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10th December 2009
METAL DISCOVERY: Did the sound check go okay today?
JOAKIM BRODÉN: We don’t have sound check!
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(Joakim Brodén on Sabaton's truncated set at their London Astoria show supporting Dragonforce in 2006)
"...this guy’s following him onstage and lifts Pär up, so Pär is trying to play the bass, feet kicking in the air..."
Joakim Brodén backstage at The Engine Shed, Lincoln, UK, 10th December 2009
Photograph copyright © 2009 Mark Holmes - www.metal-discovery.com
Interview and Photography by Mark Holmes
Wowing Bloodstock Open Air's audience with their brand of sympho-infused power metal in August, Swedish sextet Sabaton returned to these shores just three months later as main support act on Dragonforce's lengthy tour of the UK. Pre-arranging to meet up with the band a couple of hours prior to their show in Lincoln's Engine Shed as the tour nears its climax, I settled down on their tour bus with frontman Joakim Brodén and, both equipped with beer, we commence discussions...
MD: Really?! Is that a general thing that you don’t bother to sound check?
JB: No, we were not allowed really. We had one on the first day…we’ve only had two sound checks so far. The last one was in Sheffield.
MD: So around fifteen dates into the tour and only two sound checks?!
JB: Yeah!
MD: This is the second time you’ve toured with Dragonforce in the UK - how has the 2009 experience been compared to the 2006 experience?
JB: This one is a lot better because now they don’t have a deranged tour manager anymore! [laughs] Also, it was a bit difficult for us; it was our first European tour. The first eight shows were in the UK with Dragonforce headlining. Then, when we got into continental Europe they switched so Edguy was headlining the package. I would say it’s not easy being the first support act in the UK…generally nothing bad about the UK, I really like the people, but I don’t like the climate to be honest! [laughs]
MD: It must be warmer here than Sweden though!
JB: Warmer, yeah, but we have more sun and snow! [laughs] It’s kind of tough being an opening band here because it’s usually normal where you have later get-ins on the shows and for the production to start whilst when you’re in Germany they usually start at nine or ten in the morning and if it’s a three band bill, normally, all bands will have a sound check. Of course, sometimes, things go wrong and the sound check goes away but that’s how it is.
MD: You were only over here recently, of course, playing Bloodstock Open Air - how was your fist UK festival experience?
JB: Amazing. I did not expect such a big crowd that early in the morning. We played at noon or something and lots of people came along having fun. It was a really great experience actually.
MD: ‘The Art of War’ is a pretty stunning album and most critics say it’s your best to date. Do you personally see it as a big step forward from ‘Metalizer’?
JB: Yeah. ‘Metalizer’ was a re-release; it was actually our first album originally. It was recorded in 2002 and supposed to be released in 2003. I really like the way things have been so, for us, ‘Metalizer’ would be the first album, and then we came to ‘Primo Victoria’ and that was a big step forward, then ‘Attero Dominatus’ came shortly after. It was about the same; we really wanted to do a double album. ‘Attero Dominatus’ was already written when we did ‘Primo Victoria’. The thing was, we were doing it without the record label because they would barely even pay for the recordings so we said, okay, we’ll pay it ourselves and when they hear the product they’ll be willing to pay, and they were actually. So, yeah, ‘Primo Victoria’ and ‘Attero Dominatus’ are pretty similar in song structure because fifty per cent of the material is from the same time and then, I think, ‘The Art of War’…we didn’t plan on anything changing, it just happened; it’s what everybody wanted.
MD: An amazing production as well on that album.
JB: Oh yeah, Peter Tägtgren is a fucking wizard when it comes to those things.
MD: So he actually produced ‘The Art of War’?
JB: Yeah, but it was Tommy on ‘Primo…’ and ‘Attero…’, his brother Tommy Tägtgren. On the last one we recorded with Tommy because Peter doesn’t do much producing anymore as he’s pushing his own band Pain at the moment. We had Peter doing the mixing and coming in during the production, checking out everything was according to plan. He basically doubled the amount of channels we had on drums. Normally we’ve only been doing thirteen channels on drums, now we’re up to twenty six! He was close miking every single cymbal, and two mics on every tom and everything.
MD: Obviously the theme is overtly war again, and your lyrics are based on an ancient Chinese book called ‘The Art of War’ as well as battles from the two World Wars - are these subjects of historical interest or expertise for any band members already, and did you research the history in depth to make sure you have historical accuracy?
JB: None of us are really historians, so we’re happy amateurs, most of us! Me and Pär are a little bit further! [laughs] So far on this tour I’ve managed to buy ten to fifteen war DVDs - documentaries, you know. There are a lot of fine boxes over here - box sets only about the First World War with six DVDs in…yessss! [laughs]
MD: Those are easier to find over here than in Sweden?
JB: Yeah, it was in Glasgow actually. We try to do the research. Obviously, when we get a hint from fans when we hear about something, the quickest way to start out is to go online to Wikipedia or something to see…okay, what’s the storyline here. Then, after that, maybe find a book or, preferably, a documentary. Some songs…I remember the song from ‘Primo Victoria’, ‘Stalingrad’ - I started out reading this big Anthony Beevor book which is everything happening all from letters to truth movements and it was like, well, it’s a good read, but I didn’t use anything that far for the song. For the lyrics I found a three and a half page diary, some Russian soldier writing a diary about Stalingrad so I used what he was writing instead because it made for a more interesting story and a more personal approach on it.
MD: Of course, yeah. It’s quite in depth in that sense then, I guess, in that you read first-hand accounts and whatever.
