Sabaton is a band that has developed quite the reputation of throwing the most exciting, energetic, and powerful live shows across all of rock and metal. The bands larger-than-life explosive performances feature some of the most impressive stage settings, pyro, and pure heavy metal that any metalhead could ever want in a show.
From Hannes banging away atop his tank, to Tommy treating the fans with some random lead vocals, to the occasional harassment Chris gives to Joakim, each show is something memorable and unique.
So unique that the setlist can slightly change depending on where the band is playing and if your country/town/city has some history to be sung about. Though the band tours extensively, which is something that they’re notorious for, the pandemic didn’t exactly knock the wind out of their sails.
As being one of the most innovative bands in the industry, they developed new techniques for engaging with fans from social media. From cryptic teasers to games to various song releases, the band has kept their audience entertained through these troubling times.
I recently spoke with Pär about some of Sabatons lockdown content, as well as their long-awaited return to the stage, as this year they’ll be hitting the US and going on tour with Judas Priest for their 50th-anniversary tour.
Thanks for speaking with me today Pär, how are you and the rest of the guys doing?
I’m good, and all of the guys are good. We kind of wrapped up in the studio today. We have been recording some additional stuff, so we’ve been busy. Obviously, in the last one and half year, we got to write a shitload of songs, and eventually, we needed to go into the studio and record them, and we just wrapped up another recording. So now we have even more songs recorded. Great!
We are definitely looking forward to what you guys have been doing in the studio recently. Many bands and artists took the downtime to write some new material. Sabaton is one of the last bands we did live coverage for, which was during ‘The Last Tour,’ before the pandemic hit.
If memory serves me correctly, I think you guys had just kicked off a Russian tour after that but were still out there while everything else was shutting down. Did you get to play many dates of that run?
Yeah, you’re right. We managed to do the whole European run, so at least that’s a little bit better of a situation than a lot of others. And, we managed to do about half of the Russian tour. There were 18 shows booked, and we did nine of them. It was a weird time because that tour was stretching far into the pandemic already.
Everything in the world was already shut down when we were still touring. Russia was very late with shutting down and very late with adding any restrictions. So I think at some point we were basically the last international band touring. Everyone else out there had already left.
All of Europe was shut down. Latin America was shut down. Asia was shut down. We were in the last place on earth where you still could do shows, but even in Russia, most of the bands had left already. So there was a moment when we were looking around, and we realized that there’s not a single other band touring in the world.
And we’re still doing it, still selling out shows. That was a pretty weird feeling like we’re all sitting down in the hotel lobby at the end of the night and looking at each other like, okay, and we were reading updates that said like, oh my God, they have so many infections and we are still here.
Then, it was like, oh, now France shut down everything. Then it became like, what are we going to do now tomorrow we fly to a new city? It’s sold out again, and everybody was questioning that the show was still happening. No restrictions. So that’s a weird time. I have to say that, but eventually, it also caught up there and caught up with us, and we had to go home. And since then we’ve been able to do a shit load of other stuff.
A few singles or one-off shows or streams and stuff like that, which some of them was pretty damn cool. And two weeks ago or something like that, we actually played a full show, with a big audience. We headline a festival with 40,000 people in attendance. So it was like, wow, we’re back!
Oh, that was the festival in Serbia, right?
Yeah, and it was absolutely amazing. Reminding us why we are doing this. Hoping it keeps us running until we hit the states or even next week in the Czech Republic.
It’s a bit strange, you know? Because you walk around with this feeling that maybe it will be canceled. The weeks before, the month before, you just see so many other shows that are being canceled. And you’re just wondering, alright, is this one going to be canceled too? And it’s so difficult even traveling during this time as well. Because if even one person shows a positive test result, then the whole thing is canceled.
So there’s quarantine, hiding, staying away from one another, just so many rules and precautions that we have to follow before we can do something. And we do that with maybe a risk for no reason. But still, even though we’re doing this, maybe one person has bad luck and meets somebody that’s positive, and then the whole thing gets canceled.
So then when we were finally standing there, and it’s like five minutes to show, like okay, no one can stop us now, we’re on. And then it feels like it only takes two minutes in the shows over; even though we play for two hours, it doesn’t feel like that. And then after that, it’s like we did it, and it feels amazing. And hopefully, we get to do it again because it reminds us of why we wanted to start this from the beginning.
