Interview with Joakim Brodén of SABATON
Interview and Photos by Anya Svirskaya
Thank you for taking the time to speak today. How are you doing?
Very good, thanks, and you?
I’m fine too, it’s the first day of Spring here in NY.
Not in Scandinavia (laughs).
My background is in education. As a teacher, I find it so inspiring that you incorporate history into your music. In many ways I feel that Sabaton is influencing and educating the younger generation to do research. And perhaps developing their own interest in History. Music is a great learning tool. What prompted you to go into this direction with Sabaton?
Well thank you for that. To be honest, I’ve always been a bit of a history freak, not that I’m an expert. Just more like, first of all, there is enough heavy metal bands singing about killing dragons, fucking women and drinking beer. I think there’s so many fantastic stories in our past, so why should we make up new ones when we have people who did amazing things, sometimes more incredible than even Hollywood could come up with in their wildest fantasies. These people and their sacrifices are being forgotten, which I think is sad.
I agree there’s a lot to be learned from so many stories. Has anyone in the band, yourself included, ever served in the military?
Yes, Chris our guitar player, he’s the only one who did military service in the band. It was mandatory back in the day when I was supposed to do it, but I was waiting for surgery. I was doing all the tests and I was supposed to be an officer at a marine base guarding it with a dog, which I would have liked because I like animals. When they actually drafted me, they said, “That position is not available anymore. Now you’re going to be a chief staff officer,” which is basically boiling coffee for professional military people. At that point I decided, oh well there was some complications with my surgery. I lied my ass out of it (laughs). If I’m going to do military service, I’m going to do something important, not be an errand boy for officers.
Everything happens for a reason. Now you get to tour the world doing something that you love.
Speaking of touring the world, in 2014 you came to New York with Amon Amarth, and back again with Iced Earth. Then April of last year with Nightwish. My question is what many of your North American fans are wondering. When will Sabaton return with its own headlining US Tour?
We’d love to. The plan is to come back before the year is over actually if we’re going to be headlining or if we’re going to be the support band. That depends on what’s happening. Obviously, if there are a lot of things happening at the same time and we have a gap in our schedule, it depends on availability of venues and everything. Also if we can get a really good support that is bigger than Nightwish size or the same size, then there’s a good chance we could do it, seeing as we haven’t really done much headlining the last time. The unfortunate thing is the promoters don’t really want to put us in a decent venue. They just want to put us in a club, a very tiny one. We are pretty sure, one, we would sell it out, and two, if the stage is tiny … I’d play anywhere. I’d love to play even the smallest places. The problem is though if we come as a headliner to America, we also want to bring at least a little bit of the stage and possibly a tank so people can see what we have in Europe, instead of just us coming with a flighty back line and some side drops. I’d love to do it, but people expect to see something else than that just again. Depending on what we can get going. It’s either that or possibly we can get a bigger support slot. Then of course headlining if we do the support.
Seeing the band 3 times prior, you guys always give a festival-worthy performance to any size stage and venue that you’re playing. We are all waiting patiently for your return and perhaps with a tank this time. Why the decision to release a double live DVD/CD now?
A few reasons. One personal totally egoistic reason. If you’re of the headliners of Wacken, you want to tell the world. I want to remember that show as well. Could be recorded, of course we did. Second one, of course, it’s a hometown festival, we want to show people how cozy our own festival is and how nice it can be actually. Another factor is there is no proper live documentation of Sabaton with this line up actually. I think this is the best lineup we ever had. We thought, “Why should me, Chris, Thobbe, and Hannes not have one.” We had a new stage set, and setlist-wise, but especially show-wise, a very different experience from Swedish Empire Live.
Yes, very different. Swedish Empire live focused on Woodstock festival in Poland, and a few shows from the Swedish Empire tour. When you play Wacken and other festivals versus the Sabaton festival and cruise, do you perform a different setlist? Something that you normally wouldn’t play? You’ve performed all over the world and you’ve written numerous songs focusing on specific battles and events, does the lyrical content influence your setlist?
