This is an interview I conducted at Hellfest with Par from Sabaton at Hellfest 2014. I’m very grateful for his time! The interview looks at Sabaton’s career and how the band has developed over the years. Par talks about some of the practicalities of running a touring band as-well as his attitudes and views to building a career. A must read for anyone interested in what it takes to be a pro!
Pår: It’s been 10 days since I had any sleep.
Me: What have you been doing??
Pår: Touring! Problems come up, people steal our gear, people get sick, we have to rearrange, production breaks down, buses break down and someone has to deal with that.
Me: How do you deal with that?
Pår: It’s case to case. And we just arrive here, a bit late with everything. First interview was at 5, we didn’t get hear until 7 and its one hour check in at the festival.
Me: Thank you for seeing me! Sabaton formed in 1999 and your first album came out in 2001. What did you spend your first two years doing?
Pår: We were pretty active playing locally, there is plenty of opportunities to play, contests, youth clubs. We were quite active and heavily searching for a record deal. We didn’t have any contact to play outside of our region and in our region we were doing well, still active and writing a lot of songs. They were very exciting times, then we got the record deal, in 2001 Fist for Fight was out. Our next album was scheduled to be out 2002, Metalizer, but it was never released. Then we got pretty bored with everything and it wasn’t until 2005 we had the spirit to play again.
Me: Wow! You’ve done a lot of work with Peter Targtgren. I think most of your albums were produced by him, you recorded your first few albums at his studio, is this right?
Pår: No, we recorded with his brother, tommy, at the beginning. It was only the two last albums we worked fully with Peter. We worked for many years with his brother in the beginning, but Peter was always there with some ideas, some advice, some help, helping us out with mixing things, guitar sounds, small details. He was always there since the beginner of Sabaton.
Me: How did that relationship come about, how did you end up recording with his brother?
Pår: We’re from the same region, it’s just 40 minutes drive. Peter is a legend locally and his brother aswell, he did a lot of productions. We watned to record there, it was our dream when we started out. It is weird that it took until 2012 to do a full album with Peter. But now we’re great friends, it’s so simple to record there now.
Me: Sabaton’s image has been pretty consistent over the last decade. Was that intentional?
Pår: When we started out we didn’t think about anything, it was lets have some songs and play live. That’s it. But as we go along, I started to become more focused on what we were doing. In 2005 when we released Primo victoria, that was my turning point and I started to realize we could become something. I’m not sure what, but it’s worth giving it a shot. Then I started thinking how should we make this work? From there it has been step by step finding the concept. The first album was about history and battles and war, somewhere 1 year later we found the stage clothes we are still using, then it went on and on down the same line. I mean, over the years, it becomes more and more focused as we grow as a band. Today its not so much about playing, its more about planning and organizing and making sure that we can play. In the beginning it was only playing and having fun, now the other things take more time, but they make it possible to have fun and play, so its very necessary to continue and grow. We manage ourselves, so it’s a lot of work!
Me: Really? How do you manage your time to deal with everything?
Pår: Sabaton is a very well oiled machine. Everybody starts at 10am at our HQ and works until the evening. Personally, I work from when I wake up to when I goto bed normally. It’s a lot of things because I am so focused and there is so much I want to do ant anot enough time to do it all. We are very focused. It’s necessary to be like that. Between shows we are not sitting at home waiting for things to happen. We meet at 10, we make sure what we are going to do that day, set up a plan, usually only plan one day at a time so we can still be flexible. I have learnt over the years that this music industry is so flexible we have to always be improvising and be flexible. For the band, I usually plan 1 year in advance for shows, but we usually plan one day in advance to be flexible.
Me: I was reading an interview with Joachim a year ago and he was saying that bands these days quite often get stuck in a catch 22, to go on tour you have to have a good album out, to have an album out you have to tour to get the attention. How would you advise young bands to break that?
Pår: They have to like everything, because then things get easier. What I mean with that is I see a lot of bands who can’t really enjoy all the other stuff, think its taking too much time. With Joachim, we realized over the years that he is the main songwriter and in order to write songs he needs to have a clear head. He can’t be troubled with all the other troubles that a band has. So if you divide what you are up to and find each persons strengths, that will help a lot and is necessary and the only way to do it.
Me: You sort of answered this already, I was reading an interview with you a few years ago and you said you tend to plan around 3 years into the future. At what stage did you start planning that far in advance?
Pår: I wouldn’t care to book 5 years in advance, but it doesn’t make any sense because nobody else will do it. We are booked to 2015. My plans stretch to 2016 but we won’t book anything. We will book studio time and a release date that far in advance, but not shows. To book shows for next year is essential fr me so we can close it down and keep on focusing and start working promoting it with a local promoter and pushing the tour to the fans, marketing advertising it. So I like htem booked and announced as soon as possible.
