Sabaton frontman Joakim Broden took time off before his band’s co-headlining show with Kreator at The Wiltern in Los Angeles to opine on whether he is concerned with offending people with his music, why he is tired of performing some of his best-known songs, and what he is really thinking about on stage while singing some of Sabaton’s biggest hits.
California Rock News: We are here with Joakim, lead singer and frontman for Sabaton.
California Rock News: How are you doing today?
Joakim: Very good! Thank you! It’s kind of nice to be here considering we got 10 degrees and 3 feet snow back home. This is much better!
California Rock News: I always wondered, when a band that is not from the Los Angeles area, they come visit the Los Angeles area, yet they haven’t built their name in the Los Angeles area, yet just a short drive from here bands such as Metallica, Slayer, Guns n’ Roses, Motley Crue started. So does this stop have any kind of special meaning or significance or are all stops kind of the same to you?
Joakim: No, of course, it does. Especially when you’re here for the first couple of times, for sure there’s a lot of sites you want to see. Let’s say Rainbow Bar & Grill, Whisky A Go Go, and stuff like that, but once you’ve been around a couple of times that kind of wears off. Nothing in a bad way, it does in every country, and it’s also kind of sad cuz when you’re touring, not always do you have time to do what you want to do. I was in London for over 10 times before I saw the Big Ben. Still haven’t been to the Statue of Liberty. Been in Europe probably 15 or 20 times.
California Rock News: Sabaton has one of the more unique shows that I’ve seen. I was at the show at the Grove in Anaheim a couple months ago and I saw you guys at Knotfest as well. That’s where I first got introduced to your…
Joakim: San Bernardino!
California Rock News: San Bernardino. I was all the way in the back and I thought wow that band sounds really good. I had never heard of you, then I went home and I listened to you and I was like “Whoa, I’m a fan.” So what is a little bit of the difference between playing a festival with a whole bunch of different bands and maybe a lot of fans that don’t know you versus headlining a tour where everybody is there to see you?
Joakim: Oh, the obvious one I’d say is well, especially in the setlist front, you can be quite a bit more adventurous I guess, take bigger chances and risks with a headline show. In many cases, we can count at least fifty or more percent have seen us before and you can throw in a curveball, and odd song, and old song that might be super popular the first time you hear it, while in a festival, one of the reasons to do that, unless you’re huge and headlining it, is to gain new fans of course. So that point of view it’s very different, and also, how you talk to the crowd. On a festival we can’t assume, especially in San Bernardino for example, I can’t assume that the people are going to know our history. So when I’m talking about a song, I can’t just reference it somehow, I gotta explain it. So it is quite different, but you know, we have been doing this for 19 years now, so I don’t really think about it anymore.
California Rock News: One of the hallmarks of the Sabaton show that is unique that I enjoy and a lot of my friends enjoy… because actually, I took some friends of mine that had just vaguely heard a song or two of yours to Anaheim and now they’re here with me today bringing 5 other friends…
Joakim: That’s what we like!
California Rock News: We’re here with 8 people today. So one of the things they liked is that it seems like you guys try to inject some levity and humor into the show. Is that something that’s calculated or is that something that comes naturally?
Joakim: It came slowly over time. You look at Sabaton these days. The camo pants, the image with military history, it looks like it was well thought out, but it’s just like whatever worked, stayed. The rest we kind of took away. So there was never a master plan and we enjoy playing heavy metal. So, in the beginning, if you look really way back, we were trying to be cool, or trying to look evil, or you know all of this. But, in the end at a certain point you’re having so much fun one night, you’re laughing and you start making jokes that you normally wouldn’t do, you guys start making fun of each other on stage because everybody was in a good mood and the crowd was in a party mood and then the crowd went wild. It’s like, “We don’t have to look evil and shit? Alright! So we can take a piss out of each other like we were doing on the tour bus.” Ok, yeah so, slowly but surely more of that comes in so there was never any time where we said we should have more humor in our show, but over the years , slowly but surely things come in. And I mean sometimes, we take it too far as well. Of course, we dialed it back then, because we ourselves realized you know oh well, it’s becoming some kind of stupid caberet. No, we’re a metal band, let’s focus on that and if we get a good idea or a good joke, sure let’s do it, but let’s focus on the music. That’s the main thing but if we can make somebody laugh and crack a smile, then all good.
