» Oscar/Fredrik - HammerFall
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Interview conducted November 05 2016
Interview published November 20 2016

"None of these songs sound like a Glory To The Brave song…"

Swedish heavy metallers HammerFall put out their new record Built To Last on November 4th and to draw some extra attention to it they seized the opportunity to throw a pair of signing sessions in their home country. The first one took place in Gothenburg on the album's release date and the second one in Stockholm the following day.

Before founding member and guitarist Oscar Dronjak and bassist Fredrik Larsson took the train back to Gothenburg after visiting the capital for a few hours, Metal Covenant met up with them near the train station to talk about the new creation of course, yet looking back a little bit at their past as well.

"HammerFall has kind of always been a little bit about standing up straight and standing up for what you believe in and keeping the hammer high."

Tobbe: A kind of tricky question to begin with. If HammerFall at this point has lost some fans, what can this new record do to bring back those fans? I'm talking about the older fans now and not the fans in their 20's, but the ones in maybe their 40's who were there in the beginning.

Fredrik: I think that this record has a little bit more range, really. Maybe overall a little bit faster than the last record (r)Evolution [2014], but broader, so…I think that the older fans have quite a lot to find on this record. (Oscar:) This is not my theory or my idea and, you know, maybe I don't even agree to it sometimes, but a lot of people that I have talked with are like "Oh! You have returned to the Glory To The Brave [1997] and the Legacy Of Kings [1998] sound.".

And that's not an intentional choice. It just turned out that way, because that was where we were, but I think it's a lot of new HammerFall in there as well. But what is identifiable from that time is the energy, I think, and we haven't really had that so often. We have tried, but it's hard to catch it on tape, you know.

But I think that's a big difference and if someone thinks that we should sound like we did back then, this is, I guess, as close as we can get, so to speak. Because you can't write the same type of songs as you did 20 years ago. It's completely impossible.

Tobbe: And you don't play your instruments in the same way either.

Fredrik: Everyone has changed. You have become older and wiser, in every way. (Oscar:) In every way, yes. And you become more skilled on your instruments all the time too. If you have done something, you always want to do something slightly different. You can't do the exact same thing all the time. We're not AC/DC, you know.

Tobbe: Just like you say, I think that quite a bit sounds like the older stuff, but I also hear the new stuff there as well and I think it's a good blend. But I think that the fans generally will first of all hear the old stuff and might they therefore think "Oh, HammerFall has run out of ideas and they have started to bring back the old attributes instead."?

Fredrik: It probably doesn't matter what you do. Those who think that something is wrong are those who are the loudest. And you can't, you know, please them all. (Oscar:) No, you can't make everyone happy. You just can't. And furthermore I don't think that that is correct either. None of these songs sound like a Glory To The Brave song, but, you know, the soul is there, in the same way, and I think that's good.

It's, like I said, not so easy to catch that always, you know, the energy…on tape…like we say just of old habit. But it's not so easy to catch it in the recordings, but we actually worked hard this time to get that feeling. Surely everyone understands that we're not recording all together, but we want it to feel like a solid band that plays together and who thinks it's fun to play too.

You know, the hunger and the drive must be there and therefore you have to use certain tricks to attain that and it's not always so easy. We have often tried it, but I think that we managed to do it really well this time.

Tobbe: What I think that you've done on the record is that the riffs are in the front of the mix and are really distinct and was this made knowingly to emphasize them a little bit extra?

Oscar: Well, the mix is made by Fredman (Fredrik Nordström) and he must be the one to answer for it. [Laughs] Well, you know, he makes his mix and this time I actually wasn't even in the studio when he was mixing because we were recording the vocals in Los Angeles. We were supposed to record the vocals in June, but James Michael could only do it in July and this meant that Fredman had to start mixing before Joacim [Cans] had even recorded his vocals to all the songs or we wouldn't have finished the record in time.