Me: Two years ago sabaton had a line up change. Obviously you wanted a very high quality musicans. What were the non musical factors you wanted in your new musicians?
Pår: Before, Joachim wrote the songs and I did everything else. So we knew that we could do it no matter. So we were just looking for people capable of playing our songs with ease. They should be better musicians than me and Joachim. They should be able to sing, everybody. That was the only thing. We were basically looking for people who loved to play no matter what. If they saw a guitar they will play it no matter what until someone takes the guitar and smashes it against their head because they are so annoying. We were looking for a drummer who will drum on everything he can find so we wouldn’t get in the same instrument we were where we would come home and nobody would want to touch an instrument again. But we also got bonuses, but that’s all they were. We got a designer who is better than me, I did all the t shirts and designs myself, but now we have a colleague better than me, which is fantastic. We also have other things that came along. Hannas used to do organization for the band.
Me: Am I right in thinking you keep a lot of Sabaton’s management and design in house between you guys?
Pår: Yes. It’s necessary today because there isn’t as much money as there used to be. In order to maintain our lifestyle, we need to figure out how to keep the money to ourselves. The amount of design work is insane, it’s basically a full time occupation. If we gave that away, it would be like an additional band member in cost. The management we keep ourselves, I book a lot of shows myself.
Me: Is that mainly to keep the money, or to keep creative control?
Pår: It’s a combination. I love to be in control and I love that the control stays between us. It’s not likely the band will lose me, then it will have bigger problems! But if we had an external who knew and kept everything, and he goes away, gets tired, doesn’t get paid enough, then we have a serious problem because we don’t know what he was working on. I don’t do everything 100% myself, I have assistants who do a lot of things for us. But I am still in the loop of what they are up to.
Me: So how do you guys prepare for a tour, how do you run your rehearsals? Do you break it down hour by hour?
Pår: Kind of. First of all, we make a list of the songs we are going to play for the next 6 months. Then everyone makes sure they know them. We set up times, we don’t do like some bands do, 8 hours a day for two days then go on tour. We don’t believe in doing like that. Since we are working from 10am everyday, we go in the morning, we say at 2pm we will rehearse for an hour, play these three songs and these three songs. So we make a schedule for which songs we take day by day. After a little while, even though we have a fantastic studio to rehearse in, you get unfocussed. We lik to keep rehearsals short and do other things inbetween, count merchandise, pack trailers for trucks. We are always occupied and changing what we are doing so we get fresh energy.
Me: You have a lot on at the moment, your own festival, a cruise, how do you keep all this stuff happening?
Pår: I always have these ideas on what I want to do, then I make sure they happen. I’m not crazy, all of these were very carefully calculated. Obviously we take a risk when we hire a boat or put on a festival, but it’s a calculated risk, it’s calculated with what we are gaining. The festival is now 7 years, the cruise is 5 years. It’s very carefully calculated. Should we do it, what are the up and the down sides? I always take a long time, I never make decisions on the fly. I sit down and think very carefully, what do we gain, what do we lose. And then go through it over and over again
Me: Can you give me an idea of your thought process. With the cruise, what are the things you would look at?
Pår: The cruise started as a problem. We are in Sweden, we need to goto Finland with 32 people and two trucks on tour. The ferry company wants to charge very high for crossing. I know there are other ferries that bands play on. I say what if we hire an entire ferry and fill it with fans and then there is a long discussion because I need to convince them we are able to do that. While they are discussing, I am calculating, what kind of cost does it include, what is the risk, what is the promotional value, what is the logistical value. We get from point A to B, we get some logistical value, we get some promotion, we get some income. I calculated it and then said we do it, even if we lost money the value of promotion and transportation was good. And it sold out. It’s been sold out for 5 years now and it’s now economically good.
Me: Looking back over the history of Sabaton, are there any mistakes you would want to fix if you could? If you had the chance to do things differently a second time round? Or are there things young bands should watch out for?
Pår: We signed a stupid deal, the first and second one we did. I wouldn’t say I would want it to be any different, for us it was a good lesson. Today we are on the biggest heavy metal record label in the world, nuclear blast, we are exactly where we are supposed to be. I didn’t want to be there in the beginning because we wouldn’t be able to handle that.
Me: What do you mean by you wouldn’t be able to handle it?
