Joakim Brodén: “’It always has to be a sort of symbiosis of what we in the band want to do, but we should also take in consideration: ‘what do the fans want us to do?’ We cannot do only what the fans want, or what anyone in the band wants. That is why I think we are an evolutionary band, not a revolutionary band.”
Op 4 maart 2022 brengt de sympathieke Zweedse band Sabaton het tiende studioalbum ‘The War To End All Wars’ uit. In november konden we al kennismaken met deze nieuwe schijf vol oorlogsretoriek tijdens een luistersessie in Brussel. Wie had ooit gedacht dat er een nieuwe oorlog in Europa zou woeden tegen de tijd dat het album over de Eerste Wereldoorlog in de winkels ligt? Maar goed, voor alle duidelijkheid: dit gesprek met zanger Joakim Brodén vond plaats vooraleer Oekraïne in het nieuws kwam en we focussen ons op het feit dat ‘The War To End All Wars’ weer een heel weldoordacht Sabaton album is dat in de moeilijke tijden der coronacrisis tot stand kwam. Nu nog hopen dat we dit live kunnen aanschouwen, want de concerten in maart zijn alweer verschoven naar latere data.
Vera Matthijssens Ι 4 maart 2022
How are you doing these days? Is everything alright over there?
Yes, Scandinavia had not that much brutal lockdowns. It was a bit scary in Norway in the beginning, but that was before we knew anything about the virus. They closed schools and everything, but here it is basically like normal. All you do is put on a mask when you go indoors, otherwise everything is normal. Same in Sweden, but they don’t care about the mask in Sweden (laughs).
In July 2019 the former album came out, called ‘The Great War’. Right after that you started a world tour. Have you been in places you had never been before on those trips?
Oh let me think, that’s a tricky one. I don’t remember. It is weird, this fucking covid-19 shit, it feels like it is so long ago, but it feels like it was also yesterday that it came, if you know what I mean. It messes everything up with memory and time, how much time has passed. Maybe that’s because I normally measure time by how many tours for an album we have done (laughs). I know we played some cities in North America where we didn’t play before, but new countries on ‘The Great War tour’ I don’t remember, to be honest.
Did you start the writing process for this new album earlier, due to the covid-19 situation and no tours?
Yes absolutely. We went home from touring in Russia in mid March 2020 I think it was. In the beginning everything was so new, so we decided to do things from which we had said: ‘we will do that later when we have time’. We started doing some of that and then all of a sudden we realized that we didn’t know how long it was going to last. Obviously since Pär’s job is more on the management side, even though we work on the concepts of an album together and we are writing lyrics together, he is not very much involved in the music production or writing. Since he had his hands full of book and rebooking tours anyway, we agreed as follows: you make sure that the live shows will happen, while I go into song-writing mode. I wrote at myself and I went to Sweden to write with Chris (Rörland – guitarist – Vera) and we would see what happened. If the virus was gone in a few months, then maybe we have a couple of songs for the next album, but then when things went on and dragged out, we realized we could not do it, no touring at all. Then we decided to make another album or we would go insane. That’s when I came with the idea that we were going to continue on the World War I theme, because we had a tour that was planned to go to many places that we could not play. If we should make an album now about something totally different, then some of those songs would feel out of place and maybe we would not play them, which would be sad for those who maybe wanted to see ‘Seven Pillars Of Wisdom’ live and then never got the chance. So that was one reason to stay with that theme. There were also stories like ‘Hellfighters’ and ‘Christmas Truce’, stories that we knew already before we did ‘The Great War’ that we wanted to make, but we didn’t have the right songs for it and also all the ideas from our fans and friends. They gave us so many stories about World War I! ‘How the fuck did we not know about this?’ we regularly thought. So the combination of those three and the pandemic made it a logical choice. If it wasn’t for the pandemic, we would still be touring now or maybe taking a break about this time. At least we would have toured on ‘The Great War’ until late 2021.
As you already mentioned, guitarist Chris was more involved into the song-writing. Was that a very different experience for you as a writer?