So we were in Los Angeles during the mixing and we had to listen to it from there. It was really strange and not so great either and it's so much easier and everything proceeds much faster if you're sitting there beside him and you're able to explain right away what you want. But what you just said is all Fredman, you know, but he knows what I like with massive guitar riffs and stuff, and he likes that too. However, he hasn't always understand the weight of that and he always points that out and laughs about it.

When we recorded the Glory To The Brave album and the song Stone Cold has a riff in the middle and he's like "We can cut that out. It's unnecessary and it doesn't have to be there because no one sings or plays solo on top of it." and apparently, I don't remember it, but he talks about it every year after that, I said to him "Fredrik! You don't understand the weight of a cool heavy metal riff.". So now he has obviously learned it. [Laughs] But in all honesty, Fredman did a fantastic job on this record. Without a doubt, it's thanks to him that it sounds so clear and massive and that it sounds so great, you know.

Even James Michael, who has made a lot of records himself, when we sat there and got the first rough mix and "Is this what you're looking for?", James was stunned and since he produces records himself he hears things differently, but he was really impressed of just those first mixes and that it sounded so terrific. So, Fredman, the best, simple as that.

Tobbe: So what did you have in mind when you wrote the songs for the new record? You know, regarding how you would build the record with different kinds of songs. I guess it wasn't like "Now we're gonna make 10 speed metal songs", because that's not what it's all about.

Fredrik: It would be very boring to listen to. You would get a little bit tired, you know. (Oscar:) Yes. Think about making 10 songs like that. Where would you find inspiration? But it's interesting that you mentioned this, because it took a few years, or rather a few records, for me to realize that you don't write, like you said, 10 songs.

You write a whole record and it's the entirety that matters, you know, and that means that you can't, exactly as you say, have 10 songs of the same kind, but you have to vary it a little bit. And I think that's very fun to do, but it's also difficult, because you might have an awesome song that's kind of similar to another, with the same tempo, maybe trios, or in A, or whatever, and therefore you already have a song that plays that role on the record and it isn't always so easy to find the right balance, you know.

But, like Fredrik just said, I think that we found a very good range on this record and the songs complete each other in a good way. We even recorded 11 songs and You Win Or You Die was supposed to be on the record actually, but there was kind of no room for it. The 10 songs we now have became the perfect record and that song is a bit different than the other ones and it's older too.

It feels like we have had it for a long time, but I think I wrote it for (r)Evolution just 2 years ago. But it feels older than that, but I'm almost certain that it isn't actually. [Laughs] And since it wasn't written during this period it sticks out a little bit and I think it's good that it's in the boxed set only.

Tobbe: The ballad, Twilight Princess, is obviously the song that differs the most from the rest of the album and when you make these kind of ballads, and you've made them before, you really make them soft and light, so my question would be: Why don't you make them to power ballads kind of like Remember Yesterday from Legacy Of Kings?

Oscar: Well, I like it, you know. But it fits good for this particular song too. It was supposed to be soft, like you say, and gentle and it's Fredrik's sister [Tina Fernström] who plays the flute in the beginning, you know. But what I like is the contrast between that and the end where things get going, really.

But certainly we could make a power ballad and that will probably happen again. It's been a few years since the last one and Never Ever [from Chapter V: Unbent, Unbowed, Unbroken [2005]] I would say was the last one. But anyway, it's not like we're trying to make the lightest song that we possibly can, but it was just very fitting for this one.

Tobbe: Regarding the lyrics. It's a little bit "Us against the world" oriented and what do you have in mind when you write the lyrics?

Fredrik: HammerFall has kind of always been a little bit about standing up straight and standing up for what you believe in and keeping the hammer high. It's a bit of heavy metal for us. (Oscar:) Yes exactly. That's the spirit of heavy metal to me and on every record we have songs about that. Hector, our warrior, is used as an instrument to bring forth the message that's about him standing on the battlefield.

But it doesn't mean that you should stand on the battlefield and kill someone, but believe in yourself and stand up for what you believe in. I think it's hugely important. Like the song Hammer High; it's really a song like that, you know. It becomes kind of like an anthem a little bit.

