Sabaton’s ninth record is nearly here! “The Great War” looks epic and we got to chat with Joakim to learn a bit more about it!
Hi Joakim, how are you?
Joakim Brodén (vocals): Very good thank you! Sun is shining, we’re in France, yeah!
So how did you end up picking World War I as the theme/main theme for this record? Was it an obvious choice? Did the lyrics come after the music already been written?
Joakim: It’s a little bit of both. I would say, usually when we do an album, we start with the music and see where the music is taking us. So we always have two or three subjects that we’re thinking of they could be the theme or the idea of the album and then we let the music decide where we’re going. Then we decide on the subject and go into full research, writing music, lyrics. But I think it’s, in a way, natural now because 2014, it was 100 years ago since the war started. Then a lot of these events came back to life throught TV, movies, events, memorial. A lot of people have been giving us books about those, we’ve been exposed to it naturally. The end of the war came by on November 11 and we thought: “should we start our recording exactly 100 years after” so we decided to go there.
Was it more hard to write about this period comparing to the WW II?
Joakim: A little bit. Especially finding the stories we were looking for, emotionals stories that we connected to. WWII is so much exposed. Going anywhere from looking to a documentary, there’s going to be 15 WWII documentaries for only 1 WWI. Plus, WWII is very well documented with audio, pictures and stuff. Of course, there were some WWI as well but much much less, so it was a bit harder. Also it’s a dark period. The two previous albums “Heroes” and “The Last Stand”, are about heroic events and heroic decisions to make. With “The Great War” we realized we couldn’t do the heroic part on the music and the subjects.
Is it also some kind of a tribute?
Joakim: Yeah I mean, in general, there are so many stories in our past that are been forgotten. For us that’s what makes sense. I find it geniully interested and passionate about these stories.
You started recording it on November 11th. Coincidence or you did it on purpose?
Joakim: To be honest, it was a plan to coincidence it but we didn’t know a year and half ago if the next album was gonna be about the Great War. But once we realized, and we were planning to record in late 2018. Of course you got to do it. (laughs)
The first single “Fields Of Verdun”, was it an obvious choice? Does this city almost sum up this war?
Joakim: Depending of which country you’re from. In Sweden we study it quiet a little bit actually but in the UK for example, they were surprised because: “oh that’s so unexpected you know” and I was like: “What?!”. They don’t really talk much about Verdun, because I thought they weren’t fighting, they were at the battle of the Somme. Every nation has its own history. What kids learn in Sweden might be not known here in France vice versa. For us, the longest battle, it was also a good choice as a single because it sums up the whole idea. The archetype image I have at least, from WWI, is this city, the French warfare on the western front. So present the album with “Fields Of Verdun” first is really good because there’s that vibe in the song but also a bit of a tribute to: “they shall not pass”.
Apocalyptica covered the track and released it before the original version. How did it happen?
Joakim: We’ve learnt “never ask why but why not” and we couldn’t come up with a good reason. They’re going to play at our festival and I like what they do. We wanted to do something fun and we started talking. They were making an album, we were making an album and I don’t know, Pär came up with it. Then it was just: “why not release their version first?” because then you have a good amount of cross promotion between both bands and it’s also a teaser for Sabaton fans. Not in a bad way but “hehe you didn’t see this one coming”. It’s a little bit of a social experiment I guess. (laughs)
A word about the cover, with this crying solider. Do you think that’s the first image or impression everyone should see/have when refering to WW1?
Joakim: I don’t know. It’s up to everyone I guess. But I got to be honest with you. When we saw the first draft, there wasn’t everything yet and I found it a bit boring. It wasn’t that different from “The Last Stand”, shouldn’t we have vibe to it?”. But in the same time, that solider, emotionaly, there was something about it. We had other suggestions but we always came back to that one. For us that connected very well emotionaly to our perception of WWI.
You also released “Bismarck” with that huge video but for which occasion? It’s not even on the record.
Joakim: I think we were very bad at communicating that. (laughs) It’s our 20th anniversary and label and fans were asking if we were going to do something. Instead of looking backwards, why not see forward? Actually the intention was to give our fans a song and a cool video for free like: “Thank you for 20 years of service”. But that kind of backfired because we weren’t clear on the communication and we had barley released the song before people getting angry at us because it’s not on streaming services. But that wasn’t the point! (laughs) Of course people want to listen to it and we shouldn’t control how they listen to music.
What about the shooting? Was it real or in a studio?
