I’m very picky when it comes to metal. There’s some bands I just can’t stand, others that I can appreciate but just can’t get into, and some that I can never get enough of. Sweden’s Sabaton is, thankfully, nestled in the third category. There’s something infectious about their unique brand of power metal. Whether it be their exciting live shows, their lyrical content about world wars, or their all-around epic sound, they are just so addicting.
On March 14th, I had the thrilling experience of chatting with Sabaton’s lead singer, Joakim Brodén, to talk about their recent Heroes On Tour release, as well as their future plans that involve a number of festivals, a new tour, and a new album in the works.
It was fun! I just came home last night, actually. Yesterday we did the tour’s final show in Luxembourg, which was kind of strange, actually. Not because of the show, but because in the same evening, in the same complex, we were playing at the same time as The Scorpions. They’re good friends of ours, and it was nice because we had time to go over and check out their show.
That’s pretty crazy! On this tour, did you notice a difference in the crowds you were playing to from country to country?
Oh yes. It’s a huge difference to play, let’s say one show in Sweden, or if you’re in Serbia, or Austria the crowd changes quite a bit. Also, I wouldn’t say it changes from country to country, I mean, I think it’s more region wise. I mean, southern Germany and northern Austria have more in common than Northern Germany has with Southern Germany. We started out in Czech Republic, for our first show, always love that place, and there was five thousand people and that was just out of this world. So, I’d say Eastern Europe and Southern Europe are, at least on this tour, the best crowds we’ve played to. Of course, there is the usual exceptions. For some reason, we’ve played, I think, twelve shows in the UK, and once we came to Scotland, everyone was going crazy. It might be the water up there. [Laughs] Alestorm is a Scottish band, so that might have been why.
I’m sure that helps. So, you’re taking a short break for now, but you’re playing a number of festivals this summer, including Sabaton Open Air fest, your very own festival that you play every year in your hometown alongside other big acts. What convinced you to go through the process of organizing your own music festival?
It kind of just happened along with everything else that was happening to us. We actually started it way back in 2008. We were going to play a release show for our album The Art Of War, and, basically, there were no decent venues or booking agents in our small town.
So, we thought to do it ourselves and bring in some friends and bands that we played with at some point, or any other bands that were from our region that we thought were good but never got the recognition they deserve. So, that’s how it all started. It’s worth saying that we don’t book the bands for that festival based on the amount of tickets they would sell. We’d rather book friends, bands we tour with, bands we like ourselves, and younger bands from our area that have been around for a while but haven’t had the chance to prove themselves.
Yeah, they all seem to fit that similar genre, but you have a few big names headlining with you this year, including Saxon and Dragonforce. Aside from the lineup, what can we expect for the 2016 edition of Sabaton Open Air?
Well, I can’t really go into detail there, because, you know, we don’t even know what everything will look like yet. Not all the bands are booked yet. We always do something special for our set at Sabaton Open Air. One year, for example, we played our whole Carolus Rex album. We also played samples from our whole career so far. Taking a few songs from every album we’ve released chronologically. We haven’t yet decided what we’re doing this year, but, although it may seem like we’re on break now, we’re actually going into the studio in three weeks to record our new album!
Oh, that’s definitely great news! So, this new album, as well as your last studio release, Heroes, was your first time working with new band members and musicians. Has your songwriting process changed from your first few albums compared to now?
Not that much. To be honest, though, at this point, I’d say there’s more involvement from the other band members. Not only are they excellent musicians but, at least two of them have experience as songwriters from earlier bands. That being said, some people don’t like to admit it, but just because you play an instrument very well doesn’t automatically make you a songwriter. It’s like saying you can build a house because you have a hammer and some nails, there’s much more to writing a song than just playing your instrument. In this case, we’ve very lucky because, by the time this album is released, everyone in the band will have been involved in the songwriting process in one way or another.
When you say songwriting, are you referring to the musical aspect, or do some members contribute to the writing of your lyrics as well?
