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INTERVIEW: Pär Sundström – Sabaton

SABATON released The Last Stand in 2016, the band’s eighth studio album as they continue their partnership with Nuclear Blast Records. Distorted Sound recently caught up with Pär Sundström, the band’s bassist, before their Manchester show as part of The Last Tour to discuss the new album and how the band has become one of the main festival headliners over recent years.

SABATON released The Last Stand last year. How do you feel the album has helped the band grow?

Pär: As every album with SABATON it takes us to a new place, and I’m lucky we didn’t really live in the times where record sales went down – we constantly grew and grew. We’ve not really experienced the times when they’ve been selling masses of albums, so for us every album has been a bigger and bigger step, and it’s the same with The Last Stand as well. It brought us to a place we’ve not been, bigger clubs, bigger venues, higher up the bill on festival slots and stuff like that so it’s definitely brought us to new areas.

And what’s the reception been like for the new album?

Pär: It’s been very, very good. First of all the media who heard it were very thrilled about it, and also the reception of the fans has been fantastic. When we go on a tour like this, I don’t think we’ve played so much for a new album ever on a tour so that’s confirmation that fans want to hear the new stuff, which I’m happy for.

What were the writing and recording processes like?

Pär: There wasn’t really a big difference from the past; Joakim is in charge of most of the music, I collected the initial ideas and started to set out the topics, and then we sit together and write the lyrics eventually. I constantly collect ideas but I don’t do any research until it’s time for us to actually write the songs so we have it fresh in our minds and get the inspiration at the right time, so even if I’m constantly bombarded with good ideas I just save them now and I don’t look into them deeper – I save them, put them into files where I know I can find if we’re going to write a song or an album about a certain topic so I can dig in the library.

Have there been any particular influences for this album?

Pär: Not really no, with SABATON we take the influences from everywhere and mix it together. It’s just what comes into our minds so there wasn’t really anything in particular like that.

On this album is a cover of JUDAS PRIEST’s All Guns Blazing. How much of an influence have they been on your music?

Pär: They’ve been an influence on our music and our career in many terms, also in the terms of live performances and stuff like that. This song we did as a duo with Joakim and our old guitarist Thobbe. A lot of people think its Rob Halford because he is pretty good at imitating Rob, but it’s actually our old guitar player Thobbe who did it. He recording this on his own and then we re-recorded it with SABATON.

The Last Stand incredibly is the band’s eighth album. Because of the focus that your music is about how much of a challenge is it to keep the material fresh between each record?

Pär: Well I guess the argument is does it really need to be super fresh – it just needs to be good. We have no obligations that we need to do something completely new, it just needs to be good, that’s our only thing to think about and if it sounds like one of our first or earlier albums it doesn’t really matter.

How would you say The Last Stand compares to your other work?

Pär: You can tell that it is a SABATON album, you can clearly hear that it has all the elements of a SABATON album. We’re not experimental in that way where we suddenly come up with something completely new or anything like that, it’s just what a SABATON album should traditionally be.

Looking back at the history of the band, it was yourself and Joakim who formed SABATON, so when you look back to the start did you ever feel you’d be in this position as a band where you’d be headlining festivals such as Bloodstock and Wacken?

Pär: Everything has happened in a reasonable rate; some people think that SABATON just came out of nowhere and exploded, but we’ve been a band for 18 years, and we have done thousands of shows around the world. We’ve done our own tours, supported other bands again and again and again, and only here in the UK we’ve done over 100 shows, so we are not a new band even though some people still like to call us that, like we came out of nowhere and suddenly we are selling out venues, but it’s not about that. It’s about touring a lot, and in one year we do more than most bands; some bands will say ‘Oh we did 50 shows this year, that’s great’, and I say ‘Well we did 150 shows this year’, so we tend to grow three times faster, it’s just a matter of time. If you build a house and you work one hour per day or you work eight hours per day it’s pretty clear that if you work eight hours per day the house will be ready sooner, so there’s no difference with this. Some bands can fit into a certain genre that the radio stations can slot them into, which means that they can have a radio hit and grow faster. SABATON is not this, people always look down on us like ‘you’re playing some awful kind of simple power metal or whatever, and this is not something which we want as part of our radio stations’, so we didn’t really have the push of the media that some other bands have, we have never been one of the favourite bands. We’ve been pushed down to become some kind of underground metal band, but we built it our way, not by the help of anybody – we don’t owe anybody the help that has pushed us or done something amazing for us in terms of pushing a certain song or something, we have done this ourselves, playing, playing and playing again and I’m proud of this journey.

What was the power metal scene like when you first started and how do you feel it’s changed now?

Pär: For Sweden at the time we started the band, this was shortly after HAMMERFALL kind of reintroduced power metal to the world, before that Sweden was all about black and death metal for quite some time – I was even in black and death metal bands before. With HAMMERFALL and some other bands following that up, this was when it became interesting for us to do melodic heavy metal again, and they paved the way for us really.

You toured last year co-headlining with ALESTORM, and now you’ve got your own tour this time around. Is there much difference in terms of the set list?

Pär: There’s a very, very big difference in the set list. First of all we play longer, and when we co-headlined with ALESTORM both bands had to compromise and play shorter, but now we play longer and we have a bigger stage, more of a stage show, we have lots more equipment on the stage so you can see it’s a completely different show, and we play a lot of different songs. As I mentioned before a big portion of these shows are focused on the new album, and instead of taking some songs that have been with us for a very long time we actually deleted a lot from the set list and brought in a lot of different songs, including a couple of songs where I don’t think we have ever brought them on tour to England actually.

What are the fans like in the UK compared to other parts of the world?

Pär: It’s kind of hard to compare that, and also I wouldn’t say the UK because they are different in London than they are in Manchester, and they are different in Glasgow and other cities as well, but that’s the same for every country wherever we go. I hate to compare fans like ‘those are better than those’, as no matter where we go we always have a fantastic crowd. If I had to say something I guess that British people are very loud, and very loud for coming from Western world, because if you go to Southeast Europe you’ll find that’s a bit of a different mentality, a bit more wild, but the UK is very good for a crowd.

It’s coming up to the festival season now, and we have SABATON Open Air coming up. What are your plans as a band for future festivals?

Pär: We’ve got the billing already for this year so it’s always a struggle to finish it up. For future festivals in our home town I have no clue what we’re going to find – this is the 10 year anniversary, I’m very happy that we’ve got HAMMERFALL playing in our own town for the first time, that means a lot for us, and we have Steve Harris with his British Lion which is fantastic of course for us that Steve Harris wanted to come to our little festival after all the shows where we’ve supported IRON MAIDEN, now he wants to come and play at our place so that’s amazing, and I’ll enjoy this festival for sure!

The Last Stand is out now via Nuclear Blast Records.

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