Interview with Pär Sundstrom (Sabaton)


“Unfortunately, it is in human nature to be aggressive, destroy each other and make war… I wish this was not the case, even though I would have to sacrifice the band.”

For good or bad, metal is not exactly associated with wide smiles, especially when it is accompanied by heavy songs about war and destruction… and yet, that is the case with Sabaton and, believe me, I was surprised.
Since their jump to fame in 2005 (with the release of their album “Primo Victoria”), the band has been devoted to conquer the world with their very unique style of heavy metal, which manages to bring together great song writing skills, catchy tunes and, of all things, history.
Shortly before going on stage in Amsterdam (with Eluveitie doing their soundcheck in the background) and delivering an amazing concert, we met with Pär Sundstrom, the bass player and founder of the band, who was gave us some details about the recent break-up of the band, the themes behind Sabaton and, of course, what the future holds for these soldiers of metal.

Metal Blast: In the making of Carolus Rex you worked with a historian in order to ensure the accuracy of what you were writing. Is working with historian a common thing for Sabaton or was this the first time?
Pär: This is the first time that we have a historian, we had never worked with anybody else except for the fans. When we sit at home, back in Sweden, and have no idea about what to write and where to find information the fans send those ideas; we ask them where we can find the information.
This is was the first time that we worked with a historian and it was a really good thing. I’m not sure if we’re going to do it again in the future, but for this one it was perfect, especially because we were singing about Swedish history, so we wanted it to be perfectly accurate, otherwise we would look like stupid guys who don’t know their own history.

MB: The sort-of breakup of Sabaton must have been an extremely hard experience for everyone, considering all the time that you had been together. In the midst of these problems, was there a moment in which you thought “maybe we should just stop”.
There have been some times in the band’s history when I basically had no other option but to quit. Over the years things chance within the band; people are not the same members, they are not the same people they were twelve years ago. Over the years people get married, they get kids, wives, girlfriends; priorities change, people get higher bills to pay, houses, they need a higher income and not being able to tour as much. This was never an option for me, because I wanted to be on tour all the time, because that was best for the band so that’s what we needed to do, to play a lot of shows.
We couldn’t really agree on this (how to get along and sort out all of this) so it took a long time; it might have seemed like it was done overnight, because we announced that there was a breakup of the band just before a big tour, but it wasn’t like that, it took a long time, and before we even announced it the new band had rehearsed and was ready to go on tour. It was just the way that the record label wanted it to be presented, not to interfere with the promotion of the new album, so while we knew about this for months, fans only knew about it for a short period.

MB: Do you feel that the “new” Sabaton is very different from what it used to be with the former members?
Yes. Now we are again on the track that I always wanted to go; we are a much easy going, there’s more energy in the band, because before there were some people who didn’t have the same energy that they had when they started. This is natural, I don’t blame anybody, but that’s just how it is.
I don’t change, I have the same passion that I had when I was 15 years old, I still want to play every day of my life, that’s the only thing I wanna do, but I can also understand that most people don’t have that, and that most people change.

MB: Do you think that, despite the success that Sabaton has achieved, it is still a constant sacrifice to keep things going?
Of course there are a lot of things that you have to sacrifice, and for the new members… they had to give up what they had back home and move to our city and then suddenly be on tour for six months, so there were definitely a lot of sacrifices for them. They had to quit their jobs, move from their apartments and their old cities, leave their girlfriends and families and now live in a new city… but every one of them is very happy.

MB: Was the relation with the former members affected only on a professional level or was there a deeper breakup?
It is on a professional level but, of course, there are a lot of feelings involved. This is a thing that will pass over time.

MB: You are the main songwriter of the band…
Yes, together with Joakim

MB: Yes; did your interest in exist from before or did it arise once you started to play heavy metal?
History was a subject that I actually had an interest in while in school; I wasn’t a very good student, to say the least, but there were some subjects that I liked, and while history was one of them it was what awakened this. The whole idea, when we recorded the Primo Victoria album, was Joakim and I watching “Saving Private Ryan”, that’s where it started. After that, the history has kind of evolved; there was none at the beginning, but now there is one. It has awakened in me and I think that the same happened to Joakim as well.

