Living Life Loud: HammerFall guitarist Oscar Dronjak discusses ongoing North American tour

By Andrew Bansal

Swedish power metal kings HammerFall have returned to North America for a full tour, after seven long years, and judging by their splendid performance at the Grove of Anaheim last Wednesday May 10th, it’s safe to say that they’ve made it worth the wait. Besides giving their fans much to cheer about, they’re on a mission to win over new crowds on this co-headline run with Delain, playing in front of an entirely different demographic every night. A few hours before the Anaheim show, guitarist and founder Oscar Dronjak sat down with Metal Assault for a candid chat. Enjoy the conversation below, and let the hammer fall!

How are you doing today? Welcome back!

Thank you! It’s fantastic to be back, specially in Anaheim. We haven’t played at the Grove before. It’s the most beautiful place I’ve ever seen!

It’s been a while since you guys did a full US tour. 7 years, to be precise. You must be feeling the excitement of the crowds as well, as they are seeing you after such a long time.

Yes, this was something we were hoping for, but you can never count on it. 7 years is a long time, the longest time that we have ever gone without a North American tour, actually. But also the last time we did was not a resounding success, really, which is why it took so long to come back. It is expensive to do a tour over here, and you need a certain average number of people coming and paying for the shows, in order for us to pay for our plane tickets, tour bus, visas and whatever. For a European band it is very expensive. So, this was kind of a do-or-die situation. If this tour wouldn’t have worked, we’d probably never be back again, I’m guessing. But it’s with real relief and great pleasure I can say that this tour is an absolute success on every level for us. So, it’s definitely looking like we’ll be back sooner rather than later, may be even next year.

So, the verdict is positive for sure this time, unlike last time?

Yes! Well, last time wasn’t terrible. It had its moments, like New York and the Canadian cities were great but then we had several cities that weren’t good. Overall, since it’s such a big country, and the average turnout was on the low side on that tour. But this time we’re super happy. It’s incredibly fun to tour with Delain. They’re a really good band and really nice people, so it’s very easy to get along with them, plus they draw a whole different crowd than we do, which is kind of the essence of this whole tour, I think. Their fans could easily like HammerFall if they open up their minds a little bit, and I think vice versa goes for HammerFall fans when it comes to Delain.

You came back with a better package, so to speak. In 2010, it was you guys headlining and a smaller opening band, and that was it. This time you’re playing to a new audience as well, and not just depending on your own fans. 

Exactly, that’s 100 percent correct. We did a co-headline tour once before, in 2005 together with Edguy. But we drew exactly the same people, so it was like no benefit at all to have two big bands touring together. If we raised the ticket prices to twice, then may be it would have been beneficial, but obviously we wouldn’t do that. So, this is a huge success, thanks in large part to Delain’s fans. We are killing it every night, people seem to be really enjoying HammerFall shows. I think we have won over a lot of people that probably would not have gone to a single HammerFall show if Delain wasn’t playing.

Photo by Chris Loomis

So, is this a co-headline tour where both bands play equal-length sets, and is it a rotating spot or is it fixed as to who plays last?

This is a co-headline tour, and like you said, we play the same length of time and they play after us. They end the show every night, basically. For us it was an easy decision. This was kind of their tour and they were planning on doing it anyway, and we somehow got involved in the planning stages. So, we just let them take the wheel and it was no problem for us at all, as long as we played the same set length and had the same conditions on stage. We’re not that big headed (laughs). Plus I’ve got to say, for the first time in I cannot remember how long, we come off the stage and shower, and we’re ready to do something, eat or party or whatever we want to do, around 10 PM every night. That’s unbelievable. However, this show tonight and in Dallas, for some reason we are ending the show. This was Delain’s idea and they wanted to switch it, and of course this came up way before the tour. It was decided months and months ago. That’s what they wanted, and we said fine, no problem for us, let’s do it.

Since it’s been such a long gap and you’ve obviously put out three albums since the last time you were here, how did you decide upon the setlist for this one? You have hardcore fans who want to listen to the classics but then you have new material that’s also strong, like the latest album ‘Built to Last’, for example.

Yeah, we had to make a decision. Sure, we haven’t been here for a few years. But I don’t think that logic stands up, really. We did a European tour a couple of months ago and we played for an hour and 45 minutes, I think, about 19-20 songs. But we had to cut out quite a few to get the set down. We just basically made it a “best of”, plus some newer stuff. I’m very happy with the setlist, it flows very smoothly, there are ups and downs, and a lot of audience participation, as it should be in a heavy metal show. And of course, we end with our strongest song that everybody knows. There has been a really good reaction from the crowds. We do a meet-n-greet thing before the show, and everyday there’s a couple of people that come up and say, “I’m sorry, I didn’t know about your band until I heard you were touring with Delain, but I listened to you and I really like your stuff.” Mission accomplished, that’s exactly what we’re here for. And then during the show, of course we have our fans too, but when we look at it as a whole, not everybody is into it. We can see in the beginning, there’s some bobbing heads. Most people are like, “Let’s see what this HammerFall bullshit is all about.” By the end of the set, there’s almost 100 percent participation. So, we bring them this show, they seem to like it and want to get into it. So, everybody goes home happy.

That’s awesome. You talked about the meet-n-greets. From what I understand, people pay a little bit extra to buy the VIP upgrade to meet the band. Nowadays with album sales at an all-time low, you have to find new ways to make money, and if people are willing to pay to meet the band, I don’t see a problem, unless it’s a super-crazy amount which some bands charge.