It came naturally. We already started writing together at the time of ‘Heroes’, but we didn’t finish a song then, it did not make it to that album, but we started on ‘Attack Of The Dead Men’ that came out on ‘The Great War’ and then for ‘The Last Stand’ we did ‘The Last Stand’ together. We were both in the same lockdown after Russia, me and Chris and our drum tech. We stayed in a warehouse in Falun. We basically took mattresses and old furniture out of our old tour bus. We built a sort of place where we could sleep. In the warehouse in Sweden we stayed for two weeks, because the whole pandemic thing was new. Nobody knew anything about it, we did not want to go home to our beloved ones and give them the sickness. We didn’t know if we were going to be symptomatic or whatever. So we went to Falun, we went once to the shop where we bought a lot of food and a lot of alcohol and all the musical equipment we needed and then we stayed there for two weeks. That is actually when Chris and I started writing some stuff, like ‘Royal Guard’. First I was writing a lot by myself in Norway, while going up and down to Sweden several times a month, but I got bored and asked if anyone was into coming to Falun and do some song-writing. Tommy was busy doing his other stuff and Hannes lives a bit further away, but Chris was bored and lives close by, so yes! So it came natural and by accident he was involved in four or five songs.
Anyway it as a writing process you will never forget…
Oh no… and Chris’ special drink of red wine and 80% rum, mixed. My head will never forget that I think. The next day I’ve never been so sick in my whole life. If Chris comes up with his special mix, do not drink it!
‘Sarajevo’ is quite a special song, because it has the woman speaking a text and a choir singing, plus blastbeats…
That’s when the alcohol came in (laughs). It is true, that was one of the songs which has been done by me and Chris. We sort of had this idea to do a spoken word, but more orchestral you know, because there are all kinds of instruments we don’t do normally, like a cello and a flute or a hobo. We wanted a real chorus in the middle, but then kind of a musical journey and a storytelling thing going on. This is actually the first time when Chris discovered this drink, because the wine wasn’t very good and the rum was too strong. It was like 79%. He kind of mixed them together ‘try this’ and during that session is when we came up with the solo for Sarajevo. Of course we laughed about it, because we thought it would be too hard, too weird to be Sabaton, but when we played it up for the other guys, they were surprised: ‘wow that is a cool solo’ and ‘wow, that is a great part’ and Hannes as drummer was just happy. More drums and faster to play. He is an amazing drummer, but sometimes it feels like he has a Ferrari and he is never driving more than 90 km per hour.
The end deals with the end of the war, in Versailles peace was signed…
The idea was a joke on ‘the war that ends all wars’. No, that war DID not end all wars, it is like a frame for a picture, because not all the songs are in chronological order. Only the start sets the scene at World War I, this is where we are. ‘Versailles’ is a related track, they are different songs, but the chorus is in minor, so sad mode in ‘Sarajevo’, but in ‘Versailles’ you hear the same chorus in major. It is just modulated. It is actually the same chorus, but tuned around with the melodies and chorus a little bit. The first one is melancholic, the second one is hopeful. This is one of our musical nerdy things that we do to entertain ourselves.
Of course, it is always a challenge when you are writing new songs. I can imagine that you think: what can we do next after ten albums? It actually IS the tenth album…
It is tricky, because as you said: what to do? It always has to be a sort of symbiosis of what we in the band want to do, but we should also take in consideration: ‘what do the fans want us to do?’. We cannot do only what the fans want, or what anyone wants. It has to be a symbiosis of what’s smart. That is why I think we are an evolutionary band, not a revolutionary band. I mean, if you listen to – let’s say – ‘Carolus Rex’ and ‘Heroes’, or ‘Heroes’ and ‘The Last Stand’. It isn’t a huge difference between those two albums. There is a difference, yes, but it is not huge. But if you listen to ‘Metalizer’, our first album, and then you listen to ‘The War To End All Wars’, that’s a very big difference. It is not that we did not want to sound like now on ‘Metalizer’, it is as good as we could at that time basically. For production, for song-writing, for musicianship… I know for a fact that if 20 something year old Joakim could have the sound and the capabilities of what we have now, on ‘The War To End All Wars’ I would rather have that. The later albums we sort of come to the point where we could realize our dreams and make it as we wanted it; because it takes time and experience to reach that. So that is one part of the equation and the second part I think is the hardest: how do we play a song that is Sabaton without it being too much of a repetition; because if it is typical Sabaton, it is going to be reminiscent of something else Sabaton, because there are so many Sabaton songs now. The trick to remember is, I think: what is now considered as typical Sabaton? It might have been something new for Sabaton a long time ago. For example we did the song ‘Ghost Division’ which is considered by most of the people as typical Sabaton, but when we did ‘Ghost Division’ back in 2008, we had never done anything like that before, with that sound or that type of drumming or that kind of guitar riffing. Sort of doing that once, brings that style of music or that vibe or emotion or production style, whatever it is, that brings us into: what is Sabaton. If people listen to this album, they will feel comfortable: this is a Sabaton album, but if we don’t push the envelope every now and then on one or two or three songs on every album, we are limiting ourselves to what Sabaton could be, only what’s been done before then. That’s not what Sabaton was in the beginning. Sabaton was always doing heavy metal with its roots in the eighties basically and then we slowly over time brought new stuff that we wanted to try in our music or build into our music. Stopping that and doing only typical Sabaton would not be typical Sabaton (chuckles).