MB: Although many of your songs focus on WWII and ancient history, some of them also focus on recent conflicts, such as the Falkland Wars, the operation “Iraqi Freedom”, the Yugoslavian Wars and the 6-Day War. In the case of the latter, you have been called a “pro israel” and even “zionist” band by the Jerusalem post… how political are the songs about the more recent events?
The song “Counterstrike” is also pure history, a bit more modern history, but fact-based, and this is where Sabaton wants to be. We are not a political band; this newspaper may call it that, but others call us something else… I mean, we are called a lot of things because sometimes people can understand the lyrics in one way or another. We have been called Nazis, communists, everything; I guess that, sometimes, it’s in the mind of the listener.
We always say that we are a non-political band, because we do not take political stands. We are a non-religious and non-political band, but the songs are sometimes sung from a certain point of view that has a stand, but if you looked through it and tried to figure out if there was political meaning then we’d end up being communist/nazis /democratic retards.

MB: It’s like what happened with Slayer when they were labeled as nazis for “Angel of Death”, despite having a Latin-American as singer.
The first album, Primo Victoria, when we got it out, was forbidden in Germany because it was “neo Nazi propaganda music”, that’s what the distributor called it… until they read the lyrics (and we had to translate the lyrics into German) and they said “well… actually, this is really fucking cool, let’s release it, it would work perfect for Germany”.
When people hear things, some things go into their mind. I mean, the song “Rise of Evil”, some people think that it’s pure Nazi propaganda, but it’s absolutely the opposite.

MB: I mean… it’s called Rise of EVIL!
Evil is not good… good is good.

MB: Do you usually encounter this misinterpretation of what you write?
Yes; we have a lot of people misunderstanding, but lately it has been easier for us. In the album “Coat of Arms” we did a song, probably on one of the weirdest subjects we could have done, in which we wrote about the holocaust, the song “Final Solution”. People thought “If you do this what will you do…”; well, we’re taking a stand that we’re not Nazis and that those people who still believe it even after that, simply can’t read or listen…

MB: Of all of these things, because I wasn’t even aware that you had been called a Nazi, would you say that is the craziest thing that you have been called because of your lyrics?
I don’t know what would be the craziest thing… “Hollywood Metal”, maybe that’s the craziest thing that I’ve heard we’ve been called.

MB: How do you see Sabaton in the context of this new Swedish heavy metal scene with bands such as Watain and Amon Amarth?
With those bands we don’t have so much in common; a little bit with Amon Amarth maybe. We’re three bands that go our separate ways and are very independent as to where we are going.
We are good friend with Amon Amarth, but in many ways we are world apart; I don’t see that we are united. This thing of a new waveof this or that, there was one in Britain because of these bands were united, they were one, supporting each other, playing with each other all the time and having fun together; then you see a “wave” of it. I don’t think that you could it like this [in Sweden]; there are some good bands that are coming from Sweden, indeed, and some of them become more popular than others, but at the moment I don’t see that there’s kind of a wave coming from Sweden. Not like that.

MB: In a recent interview it was mentioned that you’re planning a live DVD to be released soon.
Yes, we have recorded a concert that we played this summer in Poland, where we had 600,000 people in the crowd and we were the headlining band, so it was natural to see such a crowd and hear the response and the singing of those people , more than half a million… it’s something that the world has to see from us. And for us, for the first official Sabaton DVD or Bluray thingie, this is the perfect feature.
However, we are not satisfied with this alone, because we are recording three shows in this tour, to make sure that the people who get it don’t see just this big show in front of these people in the summer, with a setlist like that, because during the summer we played a completely different setlist and now we’ve changed a lot of songs. It will be so that the people who get it can see two different shows, Sabaton in the festival tour and Sabaton in the club shows.
In the case of Poland it was a charity event; Machine Head and The Darkness were also playing, but Sabaton was the main band for the night.