Tobbe: And I think that this is lyrics that the fans can really identify with you and it's maybe the lyrics they want too?

Oscar: Yes, I believe so. I remember when Manowar's Louder Than Hell came out in '96 and they hadn't released an album in 4 years and I was immensely excited. Really, really stoked. And Joacim got his hands on a cassette. You know, before it was released. An advance copy. I don't know how, but he worked in a record store, so maybe he got it from there? Anyhow, we bought some beer, went home in the evening and listened to it. And there's a song called The Gods Made Heavy Metal and listening to it just once was enough to get me hooked.

You know, I was a fan of Manowar there and I hope that our fans get the same feeling with, for example, Hammer High, that I got back then. It was so damn good. You know, lyrics-wise, and it spoke to you and it was exactly what it should be like. And that was, like I said, in '96, and who the hell came out with such good records in '96? Nobody, you know.

Tobbe: You mentioned James Michael, and we mentioned the lyrics, so that leads us to Joacim too. Michael is still coaching him for the vocals and Joacim has been a little bit criticized before for the capacity of his voice, but now he has come back strong recently, and how do you look at the fact that he is able to deliver again?

Fredrik: You know, the thing is that he has delivered better and better on every album recently. (Oscar:) Yes, it's really sick. All singers usually become worse and worse the older they get. (Fredrik:) Yes, they tend to lose some high notes and stamina and strength. They sing in a lower key and they're taking it a little bit safe. But on this record, Joacim really sings higher and with even more effort put into it. (Oscar:) I've been asked this question before, but he has taken good care of his voice always, since day 1. His routine is always the same and he sings for an hour before the gig. And he's careful with his voice.

He's not like me, you know, shouting and singing along to songs, you know, but he restrains himself. And he doesn't get really drunk and goes to sleep at 5 a.m. every morning. This has of course helped him a lot and he's very keen on how to maintain what he has. And he has also sung a lot in the last years too, which he didn't do before. When we didn't play, he never really sang anything. But now he's been doing Rock Of Ages for a year in total and it was like from Thursday to Sunday every week and of course he then becomes better. It goes without saying, if you practice and uses your voice you get better.

When we recorded (r)Evolution, he was right in the middle of that. Maybe he even just took some time off from it, or if he quit earlier when we were recording. I don't remember, but it was somewhere towards the end of that thing. And I know that I was thinking "Damn, he sings good! He really benefits from this.". But when we did Built To Last, he hadn't sung in a long time, so in the back of my head I was thinking "I wonder how this will turn out.". Because the last time, he was already warm and it went very smooth. But what's sick is that it went even smoother this time. He sang each song for maybe just 1 and a half hours, where he gave it all.

And what's great is that he and James collaborate so well. He trusts James and when James says something or suggests something Joacim is not like "Why should I do that? Explain why, and maybe I'll do it.", but he's like "OK. If that's the way you want it…". And he trusts James even more since James is a singer as well, which of course matters a lot, so they get a good connection. And James is very good at getting the best and what's needed out of Joacim too and push him, you know.

I've seen Joacim sing with quite a lot of people over the years and the collaboration between him and James is really so good. It's so fun to see. And James thinks it's fun too, of course. We recorded (r)Evolution and Built To last in exactly same way and it has worked out really well. It's easy, it's relaxed and it's calm. Everyone knows their role and knows what to do. We have simply found a way that works. It's a little expensive to go to Los Angeles to work with him, but it's worth it, you know.

Tobbe: Built To Last is drummer David's [Wallin] first record with the band, and try to answer this without being cliché, I know it's hard, but what was it like?

Fredrik: It was a little bit tense, even if we have played a lot together live by now. But this was the first time in the studio and you don't really know how he has done things before and what he is able to do in the studio. But it went really well and he has worked in a similar way before. So there were actually no problems at all. And now it becomes cliché, but as he entered the band a lot of new energy was found. And for me personally it was really easy to play with David. Drums and bass, you know. We hit it off right from the start.

Tobbe: So what's his status in the band right now? Is he a member of the band or is he still just a live and session drummer?

