"Heavy metal has always been a very emotional kind of music"
Swedish warlords Grand Magus are releasing their new album in a few days and we talked with JB Christoffersson for all the details. He answered all our questions regarding the "Sword Songs" album, their music approach, the differences between their albums, what inspires him when it comes to lyrics, and the "Vikings" tv series. Read below all that and many more interesting things.
Next month you are releasing your new album. What are your thoughts about it and what is the feedback you take from people that have already heard it?
So far, still everything is really good. I just found out that yesterday the album was voted "album of the month" in the biggest metal magazine in Sweden. That hasn`t happened since we did "Iron Will" album. So, that`s eight years ago. It seems like we have done an album that really stands out for tthe crowd, so it feels good.
Since 2001 it`s been eight albums in fifteen years, so how creative you feel? It`s almost an album every two years...
Well, it just happened that way. You can feel when it` s time to do a new album, and for the most of the time I work in that way. I think between "Wolf` s Return" and "Iron Will" was three years. On the other hand, I think between "The Hunt" and "Triumph and Power" was a year and a half. I mean, it isn`t something we decide. If we feel that we don` t have anything to say, we won` t release an album. It`s just that simple.
In the press release we read that this album has a more aggressive and faster approach and perhaps that might be true. Was this because of some sort of plan or it just came up this way?
Well, I think it was happened because when you see back to the last thing you did, you know, the last album, it is the one you are closest to, somehow. And you start thinking the emotions you had for that album. At least, I thought that. "Triumph and Power" was really good but what will we do now? There was something lacking on "Triumph and Power"... basically it wasn’t lacking. We simply wanted this time to do some more aggressive stuff. On the last album we had a different feeling. That`s the way it` s always been for us. For instance, after we did "Hammer Of The North", which was kind of heavy metal, we did "The Hunt", which had a more hard rock feeling. So, in that way we work. You can start with the last thing you did, and then you want to do something different.
How the title "Sword Songs" came up?
It was actually a bunch of songs have been written. I thought that we needed some kind of a title that includes some of the things of the songs. "Sword Songs", I think that it really captures the essence of some of the things of the album and it’s also kind of poetic as a title, something that is very inspired by Norse poetry. And it’s also some kind of a metaphor. "Sword Songs" obviously means songs about struggle, you know. It could be war, it could be battle, but it could also be personal struggles. That’s the idea behind the title.
Do you want to give us some details about the lyrics? Though they may sound more about fictional or historical themes I guess that they have also some reference to the real life, for example "Every Day There’s A Battle To Fight". Where all the inspiration comes from when you writing lyrics?
Well, for me, heavy metal is always been very emotional, it could bring up be very simple but very strong emotions. I guess I write about some things I’m interested in and those become the language for the lyrics. But the most important thing is the emotion that I want the listener to get. I mean, the basic inspiration for the metal in the first place is to make music that gives the listener the feeling of power and strength. Also, almost everything in Norse mythology is a really good language to express things like this. Sometimes I prefer lyrics inspired by fight scenes or horror or whatever. So, I use different kind of languages to express different kind of emotions.
Starting listening the album, we have the frantic "Freja’s Choice" with the double bass drumming and the aggressive riff, we have "Varangian", a more mid tempo song with a strong chorus and, of course, we have "Forged In Iron - Crowned In Steel", a more epic song, with its grand and glorious middle section, what do you think that is the best way to represent Grand Magus in 2016?
Hopefully, the whole album. I mean, the songs of the new album were all written in a really sort period of time, starting from May last year and going into the studio on October to record the album. So, all the songs give a very good presentation of what we are. It’ s hard to pick one that makes a summary of the album. If I had to pick one, probably it could be "Forged In Iron - Crowned In Steel", which has the aggression, it’ s really fast in the beginning, it has this glorious middle part you mentioned and, all in all, it’ s a really epic heavy stuff. It’s some kind of a journey.
Did you follow the same approach writing and recording the album? Give us some details about its creation.