Joakim: Everything you see with us in on location. It was cold as fuck. It was in February/March, we had to find some warm place than north Atlantic (laughs) so we went a bit outside of Istanbul. But still, it was 4° in the water and 5° in the water. We left the hotel at 5:15 in the morning and came back just before midnight. Most of that time was spent on that small ship. We were getting wet sprayed, then we cleared the whole to get drone shots “okay guys stand still”, in stage clothes, in 5°, it’s not a disaster but out in the open sea with the wind and already being really wet. Be there for a couple of hours. Fuck me (laughs) but it was worth it and I think it turned out to be our best music video.
Maybe it’s a weird question but, talking about such horrific events, but in the same time you enjoy being on stage, jumping, singing, having fun basically. Isn’t there a paradox here?
Joakim: Yeah it’s a good point. I mean we think of it ourselves. The stories we take are serious and when we write the music very seriously of course. But on stage we don’t take each other very seriously, that’s an whole different game. If I’m jumping or twisting a nipple, the intention isn’t to piss on the soldiers. It’s just us having fun. Being at a concert is supposed to be a good experience and instead of trying to look evil or depressive, it’s better to celebrate a good time in honor of those people. But I agree, it is a paradox. We’re the happiest guys when running around trying to kick each others asses or fuck up the guitar solos. We got to be careful though. I mean we have a few places where we don’t do it. The song “Final Solution” for example, we never do any jumping or any crowd chanting in that song because that would be a little bit over the top. And everything we do is already over the top anyway so. (laughs)
As a frontman, you’re really busy on stage. Who did influence you? Not just singing but entertaining too.
Joakim: Obviously I’d say Bruce Dickinson of course. Freddie Mercury and one of the best Dee Snider. Man! He’s in a better shape than most of the twenty-year-old ones I know. But also, it should be said, I learnt a lot from Tobias Sammet. It was our first tour in 2006, in a nightliner. Being on a long tour as this one, seeing him how he handeled the crowd mixing in some humour but also Bob Catley from Magnum came to see us in the UK. We ended up in a bar with Bob and Tobias and I asked them like: “what’s the secret?”. But there’s no secret, everybody has to find their own way. “But you gotta give me something”: “you have to learn to sing even without a voice”. Everybody can be like: “oh I’m not in a perfect condition today”. Don’t even think of delivering the best performance until you’re in the studio. Here you got to be able to work, even with a 42° fever and salmonela, being about to shit yourself on stage. Your job is to make sure the audience has a good time and doesn’t fuckin’ notice.
So even if you have a cold, don’t cancel. You go to reherasal and learn how your voice works when you’re really fucked up. How to work around it. Can I go up or down? And find something else.
That, about the vocals, was the best advice I ever had. After that I stopped listening to people about this and that. I don’t want to be silent the whole day for example.
Learn to sing without a voice, that’s a hell of an advice.
You also released a YouTube channel. Were people asking for it? Was it natural? Can you explain us please?
Joakim: We actually wanted to do that for many years. The dream was to make a mini documentary for every song. From all the side projects we had, apart from recording music and playing live, this is the one I’m the most passionate about. It’s so much fun and I think it’s the perfect format because when we started out, there was no YouTube. And when it came, it was a place for cute cats and stupid dogs videos. Now it’s a serious media platform. So there’s a part with me or Pär, then an historical parts for ten minutes or so and at the end we talk about how the song came to be or how we found the story, recording stories etc. Videos are about 15 minutes and that’s perfect because it’ll take too much time to make long ones and who will watch a 45-minute video today? It’s easy to catch with this format. If we get enough support, and revenue through YouTube as well, we have left to continue this. Of course the dream is to do one video for every Sabaton song.
What can the fans expect from this new album? Which tracks are you the most excited about?
Joakim: It’s hard to say because everything is very subjective and everyone has a different point of view. Plus I’m the last person you should ask about. (laughs) Even though I’m not the only songwriter, I’ve been involved, I’m kind of a musical director of the band and I’ve been doing nothing else but this for so many months, that I know each detail of each song. I’m the one the most tired of it. (laughs) People ask me if it’s a good album and I tell them: “I have no idea, ask me in a year and a half”. It’s easy to fall in love with your project you’re in right now. You need some distance to it in order to evaluate it. The listeners will decided what’s good, if it’s good. Not me telling them what’s good.
Finally we are “RockUrLife”, so what rocks Joakim’life from Sabaton?
Joakim: Wow! We’re going to be here for a while. (laughs) Instead of going for something really high and annoying, lets go for pinball! I love pinball! It’s a good way to spend time an clear your mind, play with friends, alone, with beer, it’s all good!