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3rd November 2012
Since parting company with Black Lodge Records and inking a deal with Nuclear Blast at the tail-end of 2009, the popularity of Swedish power metallers Sabaton rocketed and has continued to grow ever since. It was, therefore, something of a shock announcement in March this year that four longtime members would be leaving the band and three new musicians joining the two remaining stalwarts, vocalist Joakim Brodén and bassist Pär Sundström. However, as Pär explains to Metal Discovery an hour before they hit the stage in Manchester on the UK leg of their Swedish Empire Tour, the drastic change in personnel has been for the better as Sabaton are stronger than ever...
METAL DISCOVERY: The Swedish Empire tour, it seems to be a raging success because a lot of the dates on mainland Europe were sold out so how’s it been so far?
PÄR: It’s been great and, yeah, we’re doing well. Everywhere we are going, it’s the best we’ve done. It’s been a really big success in some countries where we didn’t expect like Spain, Italy, Portugal – they were really good. And now we are just getting started on the UK leg; it’s not going to be the success of the last tour where it was sold out everywhere but it’s bigger venues and last time we had a bigger support band, for the UK market at least. In terms of what we’re seeing is that it’s our biggest success ever in the UK.
(Pär Sundström on Sabaton's radical lineup changes early in 2012)
"...it was a big thing for us. We didn’t know if it was gonna work but we’re like, “okay, will it work?” Then we went off to America and played our first show and we’re like, “it will work”. And now it works better than ever and it’s so fresh...and it feels really good. The spirit in the band is higher than ever."
Pär Sundström backstage at the HMV Ritz, Manchester, UK, 3rd November 2012
Interview & Photography by Mark Holmes
Photograph copyright © 2012 Mark Holmes - www.metal-discovery.com
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Thanks to Nina Potthoff for arranging the interview
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MD: Yeah, there’s a massive crowd tonight actually.
PÄR: Yeah, so it’s really great and it feels good to come here and get this response. The audience yesterday in Wolverhampton were amazing and I hope for something like that tonight.
MD: I read you had to leave the US tour last year, or the Canadian dates rather, because you had a bit of a dodgy knee and had to go home to have some surgery – is that all sorted now?
PÄR: It’s all sorted now. It was in September last year. But I’m fine now. Back in the game, I guess! [laughs]
MD: I interviewed Joakim on the Dragonforce tour back in 2009 and I think you’d just left your old label, Black Lodge, and it was announced during that tour you’d signed to Nuclear Blast. During those last three years your popularity seems to have soared so do you think the label had a big part in that or do you think Sabaton would have naturally become bigger anyway?
PÄR: Well, actually, Nuclear Blast has done a lot for us, especially in territories where we couldn’t do so much else ourselves. When we were with Black Lodge, we could do Sweden very well and we could do a little bit in Germany because we had good connections and good people working with us. But the rest were basically nothing. Of course, changing to Nuclear Blast with their international working promotional machine changed a lot, definitely, directly. For the UK, we have done step by step over time and we’re still growing. We still have a long way to go but we’re doing well.
MD: Definitely. The latest album went gold in Sweden recently so is there a sense you’ve yet to peak with your popularity and you’re still growing the whole time?
PÄR: Oh yeah, yeah. We see that it’s growing all the time and the tour’s a very good example of that because everywhere, wherever we go, it’s better results than on the last tour. We see so many bands, and we’re told by promoters in everywhere we come that this band goes down, this band goes down and times are so hard now, times are shit but, for us, it’s growing.
MD: So you’re always aiming bigger to do better each time you visit the same countries again?
PÄR: Yeah, and if we don’t, we have to think what we did wrong. But, so far, we haven’t done anything wrong! [laughs]
MD: You recorded Swedish and English language versions of the album so because the concept is about the rise and fall of the Swedish Empire, was it important to also have a version where you sing about that in Swedish?
PÄR: It wasn’t important for the beginning; it wasn’t the plan to have it in Swedish. We just planned to have parts of a song in Swedish but it sounded cool and we felt like, yeah, why shouldn’t we do some songs…maybe not the whole album. And, of course, for most people living in most countries, it’s a fun thing. But for people living in Sweden, it was a really big thing. So it really started something there and that’s why the sales in Sweden are bigger than ever.
MD: Yeah, and double the work for Joakim!
PÄR: Yeah, of course, Joakim wrote the whole album and it was double for writing the lyrics two times and then working in the studio, we were working day and night. It was crazy but we made it.
MD: Obviously four members left earlier this year and three new ones have joined so do you see this as a fresh start and a new chapter for Sabaton or just business as usual with some new guys?
PÄR: No, no, it was a big thing for us. We didn’t know if it was gonna work but we’re like, “okay, will it work?” Then we went off to America and played our first show and we’re like, “it will work”. And now it works better than ever and it’s so fresh, as you said, and it feels really good. The spirit in the band is higher than ever.
MD: So have the new guys brought a renewed energy that was maybe lacking with the guys that left?