Well, in 2010 we did "Hammer Of The North", which was the first time we worked with Nico Elgstrand, the producer. Then, we chose him as the producer and the recording engineer for all our four albums, starting with "Hammer Of the North" and until the new one. But "Hammer Of The North" was mixed by Jens Bogren and this album was mixed by Roberto Langhi. So, those two albums are like... they’ve produced by Nico and mixed by someone else. And "The Hunt" and "Triumph And Power" was produced and mixed by Nico but I think the basic kind of process is the same for all these four albums. Recording -wise, working-wise and everything else. Obviously, the actual mix of the album makes the difference in each album’s sound. For this album, I felt very strongly we need someone else to mix it, because we did two albums in the row with Nico doing both things. When I started to think about who could do the mix, Roberto’s name came up really early and when we asked him to do it he was truly excited. I’ m extremely happy with the way the album’s sound came out. I think it’s really powerful, big and wide and massive. It was something we’re really trying to get.
Some of the fans aren’t so much aware about how much the mixing process is affecting an album. They always stick to the producer. Can you say that the mixing engineer is as much valuable as the producer?
That’s tough to say. Some producers, for instance, they work in a "spiritual guide" way. They’re saying to them "Hey guys, it sounds great. Continue like this" or "this song is a good one but it doesn’t belong to the album" or whatever. Some other producers are really involved with the songs. You know, they say "this song is good but needs a much better chorus", they are really involved with the melody and everything. And Nico use to involve in the music. He isn’t like one of these guys that picking their heads and gives thumps up (laughs) and wait for the process to come to an end. For us, the distinction between the production and the mixing engineering is that the producer decides how the songs are done, the arrangements and everything. That’s a huge part. And the mixing engineer is a guy that puts everything together when everything is recorded. He has obviously an idea about what you have recorded and how to make it sound better. But in the beginning, the mixing engineer can’t do anything about it. I can’t really say that one of them is more important than the other, but, I guess, like you said, many people listen to music and they don’t really know the difference between the production and the mixing. For instance, many people when they talk about Slayer, they also talk about Rick Rubin who produced the albums. But he didn’t mix them, it was Andy Wallace that did the mixing and he had a huge part in the actual sound that came out.
After all these years that I’m listening to Grand Magus’ music and after I have listen to "Sword Songs" a lot, I came up with the conclusion that you sound more heavy and less epic. Of course I’m not saying that the epic element is absent. If I want to joke about it I could say that you moving to a more Manowar sound and leaving Bathory behind. Do you agree?
I am not sure I agree totally, because, for instance, on this album, for me, there’s a lot of Bathory going on, like the melodies of "Freja’s Choice" and "Master Of The Land", you know, the guitar melodies. Also, the riff from "Varangian" for instance... For me, it’s very inspired by the "Nordland" Bathory albums. Whereas, I think, like on "Hammer Of The North" there was no Bathory influences at all. "Hammer Of The North" is for me like Judas Priest, that kind of feeling I get. On this album, I guess different people have different ideas of what is epic. For me, epic means something that Is majestic. I think "Triumph And Power" has a lot of epic stuff on it and I think that this new album, with "Forged In Iron - Crowned In Steel" and its middle part we already talked about it, is extremely epic as well. All the albums we’ve done and all the songs we have written they came from the heart, which means they reflect who we are, as people and as musicians at that time. So, it’s not that we say "Let’s do a Saxon album". It’s just the way it comes out, you know (laughs). You are the listener and you know more about how it sounds to you than me. I am not arguing with you. I’ m just saying that maybe I think about it in a different way, but both approaches are valid as well.
I guess that I’m saying that because there is no song like "Son Of The last Breath" in this album...
No, that’s true. But for me, "Son Of The Last Breath" was something special for us, we’d never done anything similar before and after it, so for me that song was kind of a departure for us. It was a cool thing to do. When I think of my band, Grand Magus, that’s not the song that I would put on the wall to describe us in the first place.
You do like to include short instrumental interludes in your albums. This time is - I don’t know if I pronounced it right - "Hurg" and I can’t help but thinking of Vikings, Scandinavian Fjords, the cold, the snow and the sea...
