INTERVIEW: Pär Sundström – Sabaton

Photo Credit: Ryan Garrison
Photo Credit: Ryan Garrison

WORDS: Dean Martin & Jessica Howkins

The rise of Sweden’s SABATON has been extraordinary to say the least. Recent years has seen the band explode in popularity and on the back of a headline run with ALESTORM the band are enjoying their most fruitful period in their heavy metal campaign. We caught up with bassist Pär Sundström to talk about the band’s rise in popularity, the research behind their war influenced records, the controversy that comes with that and looking ahead!

Jessica: How are you today?

Pär: I’m very good, I’m excited for the show, it’s a nice place compared to where we used to play in this area, The Slade Rooms Wolverhampton which is super tiny so this is gonna be a lot better so I’m happy for that and it’s gonna be packed in here which makes me happy also. I was downtown and I saw a small war which was not something I want to see, people fighting, but other than that. It’s been a few days since we came to the UK and people have been so friendly and that means a lot. Yesterday I went to some bars after the show with fans and they were so friendly. It’s adorable.

Jessica: Are you expecting a better reception now you’re in a larger venue as opposed to somewhere like The Slade Rooms?

Pär: Well, yes and no. No, actually, because The Slade Rooms were packed with 100% SABATON fans, that’s it. You can’t really compare, it doesn’t matter if there’s fifty or five-hundred, as long as they’re dedicated. Obviously here there are some fans coming for ALESTORM also, so it’s a mixed crowd. I would expect them to be a bit crazy but I’m sure it’s going to be absolutely amazing here too. Yesterday we were in Manchester and we played a bigger hall, but it was still packed

Dean: How does it compare to festivals?

Pär: Well, this is kind of the perfect size, around two and a half thousand people, because that’s the limit of how much people you can interact with without feeling it’s just people. If you can see the people, all the way at the back, you can see ah that person is still having fun! And you are close to the people in the first row. When it gets bigger, they push the barriers back and you get further away from the fans and you can’t see everybody in the crowd. You don’t know if everybody is having fun. This is the perfect size for me. I love to play festivals.

Jessica: You’ve got Sabaton Open Air as well, what kinda things do you put into place to make sure bands don’t feel like they’re being pushed away?

Pär: Oh, err, wow. It is complicated, picking bands to play because 90% of the people who come come for SABATON. But they’re all very welcome, they’re all treated nice, and they get to play for our fans which is still nice. But it can be seen more as a support show than a festival because it is all about SABATON. But it’s lovely and our fans tend to be very open minded. What happens is, the bands who play there, the fans who come there know that we select them, so they think like okay, the guys in SABATON like this band maybe I like it too.

Dean: Speaking of festivals, tell us about Sabaton Open Air, now in its eighth year, has it gone how you expected? Is there anything you’d like for it in the future?

Pär: We never had the idea that it would go on for so long. It’s great, I mean it’s had ups and downs, and it hasn’t always been easy. It’s very stupid to have a festival in our hometown because there doesn’t live much people there, it doesn’t make much sense, there’s no good connections. And in the surrounding areas it’s not so populated. So it doesn’t make any sense to do a big festival there we just do it because it’s our home town and it’s a lovely place. We take that into consideration, if we moved the festival to central Germany or somewhere we’d have three times the people. We have been struggling economically with this one for years and it’s been not perfect but it’s not about that, it’s about delivering a fantastic thing for the fans and I think we could not do that if we move it.

Jessica: You mentioned that if you played in Germany you’d have a much larger outcome, is that why you’ve chosen to premier your Heroes on Tour DVD in Germany as opposed to Sweden?

Pär: Well, not, it’s not that, it is because SABATON has a lot of fans in Germany, but we have a lot of fans in Sweden as well but Swedish cinemas didn’t wanna take it, and Swedish TV didn’t wanna take it but German cinemas took it and German TV took it so that’s pretty much why we’re premièring like. It has nothing to do with what we want. I want it to be premièred here, and I want it to be premièred in, I don’t know, Jamaica! Everywhere! But we cannot get everything so it’s just where we can.

Dean: What made you want to record the Heroes tour?

Pär: We recorded the Swedish Empire Live which was great, the fans loved it, and we thought okay, since then a lot has happened in the band. I mean we have a new drummer, a new album out, a new tour, the stage looks completely different so we wanted to show this is where we are now. It’s good for documentation. I think that when I look back at SABATON in hopefully thirty years or whatever, or fans discover us in the future, they can look back and see that we have immortalised the tours this way. So people can go back and say ‘I remember that’ or I was never there, or that was a long time before I even was born!

Jessica: Is that how you think you will feel going to headline the Sweden Rock Festival? After all you played there about ten years ago on a really small stage and now you’re headlining, do you look at the fans and think I was there once?

Pär: I always try to think about things like that, and when I look at the band and think about what we are doing I try always to look at things from a fan perspective. I really don’t have much of an egotistical thought in my head about how to run the band, and what the band should do. I think we should do what’s best for the band and for us. I always try to be a fan when I make decisions for the band.

Dean: You mentioned that you’ll be playing new material at the festival, does that mean there’s a new album on the way?

Pär: Yeah, there’s definitely a new album on the way and right after this tour we’ll enter the studio and start recording it. It’s a little bit too early to say exactly when it’s going to come out, we have a date, it’s fixed, set but I don’t wanna say ‘woah, we have this new album on this date’ because before we are 100% sure we don’t want to raise people’s expectations. I want to go to the studio and be comfortable and say ‘alright, I know it’s going to be a good album’. But for sure we’ll have something by the summer.

