Sabaton recently ploughed through a few UK dates with Accept and Twilight Force in tow. Before the Glasgow show, bassist and founder member Pär Sundström gifted us a bottle of Sabaton’s own-brand beer and answered some questions we had about the tour, the current album, pizza toppings and some old stuff that’s been niggling us for a while.
No, we did not take a break at all. We recorded the album and pretty much went directly on tour right after that. Just before we were here we did take a short break while we focussed on writing and so on. But, yes, it’s been busy and intense. It is intense now and it’s going to be for the next year. Then it’s going to slow down because by then we’ll have toured the whole world and we’ll need to start working on the next album. We’re going to take more time with that one.
Because the world is now our touring space, it’s going to take longer for us to come around each time. This was a very short gap, but on this visit we were only supposed to go to London. To come with the production we have with us… We can only fit about one third of it in this venue. No pyros or anything. London’s the only venue where we can get the whole production in. Normally the venues on this tour are way bigger than here. Even tonight it’s not a fully packed house. Scotland isn’t strong enough for us to afford a venue big enough to bring the full production, sadly.
We still felt that we had to come, though. This is still the best show we’ve ever done in Scotland!
You’ve brought a good line-up with you, regardless, which you always seem to. Accept, for instance…
Yeah, they’re a great band. But they’ve not toured the UK for some time, and when they have they’re the same as us – not to huge numbers, compared to elsewhere in the world. Just because we’re on a smaller level doesn’t mean we won’t tour here.
The other change from last time is that you have a new guitarist with you. How many gigs has Tommy played with you now?
It goes pretty fast for us! Maybe… fifty? Maybe more. We’ve done the US, Russia, some festivals. He’s doing really well. He was actually offered a place in the band four or five years ago when we had the big change in personnel. He was my first phone call. I offered him a place in the band and he said that he’d love to, but that he was busy with his own stuff so it just wasn’t a good time. Then when Thobbe said to me that he was thinking of quitting Sabaton, he said he would stay around until we found somebody – as long as it took. So I phoned Tommy and offered him a second chance to be in the band. “Hell yeah, I want to be in the band!” and two days later he was with us on tour.
I just sent him on the first flight from northern Sweden, and he joined us for a couple of days. Not playing, just hanging about. In the end we all decided that he fits in well and he would be a good part of the band. He stayed with us for the tour, playing at the side of the stage. That was his practice as we didn’t have time to take a break for rehearsals or anything. He practiced the songs as we were playing them – at the side of the stage, wearing a robe! So if anyone saw this strange guy playing along with us… that’s Tommy!
Where do you know him from?
I think I met him for the first time around ten years ago. We played a show up in northern Sweden and he’s a fan of the band. He’s played our festival a few times, his own band plays some Sabaton covers and he’s been following us for a lot of years. I think we first met in an after-party in a house somewhere and Joakim and Tommy were sitting at a piano singing together.
I noticed over the holidays you took a little bit of a break and that you were trying to get pizza ordered. I have to ask… banana? On pizza? Really?
Yeah! We have a lot of pizzas and stuff in Sweden. If you go to any of the pizza places there you’ll find something completely different. So, no, the banana wasn’t a joke!
Having said that, my Christmas and new year was not so good. I had a pretty bad eye infection and I was pretty much blind for almost a month. The last shows I had to perform behind the stage as I couldn’t move around at the front. When I was looking into light it hurt. So I was sitting in darkness during the shows, and at Christmas I was sat alone as it was complicated getting anyone to join me, so it was boring. I couldn’t drive to pick up any food or anything. Definitely the shittiest holiday ever. I couldn’t wait to get back on tour and be around people again.
I am not fully recovered as yet, but I don’t complain. I see things a bit blurry. I hope it turns out to be good in the end. It was pretty bad what I had and the doctors were worried, but it is getting better.
It is very difficult to sell a beer in Sweden! I wanted to get some bottles of my own beer as a Christmas present for family. I had to get it through a certified store and they don’t have it! There are so many ridiculous rules. This was our second attempt to release a beer. The first was “noch ein Bier”, but it was illegal to sell in Sweden. “noch ein Bier” translates as “one more beer” so we were encouraging people to drink.
It is illegal to have people on the label of a beer. But… our singer is not a person. He is a character, we managed to convince them. We couldn’t use our original artwork as you’re not allowed to have soldiers on the bottle. Guns, weapons… it’s very hard for us to market this one because alcohol and fun aren’t allowed to go together. As we are the owners of the brand, we aren’t allowed to market it ourselves. It has to go to a different agency as the brewer is not allowed to market themselves. So we can’t appear in our own advertising, drinking our own beer – because we’re not allowed to advertise our own product or be seen having fun while drinking it!
