The mighty Sabaton are headed our way for the inaugural DOWNLOAD Festival in Melbourne and a batch of shows with Amon Amarth. Joakim Brodén (Vocals) spoke to Hi Fi Way: The Pop Chronicles about 2017, military history, chart success and playing at the first Download Festival in Australia.
It must be exciting to be heading down to Australia as part of the inaugural Download Festival?
Yes, it’s been five years since we were there last. I had a great time last time, so I’m looking forward to it. To be honest, Download is going to be good, but going to Australia is the big reward.
How does Download work? Do they approach you and say, “Hey, we want you to come and play at Download?” How does it work behind the scenes?
It’s different every time. We have a booking agent, obviously, who handles our bookings. Sometimes he will try and push us in, sometimes we’ll get requests from the agency who books the festival.
When you look back at 2017, does it feel like a bit of a blur? Has it gone really, really fast, and you think, “Wow, we’ve crammed so much into the year?”
Yeah. A blur, maybe, yes. I think the last ten years of my life starts to turn into a blur by now. There’s been a lot of shows. From August 2016 to August 2017 we played about 160 shows all over the world, so it’s been intense. But on the other hand, I can’t imagine doing anything else. It’s been a part of my life for so long, touring, making music, touring, and everything around that cycle, that it’s become more my cycle of life. You start over every two, two and a half years, with a new album and you go on tour again, I really love playing music.
Sometimes it can be a bit exhausting traveling between shows, especially if you’re flying in between every show, like South America. It’s great fun to tour there, but all the flights, you usually have to go back to Sao Paulo or another flight hub. So you get on stage, play a show, go back to the hotel, get an hour’s sleep, hit the shower, go to the airport, check in, wait, fly one flight, then back to Sao Paulo, which you already visited three times in the last five days, then get on another flight to the next city you’re supposed to play, then go direct to the soundcheck. That can be a bit exhausting at times, but to be honest, nine times out of ten, it’s good fun, especially on stage.
Did you get slow down over the holiday break and then reload for this year?
From a show point of view, yes, but on the other hand, then there’s everything else that when you’re on tour that you can’t do. You have to start picking up everything from seeing the doctor about a shoulder that’s not working to taking care about everything around your house, to start writing songs, to have all those meetings that have been postponed. So in general, it’s a little bit slower on the touring side, but not really resting, if you know what I mean.
Is 2018 going to be the year where we might see a new album, or is it still in the song writing or the creative phase?
We’re still writing, I can’t make any promises, but something is seriously, seriously wrong if we don’t have an album out by 2019, for sure. We’ve never taken very long between album our rule is to, at least, never have five years between an album, and so far, the longest we’ve had is two and a half years. I think that’s healthy, around two and half, three years.
It’s too easy for a lot of bands to get forgotten if albums aren’t out fairly regularly, or if you’re not touring somewhere.
It’s like a conflict, where people want new music all the time, but they also want to see the live show. The problem is with new music, if we only recorded music, we’d have at least two albums a year but then there would be no shows. Unfortunately, we can only be at one place at the same time.
Do you think with the next album you’ll keep going with the war and military type themes?
It was in 2004 we recorded the album Primo Victoria. We had that feeling that maybe we should do an album about military history. That was the plan. There was no master plan it all happened naturally to be honest. I’ve always been more fascinated by fact than fiction. On the first album, we didn’t sing about military history, but rather the regular heavy metal subjects. For me, at least, writing the lyrics always felt like a necessarily evil, but as soon as we started military history, it meant something. There are enough bands singing about killing dragons, drinking beer and fucking women. Nothing wrong with that, but for us, I think there are so many good stories that are being forgotten, so why are we making up new ones?
Have you always had an interest in war history and military history?
My school teacher would say no, probably but I guess the school system in every country is pretty fucking shitty in that way, because take a question about an old king, “between which years did this king or queen reign?” That’s really, really easy to put in effect, it’s easy to correct and give a yes or no answer, but in a sense, if it happened in 1520 or 1580, it doesn’t matter anymore now, does it? A much fairer question in history would rather be, or a more important one would be, to know which century, or approximately when did this happen, and what did this king do? Why are we reading about this king or queen, or why are we reading about this conflict, whatever it is?
I have a real interest in why things happened, how they happened, but the exact dates, come on. It is relevant maybe if you’re celebrating a victory. I mean, we celebrate D-Day on the sixth of June in many parts of the world, for sure, absolutely, but other than that, is it really necessarily to know which year or which day they surrendered? No, not really. It’s much more important that you make sure the students remember why World War II happened, so it doesn’t happen again.
