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Interview conducted June 10 2016
Interview published July 19 2016

"The day you start to relax it's over."

Swedish heavy metallers Sabaton are going to put out their new record, The Last Stand, on August 19th and consequently Metal Covenant met up with drummer Hannes Van Dahl and one of the band's two guitarists Chris Rörland at Sweden Rock Festival earlier this summer.

It was the first time that Sabaton took one of the headliner slots on this festival and the band frequently enlarges its fanbase as it is definitely a hard working unit that won't pull the brakes until they've been able to squeeze out every last drop of sweat to try to achieve their goals.

Tobbe: All right, guys. You and your record company won't send out any promos to media this time and therefore I haven't listened to the new album yet, so I guess that you have to pretty much tell me exactly what it sounds like since I can't write anything about it.

Hannes: It's kind of difficult for us to answer that, because when you've been involved in it for such a long time now, it's hard to look at it in an objective way. I believe that this question is something that I can answer in December. For real. It's really difficult, you know. But I know that it's an album that's really varied and it has songs for kind of everybody's sort of taste.

(Chris:) You're so into it, so you don't really see the entire songs. But it's a little bit more than what Carolus Rex [2012] and Heroes [2014] were. It's up there, you know [Points to the ceiling.], with choirs, symphony orchestra and everything you can imagine. Very epic, so to speak.

Tobbe: And for you guys personally, who haven't been with the band from the start, were you given more free hands this time, in comparison to your latest record, Heroes?

Chris: You know, I joined the band just when Carolus Rex had been recorded, so I toured with the band for that whole cycle. With the next record, Heroes, it was like "Oh, there are some new members in the band. How will that affect our sound?", so it was kind of "Play it safe." and "This album must really sound like Sabaton!". Now, we've been with the band for quite a while and the band is able to broaden its perspective a little bit, you know. Yet not too much, I think. (Hannes:) You learn to work together too. It's like a marriage, you know. You know, Jocke [Brodén, vocals] has written the majority of the songs since the band started out, in 1823, but it's like this: Chris is able to write the whole album and me too, as long as it's good enough.

veryone is writing stuff, but Jocke has the final call. That's the way it is and you have to live with that. I think Chris made a fantastic contribution on one of the songs and it's one of my favorite songs on the album and it was really great to hear his influences even more. (Chris:) Which, strangely enough, happened to end up as the album's title track.

Tobbe: Is there any point in asking about the lyrical content? I mean, is it about the same old usual stuff?

Chris: Nah, not really the same. It's about war of course; war history. Heroes was more pointed to the individual himself and details about a specific person and what he has done in history, you know. With this one it's only about the final great battles, like Sparta. Maybe it's necessary not the greatest battles, but they really made a mark in history. Well, the film 300, you know. That battle. (Hannes:) It's from like 480 BC with the Spartans. Like 2500 years back in time and all the way to 1988 with the Soviet/Afghan War.

Tobbe: You know, Sabaton has a specific sound, just like a lot of other bands have, but how much could you, theoretically, deviate from that sound and still be relevant with what you do?

Hannes: It's a funny thing. When we record bonus tracks, we often record covers, and as soon as Jocke is singing and the Sabaton keyboard is there, it becomes Sabaton. It feels like we could do whatever we please. I mean, a few songs are in major on the album. It's an interesting question, so "Quite a lot", I think.

Tobbe: You know, in some way you always want to stay with the original idea, but you still want to keep developing too. Who wants to eat the same kind of food every day, you know? Eventually you will get tired of it.

Chris: Exactly. (Hannes:) It's true. Sabaton is probably a band that has to change stuff sooner or later, quite substantially, I think. And this record is maybe a step towards that direction. Really interesting.

Tobbe: You don't have to go the way that, for example, Metallica did with St. Anger. It's not what it's all about, you know.

Hannes: You have to go in the right direction, sort of, which I think is really hard. And that's why, just like you said, we don't send out any promos for the new album. But if we meet a fan on the street, and I have the album in my pocket [on his cell phone], and that fan wants to listen to the album: "All right. Let's go!". You know, if the album is out sooner, it gets really boring, because there is a plan on how you want to present an album and to do justice to it.

Tobbe: About your coming tour in January to March next year. You're headlining and Accept is the supporting act and some loud people on the web have a hard time accepting this matter, but doesn't everything has its time and right now it's your time?

Chris: Well, that's the way it is, but it's a natural transition. I mean, Accept has been huge and like 6 years ago Sabaton was supporting Accept. (Hannes:) The market lives its own life, right? (Chris:) Exactly, and we sell more than what Accept does. And it's really sad that that's the way it is, because I really look up to Accept and I listen to their music. But it's fun to have them with us on a tour, but I know it's a pain in the ass to some people that we have them as support act.

