Originally written for The Metal Observer
“[M]e losing my voice after three songs, giving the guys lyric sheets, and Tommy and Chris taking over and singing the show. . . So, fucking proud to play with guys who can handle a thing like that and still get the vibe for a Sabaton show.”
With less than a month to go before the hotly-anticipated ninth studio album from Swedish metal icons Sabaton, I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to interview Joakim Brodén, the frontman whose powerful vocals are as iconic as the band itself, to discuss the band’s upcoming North American tour, The Great War, and just to pick his brain a bit.
Kane: Hello Joakim! How are you doing today?
Joakim Brodén: Hello! I’m great. How are you?
I’m very well, thanks. I’m psyched to be able to talk with you. I’m a huge fan, obviously, but who isn’t these days?
J: [laughs] Well, I wish even more people liked us!
So this has been an eventful year for Sabaton. You’ve launched Sabaton History Channel, The Great War is almost out, you’re in the midst of festival season. Have you had any free time to yourself?
J: Not really! You know, maybe an hour here or a day there, but that’s about it. Having time off, one day is really nice and during the second day, halfway though it I’m really bored. I don’t know what to do.
You’re obviously committed to the lifestyle, then.
J: Absolutely. I love it.
Do you feel that you’re still growing as a musician?
J: Yeah! I mean, I’m lucky. I never planned to be a singer, and I started singing when I came into the band, so [laughs] it’s a lucky chance. You know, like, I’m also in that golden position where I don’t really sing extremely high. I go pretty high in a breast voice/full range voice point of view but I’m not going to have to worry about getting old and losing my falsetto.
Absolutely. You know, twenty years is a long time to spend on the scene. How have you seen the metal scene change since you started Sabaton?
J: Oh, it’s getting better these days, I’d say. Metal is getting bigger in general, more acceptance, I guess, and also I think that the last couple five or six years have been really good. All of a sudden we see lots of newer, younger bands coming up, which is sort of, yeah, I really love it actually. Because from our time there aren’t that many, you know. Most of the metal bands that came out were either before us, and then only a few around the same time as we, but now it seems to be exploding, which is really nice, I think.
It seems like new quality bands spring up kind of every year now, which is great to see.
Now, I don’t want to beat you over the head with questions you’ve answered a million times but, of course, I have to ask you about the new album, so what do you think separates The Great War from other Sabaton albums?
J: Well, I can’t say “war” because almost all of them are about war. However, I don’t know. It’s very much a Sabaton album and by that means it sounds like every Sabaton album. But, you know, there is some sense of evolution from previous albums. We always had that. We never made huge steps, you know, between one album to the next, really. If you listen to, well, Heroes and then after that The Last Stand, which would be the two previous ones, you can hear some differences but it’s not gonna be a huge step. However, if you listen to, well, The Great War now and listen to the Metalizer album that we recorded in 2001 or 2002, there’s a huge difference. [laughs] So, um, yeah, a bit darker, a bit more atmospherical, I guess, this one, considering the topic of the album.
Yeah, I’ve definitely noticed that, compared to The Last Stand especially, where it was a lot more victorious and heroic, the overall mood in The Great War seems to be a bit darker and almost dooming.
J: Oh, yeah, in a sense it’s natural. I mean, it’s not like we planned for it. When we go into songwriting mode, I guess, we don’t ever plan, “let’s go harder”, “let’s go more cheerful”, “let’s go darker”, “let’s go softer”, you know, or faster or slower. It’s all about, well, two things, really. Writing as good a song as we possibly can, and making sure the music connects with the stories in as good a way as possible for us. So, with having the Great War in mind when writing the music it obviously affected the songwriting.
Right. Do you have any interesting stories from when you were recording the album?
J: Oh, well, there’s so many [laughs]. Nothing fantastic because, I mean, it was kind of difficult to write it. You know, every album you make it becomes harder and harder. How do you keep the band’s identity, you know, how do you keep it sounding like a Sabaton album, and at the same time progress? Or, develop in some way, at least? And, I do that and a lot of fans do that all the time. When you hear a new album, you compare it to not only to one or the other album, but a whole Greatest Hits of the that band’s previous releases. So, the songwriting was really tough on this one, because, basically, performance anxiety, but also the topic itself. It’s not a nice place to be, to be researching the Great War constantly. Obviously, when you’re doing something like Heroes or The Last Stand, it’s still of military conflict and people are dying, but you’re looking for something to celebrate, only by choice of topic. However, here, yeah, it’s a bit darker. But the studio recording itself was so smooth and fast it’s. . . I’m gonna give you a pretty boring answer. It’s pretty uneventful! [laughs]
I understand that the whole band was more involved in the making of this album compared to previous ones. Did that make the writing process easier or harder?