Is there a particular period of time or particular historical battle that’s of greater interest or something that you look to pursue when you start writing more songs for the next album?
Actually, the time period from my personal historical interest doesn’t matter at all. I love all of it, actually. Not only military history, it could be modern history, in fact. It could be the history of science itself, I find that quite intriguing, but when it comes to doing heavy metal and making music out of it, we try to be as correct as possible with the facts. Going back to longer than the current is a real challenge. Obviously, World War II is very well documented. There is video, there is radio, and you have eye witness accounts. Not too many alive today, but there are still people around.
Most importantly, and what people seem to forget, is in modern times, soldiers could read or write. People get to tell the story. If you go back three hundred years, the regular soldier could not read or write, and nobody cared about them when they tried to tell their story, because they were basically servants in some of their commanders’ eyes. You would have the commander’s version, and the commander wants himself to look good. It’s a lot trickier to get the facts correct the further back in time we go. For writing an album purposes, I’m sad to say my favourite period, it’s about a war, but it’s got to be the twentieth century because the facts are easier to find, actually.
Does it create a lot of pressure when you’ve got a particular theme, such as The Last Stand, where it was described as being a concept album, is that just the way that the album evolves or do you consciously go out to write a concept album?
It’s different with everyone. I do like it when there’s at least a theme you can follow throughout the album, so it’s not ten or some random songs that aren’t strung together. I like the album format, even though it’s pretty much dead already. I was about to say dying, but it’s already dead already, but I like it. We have an album called Carolus Rex which follows the Swedish Empire’s rise and fall over a hundred years, from Gustavus Adolphus the Second, on to Carolus Rex and all the monarchs in between, so what happened during that conflict it follows the timeline as well.
That was quite a bitch to do, actually, to sort everything, make sure the right song is in the right place about the right subject. It has to be in the right order, but somehow, it’s more rewarding, and that’s why I guess is one of the reasons that the album format is that dead, is that nobody’s doing that anymore. If you were a film maker, if you were to make one and half hour of short films strung together, why would you watch the whole thing? Why not pick and choose what you like from those eight or ten or twelve short films during that one-and-a-half-hour period? If the completed works are strung together or connected in some way, I don’t think we would have seen the… let’s not say that the album format would have been thriving today, but I don’t think it would be totally dead, at least.
In terms of Sabaton, how do you think that’s evolved and changed between albums?I guess when we started out, there were way more double kick drums. Almost power metal-ish, I guess, but for the last couple of albums, well, for many, many albums now, I think we’ve slowly evolved or devolved. I’m proud of the fact that we don’t really sound like another band, like a copy of another band, but on the other hand, I’m also proud of the fact that in our music you can certainly hear elements of what I call the great bands of the ’70s and ’80s, which could be Accept, Judas Priest, Iron Maiden and even Deep Purple or Rainbow influences there if you know where to look for them.
Were you happy with how The Last Stand charted really well right around the world. Even here in Australia it made the top 30, so you must be really happy with how it’s done?
Yeah! We’ve been lucky in that sense that we’re the last generation of the old bands, or the first generation of the new bands. I know exactly where we are. Our first demos were recorded on old school tapes. When we started in 1989, album sales were good. It’s kind of lucky that we were among the first to see the new shifts of how everything was turning. We’ve always been able to outgrow the decline faster, so we’ve never seen any Sabaton album sell less than the previous one, we’ve always had an increase.
We’ve always been trying to find new ways to find new fans because we don’t want do the same thing every day over and over again for the same people. If people want to see several Sabaton shows, of course, they are welcome to do it. I’m not going to say no, but if we only play the same venues in front of the same people, it would become a slow painful death, I think, both for us and the fans, because there would not be that much new music being made and you would get tired of the same thing over and over again. So we do like to try new things. Obviously, we haven’t revolutionised the industry in any way, and we haven’t been out there as some people are, but every now and then we push the limits on what’s normal for us, at least whether that’s a song, whether do something different with the show, whether we add some extra pyros or add a tank and make sure it can shoot artillery fire out of it with pyros and stuff will always make it more fun and a lot better.
What do you look forward to most about touring Australia?
The people, actually. I remember we’ve done festivals before, and I’m sure Download is going to be good, but I’m looking forward to going down there and seeing some good old friends I haven’t seen in a while, having a couple of beers and just enjoying the lack of snow.
Interview by Rob Lyon
Catch Sabaton at Download
Or with Amon Amarth on the following dates