When it comes to the lyrics, that’s usually me and our bassist, Pär, sitting together, writing them because we’re the history nerds in the band. The other guys appreciate singing about history more than dungeons and dragons for sure, but I wouldn’t send them to do a history quiz. [laughs]
Speaking of music and new releases, you recently put out Heroes On Tour, audio and video recordings of your sets from last year’s Sabaton Open Air and Wacken Open Air festivals. Could you tell me a bit more about that?
Yeah, we were playing around with the idea of doing a live album, as well as an on the road-type movie for a while, so we just decided to combine both of those things from our point of view. Hell, we got to headline Wacken. Of course, I want to see that shit. [laughs]
You guys certainly have big live shows, so it’s definitely good for people around the world who can’t see you play these massive crowds you attract in Europe. Was there much going on from the business side about how you wanted to put this out or was it more of an easy decision for you guys to release this to the world?
I mean, it is an easy decision to make when you think about it. Of course, from a PR’s point of view, having one of the headliners for Wacken is a good thing on both business and personal reasons. To include footage from our own festival was more of a decision to say, “Hey, this is something special.” You can see the setlists are different, the festivals are different. So, from that aspect, it was an easy choice.
Also, as you said, we’re lucky in a way, but also unlucky in the sense that we’re not consistent with the amount of people we pull to our shows all over the world. A good headlining show for us in Scandinavia or Europe in general is about six thousand people, if we go to North America, a headlining show for us is closer to six hundred people. That’s a pretty big fucking difference. So, Heroes On Tour is our way to show the people in North, or even South America what we can do when there is more people involved. To be honest though, there are two sides to this coin. I actually enjoy coming to North America, coming to the USA or Canada to play a show, and I don’t give a shit if the crowd is three thousand or three hundred. Sometimes it’s more fun to play in front of three hundred.
Oh yeah, intimate venues can certainly be fun in their own right. Are there any plans to play this part of the world after your string of shows in Europe? I know you’re playing Heavy Montreal in August, but any plans aside from that?
Yes! I wish I could tell you more, but we won’t know the specifics at this moment. If we were speaking three weeks from now, I could go into some detail, but we’re just looking into it right now. Actually, I don’t know when, and I can’t make any promises, but there’s looking to be a big North American tour before the year is over. It might be just before Christmas.
Oh, very cool! Are there any bands that stick out in your head that you’d absolutely love to tour with? Any metal bands that are huge in North America that you’d just love to share the stage with?
Oh yes. Out of the ones we have shared a stage with so far, I’d say Metallica is at the top of my list. Love the band, and all the music they’ve done, even the later stuff is pretty good. Plus they’re a solid live band.
For sure. You’ll definitely get your six thousand people out to shows if you land that kind of gig. Lastly, I just want to touch on an event that happened last year. You made headlines for losing a bet with a bandmate and having to walk 300 miles on foot from home to Norway for your set at Trondheim last October. How was that for an experience?
[laughs] Well, it was hell in the beginning, then it became fun. Then it was hell again. Of course, I can walk five miles in a day, that’s not a problem, but to walk ten miles every day, all the time, that was the problem.
Right, and I guess without any food or water, you were trying to live off whatever you could find, no?
I mean, I was walking along some decent roads, so it wasn’t that much of a wood trek. I had a small bag so I could carry whatever I really needed. I was never forced to sleep in the woods if you know what I mean. There was always somewhere I could find shelter, even if that means sleeping at a 24/7 gas station.
Well, if anything, that’ll be an amazing story to tell your grandkids.
Yeah, thanks to the Norwegian people following me on Facebook. I had people sometimes coming up behind me in their car, stopping to give me some meals in a box and a six-pack of beer to keep me going. There were even five or six cases where people offered I stay at their place. So, they’d fix me up some proper meals and send me on my way the next morning. All in all, it was a crazy experience.
Needless to say, Sabaton have an incredibly busy schedule ahead of them. Be on the lookout for one of their many shows this summer, including their only North American stop at Heavy Montreal this August. If you can’t wait, be sure to pick up Heroes On Tour from their website to experience them second-hand.
Written and compiled by Mathieu Perrier
Header Photo by Kai Robidas
*edited by Danielle Kenedy