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War History Lessons


Архив интервью | Русская версия

There are not many success stories in traditional metal these days, and the bands that headline major festivals are mostly the same that were headlining them 10 and 20 years ago. Nevertheless, there are exceptions to any rule. Sweden’s Sabaton have built and incredible following over the last decade, and every step they make brings them one level up in the industry. Now they’re about to release their arguably most ambitious offering, a concept album called “The Great War”, and, as the title suggests, fully devoted to stories from World War I. The promo campaign for the record, which will be released in July, brought bassist Par Sundstrom on a promo trip to Moscow, again something that Sabaton had never done before and something that only “household” bands in Russia can attempt. We naturally jumped at this opportunity, and tried to use a very short time slot we were given to cover at least the most relevant topics that are on the agenda of the band and their fans at the moment.

Last time you came to Russia, it was in December 2018, and you played at a gaming convention arranged by the Wargaming company. How did you like performing there? Did you do anything else at the event apart from performing?

That time we came only for one day, because we had the Sabaton Cruise before and there was Christmas right after, so we had to leave. Unfortunately we could not stay so long. But I liked the event a lot, we’re always impressed sometimes with what the gaming world can make. They are very organized and very professional in doing a lot of things. I think that if the music industry is to survive, we need to look at these kind of people, at what they do, and learn a little bit, because they are a little bit smarter a lot of times than the music industry people. (laughs) For me it was an exciting trip to go there, and it’s always interesting to meet those kind of people.

Do you have any plans to continue the Sabaton invasion in the world of computer games? Are you maybe thinking about having your own game, like Iron Maiden?

(laughs) Yes, I think we will continue here. First of all, my biggest interest in the world is heavy metal, to play heavy metal and to be on the stage, but I can’t be on the stage 24 hours a day, and I can’t do it seven days per week. So there’s something in between, and one of the things I do to relax my head sometimes is playing some games. I like this, and I always get ideas about things like these. Will we do our own game? Maybe one day. We shall see.

Now let’s talk about your new album, “The Great War”. Different bands start working on concept albums in different ways, some start with lyrics. What was your way this time?

We begin with the concept. We decide upon a concept, and then the music comes. Once we have the music for the songs, it’s easier to adapt topics to it. Choosing a topic like World War I we had so much to write about. We cannot decide upon topics before we had the songs, because we would be guided in a wrong way, we just cannot do it. So we start with the music, then we find topics that fit to different songs. In the end, when we have married a topic to a certain music, we see if we can tweak the song a little bit more to match the topic.

I specifically wanted to ask you about the song “The Attack Of The Dead Men”. In Russia, in the past five years there have been at least four songs on this topic by different bands…

(laughs) Wow, I just heard about Aria!

How did you discover that story, and why did you decide to write about it?

We get a lot of ideas from fans around the world, they send in their ideas, and from Russia there comes a lot of ideas. One of the most common ideas that we get, THE most common idea from Russia by far is the Attack of the Dead Men. We had it for years and we thought about it for years, but we didn’t decide to put it on our previous albums. It wouldn’t fit to the “Heroes” album (2014), it wouldn’t fit obviously to the “Carolus Rex” album (2012), it could have theoretically fit to “The Last Stand” (2016), but we didn’t have it there. When we decided that we were gonna write about World War I, we knew instantly that it would be one of the most interesting topics to have.

A couple of months ago you launched the Sabaton History channel on YouTube. How did this project come together?

It was a dream for 15 years. When we did the first album (“Primo Victoria”, 2005), we wrote about historical events, and we put a few words in the booklet, because we were like, “What if people don’t understand what we’re singing about?” Today people don’t really read lyrics in the booklet, because they don’t buy the CD, so we needed to think about other ways how to explain to people the stories behind the songs. Even 15 years ago we thought, “Wouldn’t it be amazing to do documentaries about each song?”, but it was an impossible thing to do 15 years ago. We came across this guy Indy Neidell and his previous channel, which was called The Great War, funny enough. He did an interview with me, in 2015, I think, when I was in Berlin, we became friends, and we decided, “Let’s try to see if we can work together”. Now we work together, he’s the host of our new channel, and we will now continue to develop this one into a documentary channel about each Sabaton song.