It is a very good beer, I’m very proud of it. It’s made about 2 1/2 hours from our home town. They sent us some samples and ideas, and we visited before we decided on the final recipe.
Is there anything you wouldn’t consider merchandising?
It’s not really what we want to do. It’s sometimes the demand of the fans. If they want something then we make sure that we provide it, because if we don’t them someone else will, bootleg it and sell it. And these days you have to do everything you can to survive as a band. Just playing doesn’t pay enough for sure! Especially when you come with a production like this. On the other hand, it’s getting complicated to make any money with merchandise when the venues take so much money for allowing you to sell the stuff. That’s why the opening band today [Twilight Force – Mosh] can’t sell anything. It’s really shitty when the venues are going for these rules and charging so much. But we still have our website where we can sell stuff.
Going back to the music, your first album was very much just generic metal. You had a Lord of the Rings song (“Shadows”) and so on. It wasn’t until Primo Victoria where the war theme took over. When did you decide that this overall theme was what you were going to stick with?
The first song we did about war was “Panzer Battalion”. After that I think the song “Into The Fire” was the second one we wrote the lyrics for. Somewhere along the line we did “Primo Victoria”. When we had that we decided, “Let’s do the rest of the album like this.” We already had the lyrics… we already had it recorded, even. “Purple Heart” for instance was called something else and had different lyrics. So we re-wrote it and re-recorded it as we wanted this concept album. At the end we just thought it was more fun than what we’d done in the past so we kept doing it.
Are there any conflicts or events you wouldn’t write about?
Yes, we get a lot of messages from people asking us to cover very recent events and that usually means having to take a political stance. What’s going on in the world right now is complicated – it’s always complicated – but once something is done… it’s done. It’s documented. So I think we will stay with history, with what is complete. Even with some of these there are things which can be disputed. Even today many country borders are disputed as they have been for hundreds, thousands of years. We have people telling us that “this country is invading us and oppressing us and you should write about it.” The way I see it, every border on earth was fought over at some point.
There isn’t really any difference between the fighting today and that five hundred years ago. The border between Scotland and England, that’s been fought over for a very long time! Nowadays people drive from Norway to Sweden without even knowing there’s a border. We basically speak the same language and you cross the border without thinking about it – yet this border has been pretty bloody over the years, too! What we forget is the times when the people living on that border were Norwegian, then Swedish, then Norwegian again…!
Today it could be in Eastern Europe, Ukraine, or in Palestine or Israel. These are all borders that have been fought over for years and years and years. It is terrible for the people having to live there while the conflict is taking place, but this is no different to these places or other places a hundred or five hundred years ago. Borders have been fought over for as long as humans have put them in place.
One thing I have learned from travelling around and meeting people from both sides of these many conflicts is that there is no right side. Everyone has their own right. “It’s my ancestors’ land!” “Yes, well I just conquered you and it’s going to be my great-great-granddaughter’s land. And anyway, it’s only your ancestors’ land because you took it from us two hundred years ago!” And in five hundred years, someone else will march in and claim it themselves.
Were you always a fan of war-related themes?
I find them interesting. I don’t read a lot of books, or anything. I don’t have the time, unfortunately. I think wars are the most interesting and the most horrible parts of our history.
Do you have a favourite war film?
Not so much a film, but a series – Band of Brothers. I think that’s the best war series that’s ever been done.
For Carolus Rex you brought a historian in to help with the details. Have you done anything similar since then?
Every now and then we bring in a local person with local knowledge. If we need to know about something that happened in… Belgium for example, we might be able to use somebody. We have a few specialists who we’ve kept in contact with over the years. Several who are knowledgeable about WWII, but it’s such a huge conflict that one person can only really focus on a small part of it. We have to combine their knowledge.
Now and then we dramatise a little bit about what we’re singing about as well. Make it more into the metal thing because that’s our priority as a band – good metal.
Are there any bands we may not have heard of that we should be checking out? Maybe someone you’ve encountered on tour?
Of course – Twilight Force. That’s why they’re here! They’re from our hometown and we love them so much that we brought them with us. There were many bands who wanted to open for us on this tour, but we chose them because we love them and we love what they do. I personally think they’ve re-invented what we thought of power metal and are doing it better than anyone before. Credit to them.
Do you have any festival plans for the summer? In the UK especially?
We are planning a lot of festivals, some confirmed on the website. Anything else is still in negotiation, including a couple of UK festivals that are in the closing stages of negotiation. We may even finish those negotiations while we’re here. Bloodstock is not one of them, though – it’s too soon to return there.
Header image by Gary Cooper.