Interview with Pär Sundström, Sabaton - March 2017.
How are things in your world?
It’s great! We are almost at the end of the European tour, which is sad because you wake up and realize “oh, soon it’s over!” and it has been a fantastic trip this one! We have been out since the beginning of January and done about 45 shows so far in 15 countries all around Europe. It has been a really great tour, so it’s a little bit sad. On the other hand, I’m looking forward to the next tour (US), because people used to say “you will never make it in the US”, but it seems to be working because we already have a lot of sold out shows.
How is the tour going so far?
The mood in the band is great - everybody is happy! Our drummer just a kid a few days ago, so he’s back home in Sweden.
You have great visuals in your shows. Who’s idea was it to bring a battle tank on stage?
It was my idea. I always wanted to visualize and to have more of a show. There should be a certain time when go from playing a gig to playing a show and our songs are easy to visualize as well. I’ve always been a big fan of bands like KISS, AC/DC and Iron Maiden, who put on a show instead of the guys just playing their songs. Yes, the music is of course the core of it, but the music can only be as good as it can be, so how do we give something extra? By putting on a great show!
Why is war the preferred topic of Sabaton?
We wanted to sing about something from the real world. We didn’t want to sing about fantasy or science fiction and stuff like that, but we also did not want to sing about our private lives - we want to keep some things to our self. In war there so many stories that can be told, so we don’t have to make up anything. It makes it a little bit more interesting to us. I think people from Scandinavia, in general, are just listening to it and saying “ok”, because luckily we haven’t seen tanks in our streets, but when we go to some places in Eastern Europe and some other places, the lyrics tends to be more important to people. Everywhere in the world, people can relate to war, either through movies, books, stories or whatever, and some people have actually experienced it - but everybody can somehow relate to war.
Do you get another reaction from fans that have actually experienced war?
Well, we actually have fans that find us because we write about war and teachers are actually using our music to teach about war.
Can you describe the creative process when you make a new album?
Normally we decide about the mood of the album pretty far in advanced. I collect ideas all the time and I daily receive emails from fans, saying write about this and this topic. Musically wise, we always pick up some ideas and save it, and then we get really serious some months before pre-recordings. Joakim has always been the main songwriter, but since 2012 more members from the band has started writing songs. For The Last Stand, it was the first time when everybody was helping with the songwriting, and it gets more interesting in that way - we will definitely continue writing songs that way. The lyrics are me and Joakim. When we have the music done, we match the different topics with the songs and then we research and starts to write the lyrics. Normally it takes a couple of hours to do the research and write the lyrics.
How does the Last Stand album differ from your previous releases, in your point of view as a musician?
I think the main difference is, that we have much more involvement from the band in regard to how it is performed. Before 2012 it was Joakim who did all the writing and he basically told us exactly how to play the songs. Now somebody writes a song and everybody contributes with ideas to how it should be performed. I can clearly hear that the songs are more alive this way.
For 13 years you didn’t change band members, but then something happened and you had some changes. Can you tell us a little about that?
Yes. The four guys leaving at the same time was basically because we had reached a point where they felt that we were touring too much. At that time I was saying that we actually needed to tour more for us to reach a higher level. If we didn’t tour more we would never reach that higher level, but if we would put more effort into it, we could do this for a very long time and maybe get a life long career out of it. But, if we stopped at that point, we could never go back. We could take the band to a full-time job to live from or we could turn it into a hobby protect for the rest of our lives. I had already invested 12 years of my life into this band and I would not turn it into a hobby project - I wanted to go al the way, so I asked who wanted to be in and the four guys thought it was too much. Me and Joakim then found new guys who would take it al the way. Recently Thobbe quit after four and a half year in the band and it was done in the most honest way. He is a great friend of the band, but he just wanted to do his own thing. We saw him a few days ago when he came backstage to surprise us. Thobbe always took of all his sweaty clothes and got naked after the shows, so when we got backstage that night, Thobbe was there totally naked. That was really funny and also emotional - it was like the old times. We miss him, but it was an honest decision and it works great with Tommy.
What qualities, besides professional skills, are important for you in new band members?
Somebody who has a passion for it and has really fought for it. Tommy has gone through so much as a musician and he was a perfect choice. He’s also a huge Sabaton fan – he was actually doing a Sabaton cover band, so he already knew all the songs. The first picture we have of Tommy was taken 10 years ago together with the band, so when we asked him if he would join the band, he was like “Hell yeah!”.
Sabaton has been around since 1999 and a lot has changed in the world and within the music industry. These are big questions, but what is your take on the world and especially the music industry today?
A lot of things has changed. I’m happy that Sabaton came in 1999, especially because of one reason. We came at the start of the digital change and I was already into computers and programming, so I was already a part of that change. I’ve always been a collector and I still buy albums, but I was also downloading tons of music even though it took forever to download one song. So from the beginning, I understood that this would be for everybody and I was very positive about the internet. Even though the record labels was saying that we could not put songs on YouTube for free, I was like “well sure we can!” because it will be for free in a couple of years anyway, so we might as well start doing it. Our record sales have increased every year, whereas Accept, who is playing with us today, will never see the sales they had in the 80’s. And maybe they were not a part of the digital change, as we were. So for us, we came at the right time and we accepted the digital change.
What scares me today, is that big booking agencies and ticket companies are buying more and more venues and taking higher and higher cuts of the artist's profit, making it very hard for especially new bands. When we were doing our first tours as a support band, we made good profit. We sold a lot of t-shirts and CD’s and we could pay for our tour bus this way. On this tour Twilight Force also sells a lot of merchandise, but they are having trouble to pay for their tour bus because the venues takes a huge bite of the profit. This is why the prices on merchandise and tickets have raised so much. 10 years ago we would perhaps have 70% profit, but today it’s only 30%. Today the new bands have to take up bank loans to pay for their tours and that’s a really scary development!
A lot of our readers are playing in metal bands themselves. What advice would you give them in order to get success as a band in 2017?
Today you can really do a lot by your self. Many new bands are focused on the wrong things. They are focused on getting a record deal, a booking agent and perhaps a manager, but they should be focusing on one thing: Getting gigs! Many bands are too horny to be backstage, but they are not there yet and should be focusing on being fans and being with the fans – to really understand how it is to be a fan and how to play great gigs, instead of hanging out backstage. On big festivals, it’s actually only the small bands that are hanging out backstage, instead of being out there and working and learning from the crowd and other bands. Focus on writing great songs, rehearsing and playing gigs!
Sabaton has become a well-known act among metal fans around the world. At what time did you realize that you were going to make it big? When did you start believing you'd be touring the world?
The first time was in 2004 when we were recording Primo Victoria. Before that our music was just regular - it would never become someones favorite songs. I remember that I was in studio and Joakim was singing, and I remember listening to it, I thought “this is it!”. That was my moment to realize that this was not just a good song - this is so damn good that it could actually be some body’s favorite song! That it what it takes. If it’s just good music, then you will never make it. Your songs have to be someones favorite song if you want to live of your music. When somebody you have never met says “You are my favorite band and this is my all time favorite song”, then you know that you got the potential to go all the way!
Andreas H. Petersen