Is Indy a Sabaton fan?

He wasn’t a big fan, but obviously he was interested in us before when he invited me to his studio some years ago. Now he’s more of a Sabaton fan because, as he says, “the more you listen to it, the more addicted you get”. Now he listens a lot to Sabaton (laughs), and now he is a Sabaton fan.

It was announced yesterday that you will do a big Russian tour in March 2020, and some of the cities on the tour schedule are very unusual for a foreign band, e.g. Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk, which is very very far to the East. What are your expectations from this tour?

You see, it’s something we worked on very hard for a long time. There are those bands that play Moscow and St. Petersburg and go, and everybody says that’s where you anyway have the most amount of people. We have seen when we come to many other cities that it’s very exciting to play for those people because they don’t get so many concerts there. It’s also interesting to see such a big country. We have got so many new fans here in the last few years, I believe, that we really wanted to go and play for all of them, and this was a great opportunity. Some of these cities we’ve been to before, and we have great memories, and we look forward to come back, but there are, as you said, a lot of those that we haven’t been before, and it’s like, “Wow, this is something new”. I’m a curious person, I like to see new places, and this will be the biggest discovery for me in a very long time.

Volgograd is also on the schedule of this tour, and last time you tried to play there the authorities banned the show. Do you think it will work better this time?

I think this time Sabaton is not as misunderstood as we were in the past. There were some controversies, and some people didn’t want us to play in different places. The first time we played in Berlin, for example, because we had the song “Attero Dominatus”, where we sing, “Berlin is burning”, we couldn’t really get into some of the venues, they were afraid we’re gonna burn them down and stuff like that. (everybody laughs) There have been controversies about Sabaton because of some of our topics. But I think as of 2019 or 2020 when we are coming, I’m not worried at all about these things. Nowadays people know what Sabaton stands for, they know that we sing about history, and that we’re not here to do any stands or political actions or anything like that.

For several years you have been running the Sabaton Open Air festival and Sabaton Cruise. What is the band members’ input into these events?

I think my input is the biggest one for the festival. I am still very much involved in a lot of things concerning the festival, including band bookings and marketing ideas. I would say that a lot of the bands booked for this get booked based on our friendship, or they are the bands that we musically like, or bands that we think deserve to have a bigger audience. These are the main things that we book for the festival. Then there is a few bands that we book because we just like to be closer to them or have a relationship to them. Last time we had The Darkness, for example – it was a band we didn’t really have any relationship to before this, but we thought, “OK, we’ll stretch out a hand and see if we can do something, and The Darkness will be good friends with us after this maybe”.

Are you satisfied with the current status of Sabaton Open Air, or would you like to see it as big as Wacken, for example?

I’m very happy with the status of it. It has a different kind of purpose than Wacken, I think. Our festival is known to be one of the most intimate and nicest festivals that you can go it. We have way less people, but we still have about 20,000 people coming, and they are mainly there because of Sabaton. We are a very international festival, we have fans from over 40 countries coming every year, and we’re also one of the festivals with the highest number of returning fans that come every year. This is something I’m very happy about.

Sabaton have a reputation of a very serious band, nobody has been involved in alcohol scandals or anything like that. But four years ago your singer Joakim Broden had a bet with somebody in the band and had to walk on foot to the next show, and the show was about 500 km away. Is it the craziest thing that a Sabaton member has done, or could you tell me another crazy story like that?

I think it’s already known as well a little bit, I don’t know if people know abut it, but we all have a tattoo of Van Halen because of a bet. (laughs) We all went and took a Van Halen tattoo. Of course, most of us like Van Halen, but it’s a little bit weird that we still have Van Halen tattoos. That was because of a bet as well. It can happen.

Sabaton on the Internet: http://www.sabaton.net
Sabaton History on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCaG4CBbZih6nLzD08bTBGfw

Special thanks to Maxim Bylkin (Soyuz Music) for arranging this interview

Interview and photos by Natalia “Snakeheart” Patrashova
Questions also compiled by Roman Patrashov
May 7, 2019
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