J: Easier, absolutely. Up until 2010, no, up until Carolus Rex, actually, I was the only songwriter who wrote Sabaton songs. Not by choice, but now, finally, we have some other guys in the band who are used to writing music and are actually quite good at it. It’s a really nice feeling.
Was every song in The Great War written specifically for the album or was there some old stuff that you brought up and refined and released?
J: Well, I always have old stuff lying around. If the song was ever not good enough, it will never good enough, so that gets basically deleted from the possibility pile. However, there’s always a few songs that I didn’t finish before. I’d rather not finish a song than completing it and having it not reach it’s potential or my potential in my mind, at least. So there were one of those, actually; the song ‘Attack of the Dead Men’ was started by me and Chris back in 2013 for the Heroes album. We just couldn’t get that prechorus right at all so we halted it. We revisited it again for The Last Stand, and we couldn’t finish it, so we revisited it again now, and, oh!, we finally managed to finish it. Then we had the song ‘A Ghost in the Trenches’ which was written with Tommy. That was way before the album, or before we entered songwriting mode, anyway. We started that in late 2017/early 2018. Tommy had been in the band for a while and, even though we knew he could write songs, we didn’t know if him and I could write songs together or if we could get something sounding Sabaton out of it. And, it turns out, we could! [laughs] So that one was written also in advance. Other than that, they’re all pretty much custom composed for the topic at hand.
It’s funny you mention those two tracks because those are both my favourites from the album. I notice they’re a little more unique for a Sabaton album. I mean, they still sound completely Sabaton but they’re more unique than maybe ’82nd All the Way’ or ‘Devil Dogs’.
J: Yeah, especially ‘Attack of the Dead Men’ is pretty damn different.
So, shifting gears a little bit, how is festival season going for you guys so far?
J: Pretty good. We had to do an extra fill in in Hellfest, which we weren’t supposed to play at, but I lost my voice and we had the guitarists singing. Other than that, it’s fine.
I would definitely think that’s one of the lower points, but any highlights?
J: Highlights. . . I would say, that one was a highlight, in a way. See, me losing my voice after three songs, giving the guys lyric sheets, and Tommy and Chris taking over and singing the show and me joining in the party whenever I could, so, fucking proud to play with guys who can handle a thing like that and still get the vibe for a Sabaton show. So yeah, I would say, at the same time it was a low point but also a high point. And, I mean, we played Graspop two days ago. Absolutely amazing festival.
It’s a good thing Tommy has those power metal chops!
Will you have a lot of downtime before your North American tour this Fall?
J: A bit, actually. I know it’s not full now but it will be, anyway. September isn’t that busy yet but, if I know my dear friend and colleague Par, correctly, slowly but surely it’ll fill up. That’s usually how it goes: “Ok, let’s save some time here so we get that time off” and then that’s the time when you have to do all of the other things that you don’t have time to do when you’re touring, so [laughs] you end up going at it anyway!
I’m sure many of us in North America are wondering, is there anything you specifically like or dislike about touring here?
J: Well, I like it a lot, actually! I can’t explain why, but all the places to go on a tour, you know, they’re all different, but it’s mainly Europe and North America that you do nightliner touring. South America you fly to the shows, Russia it’s usually flights or trains, Australia, you fly. [laughs] And I like the whole nightliner thing, it’s always nice to wake up in a new city. You have your bed, which is in the bus, you install whatever, phone charger or small video game screen, whatever you want in there and then you just roll and do heavy metal shows. I really love that. And it’s been a while now since we were on a proper nightline headlining tour so I’m really looking forward to it.
Do you find that the atmosphere is different because you’re not playing arenas or festivals but more one thousand- to a couple thousand-capacity club-sized venues?
