By Andrew Bansal
Swedish battle-themed power metal warriors Sabaton have been a band since 1999, perhaps longer than some people realize. After several years of continued success in Europe, they finally embarked upon North American shores in 2011, and through constant touring, have enjoyed a steady rise in their popularity in the continent ever since. They’ve consistently written songs about battles, victories, sacrifices and heroes from history, and continue to do so on their eighth studio album ‘The Last Stand’ (released August 19th 2016 via Nuclear Blast Entertainment), but focusing lyrics on ancient battles on this one. Following the release of this bombastic set of tunes, Sabaton are now getting ready for a five-week US tour as main support to Trivium. On August 25th, vocalist Joakim Brodén spoke to Metal Assault in a candid conversation about the new album, lyrics, the use of backing tracks, the fans, the band’s own festival and cruise endeavors, and the upcoming US tour. Enjoy the chat below, along with three tracks from ‘The Last Stand’.
Good to have you on here again, Joakim. Always good to talk to you. Your new album ‘The Last Stand’ came out last Friday via Nuclear Blast. The previous album ‘Heroes’ which came out two years ago talked about individuals in battle, and this one is more about battles themselves. Can you talk about the lyrical concept a little bit? How much did you work on it and what was it like?
Well, it’s a bit of a journey. If you look back at our discography, most of our albums have been based on recent, modern warfare, 1900s and onwards. When we started thinking about the concept of ‘The Last Stand’, most of the stuff that flew into our minds directly was way, way further back in history. I think one of the first things we had to realize was that we really can’t stay in the era of World War II anymore, and the realm of it, if you will. So, we kind of started with a blank slate, but probably 50 or 60 ideas that we wanted to do (laughs). Obviously we can’t squeeze 60 songs into an album unless you make five albums, which would mean that people would have to wait ten years for it. But we ended up with the 11 tracks we have. We had quite a few more that we wanted to do, but it’s kind of important for us as well that the music and the lyrics speak the same emotional language. For example, the Alamo was one of the ideas we had, and unfortunately it didn’t make it this time, but it’s one of the 50 that had to go away, I guess (laughs).
That’s a lot of ideas and you had to select only a few for this album, but do you think you’ll keep going with this concept for future albums, or is this the treatment that you wanted to give to this particular subject?
If we’re talking about the concept of both ‘Heroes’ and ‘The Last Stand’, that’s only an hour library that we know of already, but there’s enough for parts 2 and 3 of both albums, I guess (laughs). We haven’t even scratched the surface of it. Actually, it would be hard to go back to it and look at it with fresh eyes again, because I’m always having a hard time accepting something that was once rejected for not being good enough. I mean, obviously if it’s a story that we just couldn’t fit in, it goes for music as well. If there’s a song I wrote, and there’s a lot of them that we deemed not good enough for an album, that means it will never be on a Sabaton album, for sure. On the other hand, if there’s a song that we took aside because there wasn’t enough time to finish it or there were enough songs of that style already on the album, then we might revisit it, of course. So, I guess the future will tell. I’d love to do ‘Heroes’ Part 2, but on the other hand that would be sort of predictable and boring as well, in a way (laughs).
I’m glad you said that once you rejected something, you don’t really feel like it should be accepted in the future. A lot of bands do that too. They have stuff in the library from previous sessions which they revisit when they run out of ideas. That shouldn’t be happening, right?
Not if the song was not good enough. But if we took a song out because we already had enough songs with double kick drum, for example, then it’s OK. For me, in most cases it’s just a matter of time. You just started a song that feels fantastic, but may be it’s a kind of a serious project because you need to do some orchestration, or it’s a very long song, or whatever it might be, which makes it almost possible to fit into the time frame. Then you just put that aside for the future. Some songs I’d been writing for several years before they were good enough to be on the albums, because I just feel I don’t want to rush a great song onto an album just for the fucking hell of it. I guess the listener will never know what they miss, but I always know that I could have done better if I didn’t rush it. So, there are a couple of tracks that have been in the works for a couple of years (laughs).