Yes, it does in both ways. When it comes to Wacken versus the Sabaton Cruise or our own festival it’s kind of easy. The higher the percentage of hardcore Sabaton fans there are going to be, the stranger our setlist is going to be, basically. A lot of these people have seen many Sabaton shows. Let’s say anything between three and ten over the years. We had a girl on this previous tour just a week and a half ago she celebrated her 100th Sabaton concert.
Wow 100! That’s quite an accomplishment.
In a sense when we have a lot of people who have seen a lot of Sabaton shows in the crowd we are going to take bigger chances. Maybe play a song that has never been played live before. For our own festival we have played both The Art of War and Carolus Rex in its entirety during that festival. Which is kind of cool, keeps us on our toes as well. In a sense when we have a lot of people know we who have seen a lot of Sabaton shows in the crowd we are going to take bigger chances. Maybe play a song that has never been played live before.
Speaking of Carolus Rex, that was such an amazing record and a massive undertaking. You recorded in both Swedish and English. And it did very well; it went Gold and Platinum. Would you consider doing something like that again in the future?
Yes, we’ve actually talked about it. We also realize that singing about Polish history, or English history, or Russian history, to sing that in Swedish when there are no Swedish people involved wouldn’t make any sense at all. We said if we are going to do one multilingual album again then it will be set in Swedish history if we are singing in Swedish. Possibly I could sing one song about something German related in German. At least decent enough in German to get away with it. People might laugh a little bit at the German, but that’s okay (laughs). I would feel strange to sing about the D-day landings in Normandy in Swedish. The Swedish were not involved at all.
Moving to the present moment. “Heroes” to me was an entirely different concept where you focused primarily on specific individuals and their stories. Being that you are currently writing an album how is the writing process coming along? And will you be writing about events and places this time around?
Actually, I really like the people angle, my biggest interest in history comes from how can people get put through certain events and some people come out as assholes and cave in and give the fugitives away to the Nazi’s or whatever it might be. Others who you would not expect step up to the plate and become heroes actually do it. We are looking in to a possibility of actually, at least we are not going to do Heroes number two. That would be boring right now. Maybe some other day we’ll do more Heroes or something like that. Yes, both mine and Pars ambition is to somehow, at least, get it closer than Carolus Rex which was very big. Going so far back into history it’s really hard to get personal. The regular soldier couldn’t even write and read back in those days. So you only have the general stories. They usually only wrote in the reports what made them look good. It’s a little bit tricky with the further back in time it goes actually. The plan is to actually start recording in two and a half, three weeks. The album should be out before this year is over.
Oh perfect…. You guys have such a grueling schedule I feel like you are always on tour. Whenever I look through your social media pages it’s as though you never stop. I know that keeping yourself healthy while on tour is important, do you have a workout regimen?
Not a direct regimen. But yeah I stay in shape and don’t drink beer every night, you’ll die. I’d probably be classed by a doctor as slightly overweight, but I can live with that. I’m not totally out of shape. Of course I visit the gym from now and then. Sometimes I do body weight exercises or I usually have a kettle bell with me on the tour. I used to be really strict about it five years back or so. Always counting calories when eating, working out at least five times a week. Maybe drinking alcohol once every two weeks or something like that. After a while that becomes no fun (laughs).
Well it’s all about moderation and knowing our limits.
Going back to music. Sabaton reminds me of Motorhead, right before you take the stage you introduce Ghost Division saying “We are Sabaton and we play metal.” Lemmy Killmister once joked, “Here is the ‘Ace of Spades’ live for the hundredth time.” What song would you say is your “Ace of Spades?”
Wow, I guess the one that usually gets the party up is “Primo Victoria,” I guess it would be that one. Lately it’s becoming more and more popular it’s “To Hell and Back,” They are probably the two songs that will get action in the crowd. People jumping, singing along and having fun.