PÄR: Yeah, that’s the reason why the people left because of the lack of…sometimes motivation or not wanting to be away on such long tours. And, of course, when you have people on the stage who are not there for one hundred and ten per cent, the whole thing goes down. Now we have only people there on the stage who are there for this.
MD: You haven’t recruited a new keyboard player yet so was that a conscious decision or you just haven’t had time to find someone?
PÄR: Actually, out of the four guys, one of them was sort of going to stay and he waited so long with his decision but then he decided no…so for a new keyboard player, maybe we’ll think about it for the future but, in the middle of the tour, we cannot bring in a new keyboard player. We’ll do the tour and then, after the tour, we’ll see what we’re gonna do.
MD: The new musicians seem to have been greeted with open arms by your fanbase but were you initially apprehensive that such a big change in the band with four members leaving might be received negatively by your fanbase?
PÄR: Yeah, of course we were afraid in the beginning but after people saw reviews and YouTube clips of the first shows, people calmed down. And a lot of promoters were afraid, especially in the UK… “ohhh, it’s never gonna be the same, it’s gonna suck now, the new Sabaton’s gonna be shitty” and people were like that but you can see on the stage, it’s better than ever.
MD: Of course, I’ll see later I’m sure! Joakim told me three years ago that you did rockabilly versions of your songs when you played in your booking agent’s yard and the Sweden Rock competition where you played at someone’s house. Now you’ve become bigger and busier as a band, have there been less opportunities to do those kind of fun things?
PÄR: We still do that….I mean, some weird stuff. We just played an acoustic show in some place in Sweden. We still do some things like that but, of course, doing two hundred shows on this tour, it’s a lot of shows so we cannot be out all the time and we cannot do all that weird stuff.
MD: So do you get some offers that you have to turn down?
PÄR: Sometimes, yeah. But we’re still gonna do some weird stuff.
MD: I talked before with Joakim about the metal/football tournaments you’ve done – are they still on the go? Do you still get time to do those?
PÄR: If we are free, sure. Definitely. I mean, it’s fun.
MD: Were Sabaton a good team?
PÄR: Yeah, we were a good team. We lost a key player which was our drummer. He was a really good football player. I don’t know about the new guys but he was really professional.
MD: When you play London next week you’re doing a full pyro show and filming it for a DVD so why did you decide to do that over here? Is the UK a special audience for the band or was it just logistics?
PÄR: We saw the opportunity and it’s gonna be something special. We’re not only recording London. We have recorded one full show in Poland and we’re gonna record one, also, in Germany and one in Sweden. It’s gonna all be combined into something really big because we want a lot of songs, we don’t just want one show, we want a lot. It will be something exciting and, of course, of the UK, London will be the biggest show. And it’s the only venue where we could use pyros. It was extremely expensive and when we got the bill for bringing it over and the license to use it, it was ridiculous. We’re gonna lose so much money on that show, no matter if we sell two thousand tickets. The cost of everything is way too expensive for the production we’re bringing. So that’s a completely lost show but I don’t care because we have to push the UK even more.
MD: You’re embarking on a two day Sabaton cruise in December and it’s completely sold out so did the level of interest in that surprise you?
PÄR: It’s the third year we’re doing it and the two previous ones were sold out and this one was sold out in two weeks or something. So it’s a big success. People do a lot of metal cruises around the world – there are some metal cruises in Germany, there are several in America and some in Sweden but everybody who goes to a lot of them say it’s nothing like going on the Sabaton cruise because the atmosphere is the best. There are two thousand Sabaton fans on one cruise ship and the atmosphere when we play is we have the most diehard fans from around the world. The atmosphere when we go on stage is unbeatable. People say that there is nothing like that. Our fans are very loyal and when you see them all connected, some of them, as a unit in one place, that’s amazing. So that is special. The atmosphere, you cannot think of it, you have to be there to experience it.
MD: I saw the poster for it and there’s war and explosions going on around a cruise ship but I guess that doesn’t put people off!
PÄR: Yeah! We don’t even do advertising for the cruise, it sells out without anything.
MD: Okay, so kind of a random question to end with. You covered ‘In the Army Now’ and I don’t know about Sweden but it was a huge hit over here for Status Quo as they covered it as well…you know the Status Quo version?
PÄR: Yeah.
MD: Noddy Holder from Slade was on the Quo version as well. So if you could choose one of your tracks that you’d like to see Status Quo and Noddy Holder cover, what would it be? Maybe only one with three chords in as that’s all Status Quo do!
PÄR: If they would cover Sabaton, I don’t know, I would love to see them cover ‘Primo Victoria’. It’s a favourite song of mine and I always love it. It’s the song that started it all, basically, for Sabaton so it’s a very emotional song.
MD: You reckon Status Quo would do a good version of that?
PÄR: I don’t know.
MD: Noddy Holder doing a bit of shouting on it.
PÄR: I’d be happy to hear! [laughs]
MD: Okay, thank you so much for your time, much appreciated.
PÄR: Thanks.
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