One of the things I did not expect is the use of synthesizers at the beginning of the single ‘Soldier Of Heaven’…
Yes, absolutely. The whole vibe of that song leans on that and we chose to reinforce it, because if you take away the synthesizers like that, then you take away the fancy drums, because those two things and how those types of sound is what people connect with the eighties. If we would have taken it away, I don’t think people would see it as an eighties song. It is fun to do. It is the same thing we did on ‘Blood Of Bannockburn‘; which was on ‘The Last Stand’. Put bagpipes in it, people think Scotland, you know (laughs).
What is ‘The Valley Of Death’ about?
About the battle of Doiran (1917) between Bulgaria and the British in World War I. So we are talking about a different front, which is nice, I mean, the western front was probably where most of the action happened, but we felt, when looking in retrospect on ‘The Great War’, that there was so much from the western front on that album, and very little from the eastern and almost nothing from anywhere else. Now on this album we are finally doing the right thing and do our research a little bit better. We have the Italians, the Alps, Southern front, like in ‘Soldier Of Heaven’ and also Milunka Savic’s story in ‘Lady Of The Dark’ in the Balkans and then also the defence of Doiran.
The song where Belgium is featured is called ‘Race To The Sea’…
It is about Belgium, more precisely about the defence of King Albert I of Belgium and the story of the flooding of the Yser river. We sing that the king and the soldiers are fighting shoulder on shoulder, so it is really about the celebration of the defence of Belgium. Even if there was only 5% left, they chose to fight, you know.
‘Christmas Truce’ might be a song where fans opinions are divided. A Christmas single, but you released it already in October!
(laughs) Well, it is a Sabaton song, so it is about an event in military history. Is ‘Christmas Truce’ a Christmas song? Well, we have some Christmas elements in there, because it is about Christmas. Same as if we have a song about Bannockburn, there are bagpipes in it, because it is about Scotland. I think a lot of people misunderstood this and saw this as a sort of a Christmas single, but it was not a test to appear on Christmas albums (laughs). It is a Sabaton song about military history, I mean, then we should not play ‘Primo Victoria’ on tour unless on the sixth of June, you know. It is quite a different song for us, but we have been almost in that territory with ‘Cliffs Of Gallipoli’, that’s a long time ago now, but also, what nobody seems to notice: it is a waltz. Absolutely, you can dance to it.
In the downtime of the pandemic, a series of singles were released with suitable video clips. Was that a way to keep you busy or where some of them already planned before?
Both of them. We had ‘Steel Commanders’ which was supposed to come earlier, but it couldn’t. It was supposed to come out in 2020, but it was delayed to 2021 with war gaming things. All the other stuff came later. At any point we have to meet up some time to keep sane, because we like each other. We really do. It is good to see everyone. One of the happiest moments of 2021 was for me, going to Serbia to have our first show in July. We had two days for rehearsals in Serbia before and meeting everybody in the hall, the band and crew members, giving them a hug was amazing. Rehearsing, it sounded good. Everybody in the band had really practised at home, so it sounded good. We were scared, like ‘oh isn’t this bad, we haven’t played live for a while’, but everybody had really done their homework and it sounded great, already on the first day. There were a few songs we had to rehearse because we hadn’t played them that much, but that is normal. But then, after having a great afternoon, going back to the hotel and sit down with everybody, with the core crew, the people we spend more time with on the road in a year than we do at home, just sit there and drink beer and eat food together, that was precious. It was very emotional getting on stage and I was very nervous, because it felt weird with those clothes on again. We don’t wear them private every day (chuckles). Putting in ear plugs even felt weird, but then I went on the stage and then our guitar tech starts giving Tommy and Chris the guitars and the bass to Pär – as soon as that started – it felt perfectly normal. This is what I am supposed to be doing! I was no longer nervous, it was so fucking fantastic!
