An Interview with Joakim Broden & Hannes Van Dahl
Sabaton is quite possible the next biggest thing on the global metal stage. They've opened for Iron Maiden, toured relentlessly over the last 7 or 8 years and are one of the most prominent bands on the Nuclear Blast roster. The band began in Falun, Sweden in 1999. They started off writing more fantasy-based lyrics but quickly switched gear and began basing their inspiration off of historical warfare, most-notably, World War II. Their combination of mid-tempo anthem-like power metal with simple but clever song writing has been an effective formula for delivering their message loud and clear. I caught up with the band for an interview on October 4th before they played their second gig ever in Calgary, Alberta.
How’s the tour been so far?
Joakim Broden: So far, so good. Lots of fun, though we expected more hostility from the hardcore black metal heads.
With Sabaton they can’t help but smile… Or get scared with all the kicking on stage.
Hannes Van Dahl: Both. Make them laugh and then get scared.
Most of the magazine’s readers have the internet and can Google the meaning of the word ‘Sabaton’. But I’d like to hear what the name ‘Sabaton’ means to you.
Hannes Van Dahl: It’s a piece of medieval armor that protects a knight’s foot dating from 16th century Europe. It’s also used in modern day by woodchoppers.
You guys were more fantasy-based in the early years but have since turned into more of a modern historical-based metal band, is that true?
Joakim Broden: Yeah, we found out there were already enough metal bands singing about drinking beer, f*ckng women and killing dragons.
Haha! Is there a good story to go with how the band went from being signed to an indie label like Underground Symphony to being one of the forerunner bands on Nuclear Blast?
Joakim Broden: Well I guess there’s not much of a sexy story there. Though it did teach us quite a lot because we kept getting screwed over and over. The Italian label released our demo “Fist for Fight” which was a collection of our early demo tapes. They were supposed to release the album ‘Metalizer’ in 2001/2002 and we never saw it. Every time we contacted Underground Symphony, who I think were high on pasta, they kept making excuses “oh oh oh, it’s a heat wave in Italy” or “Oh my sister is getting married, we gotta wait”. At that point we got tired of waiting and we financed the album “Primo Victoria” ourselves in 2004. Recorded it on our own and had a complete album. We went to Sound Pollution, an indie distributor in Stockholm, and could start working with a strong presence already in Scandinavia.
When I hear the name Sabaton I think “Heavy Metal War Historians”. You guys tell a lot of stories about triumph, good vs. evil without judging. Is this what you guys are going for?
Hannes Van Dahl: I wouldn’t say it’s only triumph though. There’s a lot of stories, like our latest album for instance, that focuses on the individual and not the whole nation. So I think the spread is pretty wide.
Joakim Broden: To be honest, there are enough heroes in history that are being forgotten these days, so why make up new ones?
Yeah, totally! What’s the main inspiration behind these themes?
Joakim Broden: It could be anything! Of course on Carolus Rex we did our (Sweden’s) own without any external help. But Coat of Arms or Heroes were stories we would have never heard about if not for our fans. It could be an email or a book on tour where someone pointed us in the right direction. We did do the research ourselves. We did write the lyrics but the idea of what to write about came about from the fans.
I remember at the last Calgary show I was talking to a guy who served in the Canadian military. He didn’t normally listen to metal but he said he was drawn to Sabaton because you guys told stories he could relate to. Do you find you get a lot of fans outside of the metal community because of that?
Joakim Broden: Yeah outside of metal it seems to be mostly in Armed Forces, law enforcement and for some strange reason… fitness centers!
Hahaha. I can’t wait to see the Sabaton Aerobics Routine to get popularized!
Hannes Van Dahl: There’s a spinning class! We did a show at a spinning class on the bikes.
Amazing! Who was dying at the end of that show?
Joakim Broden: Everyone except for us. We were in good shape doing it. To be honest, I wouldn’t want to be the drummer or the bass player’s ass. Because sitting there and playing sucks. You’re supposed to stand up for the hard parts but they are stuck sitting down.
Hannes Van Dahl: The guitarist had the resistance on the pedals too light. He couldn’t keep the tempo with the song because the pedals were going too fast.
Must have been awesome
Joakim Broden: Haha, not really.
Well, must have been awesome for the YouTube community at least. Let’s talk Heroes, I’m loving all the tracks, been listening to the album back-to-back. Love the Metallica cover! One song that sticks out for me is the track “To Hell and Back”. Can you explain how you went with a direction for this one?
Joakim Broden: When I started writing this song, I always had this idea it would be fun to mix heavy metal with spaghetti western soundtrack music. You know, The Good, the Bad, The Ugly; Fist Full of Dollars; For a Few Dollars More. I told the guys and everyone told me I was stupid – It can’t be done. And you know, telling me it can’t be done is one efficient way to get me to do it! It’s also nice to write and push my own envelope. Make it sound ‘Sabaton’ but there’s also something different in there. It’s a very fine line to walk: Take it too far and it doesn’t sound like Sabaton, don’t take it far enough and it sounds like everything else we’ve done before.
