Ever since laying my ears on Sabaton’s 2010 album Coat of Arms, I have been a huge fan. Taking a page from the Iron Maiden text book, Sabaton molded themselves into what I believe to be one of metal’s most interesting bands. With songs that cover a vast array of European history, Sabaton has carved a niche for themselves as not just a band with great songs but a band that puts on a monumental live show no matter the size of the venue. Whether they are playing to 300 people or 30,000 people, Sabaton puts on a live show that is completely mind blowing and equally as unforgettable.
I recently had the opportunity to talk with Sabaton’s singer/songwriter/founder Joakim Broden and he was such an awesome guy to talk to. We talked about his love for Twisted Sister, history, and just what it’s like to play in front of 60,000 people. Joakim is a really funny and engaging person and it totally made this one of my new favorite interviews. If you’re a Sabaton fan you’ll love this interview and if you’re not, maybe this will pique your interest enough to open your mind and your years and give them a much deserved listen.
Joakim, thank you so much for taking the time to do this interview. How are you today?
So far, so good. I think we actually had the first fucking day of sunshine in this country [laughs].
Well here in Atlanta it seems like we’ve had nothing but ice, snow, and shitty cold weather and today is warm and gorgeous so we’re happy.
Oh, so you’re the ones who stole our winter [laughs].
Yeah, well you can fucking have it back. We don’t want it.
[laughs] Oh, thank you so much, Don! [laughs]
You must be a very busy guy today.
Yeah, actually I am but it’s quite fun to be doing something else besides only playing and listening to heavy metal. A little bit of talking is actually quite nice.
Congratulations on the new album Heroes. It really is such a great album. How do you feel that it stands alongside the previous Sabaton releases?
Thank you so much. To be honest, I never really know what I’m going to think about an album until about a year after its release. Right now I’m kind of tire of the songs [laughs]. I’m the guy who writes the music as well in the band so I’ve been living and breathing these songs basically 24/7 since October or November. I write them, do the pre-production, then we go into the studio where we all record them and then I’m there for the mixing, and then the mastering. When it’s time to be done, I just need a break from it [laughs].
Uh, yes and no. I mean, in one sense it’s kind of easy for us to make a setlist by picking only songs that in the past made our audiences go wild but actually making a set list for both of those who are attending their first Sabaton show and making a setlist that is also for our fans who have been seeing us for 10 years like in Europe by having some surprises as well. That is almost impossible.
Listening to Sabaton is somewhat like going to school. Where did your fascination with history come from?
I was always interested in history but it was a healthy interest. It wasn’t a big thing but I always liked it. We had come up with the music for the song “Primo Victoria”. Me and Par were sitting down and we knew it had a big sound to it and that we needed something big to write the lyrics about so we say, “Ok, D-Day” and all of the sudden it just clicked for both of us. Writing lyrics was then no longer a necessary evil anymore. All of the sudden it was fun so we decided to make an album about war and military history and ever since we did that it started something. From there we decided to do more and more research because the more you learn, the more you realize you don’t know. That idea started the history interest so as our interest grew, we got deeper into it on the next Sabaton album. In a strange way, Sabaton singing about history boosted my interest in history and as my interest in history has grown, Sabaton has gone into deeper history.
Overseas Sabaton is accustomed to playing to huge festival and arena audiences. When you come to the states you are playing usually small clubs to a few hundred people. Is that a hard thing to adjust to?
It has been quite tough adjusting to it but I think it’s also a good thing. As you said, in the US we are essentially a 10 times smaller band compared to Europe. A really big show for us in the US will be 600 people as a headliner in a big city say like Los Angeles. If we are in Europe and we have a really big headlining show it might be 6,000 people. On the other hand, I do really like it because it’s like a time machine for me. I like being really close to the crowd and not having 15 feet between us and the fans. In the big shows I think a lot of energy gets lost in the transition from the stage to the crowd if there’s too much space in between us.
Do you prefer one or the other?
No. They’re both completely different. If you go on stage in front of 6,000 as a headliner or say on a larger European festival like Wacken where there’s 60,000 people there you really do it much differently than if you’re in a small 300-600 capacity place. I can’t really say that I prefer one or the other but I wouldn’t really ever want to do only one or the other.
I’ve talked to a lot of European bands who are much bigger overseas than they are in the States. They say that when they come to the smaller shows in the states, they feel like they need to be more on their game because they don’t have the huge productions and spectacles.
Yes, definitely. It is exactly like you are being watched under a microscope but I also really like that. I like being closer to the fans. If I stretch my hand out I can shake hands in the audience and if I headbang too much they will get my sweat on them [laughs].
I know that you are a huge Twisted Sister fan. What was it about them that made you want to pursue music?
When I was 3 or 4 years old when I saw the video for either “I Wanna Rock” or “We’re Not Gonna Take It”, I can’t remember which one. My mother was in the kitchen and I was in front of the TV and all of the sudden she hears me scream like a motherfucker. She was thinking, “Is my son dying? What the fuck is happening here?” She runs into the living room and there I am jumping around screaming like a crazy kid and singing along even though I had never heard the song before. She said, “Hm, that’s not bad.” [laughs] That was kind of cool because in 1983, looking at guys that looked like that she said, “Sure, I’ll get you that album.” [laughs]
I love hearing this. I’ve been a huge Twisted Sister fan since around that time as well.