J: That helps a lot. I mean, I love that feeling because I’m a bit of a thief. I steal all of my energy from the crowd [laughs] and the further away the crowd is the harder it becomes and it almost feels like I’m playing theater. I mean, I love putting on the big shows and it’s fucking cool, however, it’s harder to keep the energy going, in a way, than if you’re playing up to three, four thousand, which would be the maximum that you can still keep the audience close and you can see people’s faces, all the way to the back.
Yeah, I remember seeing you guys in 2017 in Vancouver and there seemed to be absolutely no shortage of energy from you guys so I’m glad that you have that same commitment to the smaller venues as you do in Europe.
J: Oh, of course! A good rock and roll show can be done on both small and large stages. It’s not about the amount of people there, it’s rather the quality of the people there, both the people on the stage and in the crowd.
I couldn’t agree more. Do you have any favourite cities to visit?
J: Well. . . yeah, several. I like the Northwest a lot, at certain points it feels like home almost. I like the great hiking opportunities, for example, people are really nice, and, yeah, the nature. So from that point of view, I like it. I can’t say I dislike any other place. People have been saying stuff like, “oh, you have a show in this and this place. That’s gonna be a dead one,” maybe it was Boise, Idaho, but we had a great fucking time in Boise, Idaho! [laughs]
Looking forward to the rest of the year, what are you looking forward to the most?
J: It is the US/Canadian Tour, I would say. Absolutely. Because it’s been over a year since we did a proper nightliner tour, we’re coming with Hammerfall, so it’s a Swedish heavy metal invasion. The only thing that’s missing is a bit of Ikea and ABBA, and then you’ve got the whole package. [laughs]
Maybe you’ll manage to string ABBA along!
J: Yeah, somehow we’ll get them in there. No, but it’s for me, the end of the year. I mean, obviously we’re headlining Wacken and we’re doing a very special show there, a longer set and we’re using two stages, not going to go into details because that’s a secret, exactly what we’re doing. And also bringing a choir, so there’s a lot of fun to look forward to, but, personally, I still think that the North American run is gonna be the highlight of the year for me.
I know it’s still early to be thinking about new material, but what kind of topics are you guys considering for future albums? I know that you’ve wanted to do Napoleon and Alexander the Great, for example, for a while, now.
J: Yeah, we haven’t decided yet. We always have, like, between three to five topics at all times in our minds and then, as we get closer and closer to making an album or songwriting time, we narrow down the field. But it’s not something I’d like to talk about because if I make a statement like that and we announce that, “oh, we’re going to do this,” and it turns out we’re not doing it a lot of people will get angry and pissed off, especially these days, so I have found out it’s better not to give away any such information. Not because I want to be secretive, but I don’t want to make people sad if they really liked the topic that we were kind of planning on doing and then we chose not to for one reason or another. They’ll be disappointed with us, and I don’t want that.
I can definitely understand that. Do you think you’d ever potentially do an album of ancient history rather than modern history to creatively free you guys up a little more?
J: That’s absolutely possible. We’ve been looking into older stuff. It’s harder, though, because the further back you go, the more you go into myth and legend. In a way that’s liberating, but you don’t have to go far back at all to go to the times that even the regular soldiers could not read or write. So, what you have is the writings of commanders and they wanna look good [laughs] so they write propaganda. So it’s really nice to be in somewhat-modern history because you are working more with facts than with legends. There is so much interesting history in our ancient past, the problem there is sorting out legend from history, I guess.
Aside from World War I and II, what would you say interests you the most?
J: Oh! I mean, it’s different all the time. I’m not only interested in military history, I like history, period. But, you know, let’s say, art history would not be a good match for heavy metal, so [laughs] we figured that Sabaton is for military history! All of the emotioinal spectrum that we have in our music, it could be aggression, pride, joy, all of these elements that are in that emotional spectrum of our music is also in military history.
But, right now I’m into, well, mostly the Cold War, actually, and all the proxy wars that happened and the spy games behind the scenes, and the space race, of course.
That is an interesting period. So much going on behind the scenes! All right, well, I think that pretty much covers everything I wanted to talk to you about. Thank you so much for your time, Joakim!
J: Yes, thank you for the good interview. I enjoyed it!
The Great War is set to release on 19 July under Nuclear Blast. If you want to preorder the album, check out tour dates, or see what’s new with Sabaton, you can find all of that on their >>website<<!
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