Still heavy metal in its purest form
20 years have passed by and Joacim Cans singer of the Swedish heavy metal band Hammerfall is still as passionate about the band as he was when he agreed to step in for one night because original singer Mikael Stanne could not perform. Joacim made that evening a success and became an official band member after that and `never left the building’. His passion for Hammerfall and heavy metal in general shows when I meet the guy in the Hardrock Café in Amsterdam. The very friendly front man made himself comfortable in a big chair and enjoys his cold drink, recalling enthusiastic why Hammerfall is still going strong. Guitarist Pontus Norgren, who joined Hammerfall later in time, in 2008, when Hammerfall already was successful and a well-oiled machine but in need of a new guitarist, is sitting by his side. Joacim and Pontus are in the capital of The Netherlands to promote the new, 10th Hammerfall album `Built To Last’, which will be released on 4 November 2016. Both musicians are very excited about their new work, not the mention their new label, and they are very willing to explain to HeadBangers LifeStyle Hammerfall is ready for the next step.
BUILT TO LAST-THE NEW ALBUM
Hammerfall opened a new chapter in its career by signing a worldwide record deal with Napalm Records. Why did you leave the nest of Nuclear Blast?
J: ,,We are having a healthy relationship with Nuclear Blast for about 20 years now, they still own the rights of the back catalogue, but we needed to take Hammerfall to the next level. If that level is up or down, I don’t know but we needed a label with visions. Our contract with Nuclear Blast ended so we were free to look around. At the end of the day Napalm Records was the one that really showed they have some muscles. They believe in what we do and also they have a very good marketing plan.’’
Is the new CD `Built To Last’ meant to please the fans or to please you as a band?
J: ,,We write songs to please ourselves and when we are pleased, we can make a good performance. That is why Hammerfall became so successful in the beginning. We always released albums we believed in and then the fans came to us and not the other way around. So what you hear on `Built To Last’ is Hammerfall. The selling point here is the same as if you have a bottle of Heineken beer. You know what you gain; it is delightful and fantastic every time you open the bottle. It is like: Yes!!! And even if you know the taste of it there is something new in there every time. It is a different buzz and I think that is what Hammerfall is all about. So this is Hammerfall, we play traditional heavy metal but always new songs.’’
P: ,,Everything starts here, right from the heart. We believe in the music we make and we still think it is fun. When we get a new idea we are excited about it. `Built To Last’ is a new Hammerfall album and we took it, of course, to the next level.’’
Still, isn’t there anything new your tried on `Built To Last’?
J: ,,It is not like we sit down and think `okay we need to change something’ because then you are not true to yourself. Oscar [Dronjak] and I are the main writers of the music and the lyrics. What you hear on our albums is a natural development from day one up until now. We all are now older as a person and we got a little bit wiser too [laughing]. Maybe we played a bit with arrangements, harmonies or even with the lyrics here and there, but it is still heavy metal in its purest form. That is where Hammerfall stands for. That is our thing!’’
What can you tell about the new lyrics?
J: ,,I don’t want to deal with politics and what I do is basically adding colour to a painting. When we are done with the music and the vocal melodies, we get a feeling from the song and then I just add the words that bring the song to live. Every song is a little story, coming out of my own imagination. I think it is better for the listeners themselves to interpret and create their own story. I give them little clues and hints here and there what it is about, but I think everyone should fill in the blanks themselves. Of course there are always parallels in the stories with the way we live our life, which we do in a certain way to please ourselves. To have fun and no one should tell us what to do or how to behave. Those kinds of lyrics are very important in heavy metal and it has been there since day one. Twisted Sister used it in a very good way back in the eighties, like rebels. Even though we are forty plus now, we are rebels at heart. The fact we are still young at heart shows in the lyrics.’’
Joacim, you recorded your vocals with producer James Michael, also the frontman of Sixx: A.M. Why do you like to work with James?
J: ,,I admire him as a singer, as a songwriter, a producer and as a human being. That is why I was drawn to him in the first place. I always wondered `How the hell does he do it?’ I want that kind of overall sound on the vocal production too. That is why I started to work with him. Because James is a singer too he knows how to direct me during the recordings. Working with producers who are no singers sometimes pulling the wrong strings and pushing the wrong buttons. Then I really want to punch their faces because they don’t have any idea how it is to be standing there, doing it seven hours straight and still they are complaining? Just tell me what to do or fuck off! With James it is different. I really trust his judgement. Usually we only have a window of time every day that we are working, when my voice is really powerful and that is maximum 2 hours. Then we do a song in 2 hours. I just go in there and nail it. We are always more looking for a good performance than the perfect pitch. James helps me pronouncing words correct and we have a great way of communicating. This is the third straight album I worked with James and I think I made a lot of progress since I work with him.’’
What was it like to leave the studio and realising the job was done?
P: ,,When you are in the process of recording there is so much tension for the body and the brain is working on a high level all the time. When I was done with my recordings, I was actually going on tour with another band as a sound engineer. But I felt quite empty. We recorded 11 songs and it was like you have to finish painting 11 rooms. It drained all my energy, so it felt like emptiness but with a very happy twist, because now it is there. Thank you!’’