JB: Yeah, we try to do it from a storyteller’s point of view or the individual soldiers.
MD: It was announced recently you signed to Nuclear Blast…actually, very recently - was that about two weeks ago?
JB: Yeah, something like that.
MD: Just before this tour started?
JB: I think we were even on the tour when it was announced! [laughs]
MD: But how’s your experience been with Black Lodge because obviously the four albums were released through them?
JB: Well, let’s just say…they are a very small label and I have to say, in Sweden which was their main market where they distributed…they used to distribute Nuclear Blast in Sweden also…they did a good job; nothing bad to say about that. The problem was they couldn’t afford to do even…I mean, not the promotion, I’m not talking about that…they couldn’t afford to print enough of ‘The Art of War’ and keep them in store. Belgium ordered five hundred and they got fifty, and we’re like “ahhh, fuck”. And then, they say “well, next time, give us seven hundred” and three months later they get two hundred, and stuff like that, so…
MD: So the demand was more than they could keep up with?
JB: The thing is, for a normal sized record label that wouldn’t have been a problem. For them it was too much.
MD: Not a great experience then in that sense.
JB: No, not great at all.
MD: What do you think Nuclear Blast can offer Sabaton…apart from, I guess, more money?!
JB: We didn’t actually even negotiate on the advances and stuff like that because, for us, in the record contract, that’s money you have to make back anyway, so it’s basically a loan. What was more interesting for us was to make sure that the same thing doesn’t happen again…that people can actually go into the store and find the Sabaton album now, and not order then wait for three weeks. So we want people to know it’s out there and be able to buy it if they want it, and…that’s what they’re for! [laughs]
MD: Definitely. When any band signs to Nuclear Blast it seems they have a new album released pretty soon after it’s announced they’ve signed - is there any pressure from the label to get a product out there as quick as possible or is your fifth album already recorded anyway?
JB: The pressure, in that case, was from our side. We wanted it done…it was one and a half years ago ‘The Art of War’ was released. We had a bit of a problem in the beginning but this latest year, I have to say…nothing happened for six months after ‘The Art of War’ really, just a few riffs here and there. But then, let’s say early this year, late December and forward from last year, songs and ideas have been cropping up so fast we thought “hey, let’s do it now”, because then we can go straight into recording after this tour and then we could have a small breathing space because we’ve been touring all the time for quite some time now. So then we can take a little short break…maybe two or three weeks off, then we go back into rehearsals and straight onto festivals in the summer.
MD: Can we expect more war on the new album, or will you explore other themes?
JB: We decided this album will be war, but we also have recently been discussing doing…I mean, we love war and will probably be our main theme, but we’ve been discussing for an idea to do, maybe sometime in the future, an album that is not centred about war. Just for a fun change or something!
MD: You love singing about war rather than loving war I guess! You said “we love war”!
JB: Oh yeah! Ohhhh….you caught me there! [laughs] Damn! [laughs] No, I don’t love war! I really like writing lyrics about it.
MD: Of course, yeah, an interesting subject. I heard you played Sweden Rock earlier this year to perform the Swedish national anthem and one other song?
JB: Yeah, ‘Primo Victoria’ I think it was.
MD: Is that the shortest set you’ve ever done, and was it frustrating being really pumped up for the gig and then going out there and it’s over before you know it?!
JB: Oh yeah. The first adrenaline rush was not over, you know! There was a shitload of people. That stage usually has a capacity for five or seven thousand and there must have been ten thousand there. They were backing onto the other stages' areas also, so it was a huge crowd. I think we’ve done shorter sets…and TV appearances as well, of course, but that’s different. Oh yeah, one was exactly the same length - it was on the 2006 tour with Dragonforce in London at the Astoria. They had a pushed schedule for some reason so they wanted us to start playing on the same minute the doors opened. The problem was it’s like a two or three minute walk ‘til you get into the hall from the doors in the Astoria.
MD: So you played your first song to nobody?!
JB: No, we pushed it so we said to the stage manager who comes, a big guy and really angry…I mean, this is our first European tour, a big tour on a Nightliner…the big guy comes…“alright you small fuckers, I will start your show and I will end it, you better fucking know it!” Okay, so we say, “let’s play ‘Primo Victoria’ and ‘Panzer Battalion’ then run!” [laughs] And we said “okay, we’re not going to play for the first couple of minutes” because we only had fifteen minutes, and we knew we’d got a twelve minute set with those two songs and talking in between. So we told him “can you make sure if you start the show that the intro starts exactly at that minute, then we know we’ll be safe”. The thing is, we stand there waiting…“what the fuck is going on here?!” He comes one minute late before the intro starts or something and we thought “well, okay, he’s the stage manager, let’s do what he says.” And then…[laughs]…we open with ‘Primo Victoria’, then we start to play ‘Panzer Battalion’ and then, all of a sudden, this guy goes [mimics stopping motion] from the side of the stage. Pär, the bass player, starts talking to him…“no, no, come on man, we’re nearly at the end of the song here, and you started it too late”, he’s trying to shout at him. Pär’s back out onstage and this guy’s following him onstage and lifts Pär up, so Pär is trying to play the bass, feet kicking in the air, and “what the fuck?!” [laughs] And we’re all “what the fuck is going on here?!”
MD: He didn’t carry band members out one by one so it’s only your drummer left?!
JB: When we saw him start to carry Pär out we were already at a break in the song so we said “let’s cut it here” and…“thank you London”, and ran off stage!
MD: That’s fucked up!
JB: Yeah! [laughs]