Speaking of new tracks, The Ballad of Bull is pretty much a straight up piano ballad. I don’t think I’ve ever heard you guys do anything like this before.
Joakim Broden: This is something we discussed, all of us. On Carolus Rex, A Lifetime of War suffered from not slowing down enough. That was one of the drawbacks of Carolus Rex. From start to finish it’s maxed out – there’s no breathing pause in the middle where things slow down a bit. That’s when we talked about the song “Ballad of Bull”. We didn’t have any pre-production for it, just an idea with a vocal melody and a piano. So we said:
“Let’s start out recording the drums and see what happens!”.
Hannes Van Dahl: There was a lot of discussion about that arrangement. We recorded several different drum parts. Some started full-in, others were more mellow and that was the conclusion we came to.
Joakim Broden: That was the biggest surprise for me on the album. All the other ones had pre-production and we knew what the end result was going to be. This one we had no idea and it turned out different anyways!
Can you elaborate on the writing process for this album? It is very stand-apart from Carolus Rex – the guitars are shiny while maintaining that anthem-like nature.
Joakim Broden: This one is less symphonic and more straight-on metal than Carolus Rex. The writing process is pretty much the same. I’ve always been the one writing most of the music. But now, Man of War I wrote with Hannes. Usually it’s me and Thobbe who write the lyrics. From that point of view, not much has changed. But it was way more fun to record this album. It’s the first with the new line-up and everyone actually wanted to be there.
The production is killer on this one. Fitting your vocal style, hearing the words with big guitars and epic choirs is awesome. Every album seems to benefit from better and better production. How do you manage to find the right team to bring this sound out?
Joakim Broden: That’s Peter Tagtgren! Usually known from Hypocrisy and Pain. He’s done Children of Bodom, Dimmu Borgir and Exodus.
Do you have to travel far to work with him?
Joakim Broden: 45 minutes! hahaha. Which is another reason we work with him. He’s been a good friend for ten years.
Right on! But we can’t forget the live Sabaton experience. How do you manage to fit in lighthearted songs with the more serious ones?
Joakim Broden: I don’t know, it’s a paradox. Sometimes we are singing about half a million people dying while cheering “Come on you guys!”. Which is a little bit messed up, I agree. I think it came slowly and surely over the years. I think everyone starts off nervous not knowing what to do. Then I start talking about what the songs are about between songs, which I still do sometimes, but I realize at a certain point I started making jokes. That was more effective in a live situation. And also who wants to go to a heavy metal show on a Saturday night and think “oh… half a million people died there and then another bunch died there.” It started out with us having fun with each other – the songs are the same but the crowd is always different. So if we have fun with each other and we have more fun with the crowd we will have more genuine fun overall.
Do you ever consult historians when you are writing an album?
Joakim Broden: Not for most albums but we did for Carolus Rex. Swedish Empire history is more obscure. This happened in the sixteen and seventeen hundreds. There’s no video material or eye witness accounts. The regular soldiers couldn’t read or write so we are just left with the officers’ accounts where the facts vary a lot. In that case we had a history professor helping us. Not writing for us but pointing us to the right books based on what the scientific community believes are the most accurate books. When it comes to World War II we can sort out the biggest facts ourselves. In general, if it’s a mistake or correct it’s usually due to what source you’re reading. Even from an allied point of view, you have different reports from Americans and British departments on how many people died. Then you read the Russian accounts and you get a totally different number!
Do you guys have any surprises for where Sabaton might go next?
Joakim Broden: We can do anything as long as it deals with military history. We have a thousand ideas but we don’t know where we will end up exactly. Take a guy like Napoleon. It’s common knowledge what happened in France and in some parts of Europe but in the rest of the world people pretty much just know about Waterloo. There’s a lot more, he starts out as a soldier with a fall from grace, leader of the revolution and then when we works his way up the ranks he says “ahhh it’s better to be the emperor”. Him, Alexander the Great – there’s an insane amount of amazing people to write about.
Vocally speaking, you have a very powerful voice that is the signature of Sabaton. How long did it take to develop that voice?
Joakim Broden: Still working on it, but long enough to kill three mics a show!
What’s after tour? what’s next for Sabaton? You guys heading to the moon?
Hannes Van Dahl: Yeah, how did you know? We didn’t announce that yet. This is the beginning so far. This is an 11-week tour, 3 weeks in South America then in Poland, Go back home for a couple days, do our cruise and then it’s our European second leg. After that we will do some pre-production and then Christmas and we will hit the road again.
Is the transition to tour life tough?
Joakim Broden: It used to be when we started doing it. We started doing it for real in 2005/2006. Sometime around 2008/2009 it became hard for me to go from being Joakim from Sabaton to my private life at home. It wasn’t schizophrenic but it took some time to get used it. After that, private Joakim and Sabaton Joakim kinda merged.
Hannes Van Dahl: But it’s also important when you are at home to be private as well and go under the radar.
Joakim Broden: You get enough of big cities and action. So when you get home you need a place to wind down and relax.
Great. That’s all my questions. Thanks for your time. Anything more to say?
Joakim Broden: Ice hockey. $%#$ you for that!