That’s cool. You mentioned earlier than the music also fits this epic battle theme. Listening to the album I feel that’s the case, but do you think you’ve gone for a bigger sound, may be even a little bit more orchestral and synth-based?
It does have more orchestration, sure, but the synth elements are pretty much the same as in ‘Heroes’, I’d say. We have some orchestral parts obviously on ‘Sparta’ and some other tracks. Other than that it’s pretty much regular Sabaton synth arrangements. If it’s a song that demands a bit of orchestra in it, like ‘Sparta’ or specially the stuff that we did on ‘Carolus Rex’, of course it’s going to be much heavier on that part. And I guess the whole concept of ‘The Last Stand’ is kind of an epic thing as it is (laughs), and it would be stupid to not use all the tools you have in the toolbox, I guess.
Right, and with ‘Heroes’ and this new one, I think you’ve gone shorter as well in terms of the overall length of the albums. That’s a good thing, specially these days with people not really having the attention span to listen to long albums. You’ve been able to express yourself in a shorter time, and I’m sure that feels good.
Yeah! As you said, people have the attention span of a goldfish with ADHD or something, these days. I was never a guy for the 25-minute songs anyway, but I do somehow miss the 5 to 8-minute long songs sometimes. So, I think I’m going to squeeze one or two of those into the next album just for the fucking hell of it! (laughs)
Aside from the tracks that made it onto the album, there are also some cover tracks on the deluxe edition, and even those covers go well with the battle theme. It’s not like you chose random tracks. There was thought put behind those as well.
Oh yeah, there was a thought but may be not the most serious one in the whole world. We wanted to do a Judas Priest cover, and since specially me and Thobbe are huge Priest fans, of course we went with ‘All Guns Blazing’. And Chris is a huge Maiden fan, so we went with ‘Afraid To Shoot Strangers’.
Those are some good choices. This overall is your eighth album and you’ve been writing about these lyrical themes throughout the years. Do you feel challenged to come up with these ideas, sometimes? In other words, how long you think you can continue with this type of lyrics?
Well, thanks to mankind’s tendency to kill each other over the centuries and millennia, I’m not afraid we’re going to run out of material at all! (laughs) But seriously man, there is enough material for about 200 more Sabaton albums and we can make that many. So, I’m not worried at all. We’re trying to find new angles to it, but I do prefer reality to fiction. If I can be honest with you, I think there are so many fantastic stories from our past that are being forgotten, so why the fuck should we make new ones? It’s kind of sad that so many soldiers’ stories of sacrifice are forgotten, no matter where they are from.
Exactly. Some of the things that you talk about, some battles and individuals are more famous but that’s not the case with everyone. Is there a lot of extensive research involved, or is it something that you find out just from talking to other people, even fans?
Oh, actually on ‘Coat Of Arms’, ‘Heroes’ and this one, depending on the album I think we’re talking between 30 and 50 percent of the albums are inspired by ideas that were given to us by fans! It was an American fan that gave us a book called ‘The Lost Battalion’ a couple of years back. That became the inspiration for that song. So, it could be a book given to us when we’re on the road, it could be an email. From that point of view, every country has its own history and what’s common knowledge in Sweden is probably something you never heard about, and the other way around, of course. So, it’s a mix of what fans told us or sent us or gave ideas for, with what we could find when we were doing research for it, and what we just happened to come across when we were reading books or watching documentaries about history.
Yeah, it’s always said that bands are nothing without their fans but in your case it’s even more obvious and you have a deeper connection with fans.