Jessica: Do you have any idea what sort of wars you want to base this new album around yet?

Pär: Yes, I don’t wanna say yet, but we’re working with three different topics in our head for an album, and we’re coming up with ideas all the time, but right now we’re working with three different one but we’ve pretty much decided which way we’re gonna go. It’s an exciting thought. SABATON fans will like it, for sure.

Dean: Can you explain the kind of research you have to do to create a new album?

Pär: It obviously depends, some songs are more complicated to find information about than others. If we’re singing about something that happened, for example, on the Heroes album we have a song about smoking snakes, which is Brazil which is obviously so it’s going to be in Portuguese any information we find. And there ain’t going to be a single word in English among it and I don’t speak Portuguese so then it becomes a little bit complicated to do research but thanks to a lot of help from fans and people living in those countries we ask them can you provide us more. Normally, almost every idea that we write about comes from a fan. They send in ideas saying sing about this and we say wow that sounds interesting, and I start to research, do some quick looking up and think maybe this is something. And if I miss something I often ask the fans to keep sending stuff about it, tell me which books and movies there is about it, and eventually we will sit down and look at it because it’s not so easy all the time cause what we sing about is sensitive and two sided so there is nothing really what is right and wrong because there will always be two sides. We don’t really take any stance with one side, we tell the story how we are told it. If you suggest we were writing about your great grandfather and you send the story, that’s how we would tell it. So, but we will put our own emotions and point of view towards it.

Jessica: Have you ever received any criticism regarding the subject matter from fans saying perhaps you might be wrong?

Pär: Yeah, yes we have. People say ‘oh you sing about that, why don’t you sing about this?’ and then some people take it personally, they think it’s our point of view that’s told and we have been misunderstood many times. In the beginning, not so much now, but it was getting pretty complicated, especially in Germany because it’s don’t mention the war still there. So if you sing about Nazis and stuff they go crazy and think that we are Neo-Nazis. We have to send the lyrics to venues and promoters and record labels and magazines and say please, read this and understand we are not singing Neo-Nazi propaganda. Then we get ‘you cannot play this song when you play Germany’ but whatever, we play them anyway and fans like them. It tends not to be the fans actually, it’s the other people who complain about it. The fans they’re happy with whatever we do. We get controversial when we go to Israel and play because Swedish people, they don’t like Israel, and when we go there it’s controversial in Sweden but we don’t give a fuck. We play for the fans and we are not there to do politics or change the world order or anything, that’s for somebody else to do. We do heavy metal for our fans wherever they are.

Jessica: Have you ever been stopped from playing somewhere because of people objecting?

Pär: Yes we have, we were supposed to play in Stalingrad a few years ago, in Russia, today it’s called Volgograd but for one night it was renamed for them to celebrate seventy years anniversary of the battle. They did a big re-enactment, a lot of people on location and they wanted us to play. But then we were banned from Russia so weren’t allowed to enter the country. I wrote an open letter to Russia which was published in newspapers and after that a local politician disappeared. Then we got entrance back to Russia.

Dean: have you thought of writing counter songs, the other side of an argument to specific songs?

Pär: Well, we don’t really need to be saying we’re sorry for anything so we don’t really an urge to say we wrote this song and it was about this and we kind of, that was the story where your ancestors died, and it’s horrible of course, but we’re not going to write something that’s then you did this to win the war. There’s no justification, I think we’d lose the face if we did that. We sing about what we want.

Jessica: You are going to be supporting IRON MAIDEN in Finland in June, that’s really big for any rock or metal band.

Pär: IRON MAIDEN was the first ever metal band I started to love, and it’s still the best band in the world so of course that is super good. We’ve played with them several times, we toured with them two years ago and Finland is not the only place we’re going to play with them, there’s going to be a few more places. It is absolutely fantastic to play with them, and we’re also going to be touring with The Scorpions which is my second favourite band so it’s going to be nice. We’re doing that in two weeks, we’re only playing shows with IRON MAIDEN, it could be worse! No, playing with IRON MAIDEN is fantastic, they’re such nice people, although we don’t know the band members that well but all the crew members working around are nice people. It’s amazing.

Jessica: Do you think touring with a band like IRON MAIDEN who have concept albums to do with history and war influence what you do?

Pär: We never thought about it that way, we never had in our mind that because IRON MAIDEN do it, we’re going to do it, so no we just did what we do. And I never spent so much attention to the IRON MAIDEN topics actually in the past, I just loved the songs and singing along to them without thinking actually what they were about because when I started to love IRON MAIDEN I didn’t at all care about lyrics, I just loved the songs. They could be about anything. So they haven’t really influenced anything like that.

Jessica: I think I agree with the whole not knowing what goes on in songs because I started listening to IRON MAIDEN when I was like four years and I remember going into school and singing Number Of The Beast and they’d be like what are you doing? And I’d be like I’m four years old, I don’t know what’s going on!

Dean: Any secrets you can tell us about what’s happening next for SABATON?

Pär: I’m usually like an open book but I don’t like to tell, I of course know what’s going to happen with SABATON, I make the plans, I’m the manager. I decide what’s going to happen and I know exactly where we’re going to be in April 2017 or September 2017 but I don’t want to make those things public before they are.

Dean: Is your ring a bottle opener?

Pär: It’s a malfunctioning bottle opener, it’s broken but it’s supposed to be one. It was actually mismade. But I keep it because my old guitar technician made one for me and I lost it so I went to buy one but it was shitty quality but I keep it so that one day I will remember that I should look for one because they do come in handy.

Jessica: Thank you very much, it’s been a pleasure!

Pär: Thank you!