MB: How do you see this evolution that Sabaton has gone through. It’s a rise in popularity that seems incredible for a rather “young” band.
I don’t think it’s that short. It’s 12 years as a band, so I don’t think that it’s short or that it’s been going very fast, but steadily upwards since 2006. There haven’t been any leaps, it has always been a gradual rise.
I’m happy with this, and the fact that we signed with a small record in 2005 and released Primo Victoria,  Attero Dominatus, Metalizer and Art of War in a small record label in Sweden made it so much easier for us, because it made us capable of handling our own fate. We were not in the hands of somebody who said what to do, what we can do or who’d send us out on big tours or anything. Everything we did was up to us; it happened because we wanted to happen, and we made it sure that it happened. Our albums were not out in stores in most of the world, you could possibly buy it if you were in a metal store in the Netherlands, Belgium, Germany or Sweden, but no chance in mainstream shops, and if you lived on the other side of the Atlantic ocean you couldn’t buy a Sabaton album even if you tried really fucking hard.
For us this was very, very, good, because during this time we could build up our own experience in the metal industry; we could build up an organization around Sabaton, we learned how to organize everything ourselves, be our own management, make our own merchandise, handle our things, book our own tours…Today we stand prepared to go, always, constantly upwards, we are not losing anything and we are still on absolute control; we don’t need a management, we ourselves decide when to go on tour, how the albums will look like, sound like where we’ll do it, etc.

MB: So now, working with Nuclear Blast, you still manage to continue with your creative control over the band?
Of course; Nuclear Blast is very supportive and has absolutely no input… except for the good ones. It’s really cool to work with them; we say “we wanna do this…” and they say “Cool! Go ahead!”.

MB: You mentioned, at the beginning of the interview, that a lot of the times the inspiration comes from things that the fans send to you. Is this the rule? Do most of the motifs in any given album come from the fans?
At the moment I have so much material that I guess we could do 10 more albums. Before Coat of Arms we asked the fans if they could send in their stories from their countries, which we had never heard of before… we got 10,000 ideas. I read through every one of them, even though it took me like four months, I saved the best ones, and there’s enough material to write 10 new albums.
Unfortunately, it’s in human nature to be aggressive, destroy each other and make war… I wish this wasn’t the case, even though I would have to sacrifice the band. I’d rather sacrifice the band and have world-wide peace, that would be a good thing. Unfortunately, people kill each other, there is war in the world, and we sing about them when they become history.

MB: Once you have one of these ideas; what is the process like? Do you go to books, friends…?
Everything is independent. Some are easy to find, and you can find them in English, but sometimes we have to ask the fans to translate something for us, and they are always willing to help us, so thanks to fantastic fans we get the inspiration for most of the songs.

MB: What is in the future now for Sabaton?
At the moment we are on this tour; even though we have been on tour for two months, we have barely started. The next time I’ll be home in on the 23rd of December, and just for a short period of time before we do some other continents, then come back to Europe for the second leg in the spring, and then the summer festivals, which will be very booked, then on tour again in September/October, and then we have to stop to make a new album, and then we start all over again.

MB: It is a very militaristic style after all.
I have to work with long deadlines, I have to work with a plan several years ahead of time, to be sure of what we are doing and be flexible so that it’s possible to do everything.
Some people are like “I don’t know what I’ll be doing in 4 months”… that’s not possible for me. I can tell you what I’ll be doing in August 2014… maybe things change, dates change, but in general I know where I am or, at least, in what area of the world I am, or if I’m in the studio or something like that.
The plans up until the end of 2014 are all set.

MB: What parts of the world are yet to be conquered by Sabaton?
We have never been to Asia, this is something new for us. We have declined all the offers to go there because we believe that it would be foolish to do what this guy was doing when he was running in Germany in the 30’s and trying to conquer the world at once; you can fight one enemy at a time. We have gone for America, and this is where we start.
Europe… we have basically conquered it, so America is the next, and then maybe we’ll look at Asia.

MB: From north to south in America or just the north?
We are focused on the north of America right now, but we will also go to the south.

MB: And… that’s all we have! Thank you very much for the opportunity.
Thank you, it was my pleasure.

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6 years ago

I heard the song “The Last Stand”, and since I’m a christian I loved the music. I hope this band is not some anti-religious shit…