We try our best! I don’t want to rude here at all, but it seems like some bands are so fucking bad at it that we look good (laughs). But whenever we have the chance, we do signing sessions. We did a five-and-a-half hour signing session at Wacken a couple of years back. We’ve done that several times before. Every time we’re in a country when we go on tour, if it’s possible which it usually is, we have meetings with the fan club. We don’t really have this meet-n-greet ticket system in Europe, which is kind of nice, if I can be honest with you. It feels strange that people pay to come up to you to have your autograph and take your picture and then walk away. It feels highly impersonal and wrong in my experience (laughs).
Yeah! I was never a fan of those. I paid for those meet-n-greets a couple of times many years ago, but eventually I felt that it’s not a real meeting in that sense.
No, we did it a couple of times because we were kind of forced into it (laughs), but the way we did it when we were in the US was, we set aside between 30 and 45 minutes and we limited the tickets to may be 20 or 30 people. Then you actually have the time to talk to people. They can take pictures, you can actually have a conversation, everybody mingling around and talking. I’m not a big fan of it when it becomes an extended two-hour signing session where it’s just like, “OK, next one.”
Coming back to the music, you play the keyboards on the albums, and in the live setting you used pre-recorded backing tracks. How does that work? I guess the keyboard layer is just a part of the rhythm section which doesn’t need to be changed live and you can put it as a backing track?
I custom make the backing tracks, actually, depending on if we want to change the tempo or key live, or if we want to put breaks in it. I edit that part, and basically our drummer plays to a click track. So, none of the drums are pre-recorded, but since we’re syncing everything, he has a click in his ear to make sure he says on the beat. I wish we didn’t have to do that but these days our pyro, our lights and our video production and everything also runs from the STMPE code coming off the computer.
Do you still think of having a live keyboard player or are you just used to this kind of a setup now?
We had a keyboard player up until 2012, and then he went separate ways with our old lineup. The plan was originally that he was going to stay and wanted to do it, but just three weeks before a tour, he said he didn’t want to do it. So, we ended up with a situation where I had to fucking make all the keyboard parts so we could run them (laughs), because that was actually our first tour in America at the time and there was no way to get a visa for someone else, or have somebody in America learn all the songs. That’s when we started with it, and as the band progressed, we added pyros and stuff, and more orchestral parts. These days we would need two keyboard players to make it fully live, I guess, and it still wouldn’t be possible with all the pyro effects we do. They are sitting so tight, there is no way anyone could do that manually.
Makes sense, man. Aside from the music you write and all the shows you play, you’ve also been organizing your own festival, Sabaton Open Air, and there’s also the Sabaton Cruise. How’s that been going for you guys?
It’s been going well! They’re all solutions to problems or happy accidents, like most things we do (laughs). The festival started out because we wanted to do a release party for our album in 2008 called ‘Art Of War’, and there was no place to do it! We didn’t want to play the shitty club or pub. So, of course we rented an exercise field on a regiment square (laughs), because it has to be military-connected. But it started out as a one-day festival to 1500 people and we just invited other bands that we liked, bands we toured with, friends of ours, and younger bands who never got a chance to show how good they were. That’s pretty much still what we do. This year, nine years later, it was the release party for ‘The Last Stand’, and it’s still bands we like, bands we toured with and young bands from the region that haven’t gotten the chance to prove themselves yet. It’s a bit bigger now, though. The same thing with the cruise. We wanted to go from Sweden to Finland because we were transporting ourselves between two countries during a tour, and when we found out how much it was going to cost to get cabins and parking for the night liner on that ship to go over, we kind of choked on the amount of money it needed. So then we asked them, “What if we rent the fucking ship and pack 2000 metalheads on there?” (laughs) We’d get the parking and the cabins for the crew and band free, so we were like, may be we could! We were lucky it worked and we sold out, and have every year since!
That’s awesome, man. I think you’re making Sabaton a brand instead of just being a band. Do you also think of other ideas to expand that aspect or do you already have enough on your plate?