(Hannes:) And it feels really bizarre, you know. You can see them go by the nice title Special Guests, even if that's a bullshit title. But if we see this whole thing like this: Why not? It's not like Accept will be playing for 15 minutes. They will get full-time and we're not a band that sets restrictions regarding the sound level and lights. (Chris:) Like many other bands do. When we've been supporting some bands and they're like "You won't get this and you can't do that!".

(Hannes:) And you can look at it as a nice evening. It doesn't have to be harder than that. Accept is there. We are there. If you hate Sabaton, then see Accept and give us the finger, you know.

Tobbe: Pär [Sundström, bass] has said that Sabaton's goal is to become the world's biggest heavy metal band when the giants, like Iron Maiden, call it a day. So, do you think that it is good to have a high goal that's very hard to accomplish, yet maybe possible, rather than having a goal that's easy to reach?

Chris: I think it's good that he has a certain goal. I mean, Pär has always went in that direction, you know. All from when he was here, 17 years ago, on this festival, with a demo by Sabaton and "We're gonna play the mainstage some day! We're gonna be headlining!". Everyone just laughed at him, but now we're here. (Hannes:) He never gives up, and now he has band members with that same attitude.

Tobbe: You both joined a band on its way up, you know, and was it comfortable to join a band that's about to really prosper, or was it tough and rather stressful?

Chris: Well, it was a little bit stressful in the beginning. On the first tour I did we went to the U.S.A. and Sabaton isn't big over there, so that was pretty nice, you know, with like 300 people coming down to the shows. I thought like "Well, this is the level where we're at. Sabaton is pretty big, but that's about where we're at.". And then we came back to Sweden and played Sweden Rock and it was huge and "What the hell is going on?". And then we were almost headlining Graspop and it was just awesome. Then Woodstock [Poland] and "What's happening?". It's like a rollercoaster that keeps going up, really fast.

(Hannes:) It's really interesting, because both Chris and I have toured for a pretty long time with other bands before, on a much smaller level, but when the band is bigger even more work comes to it. Many people have said "You made it"! You can just relax now.", you know. Yeah, right! It's tougher than ever, and I think it's exactly where we should be at. The day you start to relax it's over.

Tobbe: Is it just natural today to go out on stage and play regardless of there are 20000 or 40000 people in the crowd?

Chris: Well, you know, not really. (Hannes:) For each interview we do, the more nervous you get, because everything is kind of blown out of proportion. (Chris:) It's a big deal, but you have to try to see it as a regular gig and to just get up and do it, you know. (Hannes:) We made that mistake at Wacken [2015]. (Chris:) Yes, everything there went to hell, you know. We were all so hyped up and "It's so big! We're gonna record a DVD!" and then everything went down the drain, you know. (Hannes:) That gig wasn't fun, you know. It's better to just have a beer, say "Cheers" to each other and just get up there and have fun.

Tobbe: Is it possible that Sabaton has reached kind of the peak of popularity now, or is there still more to squeeze out?

Chris: If you would ask Pär Sundström, there's absolutely more to squeeze out of this thing. [Laughs] I believe so. He never stops. It's so sick, you know. (Hannes:) Yes, I believe so too. You know, Sweden Rock isn't that big, no matter how crazy it may sound, in comparison to Wacken and Download. When we went to Download in England we played at 4 in the afternoon and that's not so mighty. So there's plenty of work still to come and you can't become too comfortable at home. (Chris:) Exactly, like "We're the greatest! Yes!", and then just like "No!". But none of us is like that anyway, you know.

Tobbe: But when you have reached your level, you must really go for it, because most bands have their ups and downs.

Hannes: Maybe there will be periods where Sabaton loses some popularity in Europe, but then you just have to be prepared for it. But that's when we have to go through our ordeal by fire where you have to realize why you do this to begin with.

Tobbe: Is there any truth in the statement that the band always must come first?

Chris: Yes, the band comes first. Jocke, I mean, said "If I have children, I will still go on tour." and "If you're giving birth to a child. Sorry! I can't be there.". You know, Sabaton has never canceled a gig. (Hannes:) Not because of ourselves anyway. We try to keep it as one big family, with both band and crew, and that's really important, to have a good feeling.

If we stay at a 5-star hotel, everyone stays at a 5-star hotel. If we can't afford a 5-star hotel, for some reason, we will stay at some other place. But if it comes to something personal and if something would happen to Chris, for instance, of course we got his back, you know, and then it's not like "The band comes first!" and that kind of stupidity.

Tobbe: The greatest source of income for a band is to attract the everyday fans, because the hardcore fans will always be there, no matter if you're up there playing in your drawers, backwards and are playing your most obscure songs. So is it hard to balance your sets to whom you will play for?

Chris: Sure, the real die-hard fans will always be there, but you want to win over the largest audience possible, or else you won't survive, really. (Hannes:) It's really hard to make a setlist, you know. Therefore you have to listen to people who have heard the record and have their opinion, like "No, I think you made a pretty bad album.". But balancing between them is the best, I think.

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