Interview: Sabaton

I wanted to sing about something that matters, something that is from the real world that has substance to it and that is not fiction or fantasy. It had to be something where you could read a story and feel something.

Hailed as one of he most entertaining live bands in metal, Sabaton have now become one of the biggest, too. Nathan Lagden caught up with bassist Pär Sundström just before their sold-out show at Wembley Arena and found that, for a band immersed in history, they like nothing more than planning for the future. . .

E&D: This is the first time you guys are headlining Wembley Arena. How does it feel to be here?

PS: It feels great! As I posted earlier today on the internet, they said it could not be done, but I think this is a very nice proof to a lot of people who did not believe it. And I do not know of many people who will not believe in Sabaton after this in the United Kingdom, but until today there were a lot of them. And I hope that this is the turn of the tides. But I’ve found that this is always the challenge; if somebody says you can’t do something, I always want to do it. And I think we made a point.

E&D: Yes, you definitely have. You made a point with The Great War album as well, which you’re touring here off the back of. How happy were you with the final product of that and the fans’ overall reaction to it?

PS: I’m very happy with it. The good thing today is that you can quite clearly follow the response of fans. If they stop listening to an album, it’s obviously not good. If they start choosing to listen to our old songs, because they can choose and we can see what they choose. And it’s a positive thing about the digital world, because we can see that they like the new songs, which is great for us and it shows that we can easily rely on writing new albums, new music, release it and touring with it. These are the good things for us and I’m very confident about the new album.

E&D: Obviously you’ve always themed your albums, but on this one you took a real zoom-in to one particular conflict, the First World War. How did the idea of that come about?

PS: We have a lot of different topics that we always keep in our mind for future albums, and we have been touching on World War I several times before with different songs, and we thought that maybe one day we would do a full album on it. And timing could not have been better; leading up to the 100 year anniversary, there was a lot of buzz in the air about World War I and we thought that it was now or not in our lifetime.

E&D: You really tried to capture the atmosphere of the war in this album, particularly with the record’s intro but also with the artwork. With this album you had a lot of galleries that you had set up for some performances. Was that something that you decided you really wanted to do, or was that something which came naturally as the creative process went on?

PS: When we decided that we were going to do an album on it, I put all my ideas into this creativity board. And it’s packed with images, with ideas, with additions, with special versions of songs, with stage sets – so it was a massive project when I put it up. I remember my assistant saying “we’re gonna need a lot more people!” Because there were so many things that we wanted to do with this concept, and we did do most of the stuff. We managed to work very hard, and we didn’t sleep for a year or two.

E&D: Did a lot of that time also go into the actual researching of the stories as well?

PS: The research for this album became quite easy, because now we have by our side a whole team behind the Sabaton History Channel; so in there are several historians and history students. There are ten people in total working on the Sabaton History Channel, and every one of them is either a history student, professor or some kind of historian. So, we have a lot of people and they are specialised in World War I, so I don’t have to go far.

E&D: What made you in the first place decide that history was what you were going to sing about?

PS: Well, I wanted to sing about something that matters, something that is from the real world, that has substance to it and that is not fiction or fantasy. It had to be something where you could read a story and feel something. And I guess that was the idea from the beginning, but we didn’t know exactly what it was going to be like. But we knew from the beginning we would like to write about the real world. And when me and Joakim [Brodén, vocalist] were talking about it 20 years ago, we were saying that we wanted it to be something that mattered to people all over the world. We had the idea that religion matters to everybody, but not to us. So it was better to go with history, as it’s more interesting for us and of course it goes pretty well with metal.

E&D: So you’ve got the tour, the album, the YouTube channel, and you’ve also got Sabaton Open Air and you’ve got the cruise; so you’re very busy! How do you manage that time-wise? because you take on a lot of stuff that most bands wouldn’t have to manage. . .

PS: Yeah, we also control our own management and we do a lot of other stuff directly. But the way I see it, you have a certain amount of time in your life and you need to decide what to do with it. I do this, and I guess the output that I have is two or three times that of a regular person, because I only do this one thing and I do it all the time. But I also have a dedicated team around me, so we are able to do quite a lot of stuff with a smaller organisation than some others would need to do the same thing. It does take a lot, but it’s what we want.