California Rock News: To go into specifics, me and my friends, we kind of joke about this sometimes when we are talking about your music when we go to your shows. I saw the show in Anaheim, and then I sometimes I watch some of the concerts, and I have some of the records… every time before the song ‘Swedish Pagans’, you kind of are saying that you don’t want to play the song, yet the whole crowd is chanting for it and all your bandmates want you to play it. So is that something that was planned or is that spontaneous?
Joakim: Well it is planned, kind of these days, but came organically if you know what I mean. We didn’t have it on the setlist, the crowd was singing it, then it was I guess our old guitar player Thobbe was in the band before Tommy, would start it, “Yeah, I want to play it!” And we didn’t plan to play it at all, but the crowd was singing it and he wanted to play it and I’m like, “Don’t! Motherfucker! You know it’s not on the setlist, let me at least not have to play that song one more time!” And then it became kind of fun and then we kind of stuck to it. But today, yeah it’s kind of expected of me to not want to play it. Umm honestly, I’d rather not. I might not hate it as much as I project on stage, but honestly, it’s very very far from my favorite Sabaton song.
California Rock News: Why is that?
Joakim: I don’t know! And the weird thing, I wrote it! No, I don’t know what it is. It’s just one of those that I get tired of. Sometimes, some songs even though you think I’d get tired of them, it doesn’t happen. ‘Primo Victoria’, for example, I have so many good memories of people jumping, I can you know have a movie inside my head going on when we are doing that song and reliving all of those shows, thousands of shows you know. So I never got tired of that one. But the song, for example, ‘Panzer Battalion’ from “Primo Victoria”, same album, I got tired of waaaay earlier. It’s cool to play on a good night when the crowd is you know singing along, ok. But as soon we start rehearsing it and we are bringing it back into the setlist, it just feels, “Oh God, this is boring”, you know. Not because it’s a shitty song, it’s just that I’ve grown tired of it and I know also that’s the case with ‘Swedish Pagans’. I didn’t hate the song when I wrote it, then it would never have been on the album. We really do everything as good as we possibly can, especially when writing the music. Now looking back at our first album that came in 2007, so it came later, the “Metalizer” it feels kind of (primitive) you know not too many favorites. But I can live with that album even though it’s by far our worst album. I can live with it because I know I was 19 or 18 when I wrote many of those songs. That was the best I absolutely could do and I rewrote and rewrote and you know worked my ass off. So it’s fine that for me at least I can live with because I know I put everything, my best at that time and that is the case for ‘Swedish Pagans’ as well. I’m not ashamed of having written it. I’m actually quite proud of it that so many people are singing along and want to hear a song I wrote. That’s a matter of pride. That doesn’t mean I’m not tired of it though! (laughs)
California Rock News: Going on a tangent, something I wonder about any musician, for example, you have a hit song that the crowd is always expecting you to play. Now even though you like the song, does it ever get tiring to play (for example) ‘Ghost Division’ every single night you go out there? Because you guys have a lot of albums and a lot of songs to choose from, but the crowd expects it. So is it tiring to you? For lack of a better term….
Joakim: Not in general. Let’s say when you start playing a song for the first times, it’s a bit shaky of course when you’re in the rehearsals before everybody in the band has learned it. Then when it’s rehearsed, you bring it onto the stage and it’s fresh. It’s really fun. Then you get a little bit of routine in it, and that’s the best part of a song’s life if you know what I mean. So we rehearsed it, we brought it onto the stage, and now we played it quite a few times live, but not so many times that we are only going on routine. There is a routine setting in. That’s when a song is most fun. After a while, it can actually be… not boring really, but it’s like yeah it becomes automated a little bit, not totally. Obviously, the audience interaction will be different on the night…. But let’s say it’s a song we’ve played many many times, I don’t really have to think about what the next vocal line is. It just appears naturally. But then if you do something really, really much, it becomes second nature, and then it’s kind of fun again because I don’t have to think at all about anything else besides doing something fun with the crowd or kicking a band member in the ass or something like that. So ‘Ghost Division’ is really fun to play because that’s…. I can actually enjoy seeing the crowd. “Oh, there’s that guy I remember him! He’s been to many shows. And oh fuck! Uhh, what’s her name again?” You know it could be, “Wow! There’s a good atmosphere tonight.” or “Wow! It’s good here but people on the right are a little bit slow, I got to get them going” you know. I don’t have to think about anything about the song or the lyrics. That is programmed in my spine, so it’s kind of liberating. So I can actually experience the song or the music or the atmosphere without thinking about what I’m doing.