Pår: With our first label, we didn’t know anything. How do we book a tour? I don’t know. How do we contact a booking agent? I don’t know. If you aim for a high level, you need to work on that level and match them. When we came to Nuclear Blast and started working with them in 2010, Sabaton had been going for 10 years, we were a well oiled a machine, we had been through law suits, big tours, economic crises, a lot of things. We owned a tour bus, festival and cruise. We knew what was going on. When we came into Nuclear Blast, I understand what they were talking about immediately and I was talking the same language as them. We were already going in on a high level, they didn’t have to explain anything, they didn’t think we were a stupid band who didn’t know anything. We came with lots of ideas. The first album [with nuclear blast], a lot of things didn’t work out, a lot of things were “oh so that’s how you do it. That’s how we do it. Ok, fine lets sorted out.” But by Corvas Corex the whole process is super smooth, we are working like we have known each other our entire lives. With Heroes it was even better. Of course [in hindsight with the first album] I would have signed a smarter deal, we signed away our rights for a lifetime. After many years we ended up in a lawsuit and had to buy back the rights, it was super expensive. I wish I would have done that [differently], but I don’t regret working together with the first and second record label, because that’s when we learned a lot of things at the base level. We had to figure out with them how to get step by step bigger, I’m very happy for that. I don’t regret anything. I think that we have come the best we could. Sure at some point, this thing should have gone that way, but these are small things. We have done it slowly, carefully, calculating every little step we take. I wouldn’t do it any differently.
Me: So, you’ve managed to grow and sustain your careers pretty impressively over the last few years. Sabaton seem to be in a constant progression. How do you ensure that happens when a lot of bands seem to collapse after their first / second albums?
Pår: Well, first of all I’m very happy I have the colleague Joachim, he is an excellent songwriter and that is necessary. He is not at the peak of songwriting. Secondly, when I want something, you better put something very heavy in my way because I will go all in to that goal, I will work and do whatever is necessary to get there. It’s just the way I am as a person. If we set the goal that we will be conquering this country I will make sure this happens. If you look at where Sabaton is strong, it’s where we wanted to be strong initially, it’s a plan, a goal, step by step. That’s why Sabaton doesn’t play in Asia yet, I have decided that we are not ready to conquer that countries yet. When we are, they will notice. But for now we leave them and are focused on other things. We cannot fight on all fights at the same time. We have to ensure that when we open a door we go fully through it and secure that room. Then we open the next door.
Me: Are there any principles you live by?
Pår: Yes. I don’t really trust too much other people, which is unfortunate, tough lessons to be learned. It’s hard, I’m trying to get rid of that, if you get burned a lot of times, you stay away from fire. Do it yourself. I’d rather do it myself and fail than give it to someone else and fail.
Me: Any others?
Pår: I believe to have fun. You should always try to think about why you are doing everything. Too many complain they have to do this and that. If you are able to turn it around and understand why those thins exists, they exists because you want something. If you can change the must into want, the easier life will be. You want to do the laundry, you don’t have to. This is what I try to do. When I sit down and there is something that needs to be done, I think I would think maybe I shouldn’t do it all because it won’t lead to where I want to be, but if it does lead to where I want to do, I convince myself it is fun. It helps in tough times. It makes it easier, I meet many colleagues that complain I need to sit 5 hours in an airport and do nothing. If you can turn that around and look on the positive side which I do, I totally love it, I think it’s a blessing and it should be a blessing for any artist, just to sit and listen to music for 5 hours, how many people in the world can do that? Or read a book or a movie, today it’s so easy. If you go back in time, 10-15 years, then it was hard for someone artists because sure they didn’t have their phones, iPads, things were more complicated. But today, sitting in an airport, great. Even sitting in a minivan, the things you can do! I know so many people not in the music people, they’d die for 5/6 hours to read a book. They work 7-4 each day to sit and watch TV for 2 hours. So, I think if you look at it that way, artists should be blessed. I am.
Me: My last question, is what advice would you give to small bands wanting to break out of that local hometown circuit?
Pår: Actually, I have tonnes of tips, I do a lot of helping and guiding local bands. I usually say, a lot of things, you have to play anywhere under any circumstances they can. No matter what you write in a letter to a label or a booking agent, they will not be impressed by your first CV. Sure if you formed a band from ex members of Iron Maiden, maybe they will read it. But you have to play and play and play, that’s the way you get better. If you don’t have the basics, it doesn’t make any sense to search for the rest. So you start with yourself, then you add the branches of trying to get into a label. You need to be prepared for what is the outside. Start small, start local and prepare for the next step. Don’t aim next month to play the biggest festival because you might not be ready for it. Always work step by step.
Me: Always work to the next step?
Pår: Yes. Not something too far away. You have to have goals, but you need secondary goals and third goals. Yes I would like to headline WOA, but it’s not the goal for tomorrow.
Me: Is that one of your goals?
Pår: It’s always been.