In the past you have included cover songs on your albums. You did a really cool version of “Twilight of The Thundered” by Amon Amarth, and “Feur Frei” by Rammstein. Are there any songs that you may be looking into?
We did a cover of Twisted Sister’s “The Beast” a long time ago. Basically one of our first recordings. Now, since they are quitting, I’d love to do a proper, good, Twisted Sister cover. I think that’s something we could do.
Are there any bands that stick out in your head that you would love to tour with? Any metal bands that are huge in North America for example. In Europe you have two dates where you are opening up for Iron Maiden on their tour. In the United States we don’t get a package like that.
(laughs) For me personally we’ve toured and played with so many bands. I don’t know how many shows we did with Maiden. We supported them the first time in 2011 and then every now and then when they have an opening sometimes we are invited to join them. So I think we’ve played with the festivals maybe 20 or 30 shows, with Maiden only direct support 15. We did three weeks of touring in Russia with the Scorpions some years back as well. Most of the bands I’ve had an opportunity to see live and meet. Which is quite fortunate I’d say? But the one I’ve always been missing. I’ve never seen them live and we’ve never played with them is Metallica. And I love Metallica, so I’d love to see that one day.
Wow never? I’ve seen live once in 2013. But they haven’t been back in NYC since then… This actually brings me to my next question. In your experience what has been the main difference between touring through United States and Europe?
Oh yeah, there is a huge difference. Not that I mind playing big or small venues, that’s not the thing. It could be everything from … Let’s say the standard on a regular show. If you go to a small club that holds 400 people in Sweden, there is going to be a decent back stage with space enough for two bands, and there’s going to be a shower, and somebody is going to give you at least, maybe not going to be delicious food, but you will get food. I get the cultural thing because if you come to a venue in the US that holds three or 400 people you’re pretty much on your own. There might be a dressing room, there’s probably not a shower there and for us that’s a problem because we are physically active on stage and we get really sweaty. Our first priority after a show is a shower.
Do you have any interests outside of music and history?
Not much. It would be pinball actually. To be honest there is not too much time for anything else. As you said with our touring schedule it’s grueling and we are recording albums in between and of course rehearsing. It’s pretty much our full time job. Then family and friends we don’t want them to suffer either and want to have Sabaton and family and friends put together. We are already pretty much on overtime, so there’s not time for anyone, especially me or Par, to do anything serious. If I come across a pinball machine on tour, there’s a good chance you’ll find me close to it.
Maybe one day you’ll take one with you, if you haven’t taken one on tour yet?
Yeah I’ve been planning, one day when we have a huge trailer. Then I’ll sneak a pinball in there.
Before you start singing, do you have a particular routine that follow to help get your voice into shape? Or do you do vocal exercises here and there?
A little bit of vocal exercises. Especially if I haven’t toured in a while. Then I would warm up a little bit. In general I do everything from sit-ups, crunches, and certain exercises to get all of the muscles I need for support when I sing. That’s actually more important for me to do a bit of a warm up work out before a show.
Before you joined a band were you a singer? Did you play any other instruments? When you first formed the band did you decided to take on vocals?
Oh, hell no, hell no, hell no. I started out as a keyboard player or actually a Hammond church organ is how I started out. When I came into Sabaton, it was named Aeon at that time and then we changed the name in late 99′ to Sabaton. I was still the keyboarder, but, I was singing until we found a found a singer. Then they fucking found a keyboarder in 2005 instead. I got stuck with it. I never planned to be a singer at all. That was the furthest away from my plans you could possibly imagine. I was considering not even being a professional musician at all. That would be something I did on the side just for fun.
If it’s okay to ask. What did you see yourself doing career-wise if it wasn’t music?
(laughs) Oh, I’d be Indiana Jones, archeologist with a whip, and fighting Nazi’s. That sounds nice.
Anything having to do with history is always nice. Thank you so much for your time. It was very nice to speak to you. All the best to you on your upcoming shows and safe travels.
Thank you very much and nice talking to you as well. Take care.