Yeah. You know, I think that Dee Snider is one of the best front men to ever walk the Earth. I mean, he’s not “thee” best because you obviously have Freddie Mercury and Bruce Dickinson but everyone always talks about those guys. I think Dee Snider should be mentioned up there with Freddy Mercury and Bruce Dickinson. Not to forget about the music. A good song has a good melody against the chords. It doesn’t mean you have to play 3,000 notes per second. They have good, catchy songs and in combination with is voice of course.
Sabaton will be touring the US soon with Iced Earth and Revamp. What are you looking forward to the most about coming back to the US?
Well, several different things actually. One of them is getting a little bit of sunshine [laughs].
You don’t get a lot of that where you’re at so come and get it!
[laughs] I’m also looking forward to doing the smaller shows. If you have a little bit of a tough crowd, it’s much harder to be in a small place because it’s going be even more obvious and you can see the audience’s faces and their reactions [laughs]. On the other hand, if you have a good night in a smaller venue it’s fucking magic. You can feel everybody, you can smell everybody in the venue. Sometimes you don’t really want to smell them but you know [laughs]. That vibe that goes on in a place where there is say a maximum of 1,000 people or less when they are all going wild, you don’t that feeling on a bigger stage.
I’ve seen Sabaton live and it’s always such a high energy show. As a front man you really give it your all. I have to ask, what goes through your mind that moment right before you walk out on stage?
Oh, that’s a good question. To this day I’m almost always very nervous especially in these places where we had a fucking amazing night. It might be a small show, might be big, it doesn’t matter. Say it’s a Saturday the last time you were in a country or a city and you had all these magic moments where the band played well and the sound was good, the audience was great, and everything lined up perfectly. Now it’s a Monday and you’re in a different city, we’re in a different venue with not such a good sound system, shit. Now we’ve got something to live up. That’s probably the last thing that goes through my mind in a situation like that. Otherwise, if we’re on a festival and we can hear the crowd going wild even before we get to the stage like at Wacken. At Wacken, there are 60,000 people there and 30,000 of them are shouting “SABATON!” and the last thing that goes through my mind is, “Alright. Don’t fucking suck.” [laughs]
Well, you know it doesn’t really matter how many are there. Of course, if you do a massive show, the chances are you could be a bit too excited. That doesn’t happen too much but I’ve done that a couple of times. Every time I feel like I had the biggest experience, I’ll look at the video of the performance and I will be singing off key a little bit, I’ll be trying to be all over the place, and actually getting too excited on stage. You get that adrenaline rush and you can be a worse performer actually [laughs].
I can see that. I mean, if you’re so overexcited you’re not going to be as focused.
Exactly. At the same time, we’ve always said, “For fuck’s sake. That adrenaline rush is the one of the reasons that we’re doing this so if you get that rush just fucking go with it.” [laughs] Just make sure that we know the songs so well that even if we’re not at the top of our game we are having fun which will hopefully translate to the audience. So yeah, if I miss a little bit of that one note it’s not going to matter anyway. I think we will last longer as a band and that people will like to come see us for longer if we are having fun instead of saying, “Nope. We should have too much fun. We have to pay attention.” [laughs]
I would much rather see a band putting all they have into a performance and make a few mistakes than to watch a perfect band just stand there bored.
[laughs] Exactly. Because in that case you can just listen to the album. I am exactly the same in that sense. After a show it’s always hard for me, especially when you do a lot of shows per week and then obviously even though you want to do this every day you really can’t. We don’t go on stage drunk or hungover. If we party it’s when we have a day off or something. I always have a hard time going to sleep after a show. I’ve been having fun and I’m all excited and it takes me 2 hours at least to calm down so much that I can go to sleep.
The Swedish Empire album/DVD was one of my favorite releases of the year. It was so much fun to listen to and to watch. When you’re filming a show for a release like this, is there a certain amount of stress and pressure while you’re on stage knowing that the cameras are rolling?
I am usually way worse when I know I’m being filmed. I’m not so worried about the musical side of things because we have a rule within the band that we should be good even under the worst fucking circumstances. That’s how we try to do things but those are good circumstances. If we make a mistake, so what? It’s live. What I’m really worried about is what I’m saying in between songs [laughs]. Like if I make a joke, is it funny? I also remember, “Oh, this is going to be on a DVD and also released in America.” Not you personally but Americans are a little more sensitive to language than they are in Europe. Words like “cunt” and “fuck” are perfectly alright here [laughs].
Do you remember the first time you ever played live in front of people?
Yeah, I do actually. My first public performance was playing church organ at a school celebration when I was 10 or 11 years old.
Did that actually make you want to be a performer?