You mentioned streams and virtual events, and you yourself had taken part in shows like Wacken World Wide, and obviously, virtual reality will never be a suitable replacement for live shows, but overall during this time, do you think it’s a positive as an alternative?
I have to say, it can never be an alternative. I don’t think so. It can be an additional thing, but I saw some scary things last summer that I never want to see again. It’s was like, oh my God, we are playing live in a field, and there were maybe 500 people there, in a soccer field, and they were all in cages. Keeping social distancing, keeping mask on, and there’s no way I want to stand on that stage. I’d rather never play guitar again.
Because that is not anything at all, something that’s like rock or metal, or anything that I want to be associated with. That situation can never be an alternative, and I’d rather do something else with my life if shows became something like that. I think a live show has to happen for people that are free, happy, and expressive and can do what they want. If they want to jump up and down they should be able to, if they want that way their hands they should be able to, and if they want to sing along, they should be able to.
That’s how it should be. And when I saw that there was a possibility that we could do our own festival, Sabaton Open Air, this year with restrictions, I said no because that is a festival where people should be free.
It’s August, and this is when Sabaton Open Air would normally be taking place. Have you guys started planning for the possibility that it might be able to happen next year?
Right. We made the decision to skip the 2021 festival months ago; even though we are trying to hold out hope that there could be a chance, back then, we saw that okay; there really isn’t going to be a chance that it would happen. When we saw that, we decided to postpone.
We have so many people traveling internationally to our festival, we have people that come from over 40 countries every year, and we cannot keep them on hold because they have their lives to plan for. So we pretty quickly announced that we wouldn’t be doing 2021, but would be doing 2022. We have already retched out to all the bands and asked them if they’d like to come next year, and they all said yes. So we already have the dates for 2022.
Something in particular that I love about Sabaton Open Air, is it features so many great bands, including some emerging artists. Which can be a great place to discover new acts. Is that something you actively do, seek out up-and-coming talent in the scene?
It’s definitely something that we actively do. For Sabaton Open Air, it’s not about what bands are going to sell the tickets. We stay in our hometown, and there’s not enough people, but everybody’s coming anyway. It doesn’t change the fact because of what bands we are booking. So for us, it’s more about booking bands that we want to see there for one reason or another. We don’t think like, “oh we need this band because they will sell a lot of tickets.”
And some of the people booking are like, are we really going to be booking some band in Australia that no one knows to pay to see? And we’re like yeah, of course, we are because they’re great.
What being in lockdown, you’ve kept engaging with fans, and it put out a lot of great content. One of those projects was recently a cover of Radio Tapoks ‘Defence of Moscow’. As a historian, I’m sure you’re in a sea of so many things to write about, but has this particular subject ever come up as a potential song before?
Yeah, it has. For the ‘Coat of Arms’ We were basically in the entirety of World War IIAnd we were discussing this one as part of that somewhat, Touching near this specific event, but we didn’t do the ‘Defense of Moscow’. It was a bit surprising when I met with Radio Tapok and he played the song to me, and he said he tried to write a song like how we do them.
And I told him that it sounded great, I like the song, and he did a great job. But he had no idea what was going through my head when I heard it, I was thinking, “I think Sabaton should do this song’. So sometime later, I told him about it, and he was like, well, I feel honored.
He also did a cover of ‘The Attack of the Dead Men,’ before you even released your version, and I think it was Perttu of Apocalyptic or that told us you are the ‘mad man’ as some have said behind the idea of them releasing a cover of ‘Fields of Verdun’ before your release. But this seemed to work out extremely well; what gave you the idea of doing something like that?
(Laughing) Yeah, Some people it said you cannot have someone else release your song before you release it yourself, and I said why not? Who made this rule? And I’m the kind of person that likes to do things our way. We don’t have an external management; we do everything ourselves. It was not really a crazy idea, though, to some, it might seem that way.
I knew from the beginning it was going to be great and that it would turn out great. Some people were worried, but that again not everyone is as open-minded.
And again, going back to covers, “Kingdom Come” has now officially gotten a full official release, which fans have been wanting. Was this a situation of giving the fans what they want, such as doing a song about the Bismarck, which had been highly requested?
