Sabaton: “If You Don’t Give People All You’ve Got, You Aren’t Worthy of Them”
Sabaton are undoubtedly one of the most successful Metal acts out there. The Swedish band have been blasting stages since 1999, and use historical events (mostly battles) for the theme of their lyrics, skillfully mixing the stories into the music. What’s interesting is that they don't just pick the most prominent battles, but the ones they're most fascinated by. And the concept is working great. Their fan base is growing continually, and it’s no wonder why: Sabaton understand and fulfill their fans' expectations without compromising their integrity, and they understand the importance of new technologies. To learn what makes the band tick, we spoke to founding member Pär Sundström (bass, backing vocals).
In 2019, Sabaton released the album “The Great War” in four separate editions: the standard release, a history edition with narration, a soundtrack edition, and a Sabaton History Patreon release with narration by Indy Neidell.
Let’s start with “The Great War”. The album has been very well received by critics, and more importantly, by fans. What feedback have you gotten since the release?
Only positive. We’re pleased about the feedback to “The Great War”. It was an awesome trip to make with all the different projects around it, like making the History Channel episodes, Verdun pre-listening, and of course, the Great Tour.
You have a two-ton tank named Audie on stage. How did that happen?
For me, it's a show, not just a gig, and I want it to be entertaining. And I want to feel that I’m a part of something unique; not only on a stage, but on a Sabaton stage. And to be able to create our stage sets as we do now has taken 20 years. To have a massive tank on the stage is not just building it. It took us around one year to engineer it so that it is transportable, flexible, and durable enough to sustain touring.
How important do you think it is to give your audience a little more? I’m referring to your onstage show.
It’s a straightforward answer. If you don’t give people all you’ve got, you aren't worthy of them.
Is there any advice you can give to young bands about how they should start building a set for their live performances?
A young band should start by focusing on the music. The stage is just a layer outside of the music. If you can't perform without a stage show and your songs are not good enough, then start to improve these issues first. Only after you’ve done that, start to create the outside layers.
Let me touch on your lyrics a bit. It’s no secret that you’re history buffs. Why do you think history should never be forgotten?
I'm sure that knowing historical backgrounds gives a better perspective of why the world is the way it is, why some people don’t like other people, and why there are borders exactly where they are. If more people had this knowledge, instead of just bashing others for having an opinion, the world would be less violent.
Do you ever feel that having such a lyrical concept is restricting?
In one way, of course, it’s restricting. I can’t write a song about how much I like to sip drinks under an umbrella at some paradise beach. But on the other hand, I don’t want to write such songs. And no matter how deep we dig into history, we will never be able to cover everything.
In your case, the lyrics are just as important as the music. Do you start with the lyrics, or does the music come first?
Actually, the music is the core. Nobody would just read the lyrics and feel satisfied. We always write the songs first; if the song is good, we add words to it. Otherwise, we scrap it. We always have the music first, and then we look for a story that fits the mood of the specific song. Of course, we're always searching for different stories. But we never start with a story; the music comes first.
What would you say to a young musician who’d like to do a similar concept – a historical album? What should he or she look out for, while working on this kind of lyrics?
It must come naturally and be something you're interested in and excited about. After that, how deep the person wants to go is up to them. After all, music is personal and should remain personal. There are recipes for success, but they aren't guaranteed. You'll have a better chance of succeeding by doing what you want, as you'll have the greatest motor behind the project – your passion.
You guys are incredibly active. You have a YouTube History channel, in August you’ll be doing another Sabaton Open Air festival, and then there’s also the Sabaton Cruise. All these projects must be time-consuming, to say the least. And we haven't even mentioned all of the touring. You must have a great crew behind you, or have you found the way to survive without sleep?
Of course, everyone needs to sleep. But I think perhaps I sleep a little bit less than most people. But again, it is all about passion. I don’t have anything else. This is what I do. I manage the band on all levels, and sure, we have great people working with Sabaton. But I still work from the moment I wake up to when I go to bed, every day, 365 days a year. I haven’t taken a vacation so far.
“I've always had an interest in technology and IT, so I knew very early, long before the labels realized it, that the future lies online and not in physical records.”
How did it all start? I mean, why did you decide to do all these projects?
I always have a lot of ideas in my head. And I want to realize them, but every idea needs a certain amount of time. We launch new projects when we are prepared for them. Such projects require a massive amount of time. After 13 years, Sabaton Open Air runs and operates mostly by itself. However, I'm still involved, and it is, of course, time-consuming to book bands and think of ways to improve it. The Cruise, I'm completely involved in how it works, runs, where, and so on. And the Sabaton History Channel, well, I'm the producer of the channel, so I work on every episode.
It was probably all these projects, combined with the music, of course, that got you to #1 in the Power Metal category on Viberate, meaning you have more fans on social media than, let’s say, Dragonforce or Helloween. You had almost 7M average monthly views on YouTube in 2019, and the numbers will most likely grow due to the popularity of “The Great War”. How important are social media and streaming services for you?
If you choose to categorize Sabaton as a Power Metal band, we're the biggest one in the world today. But in the past, we were the opening band for both Dragonforce and Helloween, so it shows how things can change.
I've always had an interest in technology and IT, so I knew very early, long before the labels realized it, that the future lies online and not in physical records. I think we've adapted to this digital industry well with Sabaton. We never saw the golden age of record sales on CD and vinyl, anyway.
You’ll be touring a lot in 2020 – from Russia to the USA. Any shows you’re particularly excited about?
It'll be exciting to do Russia. Eighteen shows over one month all across this vast country. Very few bands do such a big tour there.
I'm also excited about going back to the USA after our latest sold-out tour, which was a great success, and as busy as I am, I'm already working on new plans for the EU. There were a couple of countries that didn't get a show during the first part of the Great European Tour.
What separates Sabaton from most bands is that they stepped out of the box and started doing things elevate them above being “just a band”. Of course, being an act like that means you have to devote yourself entirely to the idea, but if you’re like them and unconditionally love what you’re doing, that shouldn’t be a problem.
Cover photo: Artist’s archive
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