TARTAREAN DESIRE WEBZINE
This phone interview with the vocalist Johan Hegg of Amon Amarth was done in May 2003 by Sam Chronic.
Sweden is more or less considered the nervous system inside the body that is the modern world of metal. It seems that almost every worthy band that is putting out music nowadays comes from this region and while some bands may sound repetitious and others redundant there is a band that arises from amongst the battlefields a grand victor.... Amon Amarth. From achieving multiple successful album releases to touring the entire globe this band seems destined to rule the world. The band has actually has decided to pit themselves against the world with the release of their latest album "Amon Amarth Versus the World". Unfortunately in conquering the world there seems to always be problems. The North American "Gods of Metal Tour" featuring Halford, Testament, Immortal, Amon Amarth, Carnal Forge, Primal Fear and Pain Museum was suddenly cancelled five days into the tour. With just a few cities in the States pummeled Amon Amarth had to turn around and head back home to re plan their future strategy. I recently caught up with lead vocalist Johan Hegg to find out about everything from the Gods of metal to ruling the world.
How is everything right now for you guys after getting off the tour?
Well, actually it's kind of boring being home again of course. I mean I would much rather be out on the road but we have to roll with it and shit happens all the time, it is just sad that it had to happen right now of course. But we'll back, you know it is not the end of the world but it is too bad it the tour had to be cancelled.
Definitely. So tell me, if you can for any legal reasons, can you give me any insight to why the tour was cancelled?
I don't know anything except for what they told us. We knew about this the day before the last show and we were really just told that it had something to do with some contracts. Any questions about this matter should probably be asked to Halford’s management as they are the ones that are sitting with the documentation.
I was really just wondering what was said to the band, as it was just so sudden.
All we were told was that there were some difficulties with some contracts and that is why they had to close the tour.
How was the atmosphere with such a diverse bill of bands from different regions?
We only played 5 days but I just think that this could have been one of the coolest tours ever. All of the bands were really cool to each other all the way from Testament down to us. I never got to speak to Halford but I did speak to his band and of course the other bands.
It was such an all-star line up of bands.
It was really cool. I think it could have been a really good tour for all the bands.
And all the fans, everyone I have talked to about it was so excited to see the tour and it was just an utter disappointment and shock to hear that it was cancelled.
It's unbelievable you know. Like I said it totally sucks that it had to be cancelled...like I also said, shit happens and you just have to live with it.
You guys can't seem to get on a normal tour. 2 years ago the September the 11th events postponed your tour and then Marduk cancelled making you guys fly solo into the states. I guess that was beneficial in a sense as the band got to headline the tour.
Well. I think that we are jinxed or something (Both of us laugh). It is difficult to put a tour together in the US and we’ve been there for two tours basically. I guess it just does not work the same as it does in Europe. What really bugs me sometimes is for example; on both the Deicide and Halford tours the dates were not settled when we went out on the road and that is not the way that it works in Europe. They always have the tour dates set 2 months before the tour starts so they can do proper advertising. It just does not seem to work that way in the states and I don’t know why.
That is what pretty much any band from Europe has ever told me. That it is very hard to get over here, it is expensive and it just seems to be an overall struggle to come here and tour.
Yeah, it's tough being on the road in the states because not only do you have to pay the flight tickets but also everything else is very expensive and it all comes out of the bands pocket.
That is what I don't understand. The record company is promoting you, why would they not pay for you to come over here?
They are giving us tour support and everything so there is really nothing wrong there. Virtually all money that the band makes for the shows goes into transportation and everything. The only way to make money in the States is to sell t-shirts, which can be pretty difficult to make a living while you are on the road.
And you have to pay someone to stand and sell the merchandise....
Right, I mean it is tough. Only making money from t-shirts and then you have to come home and pay the bills.
Man, I can only imagine...Where is the band planning on heading next? Possibly the US?