E&D: You mentioned how the themes of your lyrics are quite suited to metal, and when you’re doing the live show you’re known for putting on these huge spectacular performances. How difficult is that to put together and figure out the logistics of it all?

PS: It’s great fun, but it can be difficult. Right now, we are touring with 125 people, which is a lot to bring on tour with us, and that brings a lot of work with it. Because if you think about just booking the flight tickets for that many people, you will be spending quite a while doing it; but also, they are not all coming from the same place, so you can’t even just add another ticket. We are flying people in from so many different countries from all over the world, so just the logistics of getting here and getting back is not easy. If you can fit everything just into one car, that’s OK, but you need to make sure that you have everything that you can bring on the specific planes or trains; there’s so many little details. There’s also declarations at the borders, because we’re coming in with a lot of stuff. But it’s part of the fun as well, it’s part of the challenge.

E&D: Speaking of the number of people you have with you, the last time I saw you was at Graspop and you had a choir on stage with you that time. Did that present an extra challenge, and whose idea was it to have a choir as part of a metal show?

PS: That was Joakim’s idea to bring the choir. All the promoters pushed that we should come with an orchestra, because everybody seems to love orchestras, and we had been doing that, as it does work very well with Sabaton. But we wanted to try a choir because we felt that it would bring a little more punch to some of the songs, so that’s why we wanted to go with that instead. And sure it’s a lot of people, but it’s just one choir. It’s one piece of the puzzle and there are many pieces. It’s easier though musically to fit in a choir than to fit in some other additions to the show, because there can be a lot to figure out; but at least with a choir you know what everybody will be singing.

E&D: Last year you celebrated your 20-year anniversary as a band, so congratulations on that. Did that give you an opportunity, especially when you’re playing shows of this kind of magnitude, to look back on where you came from 20 years ago? How does it feel now to look back on when you were just starting?

PS: I spend most of my time looking forward, it’s way more fun. And if I look backwards, my creativity is not boosted. It’s fun sometimes to tell stories about what happened in the past. But for myself, if I’m going to sit there, I’m not going to sit and look back; I’m going to dream about the future instead. So if I’m by myself, I plan.

E&D: Speaking of the future then, what’s next for Sabaton once you’ve done Wembley? What’s next on your hit list?

PS: We are working on a lot of plans. Obviously, this is at the beginning of The Great Tour cycle, so we have a lot more coming. We have a lot more shows to do before we retire this album and look forward, but the next thing we are doing is a whole month in Russia; this comes straight after this tour. And then it just keeps going. We are already entering the studio though in the spring; but it’s not for a new album, it’s for another project. It’s something else that people will be aware of soon and we are very excited about. I won’t tell you what it is yet though, I’m just teasing it.

E&D: I won’t go any further into that then. What I do want to get your view on though is  that over the last few years, Sabaton has been recognised as one of the great metal bands that has been coming up and really flying the flag for heavy metal at a time when a lot of people are saying that it’s dying or it’s on its way out. Is that something that you think about when you’re on tour or do you just focus on doing your own thing?

PS: I think that there’s plenty of heavy bands now that are starting to become so powerful and doing well. And I’m happy for that. I think that we should not look at just Sabaton, because I think that we are strong. We are really strong! We don’t yet have anybody to replace the retiring bands like AC/DC or Iron Maiden or whatever, but they will retire. And we may not have seen a band come to this level yet, but on the level below that, we stand very strong at the moment. And I think that we must always look to ourselves as a community, not to ourselves as individual bands. Because if I want to win a war, I can’t just come alone. And if we are doing this, we’re fighting against the rest of the music industry, we’re fighting to get airplay, we’re fighting to get recognition and to get to play at festivals. For this we need a broad approach. If there is only one band, there cannot be big festivals and stuff like that. So we need a lot of bands, and I’m happy that it’s growing.

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