Oscar: To me he is a bandmember, but he's not kind of with the band in the same way. People like to put something to it, you know "This is the way it should be. This is the way it should not be.". But he's just with the band, but not in the same way as everyone else, you know.

Tobbe: Anders [Johansson, former drummer] quit in 2014 and do you think now that you've created a really solid unit again?

Fredrik: It feels like HammerFall has never sounded better. (Oscar:) No, we haven't. (Fredrik:) It's also cliché, but it's actually true. (Oscar:) It's beyond comparison. Like Fredrik said, the energy came with David, but he introduced stability too, which makes it a lot easier to play with him. (Fredrik:) And everybody feels safe too. (Oscar:) It even goes all the way to Joacim, even if he sings on top of everything, so to speak, but even he feels the stability in this whole thing. I come from the 80's.

I was born in the 70's, but I grew up in the 80's and my music is Accept and such bands, you know. And they played the drums live like it was on the record. He was getting booed at unless he did so, you know. Like "It has to be that way!". And I like that way of thinking, but Anders didn't and he was more free, like the 70's and improvising, you know.

And now when David is playing, it's a lot more mechanic, but I think it fits the music much better, and it makes it much easier to play along to. (Fredrik:) And then it's a little bit also the inner clock. David and I have a better connection. Anders is a fantastic drummer. There's no doubt about it. But he has been in the U.S.A. a lot and played and he is more loose and has a different timing.

Tobbe: You've changed record company. You've been on Nuclear Blast for a very long time, so is there really a difference to be on Napalm Records or does life just go on?

Oscar: Pretty much the same. It's new personnel, but those guys are doing the same thing, really. (Fredrik:) But of course there's more enthusiasm from their side right now. The first record, they want to prove something, we want to prove something, and it seems like we're aiming for the same goal. I can't say that it wasn't so before either, but it was…a little bit more the daily job, you know. (Oscar:) We didn't leave Nuclear Blast because they were worthless or so, or because we were unhappy, but rather because we wanted a company that didn't have 700 other bands and that do exactly what they have always done.

But we wanted someone who dares to try new things, because we feel that we aren't declining and we're on our way up all the time. You still want to fly, you know, and I see HammerFall as a band that's not done with releasing new records, so to speak, but we all the time want to break new ground and it feels like Napalm was willing to commit to this, while Nuclear Blast was more like "It works." and they had no will to change or renew themselves.

Tobbe: And Nuclear Blast has bigger bands too, while Napalm only has a few a little bit bigger bands, and now you're one of those.

Oscar: Exactly. That was another thing. I kind of see Napalm now as I saw Nuclear Blast when we signed with them. A small company that is hungry and on the way up. So it's really great to be with them. But we've got a good relationship still with Nuclear Blast too and they've got our back catalogue and they plan a couple of re-releases next year. So we must have a good contact with them, you know. And this is guys that we know. I mean, we're friends with them, and especially one guy, Markus Wosgien, we've known him for years and years and you don't want to lose that friendship, you know.

Tobbe: I just got to ask this. Next year is the 20-year anniversary of the first record [Glory To The Brave] and you have surely thought it about, so do you have any plans to celebrate that? I'm sure there's more people than I who want to know.

Fredrik: Well, we release Built To Last right now and we're going out to promote it. It's a European tour, South America, and North America. So we have talked about it a little bit, but there's not going to be anything now. (Oscar:) There's two things. First we have Built To Last and we have to promote it and we must play from that one, and this is a new tour. We don't want to live on past achievements and I don't think that we're the type of band who needs to do that yet and we have a lot to offer still.

I'm not saying that we can't do anything with it sometime of course, but with Built To Last out, Glory To The Brave has to stand back a little bit next year. But what the hell, in 5 years there's a 25-year anniversary, you know, and in 10 years there's a 30-year anniversary and maybe we can do something then instead. [Laughs] If anything, maybe we'll do something for Legacy Of Kings, because nothing happens for us that year [20-year anniversary in 2018.].