Well it seems so. Actually we don't have all the details yet but I know we are going back on tour in September to tour with Nile, Vader, Kreator and Goatwhore. As of yet we have only seen the package and we have not seen the tour dates or really discussed means of transportation or anything. The deal seems to be more or less closed so hopefully we will be able to make it over.
Definitely, I hope that everything goes all right this time.
Yeah me too! (Both of us laugh) Actually I am not sure who is putting this tour together but I think that it is a new agency so who knows, third time luck maybe, you got to get it sometime.
Well I am knocking on wood right now. I would love to see you come here and play.
Yeah, that would be fucking cool to come back.
Does it ever worry you about traveling in the USA with all the terrorist threats?
Not really. First of all if I were worried about that then I would have to worry about crossing the street. Driving to work would be a hazard. Shit happens all the time and I don’t see how we as a band would be a target for terrorists anyways. They are going after the government shit and unless we are playing at air force bases in front of planes like Spinal Tap, I don’t think it is a problem.
Do any of these events ever go on in Sweden as far as car bombings and political mayhem.
Not really I mean we have some anarchists and people doing huge demonstrations and huge riots in the streets. But nothing serious with any serious destruction, it is just kids being assholes.
Not so different from anywhere else, kids are assholes everywhere.
Oh yeah, I mean fuck; I don't care about their problems (laughs). I mean they obviously have some frustrations they have to get out and I think that they are doing it the wrong way but it is not my job to keep them in check so to speak.
I wanted to talk to you about your new album, which was actually just released in January here. Why Amon Amarth Versus the world?
There are a lot of things that go into the title. But look at the title track and it sort of deals with the history of the band and how we have fought to survive in the music industry. I think that we have had a lot of fortune being able to put out 5 albums and going on tour but we have also had to struggle very hard to get where we are and to get the recognition that we deserve in the music scene. So it basically reflects on that.
I wanted to thank you for the second disc with all the demos and mini CD’s...I was also not sure if all the albums were double CD’s.
Sure, well the double CD is a limited edition but I am not sure how many copies were printed.
I have only ever been able to get a copy of “Sorrow Throughout the Nine Worlds” and that and all the rest of the demos are on the second disc so I pretty much freaked out. Was that the bands idea to put the disc out?
Yeah, at first there was meant to just be a bonus song, which was the re-recorded version of "Victorious March" with German Lyrics. But then we felt that it was so lame to just have one song on a CD. Our past record company made a breach of contract so we had just gotten the mini CD’s and the original recordings and everything back. We said why not release the mini CD and do it as a bonus on the new album so that people can get it and hopefully enjoy it. So we decided to put it on the second disc and re master it. Then as we were looking for photos and other stupid stuff to put on the album, we found the old demo tapes as well, which we actually thought were lost. We just decided to re master them too and put them on the bonus cd as well.
So the songs have been re mastered, because the sound is great.
Yes the songs have been re mastered but not re-mixed. It is just sort of a gift to the fans that have been sticking with us for a long time and have been asking about the old stuff that is not available and the first demo that has never been released. It was something for the fans to see where we come from as a band and how we have developed as musicians.
Well it is definitely appreciated. It is very hard for us to get albums over here in the States and sometimes you have to buy a recording from someone and that sucks because then you are paying for somebody that is ripping off of you guys...I don't like to hand out copies and I don't like to buy them.
Mail order man!! (Both of us laugh)
The Crusher was actually one of my favorite albums. I was wondering what the formula was to follow up such a successful album that has had so much positive feedback?
I have no idea man. (Laughs) We don't actually ever look back. When we start working on new material we just drop the old stuff and work with what we have as far as musical ideas and lyrical ideas go. We try to work very hard to make every album the best album we have ever made but we are not looking at the old stuff much.
I feel that basically as a critic so to say, that you guys slowed it down on the new album a little bit but I think that it also displays and showcases as a whole a more technical side to the band.