California Rock News: Sabaton, all your songs, they have roughly the same theme: wars, military campaigns, military figures, heroism, and at the end of your album sometimes you have a song that’s about heavy metal in general. But nevertheless, does it ever, as a songwriter, does it ever feel constraining that “All my songs have to be about this topic. I want to write about love or drugs.” Or something like that. Has it ever constrained you?
Joakim: No, never that. Uhh, actually never ever because there (are) so many aspects to war or military history you can go into. You can… that’s our way of reinventing the wheel or you know, doing “Heroes”, we’re talking more the human side of it, then you can talk more about, you know, the bigger battles. You can… there are so many ways of doing that I, I really love facts over fiction. Always. There are so many fantastic stories in our past, and fantastic actions made by people who are dead now. Why the fuck are we making up new stories? We should be celebrating their actions and their lives instead. So I just love finding out, like a curious child, when I get, you know, documentaries or read books. Sometimes though what I feel is constraining if there’s anything is that when I’m writing the music, that it’s hmm…. Does it really have to be so heavy metal always? Or does it need double kick drum? For example on the album “Coat of Arms” we have the song ‘The Final Solution’, which is not really a heavy metal track. With those synthesizers going and the guitars are more, kind of, rock, classic rock bluesy. Uhh, we have a song called ‘Cliffs of Gallipoli’, for example, which is more touching, progressive Meat Loaf, I guess, with pianos. Doing stuff like that is really fun. So sometimes, if there’s anything that can feel constraining, not that I don’t enjoy it, it’s sometimes that, “Hmm, double kick drum, cool guitar riff, catchy chorus,” you know. That’s sometimes I feel like I want to break out of you know. For example, on “The Last Stand”, I got tired of everything being in minor, so I did ‘Blood of Bannockburn’ in major just because I could! (laughs)
California Rock News: The topics of war, and military campaigns, especially in recent histories where maybe some of the memories are fresher than past campaigns… have you ever shied away from writing about a certain war or military event because it might be a little too controversial or it might upset some people or it might get you banned from a country?
Joakim: Yes and no. We have done it several times because it’s too recent. Two recent events. It’s happening at this moment or just happened. But not for the reasons that anyone will expect. Sorry, you know. At least America has freedom of speech, not every nation has this. It is my right to offend people if I want to and talk about these subjects. I don’t give a fuck if somebody’s offended or if we are controversial. Because facts overrule your emotions. You are entitled to your own opinion, but not your own facts, ok? That’s what I’m saying. And, we would though not do what’s happening now, because we might still not know the fucking truth, because we might still be hearing only what the generals have to say, what the politicians have to say. In 10 years or so… it’s different on the conflict, how big was it? When the soldiers and the historians who have read and collected all this information… when we hear what they have to say, we’ll happily sing about it and talk about it. So no, we’re not afraid of controversy or offending people, but if you’re offending people, we should be offending people with facts that are correct. You know, we don’t go out of our way to get people angry or sad. That would be stupid. But sometimes people are a little bit oversensitive and we shouldn’t shy away from facts. It’s like, we wouldn’t go to Germany and not play songs about World War 2, which would leave a lot out of our setlist actually. (laughs) We wouldn’t have much left to play. But people say, “Oh, you can’t come here and play ‘Rise of Evil’. Of course we can! It’s about the rise of Adolf Hitler. You’re singing, “The reich will rise.” Yeah, so what! It fucking happened! Don’t like it? Don’t come to the show! It’s not our problem. But, we would never change our setlist based on that. Of course, we change our setlist on what people want to hear, on the other half. So if nobody wants to hear ‘Rise of Evil’, then it makes no sense to play it. If we’re playing Poland, for example, we have songs about Polish history that are very popular over there that people don’t want to hear here… because you might in America… there might be other songs that are popular in Sweden, there are other songs that are popular. So that of course we of course listen to! We want the crowd to be happy. We want to make a great night. But yeah, we’ve been banned from entering Russia because they thought we were nazis. We’ve been blamed about being zionists, we’ve been accused of being communists. Everything you know, because we’ve been singing a song from maybe the bad guys point of view sometimes. But isn’t it strange? Nobody would ask Steven Spielberg if he’s a nazi because he made “Schindler’s List”. Nobody would ask… is it Waltz who is doing the nazi role in that one? Nobody would ask the actor, “Are you a nazi?” because he’s wearing a nazi uniform in the film. No. We are telling stories. We’re not doing propaganda here. So, it’s important for us to stay with the facts. We have gotten it wrong sometimes. Sometimes, you know, down the line, archaological evidence has revealed that, ok it was wrong. And we can live with that. As long as, when we wrote the song, these (were) the facts as we knew them. And that’s fine.