But this is just thoughts, ideas, or just loose talk, really. In some way we'll probably have to do something with Glory To The Brave, at least in the spirit of it, even though we're not going on a long tour, you know.

Tobbe: Is there any festival that has proposed that you should play the whole album next summer?

Oscar: Yes there is, but it didn't come off. (Fredrik:) And we've done it at Wacken too. In 2014 on their 25-year anniversary. (Oscar:) Yes, we did, but then we did it for their sake, so to speak. Because to us that is classic ground. The first gig we did outside Sweden was at Wacken and it was huge. There's so many things around that, so we wanted to make a special thing for them when they turned 25 and we invited Jeppe [Jesper Strömblad, guitar], Stefan [Elmgren, guitar] and Patrik Räfling [drums].

It was fun, and it's hard to top that too. And people have asked us if we want to do it on festivals, but I'm not interested in doing it next year, because we have a brand new record out and I'm so happy with it and I believe in it so hard, so of course we want to promote that one instead, and that's what it's all about.

Tobbe: You just came here from a signing session here in Stockholm and you did one in Gothenburg yesterday, so now when record sales have decreased, how important is it to be seen even more and not only in social media? I mean, like everywhere; in magazines and out on the street.

Fredrik: You know, you have to take care of the few record stores that are left. And it is important to be seen and above all I want to connect the same feeling that I had myself when I entered a record store and looked at the covers and was looking for new stuff. It is a special feeling and you can't get that feeling on iTunes. Sure, you can get a preview, but in the store you were picking up a record from the shelf and you got to listen to it in the store, you know. And "Damn, can I afford them both?" and "Oh, I must have this one too!". You really want that feeling to stay around.

Tobbe: Yes, I remember it so well. It was an amazing feeling and I kind of visited every record store in Stockholm. I still buy a lot of records today, but almost always from a website.

Oscar: I actually bought some records and stuff yesterday. A little bit to support of course, but still I wanted the stuff. And the funny thing is that Bengan's record store in Gothenburg has a pretty large LP section and used ones too and I didn't know that. Joacim was like "Oh, this one! And that one!" and those were records he already own, so I thought "OK, I'll buy them.".

I recognized the bands, but I haven't got the records myself and I haven't heard so much off the bands, really. One was the band Icon and Joacim has been talking a lot about that record and he's like "It's really good.". So I walked out with some used ones, 2 Kiss DVDs. You know, just some stuff. But the funny thing is that I was thinking "I'm gonna buy some stuff", because, like Fredrik said, you want to keep the record stores.

You know, when the day comes, and there's no record stores left, what the hell are you going to do then? Well, we're probably dead then, hopefully… [Laughs]

Tobbe: Your first records were out just before file sharing really increased, so you have pretty much been aware of its existence all the time, but what went through your mind, and especially for you Oscar who was in the band at that point, when file sharing really exploded? Were there almost tears and like "There goes our income"?

Oscar: Well, it was sad, you know. It was. And nobody knew how it was going to end or where it would be going. It seems like file sharing has decreased a lot. People still buy stuff or listen to Spotify… which is not the same thing as buying a record. Neither for you, nor for us, so to speak. (Fredrik:) But not like file sharing either. (Oscar:) No, exactly. It's clearly a better alternative. It felt like it's been going down, down, down, down, but then we found a level where we are at now.

We have 3 gold records for full-lengths and the first one was 40000, the second one was 30000 and the fourth one 20000 and that says a lot. I mean, it used to be 100000 before. So of course there's been worries, but we can't do anything about it and in fact heavy metal fans are really traditionbound and faithful and they want a physical product. And you and I are the same too. We were just talking about it, you know. So they often buy some records, so we have managed relatively well through the years for that reason.

Tobbe: Your website says that the tour starts in January, so what will you do until then? 2 months is a long time for rehearsals.

Oscar: We will be at home with our families and we will really celebrate Christmas for once. I hate to be away in December, because it's the best month, with its great atmosphere. The last time, I think we got home around the 15th/16th of December and it was so totally worthless and you almost don't get the time to prepare and get in the right mood for Christmas, really. This is what I will be up to anyway.