Yeah, I guess so. The whole album is more diverse on it's own. We had to slow it down because we wanted the album to be brutal but still melodic and by slowing it down we were able to get the right mixture.
That is actually killer to hear you say that because the one thing that I have always said about you guys is that you are able to mix brutality and melody. You are actually one of the only bands that are able to achieve that.
Thanks a lot man. It is something that we try to make happen...but of course you always have to make compromises. I think with this album we managed to do it very well.
Yes, I certainly agree. What are the inspiration for your lyrics and are the lyrics written in a fictional sense or are they revised from a personal level?
There is a diverse meaning to the lyrics as well. A lot of the stuff I write is from a personal level but is not really anything that I care about if people get or not so I write alot of the stuff as metaphors based in Viking mythology and Viking History which is sort of my main interest in life and sort of my main atmosphere in life.
That is definitely the atmosphere that you have achieved at least from listening to it. I think that a lot of people are not going to get lyrics written in a person context.
If you go to introvert at least, I find lyrics like that boring because maybe they don't come across. But if you have lyrics that are introvert and they still tell a story that people can enjoy as a story it makes more sense to me. I am not sure if everyone agrees but at least that is the way that I feel.
Just curious, what got you started into music?
Well, I have been listening to metal for a long time but what actually got me into started in bands. Olavi, our guitar player and my best friend had a band called Scum, which they started in 88. In 91 or 92 they split up. Then Olavi, my friend and myself were on vacation in Greece and I asked them if they were going to put the band back together and the answer was no because there was no singer. And I said-well I can sing (laughs). So that is how I started trying out for the band and I have not left since (laughs).
And you definitely shouldn't! I just wanted to ask this question because it is on my mind. What about Metallica? So many bands say they are inspired by Metallica but should they not have hung up their boots after ...And Justice for all?
I love Metallica up to “…And Justice For All” and even some of the Black album but after that it went haywire (laughs).
Yeah that seems to be the general consensus.
So for me it is not Metallica anymore. I did not buy Reload or anything like that. After Load I sort of lost interest in the band but James Hetfield is still one of my main inspirations as a vocalist. I really enjoy the early works all the way from “Kill Em All” to “…And Justice For All”. I think that he was one of the great vocalists from the 80's.
Yeah, it is just that I see them as such an impact on the metal world. Then they take bands like Limp Bizkit and Linkin Park on tour with them and then admit that their intent is to sell out every stadium when instead they can influence fans to come see a band like Amon Amarth, or The Haunted or Dark Tranquillity. Bands that have made an impact on the scene but just need that extra push to get more exposure.
Exactly, I think to get back to what Halford did, which I think was really cool. He and Testament brought a bunch of bands to a package that was virtually unknown to a major audience. A lot of the older metal heads are really into Halford and really into Testament and for them to bring bands like ourselves and Immortal, Carnal Forge and Primal Fear on the road with them was totally cool and I admire them for that and respect them… you know what I am saying?
How can you not?
It was a good thing for the metal community in the States and that is one of the reasons why it is so sad that the tour was cancelled.
That and a lot of fans could have been exposed to your music.
Not only ours but a band like Immortal, they are so fucking great and have such a big following that they could have had an even bigger one. If I had something to say about it anyways! (Laughs).
Yup, me too. How do you feel about the music scene in general and what bands do you enjoy listening to?
Well I really enjoy Immortal, it is a really cool band and of course the old stuff like Slayer, Testament and Motorhead which is always going in my CD player but its still mainly Immortal 90% of the time. Other bands are Carnal Forge and Vomitory but it is only natural as you are on tour with these guys and you want to check them out and learn more about them. Of course I knew about Immortal before but not Carnal Forge who are just great guys.
Okay time for an off the wall question...Let's say Amon Amarth destroy the world and you are the only ones left. Having to fight each other for food and booze whom is the last man standing?
