you guys, somehow when singing in Swedish it’s one filter less to go through, and especially since we sing about our history, that makes it even closer as well.
So unfortunately for you who listen to the English version, I tried and trust me I did three times as many takes on the English version but still I think the nerve and the emotions, at least vocally are better on the Swedish ones.
You say that and a lot of the fans actually even in the UK want to hear the Swedish versions live.
Almost every night.
Yeah, it’s quite surprising because we like you guys but you’re not known for your language skills. (laughs)
No! You always see some people when you do the Swedish songs trying to pretend they’re singing along.
Yeah that’s interesting, I love that!
It’s cool, some people though- they got it! I guess they know what they’re singing about!
Speaking of languages I’ve heard your fans shout “Noch Ein Bier”, what’s this about?
“Noch Ein Bier”- that’s what the Germans scream, actually it means “one more beer!” I started doing that because being Swedish and not very good at languages as well I usually learn the bad or the stupid stuff first in a language, so I’d be at a festival and say “noch ein bier, meine freunde” which is, “one more beer, my friend” and I’d salute the crowd and have a beer! And that caught on!
For a few years now you’ve been doing something called the Sabaton cruise, what’s this about?
Oh, that’s a boat, two thousand metal heads and a band! We have a festival, Sabaton Open Air in our hometown which is basically one side of the coin- it’s big, we have the tank for the production, like we have today actually! The tank is here. Then the cruise is basically not much production at all because we can’t go on the boat and obviously doing pyros on a ship is suicide. There is more like a band-audience thing, crowd interaction, let the audience decide the songs, and maybe sometimes we’ve done acoustic things on there.
So more informal?
More intimate; there are two yearly events we always do and on the boat it’s like two thousand hardcore fans and then the festival you get the big stuff
All the pyro, all the stage set, you get everything.
You’re one of the first bands to have an official app for Iphone and Android phones, what’s on this app?
I think we were slow! Actually it’s in my pocket right here! The things I use the most (is the tour date feature), and I use every day, and I’m not saying that to promote it, it’s that I know where I’m gonna be next week. And I think that’s the biggest advantage.
I do realise not everybody is a hardcore Sabaton fan who lives and breathes heavy metal and reads our website every day, so how convenient to just get a notification- “by the way, Sabaton will be coming to your town in a month”. You’ve got lyrics of course, and it’s free, and we’ve got a chat function which isn’t really working yet but it will be, and we also released the second single from the Heroes album for free in the app, so you could listen on your phone for the first forty-eight hours, it was only in the app.
Okay that’s cool. Let’s ask you some deeper questions, if there was a war in Sweden or involving Sweden, would you go up to fight?
If it means going away then hell no I wouldn’t, but if it meant someone coming to my parents’ house trying my family then hell yes.
I still have my tank! So… (laughs) Dude, military service for me was thirty minutes and then it was up. I hate heights!
So you still do military service in Sweden?
I was born in 1990, and my year was the last mandatory year. So in 1991 then they had the choice to say no. You can still do military service but now it’s more like a job so you get paid and you get training but it’s longer I think. It’s more like a profession than mandatory military service.
Do you feel it’s more heartfelt when you’re singing about your own country’s conflicts in the past than stories about men in America?
Not necessarily, I’m interested in history; I’m sure the American guy sure as hell didn’t know the Swedish guy. It’s in our history and it’s in our language and it’s extra fun to tell the story about the Swedish empire to people who didn’t know it was an empire. It’s cooler in a way that we’re our story to people who might not have heard it before, but I don’t think it means more to me personally than telling it about a Brazilian guy or whoever else.
Do you prefer giving the more personal stories like on the new album rather than the huge stories of battles?
Yes. I think actually it came up when did the album Coat Of Arms which was released in 2010 so this must have been in late 2009 when we were doing the lyrics for that one, and we had one song which was about the Finnish knight called “White Death” who the Soviets were really afraid of, and all of because we were singing about one person it made us more emotionally connected to the song, it made it more interesting and exciting, so I think that’s when we actually got the idea for Heroes- but then we had Carolus Rex in the pipeline.
In war obviously there are winners and losers, so if you are in a certain country do you ever experience problems when singing from one side of the story?
Yeah! In general, the metal heads that are at the concert are never a problem; it’s the people who are putting on the concert who are a going to be afraid- “Oh you’re in Germany, you can’t sing this song about the final battle of Berlin.” Of course we can! Watch them! (Joakim precedes to act out the crowd chant of “Berlin is burning” in the song Attero Dominatus.) It works motherfucker! Shut the fuck up.
But it’s rarely from one side, I have to say. Even if the song is about this specific event and what happened, there’s no part taken.
In a sense, nobody would ask Steven Spielberg is a Nazi just because he made a move called Schindler’s List. He’s telling a story. Unfortunately music is so connected to it that people are looking for a political angle or a view or a political message in there. We wanna tell stories; just how somebody making a movie wants to tell stories, there doesn’t have to be a political message or an agenda in it.
Finally, what are you going to give the fans tonight?
Village people covers?
Outside they’re chanting, “Village People! Village People!”
(laughs) We’ll bring everything we have, for sure- we always do that and we’ll make sure we have a lot of fun which we usually do and bring out the best possible show we can- and hope that people enjoy it.
Thanks very much, guys
Thank you, cheers.