(Fredrik:) We will be away for quite some time next year, so we will try to get the opportunity to socialize a little bit with friends and family. (Oscar:) 3 of us live in Stockholm and 2 of us in Gothenburg, so we don't rehearse all the time. We don't rehearse 3 times a week, like we did when we were young. So that has changed and we didn't even rehearse once before this recording. We made the demos, sent them to each other and then we recorded the songs after that, so to speak.

There was no need for playing together, you know, and we've done it like this before, with (r)Evolution too, for instance. So the actual rehearsing isn't so important anymore. We've been doing this for so long and you can be at home by yourself and look through the songs and play and when you get together you rehearse intensively for 2-3 days on maybe 2 or 3 times. So that's the plan and we will maybe rehearse 2 times before Christmas and 1 time in January or something like that.

Tobbe: So how many new songs will be in the set?

Fredrik: We will rehearse a fairly good part of the album to be able to get a good set together. It's always a little bit tough to know what the set will be like before you have played through it. Maybe it feels good in the planning stage, but then "We have to move that song to a different place" or "We need something faster there.". (Oscar:) With No Sacrifice, No Victory [2009] and I think with Infected [2011] we played 6 or 7 songs off the new album and it was really fun, but maybe it's a little bit too many.

And the last time with (r)Evolution we played 3, and just occasionally 4, and I think that's too few. I think at least 4 is fair, you know, at least if you're playing a full set. So maybe 4 then. I think that's reasonable. But we will see. It's among the things that's up for discussion now. We have a list of songs that we have to cut down a little bit.

Tobbe: So the older songs, will it be kind of the same as usual? For me personally you could play pretty much just any song, but for the most part, maybe most fans recognize and want the well-known songs, I guess?

Fredrik: Some songs just have to be there. And certain songs are songs that you maybe want to be there. And then you have quite a few songs that you want to be there to make it a bit different. (Oscar:) It's not fun to play the same songs all the time and only change a few. Like for example [Judas] Priest is doing, or rather most of the big bands. They play the same old songs, but the new songs have been replaced, you know.

It's the same old song and dance and then a few new ones. I never want to end up in a situation like that, because that would bore me to death. So what we have planned now is, really, we have a core of 6-7 songs that we kind of just must play, and want to play too of course, like Hearts On Fire and Bloodbound and so. And then we have found some songs that I think should be in the set, but there's no room for them, you know what I mean? And we have songs that we haven't played for quite some time and some song that we have never played before and some song that we only played for a couple of times.

The set isn't complete yet, so we can't say exactly which songs are going to be there, but the songs that we have chosen are some really fun things and I really look forward to play them actually. Because it is boring to always wear out Hearts On Fire. It's the worst thing there is, to rehearse that damn song. I hate to do that.

Tobbe: And what about concerts in your home country of Sweden? When will they be in your touring itinerary?

Oscar: We will play here next fall, I guess. We played at Scandinavium in Gothenburg on November 28th last year and it would be a little bit too early to play there again now. So we try to wait until fall 2017. But it depends on what happens next summer too. You know, which festivals will we play and what we can do after the summer. But the plan is to do something in the fall, because spring is already fully booked.

Tobbe: The record is released in a good time, if we look at the festivals specifically, and you have plenty of time to tour a lot before next summer arrives.

Oscar: Yes, we can. But it's not always good, because some festivals want us to play there before we have toured. Some festivals are like that, you know. And some are like "This must be the only show in this country. Then you will get paid this for a show. If it's not, you will get this instead.". It's many things to take into account. And even if most festivals are trying to book bands now, it's still some time left to next summer, so everything isn't funded just yet.

And if you have a festival booked in a particular region and you will play there on the tour too, you don't announce the festival before the tour, because that would affect us and "Well, I can wait to see them until summer and then I will get to see a hundred other bands at the same time as well.". No one will come down for a show then and you have to play it smart, you know.

See also: review of the album Built To Last

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