No, it actually didn’t. I never have any thoughts about doing this professionally at all. It was never in my game plan at all. I enjoyed music and I enjoyed playing music. I loved playing the church organ but I’m probably the most nonreligious church organist you’ll ever meet [laughs]. I just love the sound. It’s a powerful sound but actually, I was really into electronics and computers. I was actually repairing guitar amps back in the day. Then I got into studio recording. I wasn’t really counting on playing music, even early on with Sabaton, becoming my profession so I invested my savings into a recording studio. I started recording some bands and even recorded some Sabaton stuff and that just took off from there. I don’t think it was in my plan to make a living playing heavy metal until I was actually doing it. Now, when people ask me what I do for a living, I tell them heavy metal. I get paid to go all around the world, scream into a microphone, and drink beer [laughs].
What do you think is the greatest metal album of all time.
Ah, that’s a tough one. I don’t think I could mention one. It could possibly be Twisted Sister’s Stay Hungry, Rainbow Rising, Accept has some, UDO’s Faceless World which is one of my favorites of all time. It’s one of the most underrated albums in heavy metal. Oh, and Judas Priest’s Painkiller is up there as well.
To be honest, I have a pretty limited vocal range so there aren’t too many bands that I could basically do well [laughs]. I can usually hit the notes but they usually sound like shit because I haven’t practiced [laughs]. If we’re talking pure fantasy, it would be Queen of course but I would do a shitty, shitty job at that [laughs]. Might be fun to watch but not to listen to [laughs].
In your years of doing this what are some valuable lessons you’ve learned along the way?
Honestly, we had just done some shows with Iron Maiden, we toured with Accept, and with the Scorpions. I had met up with an old friend of mine, he’s also the guy who did the Sabaton logo, and he asked how I was doing. I told him that I was feeling stressed and what not and he almost slapped me in the face and said, “Listen to yourself. You sound like a spoiled fucking kid. Look back on your year. You toured with Maiden, with Accept, and you toured with the Scorpions on a private plane.” Then it dawned on me that you’re so into what you’re doing all the time that you’re mentally at your next challenge so you don’t actually enjoy the moment. When I’m on stage, nothing else matters except for that very moment. When I get off stage, I’m already thinking ahead to the next show and not really being in that moment. Sometimes I forget to just enjoy the ride.
Are there any types of music that we’d be surprised to hear that you are a fan of?
No shit? You love Abba?
Yeah. It’s in the Swedish constitution. If you don’t like Abba they’ll revoke your citizenship [laughs]. Obviously, my main preference is heavy metal but if I’ve been doing show for five days straight listening to nothing but heavy metal, it’s great to hear something else like Abba, Dire Straits, whatever. I still think when it comes to writing songs, I think that Bjorn and Benny, who wrote the songs for Abba, should be right up there with McCartney and Lennon.
Do you remember the first concert you ever attended?
It was probably when I was 17. I snuck into a place that had an 18 year old age limit to see my childhood friend playing drums in a death metal band called Without Grief. He’s the same guy who’s now playing for Yngwie Malmsteen. That was probably my first proper heavy metal show. My 2nd one was when Dee Snider’s SMFs toured all over Europe with AJ Pero on the drums.
Have you ever met Dee Snider?
I have a couple of times. The first time was in 2010 at the Bang Your Head festival in Germany I believe. I think it is the last picture I took with someone as a fan [laughs]. I’m not much for bothering other artists and asking them to have a picture with them but when I met Dee, I had to do it [laughs]. I really surprised my mom. I sent her one as a postcard and she was like, “What the fuck?” [laughs]
If Hollywood was to make a movie about your life, who would play you?
Oh shit man [laughs]. I would never think about such a thing because a movie about my life would not be exciting. It’s not like we could write “The Dirt” like Motley Crue did. Of course, we did our share of crazy shit the older we get, the less crazy shit we do. I think we could probably match one chapter of that book.
So maybe it would be a magazine instead of a book?
[laughs] Exactly. It would be a very short feature film. Like a 10 minute movie [laughs].
If you could put a band together with any musicians alive or dead, who would be in this band with you?
I would play keyboards for sure. I would have Dio or Freddie Mercury singing. I’d Cozy Powell on the drums and on bass I would have Jimmy Bain. Finally, on guitar, Ritchie Blackmore and Wolf Hoffman!
Let me know when this band is touring so I can make it out your way!
Well, first I’d have to invent a time machine and find a cure for AIDS so give me a week or two [laughs]. Actually, while I’m at it, I’ll go back in history and shoot Hitler in ’33 but that would probably mean that 60% material of our material couldn’t exist [laughs].
Joakim, finish this sentence for me: if I wasn’t a musician I would be ________
Indiana Jones [laughs]. I’d love to be an archaeologist. I love history and I’ll get some adventure along the way.
Joakim, thank you so much for taking the time out to talk to me today and I look forward to meeting you here in Atlanta.
Of course, it’s safe to say that we’ll be at the bar after our show since we’re the support band [laughs]. Then I’ll go watch the Iced Earth show. Thank you Don and I will see you Atlanta. Thanks and take care!
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