With the release of their new album, Sword Songs (read our review here), Distorted Sound got the chance to have a sit down and chat with GRAND MAGUS front-man JB Christoffersson about the album, their influences and saturation in the music world.
Hello there, Tim from Distorted Sound here. GRAND MAGUS have the privilege of being one of the best upcoming bands in traditional metal these days. Your 8th album SWORD SONGS is due for release soon. What can we expect from the record?
JB: Heavy metal played with heart, soul and passion.
You’ve recently released a couple of the tracks from the album online. What’s the reaction been to those?
JB: Fucking great. The majority loves it, some think it sucks. That’s perfect!
GRAND MAGUS have existed, in one form or another, since 1996. How does it feel to have reached the 20 year mark as a band? Did you ever think you’d make it as big as you have done?
JB: I’m sorry to have to ruin this, but GRAND MAGUS was actually created in 1999. I know it’s on the internet that we started in 1996, but that’s simply not true. Anyway, no I had no idea. Our only goal when we started was to be able to get a record deal and do an album. It’s quite weird to be here 8 albums later, haha.
Since 2012’s THE HUNT you’ve been signed with Nuclear Blast records. How’s has that relationship worked compared with the previous labels you’ve been on?
JB: I’m gonna be difficult here as well, haha. My personal opinion is that I think too many bands talk about the so-called music industry and business things. I think that’s very fucking UN-metal. So I’m not going to talk about things like that in interviews. We are a heavy metal band, and that comes with a responsibility to BE metal, you know?
Your own signature blend of bluesy Traditional/Doom is something almost unique in the metal world. Where their particular influences or ideas on how the sound should be or was it just how the songs turned out?
JB: I think that we have quite an unusual set of influences, because it’s a combination of BLACK SABBATH, DEEP PURPLE and JUDAS PRIEST, SAXON, MANOWAR and then also BATHORY. It’s a weird mix I guess. The bluesy thing is also something that I guess has a lot to do with the way I sing and that just comes naturally really. I mean the style varies from track to track and maybe from album to album, but certain ways of phrasing can never be changed, because it’s subconscious and part of who you are. I think I heard quite a lot of Elvis when I was a kid, haha.
Likewise your use of calmer interludes between tracks, such as Hugr from the new album, is something very few bands do. What was the reasoning for using these and what are they meant to add to the albums?
JB: It’s meant to take the listener to another place, a slight detour and maybe a rest, relaxation. Our albums have always been written as albums, where you are (hopefully) on a journey from the first track to the last. It’s not just ten songs thrown together randomly.
Lyrically GRAND MAGUS tends to sing about paganism and strength. How much have these themes been influenced by your Swedish heritage and how important are they for your sound?
JB: It’s hard to tell because I have nothing to compare with, you know? I was born and raised in Sweden and we were taught about the norse mythology in school. Of course we were also taught about greek mythology, but I guess that the norse thing still is very much part of our history, our language etc. Since I’m very interested in nature, that connection was clear to me at a very early age. For me this is just a very natural way of expressing myself lyrically in our music and also a pretty big part of myself as a person.
As a band that sit on the boundary between traditional and doom metal you are in somewhat a unique position to see how both of those genres have evolved since the turn of the century. Do you feel they are in a good place now, especially with the recent increase of “retro” bands?
JB: Everything goes in circles. Ever narrower it seems. Everyone is entitled to do whatever they want and listen to whatever they want… just don’t tell me what to listen to, haha. To be honest, I don’t care about the scene or the genre, I know which bands I like and think are cool, that’s enough for me.
There are more ways than ever for bands to get exposure these days. Do you feel there is more saturation than in the past and that it’s more difficult for bands to make a mark? How has that affected GRAND MAGUS, if at all?
JB: This is borderline what is OK for a metal band to talk about… haha! But, OK, Yes, I think it will be very hard for any band to reach the levels of the classic bands like ZEPPELIN, SABBATH, PURPLE or METALLICA. The media saturation is crazy and with it also comes smaller niches of interest, you know? You can’t be as dominant as those bands were. Affected us? Who knows?
Obviously social media, with all of its positives and negatives, has become a big deal for some bands these days. While you guys do have a presence out there, is that something you like doing or did you prefer when traditional methods of exposure were the main way of getting publicity?
JB: Well, I certainly didn’t start playing metal in order to be some kind of PR machine… let’s put it like that.
You recently toured with ENSLAVED on a short UK tour. With two sounds that are very different do you feel the package worked well for fans? Was there a large crossover in fanbases do you think?
JB: I think it was a really good tour. I think it’s always better when there’s a difference between the bands on package tours. Of course you must have bands that work together and we certainly did.
You’re currently scheduled to play Download festival in UK and to do a run of other festivals across Europe this summer. Can fans expect to catch you on tour for the new album soon as well?
JB: Yeah, we have a biiiig European tour coming up in the fall.
I’ll bring this interview to a close by offering you the floor. Is there anything you’d like to say to the readers of Distorted Sound?
JB: Stay heavy!
Sword Songs is out now via Nuclear Blast Records
Like GRAND MAGUS on Facebook.