Was it the only concert you did in 2021?
No, we did one more a few days later in Czech Republic and in September we went to the US with Judas Priest. We managed to do eleven shows before Richie (Faulkner – guitarist JP – Vera) had this heart collision and needed heart surgery.
Did you discover or rediscover old hobbies or things you hadn’t time for before covid-19?
Yes, there are a lot of things and most of these things are mundane, it is not going to be interesting in an interview. We have a warehouse in Sweden where we have most of our stuff. We have a lot of old shit and go through the warehouse and sort things out, it is quite big with all our stage props. It is a massive project and really boring, but it is fun at the same time ‘oh look at this, this is from the stage we had a decade ago’, with all the memories, stuff like that, but other than that, new hobbies, no. Because after we had done with catch up, I did not have the time, because I went into a sort of album production mode. I did what I was normally doing. I guess some of the other guys had a little bit more time to do other things. I think Hannes took a snow mobile drivers license, stuff like that.
We had already the clip for ‘Christmas Truce’ a while ago and recently the one for ‘Soldier Of Heaven’ was released. What struck me is that the video clips from Sabaton are getting bigger and bigger…
…and more and more expensive (laughs). We knew that ‘Christmas Truce’ was going to be a big release, the first single from the new album. A really important topic emotionally for us, this is a topic we wanted to do for a long time and we thought: ‘covid-19 or not – let us say it has not been good for the musician’s economy, if you know what I mean – with this song we are going to hate ourselves for the rest of our careers if we let that affect our budget decision for this video. So we had a film team. We did it in Czech Republic and they have never done music videos before. Maybe someone in the production – it was a lot of people – but in general the director and the director of the photography and all of these people, they were doing movies. That is the feel we wanted, because if we present the story of Christmas Truce, we should not be standing there, playing our instruments. I mean, we can do that, we did it with ‘Soldier Of Heaven’, but in this case we wanted to show the story of Christmas Truce.
Are there plans for next video clips you can already reveal?
Yeah I don’t want to spoil the surprise, but I can tell there is two more coming for this album. You will not have to wait too long for the next one.
There is also a history edition of the album. What can you tell about that?
It is not really a surprise I guess, we had a history edition for ‘The Great War’ and we pretty much did things along the lines of that. We tried to do it better, but we like the format. Maybe you don’t want to listen to that speech three years later, but I think actually for most people, the first two or three listens of an album like ‘The Great War’ and ‘The War To End All Wars’ becomes a better experience if you listen to the history edition. You get a little bit of explanation there before and after the song and so I recommend people to listen to the history edition first and then, once they know what the songs are about, they can listen to the normal version.
Isn’t it extra hard to gather together with covid-19 and living in different countries?
Yes and no. In a sense it is weird now in the covid-19 situation, because we live a different life than we normally do and this set up has been made for our normal life. I mean, I live in Norway, but I live closer to Falun than Hannes does and he still lives in Sweden. We were always a bit spread out around Sweden, and in normal circumstances we don’t have that long breaks. So what we would do is: let’s say we start to tour in Europe somewhere, so we could go to Helsinki or Copenhagen and rehearse two days with the production team. Maybe one week earlier we meet in Falun, then we do rehearsing, then we do signing cards or a lot of other stuff that we need to do. We go to Finland or Denmark to rehearse with the crew, we do the tour and then we go home and that is only two weeks before we go to Japan and then we don’t have to rehearse. Then we do festivals in Europe in Summer and we only do rehearsals on soundchecks of shows and sometimes we arrive two days earlier on a festival. So it is sort of: we and our crew are so spread out, that it would not make any difference if we all lived in the same town. It would be much nicer now during the lockdown, yes, or in the covid-19 situation because now we did not get to see each other as much as we used to and that’s sad, but under normal touring circumstances, it is like the world has definitely gotten smaller every day, even before the pandemic.