Me of course, I get the other ones to fight each other for everything and then I just sit by and watch them die. (Both of us laugh)
Are you guys friendly when you are not touring or rehearsing?
Yeah, I mean we have been in this band for such a long time and some of us have families and some don't. Fredrik and Olavi are hanging out most of the time and going to the pub where as Ted and I are huge soccer fans and we are always going to check out our favorite teams together. Johan Godeburg has a family so he doesn’t go out that much with us except for touring and rehearsing. But we always meet up every once in an awhile and have a good time. It is just that when you live so close to each other and especially like this year, when we were on the road for two months and we are going to do all these festivals still, when you are back home you need some time away from each other. I think that is really important to just be able to relax and hang out by yourself and hang out with your family and other friends.
Yeah, other wise you would just get burnt out of each other.
Well we are not interested in that happening to each other (laughs). We just want to have a good time when are out there and make the most out of every tour and in order to do that it won't help to be burnt out as you said.
What about movies? Not to stereotype Scandinavians but I always think of the 13th Warrior when I listen to the band.
(Laughs) I don't know I don't really like that movie, I think that they shot it all wrong because I read the book.
Yeah I read the book too; as usual the book is better than the movie.
The book is brilliant but the movie is ridiculous in many ways. But it is a cool story if you look behind all the clichés and all that crap jammed in there. They could have made the movie a little more glamorous than even Braveheart. I have other favorite Viking movies that I enjoy more although I am not sure if you can find them in the states. They are made by an Icelandic director and he has done a few movies while the first two are the best. The first one is Flight of the Raven and the second is the Shadow of the Raven.
I have actually heard of the first one but you are right sometimes it is hard to find foreign flicks here but there is always mail order like you said. I will have to check those out.
What is really weird is that they are not available on DVD but you can find them on VHS. I would think that they would offer the movie on DVD because you can put subtitles and everything on there so you can sell it to a wider audience.
And then of course all of the special features which are always really cool.
Exactly, I hope that it is available on DVD soon.
Speaking of DVD's I know you guys are touring but what about a DVD?
We'll see what happens we have had a lot of plans for it and we were discussing making a DVD this autumn but it will probably have to wait till later next year or the year after that.
I will definitely look forward to seeing that.
We'll see what happens. We are going to start shooting all the stuff and maybe we will include a studio DVD in the next album. We have not really discussed it thus far but we have been tossing around ideas to put on a bonus CD so maybe we will do something like that.
Have you guys begun recording anything new?
No, we have not actually. Right now we are probably going to start working on some new material in the summer and the autumn and we will be entering the studio in about a year. So hopefully the new album will be out in September or October of the next year.
We will definitely look forward to that! Surely I have interrogated you for long enough now so to wrap things up would you to say anything to all the readers out there?
I just hope I see everyone is September. We really want to come back and play for you guys and hopefully the tour won't be fucked up like it was last time. Hope to see everyone on the road.
We I really appreciate all your time and next time you are in Atlanta I will definitely be at your show.
Yeah we will be at the Masquerade… that is the right venue in Atlanta right?
Yeah! I know of that place.
Is that area like Crack central or what? (We both laugh)
Yeah...it is so terrible down there!
I was like...OH shit! (We both laugh again)
It is supposed to get cleaned up when they build the Atlanta aquarium, which will be like an 8 billion gallon aquarium. That whole area is going to be torn down...same sort of thing happened with the area when the Olympics was here. It is really bad now though, one of my friends actually got mugged down there.
Wow. That is terrible…
Yeah, maybe they will clean it up before you come back. Hopefully everyone will see you on tour soon and if you guys are in town I will try and catch up with you and buy you a drink.
Yeah definitely-see you then!
Thanks to Johan for spending some time with us answering questions and be sure to look out for Amon Amarth on tour in your area. Check their website for recent news and tour dates. Special thanks to Michelle at Metal Blade Records for the controlled chaos!
Links of interest:
Metal Blade Records