Like KISS, for example!

1000 bucks and you’re still not guaranteed to meet the band!

Right, but they are KISS. I love KISS, but it would feel weird to charge that much just for somebody to meet you. I can understand why they do it, they are businessmen and they want to make as much money as they can, and also, they are Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley, for god’s sakes. It’s not just Oscar Dronjak from HammerFall, you know what I mean? (Laughs) So, the demand for their time is much higher, of course. But yeah, we do this VIP thing here and it’s not something that people do in Europe. Some people do, but generally not. It’s much more open there, so when we get off the tour bus in Europe, people are standing there with their CDs or whatever, which is no problem at all. But over here, they have the VIP thing which guarantees them something, and that’s good! This didn’t exist when I was a kid going to shows in the ’80s. Also, this type of thing makes sure that there’s enough money for everyone involved in the tour, and that no one loses money.

It makes total sense. So in Europe, there’s no paid meet-n-greets at all?

No. Sometimes we do meet-n-greets through competitions with magazines who pick five winners or whatever, but no paid meet-n-greets. I don’t think we’ve ever done it over there. Actually to be honest, it’s only our second time doing it even in America, and the first was the last time we were here. It was a requirement for us to do it on this tour, so we had to, and I thought, oh man, it’s going to take up an hour before the show when I would may be want to go to sleep and get recharged for the show. But I have to say, I’m loving it! People are so nice and so friendly, and so enthusiastic. They are really excited about this, and that gets me excited! So, every time we finish a meet-n-greet, I feel like going on stage and kicking ass right at that moment. So, it’s an energy boost for me and I didn’t expect that, to be honest. It feels really, really good.

Going to all these shows I’ve noticed that people in America kind of automatically gravitate towards European bands. Do you think bands from Europe, like yourselves, get may be even more love here than you do back home?

I see your logic, but I don’t think it’s entirely true because the amount of people that like this type of music here is much lesser. I mean, in Germany we play regularly in front of 2000-2500 people, not everyone, but in most places. And here we’re really happy if the average is 500-600 or something. We’ve been doing this for more than 20 years, and over time I’ve learned that it doesn’t matter if it’s 10 people or 100 or 1000 or 10,000 people in the audience, because those people who are there, they paid to get a great show. They paid to see something that they hopefully wanted to see. That’s always been our philosophy, no matter what the size of the crowd is, give them the full show all the time. They also have one thing in common, they love metal. So, they want to have a good time, may be not everybody who’s there, and like I said, some people are more reserved at the beginning, but there is always a part of the audience that go crazy from the first moment to the last. One thing good about this tour is, that part of the audience grows and grows until it encompasses the whole place. I think heavy metal fans have that in common. They love their music and just want to get into it.

I just wanted to ask you one more thing. Through previous conversations, and also reading up on your hobbies, I know that you’ve always been a big Seinfeld fan and wrestling fan. In recent years, is there anything else, particularly about American culture, that you’ve become a fan of, or are you still all about the old-school stuff that you’ve always liked?

Generally with me, regardless of whether it’s music, sports or whatever, once I get into it, I’m into it. I don’t lose interest in things, not usually anyway. I started watching wrestling in the early ’90s. ’91, may be. But after that I started watching MMA when it came around, probably during the second half of the ’90s. It was always so difficult to get hold of the tapes, and I saw events months after they took place. So, I didn’t watch everything, but most of it and whatever I could get my hands on, basically. In 2007, they came to Manchester, UK for the first time in many years, and of course I went (laughs). That has been a really big passion of mine. Now it is faltering a little bit. I mean, I’m never going to stop watching it, but I was so into it, I read everything and I was up to date on everything that happened. For whatever reason, I seem to be less passionate about it now. That doesn’t mean I don’t like it. In fact, yesterday at the Whisky we had Josh Barnett as a guest! We ended up hanging out at the Rainbow after the show, having a pizza and drinking some beers. I had met him before, he sang backing vocals on ‘(r)Evolution’, actually. He was going to do it on ‘Built to Last’ too, but he couldn’t make the time that we had set aside for it. But he is such a nice guy. He is one guy that I knew was into metal long before I met him. He seems like a genuine, really cool guy. I was a little bit starstruck, because this is somebody I watched fight for a long time. But I’m over that now and I think I handled myself pretty well yesterday (laughs). He likes his metal, for sure. I can never do what he does, even in training or anything. But he says it’s the same for him too, and he can’t go up on stage and play an instrument or sing, he would be terrified. I understand that, if you’re not used to it. But at the end of the day, he can learn to do that without injuring himself (laughs), whereas if I have to learn what he does, I’m going to get killed. So, I have the utmost respect for him and everybody who does that stuff. It’s incredible what they put their bodies through.

I think that’s all I had for this interview, Oscar. It was great catching up with you and I’m looking forward to the show tonight!

Absolutely! It’s going to be really fantastic. I’ve got a good feeling about tonight, specially at this venue. I love it here. Such a nice place, big stage, you’ve got risers on the stage too. We love it. So, you’re going to get a kickass show tonight!

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Related MA link: Hammer High: Anaheim Metalheads rejoice in Triumphant Return of HammerFall

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Remaining Tour Dates:
05/15/2017 – Houston, TX @ Scout Bar
05/17/2017 – Tampa, FL @ Orpheum
05/18/2017 – Atlanta, GA @ Variety Playhouse