California Rock News: What can you tell us about the next album? I heard that after this coming touring cycle, you guys might be taking some time off to work on the next album.
Joakim: Time off for time off? (laughs) That’s relative. Sabaton time off is what some bands call a bathroom break. So I guess, yeah, I mean for sure we’ll have an album out next year.
California Rock News: So do you have a set of topics or wars that you know that you’re going to be tackling?
Joakim: No, I can’t say for certain at this moment. I’m not trying to be secretive. I just don’t know. But we have thousands and thousands of ideas. Not only the ones we have, that’s only going to be a few hundred. But, every day we get emails or somebody gives me a book, “Hey, you should read about this!” ‘Lost Battalion’ came out that way. An American guy from New Jersey gave me a book called “The Lost Battalion” and it’s about, obviously, The Lost Battalion and it took me a couple of years and I read the book and “Oh, this is amazing!” and it came on “The Last Stand” because that’s when we decided to do it. So, it turned out great.
California Rock News: There was a tweet from Nikki Sixx a couple of weeks ago about the Grammys where they don’t televise the rock and heavy metal categories any more. It feels like here in the states, the general population or whoever is in charge of television, they don’t really want people to know (about) what’s happening in (the) heavy metal or rock scene. Do you think that is just specific for the states or do you think it’s similar to what’s happening in Europe?
Joakim: Depends on the country. Let’s say for example, Finland. The rock and heavy metal would be one of the most interesting because there’s no country where heavy metal is so mainstream as in Finland. I mean if Nightwish, for example, would release an album, Madonna doesn’t have a fucking chance on the sales charts you know. She’ll kick their ass you know. So, it’s very different for different countries I’d say. Let’s say Poland, for example, heavy metal would not be that heavily featured in mainstream media. We were lucky though, we did a video about the Polish uprising in ’44 and that obviously with a video was quite powerful and got us a lot of attention because it was about Polish history. And the metalheads (were) really shocked that “What the fuck! Heavy metal on national Polish TV! This has never happened before!” But I mean coming from Sweden, I discovered heavy metal through Swedish national television. Back in those days, we didn’t have many channels and they showed Twisted Sister with ‘We’re Not Gonna Take It’ and ‘I Wanna Rock’ you know, so I guess that’s down to every different country and how they want to do it. But yeah, there are certain places, specially Latin America as well where you see that the metal community lives in some kind of a parallel universe that, you know, metalheads have to live in the normal world, but at the same time have their own total community, their own bars, their own, I guess, facebook groups or whatever it is. And it’s especially visible in smaller countries. You go to Cyprus or Israel, these places. Oh, I would say, if not every metalhead knows each other, everybody has a friend who knows that other guy, you know.
California Rock News:: We are looking forward to the show and we will welcome you back next time. I’m noticing every time you come back to LA it’s a little bit bigger venue. You guys were playing the Whisky a couple years ago, and then the Grove, and I think this one’s even bigger than the Grove. It feels like you guys have momentum here….
Joakim: It is, but the Whisky was a… what do you call it, a strange step because it was during a tour where we were not supposed to play here anyway and Judas Priest was playing the same night. Obviously, we couldn’t chance it. We’ve done bigger shows before the Whisky at Key Club. We sold that out in 2012, 600 people. So Whisky, there were fewer people there, but Judas Priest and some other band was on the same night. There was a lot of things happening and we didn’t have a show here so we just thought, “Can we play the Whisky?” because we didn’t play there. “Yeah sure, we can arrange that. That’s a smaller venue with a small stage, like Fuck it at least we can say we played the Whisky!” So it was like a bit “whoop” bit of a bump there but I’m happy we did it. But you’re right, in general, yeah, it’s going the right way and thank fucking hell for that! (laughs). Could be worse! Could be going slowly but surely with the smaller venue!
California Rock News: We want to thank Joakim Broden for his time. Thank you!
Joakim: Thank you very much, guys!
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Photos: Damageplan Dan/Natalia Britt