In one way, fans wanted us to write a song about Bismarck, they had no clue that we would In terms of’Kingdom Come’, the song was written a while ago, but as you said, it never got a full release, it was difficult to find it, and only a few people had heard it. So those that heard it, were complaining because they could only go to YouTube to hear it, so we finally decided that the song is great, and it deserves some proper attention, and we finally did a full release of it.
You also have just finished filming an episode of Sabaton history with Indy, and it’s great to see that channel has gotten so much love because of your music. Some people consider history to be a boring subject, But you’ve inspired many people to want to learn more. And there’s also been some examples of historians that are now metalheads because of discovering your music through history.
How does it feel to impact people who either want to learn history because of your music or those who discover your music through learning history like from your channel?
I’m very happy about it. I think when we decided on these topics some 15 years or so ago, We thought that maybe it would inspire somebody. And when singing about it, it’s something that we think matters, and obviously, it matters to other people as well. And I’m quite aware of the people that have been inspired by it.
We’ve had so many amazing stories told to us. And there are countless teachers around the world who use Sabaton all the time to teach kids. You might be asking, how does that work? But it’s actually working quite amazingly because if you’re standing around 32 kids in a room, and you’re going to be reading about something that happened 60 years ago, some people are going to go to sleep, some people are going to put on her iPhone or whatever. No one is excited about it.
It’s the same thing if you show them some boring documentary, some more people might be interested in something like that, and if you bring them out to a museum, even more people would be interested in something like that. But I can promise you if you can put on a song by a heavy metal band, and ask them to listen to the lyrics; they’re going to remember a thing or two.
After that, if you just let them Loose, the will to learn is something stronger than any other tool you could present them with. I think was very beautiful he said by a history teacher who told me that he had been a history teacher his whole life, never had a tool in his box as useful as our music. Because he says no matter what he does, when he has the music playing the room is completely silent and everyone is paying attention and picking up things.
So right now, Sabaton is the best tool for that history teacher. And I encourage other teachers to try the same thing because it works. You can only learn so much from the 3 to 5 minutes in our songs, but it’s enough to start connecting dots. It makes you want to read the next part of it and find out more because something sticks into your brain.
Soon you’re going to be coming to the states on tour with Judas Priest, and it’s an amazing milestone for them because it’s their 50th anniversary. Could you tell us a little bit about that tour, and could you picture Sabaton reaching such an achievement, say, 30 years from now?
Maybe, I hope so! We Have our own little history with them as we were playing at Rob Hartford’s 60th birthday party some years ago, and now who would’ve thought we’d be touring with the band for their 50th anniversary. It just feels great. It’s inspiring to see that the band is still putting on such a good show, still putting out music, and still going strong. I’m super excited to do this tour with them. They were always an inspiration for us.
If you take a look at Sabatons legacy, what do you think the band has been able to achieve on the metal music scene, such as how a band like Judas Priest has left such a massive mark?
We were not the first ones in the melodic metal scene in Europe.
There were a number of bands, and I am currently wearing a Hammerfall T-shirt right now, and they paved the way, and made it possible for us to believe that we could play melodic heavy metal. In the 90s, heavy metal in Europe was completely dead. You would see that even the big bands were playing for empty clubs.
Then all of the sudden here comes Hammerfall to show that you can do this as a melodic metal band. We followed. That’s now been 25 years ago that Hammerfall put out the “Glory to the Brave” album, and a lot has happened since then. Whatever people may think, today Sabaton is the leading metal band in Europe when it comes to inspiring a new generation of bands.
We are without question, the biggest in the scene at the moment, which inspires people. And I’m very happy for that.I know that we are inspiring a new generation of musicians every day to pick up guitars, to believe in themselves, and that it can be done.
And I think that the way we’ve done Sabaton is also inspiring for young musicians because we don’t have management, no one has ever told us how to do things, we did everything our way. Which we still keep doing, we haven’t outsourced anything we haven’t licensed away our stuff. We still own everything ourselves, the music, the merchandising, the touring. And we have been learning as we go along, and no one has told us this is how you do that, this is how you do this.
I think that’s why we stand out, and also why we are inspiring to a younger generation. Because they see Sabaton as entrepreneurs and that we did it our way, and so can they. I know that today we’re making an impact, and I’m very proud of that.
That’s awesome. And the band will continue to inspire as well, and we can’t wait to see you guys here in America. Thanks again for speaking with me today Pär.
Thank you, and we will see you soon!