J: ,,I just felt relieved when it was done. Vocals are such a personal thing. If I am sick, having a cold, the sound changes. I am just happy I managed to nail the vocals in the timeframe we had. Three days after I came back from the US I got pneumonia and was out for a month. When I was doing my vocals in America, the guys were doing the final mix in Sweden at the same time. So everything was sending back and forth. When the guys were done with one song, I got the mix back to listen to. It was a good way of working because it gave me a lot of self-esteem. I thought: Shit is that my voice? Wow, cool!’’
But the work isn’t over yet, right?
J: ,,We wrote 11 great tracks and the performance was top-notch. It felt good and I forgot about all the hard work around the album we have to do afterwards. Which means the promotion, interviews, the artwork, new photos, videos, a promo tour, sending thousands of emails for all different approvals. Shit, I just want people to hear our new album. Unfortunately by the time the album comes out we are so fucking tired of it [laughing]. Making an album is like a little bird, leaving the bird’s nest. After we are done in the studio, we do not have the control anymore. Now it is up to the fans if they like it or not.’’
Hammerfall is still around after a career of 20 years. Is that fact based on friendship and loyalty or did it become more of a business along the way as well?
J: ,,Of course, after a while it all turned more into business than passion, but I still think that our passion for the music is the recipe and the key we are still here. Back when we started we played a form of music that no one really thought would be `the big thing’ again. And people asked us why we didn’t play music people want to hear? My answer to that was: We play the music that we want to play. That’s the way it is! Maybe that is why we are still here. We don’t follow trends like a lot of other bands do. Also Hammerfall is not only about being a good musician, it is also about friendship; it has to work on a personal level too. There are so many bands out there that keep on touring and releasing albums, while band members constantly fighting with each other or not talking to each other at all. Then it becomes more of a business than passion.’’
P: ,,Before I joined Hammerfall in 2008 I was the guitarist of The Poodles for several years. When we supported Hammerfall on the `Threshold Tour’, we started to hang out and became good friends. Hammerfall is a great band and we always have a great time together. We try to have as much fun as possible and take care of the good stuff, instead of seeing all the bad stuff that happens around us. With Hammerfall we have a recipe that works really, really good.’’
What still makes you excited and believe in heavy metal?
J: ,,Every time I see the eyes of a fan at a show, standing in the front row, looking at us as happy as he or she can be. That is such a big kick, like a natural high. And also going up on stage, sing the songs and feel that I am still in such a good shape that I can deliver a very good performance. You got to be hard for it, I mean no offence to some bands but they go on tour and unfortunately the singer can’t really hit one note correctly. I can understand and feel their pain because it can’t be fun to stand up their, having it inside of you but you can’t deliver anymore. Luckily I can still sing the songs live.’’
Is Hammerfall a lifestyle for you?
P: ,,When you are in the music business it is always there. I am also a producer and now being part of Hammerfall, my life is always about music. You are not done at 5 o’clock, it is also there all night. I try to get away from it but it is always hard, it is there all the time.’’
J: ,,Yes, because this is also what we do for a living. I am Joacim from Hammerfall 24/7, even though I also do other things. It is a lifestyle, my mind-set is always thinking about the next step. Still I am a family man, being at home and cooking. Then I try to be Joacim the family man, not in my leather trousers of course [laughing].’’
What keeps the motor of Hammerfall running and for you as an artist?
J: ,,Well the car needs gasoline and we need alcohol [laughing]. As long as we have the drive inside of us, as long as we can hear the music inside of us, we want to continue. After 20 years been able to keep Hammerfall at a certain level is amazing! Especially now we are with a new label that truly believe in us and did not sign us because of the back catalogue. As long as there are people believing in us and fans show up at our concerts we are gonna do this. At a certain point a couple of years ago we came to the conclusion it was not that fun anymore, so we took a break. And after the break we wrote and released `(r)Evolution’ in 2014 which became one of the most successful albums we ever released. That energy you also hear on our new album. Here you have middle aged men, young at heart, still having fun.’’
P: ,,If the spark is there. If you still want to develop yourself, looking for something new in your bass or guitar sound, you know all the small things. When that disappears, you better stop playing because it won’t be a successful future.’’
J: ,,Also when you get older, you have certain standards. If you can keep them and be true to yourself and dare to say no to a bad venue, you can keep on. For instance the hotels should be nice and if the food is bad we go to a restaurant. Hey, do you want to do a US tour and you are gonna drive around in a van for thirty days? Neh, I don’t think so. We don’t need that.’’
What is still on your bucket list?
J: ,,So many things. For Hammerfall the bucket list includes stepping up one notch. Be able to bring the same tour production, the same type of show, to every city, wherever we go. Now it is a little up and down and too many differences. On a personal level I just want to enjoy life and experience things. I am so tired of when you go on vacation you end up in a shopping mall. No, I want to run around the world, just do things, experience things, see things.’’
P: ,,We travel so much and people ask us `you must have seen everything! Then I am like: Uuuh no. I have seen hotel rooms, venues and airports. When you are younger it is rock ‘n roll. It is bars, liquor and girls and everything. But when you get older you want to see things, like a museum or going to a park. And on my personal bucket list, yeah I want to be the next singer in AC/DC [laughing].’’
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