(laughs) Yeah, "Hurg" is very hard to pronounce. You know, it’s Scandinavian but it simply means "thoughts", you know, like memory and to remember, something like this. The human beings’ thoughts. That’s the title. It was focused on bass playing, I don’t play a single note on that song actually (laughs). Fox wrote it. We both grew up in a small town in the middle of Sweden, where there’s a very strong folk music tradition. There’s even a folk music festival there, which brings people from all over the world together, with different kind of folk music background. This is an ingredient of our music, these kind of melancholic, folky melodies that somehow turn up in an actual heavy metal song as well. But this time, it was more like an instrumental track. We want a track before the last song that could take the listener away to somewhere else, before we finish the album. That was the idea.
It works really well.
As we mentioned the Vikings before, are you familiar with the History Chanel’s series about Ragnar Lothbrok? What do you think about it?
(laughs) Actually, the thing is that this has been around for a while, I guess...
Yeah, the fourth season just ended...
People mention it to me like it has started now, you know. What I had heard is that they were living in Kattegatt which is very difficult because Kattegatt is an ocean (laughs). Anyway, I was kind responded "blah blah" or whatever. Now, I have actually started to watch it and I think it’s pretty fucking good. So, I probably have to watch the whole thing, and I’m surprised, actually. I mean, obviously, they kind of mix things up a bit, for the sake of the whole plot. They ignore some things or change a bit some others. But, anyway, I am surprised about how many things were actually very accurate and cool, especially that the women had a very strong position and they weren’t just there for the good looks. They had a very big part of what is going on. They were very capable. That’s one of the things that impressed me because - and I’m not getting into details - Christianity had a totally different view of the female position, in contrast with the old culture before Christianity comes. I thought that this was really cool and serious.
Which is you favorite Grand Magus album so far and why?
I can’t really say, you know, especially when we just came with an album we fucking merely killed ourselves doing it and trying even harder than we’ve done in the past, you know. Also, I don’t really stand listening to our old albums. When you’ve done something it’s very hard to listen to it. This doesn’t work with me. If I want to listen to music, I put Uriah Heep or fucking Priest, or Slayer or Bathory, whatever, you know. Because it’s very hard. It doesn’t mean I have a problem with it. Sometimes it’s fun, you know, when the folks get drunk and put some albums sometimes when other people are around... But it’s very hard for me to name a favorite album, because I’m in the band from the beginning, involved with all of the songs we’ve ever done because...
Because they all are children to you, to use the cliché...
Yeah right (laughs). That’s bullshit... The reason that I can pick a favorite album is because I can’t be a fan in the same way I am on other bands, you know.
Yes I get it. Are there any plans for a tour? In your last one for "Triumph And Power" you didn’t came to Greece. Can we hope that you are visiting us this time?
Yes, there are plans for a big tour at the end of the year, which is going to last two months and that will include Greece, but I can’t say anything more about this tour right now. It’s gonna be announced in June, I think. But we’re coming.
You are playing in Hell Fest this year and we will be there to attend. So what I want to ask is do you fancy the big festivals or you prefer small clubs filled with Grand Magus’ fans only?
I like them both. They have their distinctive charms. When everything works outdoors, people are in a good mood and there’re a lot of people, it can be awesome. At the same time, a small gig in a club where everyone’s just going crazy and dig your music, it’s also great. So, I wouldn’t want to do just one of them for the rest of our career. I want to do them both.
What are your long-term plans for the band and for you personally?
Well, that’s the thing. We never have any long term plans and neither have I had long term plans for my life. Every day is a battle to fight (laughs). It’s just taking life day by day as much as you can. That’s my philosophy at least. I mean, we don’t know anything about tomorrow. That’s just the way it is, for everyone. So, I don’t see any point in planning to far ahead.
OK JB. Thank you very much for your time. If you have any last thoughts about anything, please feel free to tell us.
Well, I just hope that all heavy metal fans in Greece will really love this album. I think it’s the real fucking deal. We will be visiting Greece later this year and I hope to see you in Hell Fest.