We already have enough on our plate, and we’ve always said that if we do something, even though this sounds very politically correct and very right in the times, it needs to come organically, naturally. We can never sit down and say, “OK, what’s next? What do we do to get bigger?” It has to be something natural. For example, when we traveled around Europe back in the day, we had this tradition where I would always learn how to say ‘One more beer!’ in every language. People started chanting that at concerts, so everybody has been asking us to make a Sabaton beer. Then we thought, well, kind of makes sense, and we also had our festival in Germany which was called ‘Noch Ein Bier’ fest, which is ‘one more beer’ festival. So, that’s probably the only thing we’ve got coming up in the pipeline right now. It’s a proper European Czech-style Pilsner with a little bit of extra hop in it. Actually, one of my favorite regular lager beers are pilsners. So, that’s kind of nice, but that’s the way we do it. We never sit down and think about how we can expand the Swedish empire (laughs).
In a couple of weeks you’ll be starting a North American tour opening for Trivium for about 5 weeks and making a few festival appearances too. Some of your fans might be asking why you’re opening for Trivium, but I think it’s a different crowd for you and that’s always got to be the aim. You cannot keep playing to the same people all the time, and I’m sure you’re looking forward to it.
Yeah, I’m really looking forward to it! And also, if anyone who’s tired of us supporting other bands is reading this, thanks for hanging in there. Trust me, the reason we’re doing this is to grow bigger so when we actually come back as a headliner, at least we can bring a little bit of the production we have in Europe. That’s the plan, that’s why we’re doing this. It’s not to make money from support tours. You’re pretty much fucking losing a lot of money. We toured with Amon Amarth, Nightwish, Accept, Iced Earth … we’ve done quite a few support runs in the US over the years and I guess only one-and-a-half headline runs. The plan is for us to hammer a few more of these in so we can actually come with at least a little part of the stage set we have in Europe, deliver a proper show and play on decent stages as well.
It makes perfect sense. A lot of bands bring a different show in America because they cannot afford to bring the European production, so we’re not really getting the same show that the band is actually capable of.
Well, to be honest, if we bring our European production to a place that we would headline today in most parts across the US, half of the hall where the crowd is would be taken up by the fucking stage set, you know (laughs). I mean, we’re a ten times smaller band over in America. A good headline show for us in Europe is around 10,000 people. A good headline show for us in the US is going to be up around 1000.
You’ll get there soon in the US, I’m sure.
Ah, we’re doing our best! (laughs)
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Sabaton US tour dates with Trivium and Huntress:
09/15/2016 – Columbus, OH @ Newport Music Hall
09/16/2016 – Baltimore, MD @ Baltimore Soundstage
09/19/2016 – Atlanta, GA @ The Masquerade
09/20/2016 – Little Rock, AR @ Clear Channel Metroplex Event Center
09/22/2016 – Denver, CO @ Summit Music Hall
09/23/2016 – Albuquerque, NM @ Sunshine Theater
09/24/2016 – Tempe, AZ @ Marquee Theatre
09/25/2016 – San Bernardino, CA @ San Manuel Amphitheater (Knotfest) +
09/27/2016 – Salt Lake City, UT @ The Complex
09/29/2016 – Omaha, NE @ Sokol Auditorium
09/30/2016 – Minneapolis, MN @ Mill City Nights
10/03/2016 – Dallas, TX @ Gas Monkey Live
10/07/2016 – Houston, TX @ Scout Bar
10/08/2016 – Tulsa, OK @ Cain’s Ballroom
10/10/2016 – Pittsburgh, PA @ Stage AE
10/11/2016 – New York, NY @ Irving Plaza
10/15/2016 – Binghamton, NY @ Magic City Music Hall
10/17/2016 – Charleston, SC @ The Music Farm
10/18/2016 – Tampa, FL @ State Theater
10/19/2016 – Ft. Lauderdale, FL @ Revolution Live
10/21/2016 – Orlando, FL @ House of Blues
+ = Trivium & Sabaton only