Hammer High!: An on tour interview with Hammerfall
The mighty Hammerfall has been rocking the world with the unique style of heavy metal for over two decades. They recently released their 10th studio album, appropriately titled ‘Built to Last’, and have been touring heavily in support of the album. I was able to catch up with Fredrik Larsson, the bands bass player, on a sunny day in Baltimore on the first week of the band’s 23 city North American tour this spring. We had a chance to talk about the new album, the current tour, the new member, the new label, and just what he really thought about his other bandmates! Here is how it went:
Afternoiz: This is Joe Prostredny from Afternoiz and I’m here with Fredrik of the mighty HammerFall! How are you doing today?
Fredrik: I’m fine thanks! How are you?
Afternoiz: I’m good! We’re here in Baltimore at one of the earliest dates on the North American ‘Built to Tour’ tour. You’re about a week into the tour, how is everything going so far?
Fredrik: Way better than expected, actually. It’s a lot of people and we have a lot of fun. It’s going great!
Afternoiz: It’s been about seven years since you last toured North America?
Fredrik: Yeah, an embarrassing long wait. Sorry for that! I don’t know why. Our intention has always been to play here on every record but something got in the way and it just didn’t happen the way we wanted it. When we were here for the ‘Infected’ album, it didn’t go so well due to a lot of problems. I don’t know, it just happened to be so. But I can assure you, so far this tour has been great and we’re gonna come back real soon!
Afternoiz: We’re very glad you’re back and thank you! The name of this tour, ‘Built to Tour’, is obviously a play off your newest album ‘Built to Last’. It’s your tenth album to date which was just released at the end of 2016. You played some shows across Europe in the early part of this year and now you’re playing North America. How’s the fan reception been to the new album?
Fredrik: It’s been great! All the songs that we include in our set fit right in there among the other old songs. But it’s getting harder and harder of course to pick a set list! (laughs)
Afternoiz: I know! You’ve got ten albums and you’ve got to let some your early babies go to make room for the new.
Fredrik: There’s always a lot of songs that you kind of have to play but we try to pick what we like and a couple of fresh ones as well.
Afternoiz: The title of the album I assume speaks to the band’s longevity; you have ten albums and twenty-plus years. You were here in the very beginning and then you took a break.
Fredrik: Yeah, I was just away for ten years. Not so long… (laughs)
Afternoiz: Does it get more challenging to create a new album? On the one hand, you want to be fresh and unique; you don’t want to put out the same album with a different name every time… but you also want to stay true to your musical style. What about the newest album do you think, in your mind, is unique and what about it makes it still HammerFall?
Fredrik: I think the roots are definitely HammerFall, 100 percent. We all can bring in our own influences as much as we want but at the same time it’s kind of a strict rule that what is HammerFall and not. We play old school heavy metal and that’s it. We can bring in some influences that make it interesting and fresh but it’s still old school heavy metal that rules what we want to play. And with this album, we had a great creative experience in the studio and the songs really came alive there. We worked with Fredrik Nordström the producer; he was just checking by and looked at the work progress so he didn’t do that much in between but he did a really great job at mixing the album in the end.
Afternoiz: Take me through a creation process of a HammerFall album. How is the music created? Who brings what to the table? How does it ultimately translate in the studio to a finished album?
Fredrik: It’s usually Oscar and Joacim that do the most work. Joacim writes most of the lyrics and melodies and Oscar most of the music and some melodies as well. And then we get rough demos of it and we bring what we want to put in there. And then we just make it happen in the studio adding layers upon layers to make the song come alive.
Afternoiz: This is your first album with Napalm. You were with Nuclear Blast for most of your career. What made you decide to change?
Fredrik: We have nothing bad to say about Nuclear Blast but they kind of took us for granted in the end and we want to grow as a band and reach new territories and just grow. So we felt like we had to do something new and fresh so changing labels was one step. So, let’s see what happens!
Afternoiz: What was different about creating an album with Napalm versus Nuclear Blast?
Fredrik: They’re not involved in the process of the recording at all. It’s just a different name for us.
Afternoiz: I mean as far as… obviously, they are supposed to promote you.
Fredrik: Yeah, absolutely. It’s a whole new situation. I’m not involved with that either in that way. When we talked to Napalm, they seemed like they were the label that Nuclear Blast was twenty years ago; young and up and coming and hungry. That really sold them with us and they’re doing great so far.
Afternoiz: Good! I’m glad to hear it! Do you have a favorite song on the new album?
Fredrik: It’s kind of early. The new album has been out for some time but I haven’t gotten the chance to sit back and listen to it among the other records. I would say, maybe, oh what’s it called, the last song of the album, it’s kind of a vocal driven song, a bit slower.
Afternoiz: Second to None?
Fredrik: (laughs) Yeah! Thanks! That’s an odd favorite but still 100 percent HammerFall.
Afternoiz: You have a new drummer on this tour; Johan Kolberg. Where’d you find him?
Fredrik: He’s from Stockholm and an old-time friend of Pontus. He was actually one of the names that we considered when Anders Johansson left and we took David Wallin who was playing on the record. So yeah, he’s helping us out on tour.
Afternoiz: Is he a permanent addition?
Fredrik: We don’t make it permanent until we know everything works like a great machine.
Afternoiz: So, it’s a possibility?
Fredrik: Yeah! Absolutely.
Afternoiz: I saw him perform with you a couple of days in New York and he seems like he’s a good fit. You guys had the day off yesterday so you should be pretty refreshed to kill it on stage tonight.
Afternoiz: You don’t tend to get a lot of days off on tour but what do you like to do with your time when you do get a break?
Fredrik: We try to at least do something. We need to get out, take a walk and get the feel for the city. Doesn’t matter if we just have a couple of hours; we want to get out and do something. Like a museum or whatever. And we really like to do it as a band because we get a much better connection instead of getting up to the room and everybody goes and does their own stuff; it’s kind of lonely. We try to have fun.
Afternoiz: It’s still fun and you’re not tired of each other?
Fredrik: Of course, (laughs) at the end of the tour we might not do everything together but we try to have fun.
Afternoiz: You’re co-headlining this tour with Delain. How have they been to work with?
Fredrik: It’s worked out really good! I think we have a kind of different audience but it seems like the American audience likes both bands. In Europe, it seems like they try to do [tour] packages that are tied together… similar bands going together but in my opinion it seems like it works much better in the US to have different types of bands.
Afternoiz: It’s got to be good in some ways, because you might get exposed to people that haven’t heard of you.
Fredrik: Yeah, that’s what we want. We don’t want to have the exact same audience because then only half of the people show up! (laughs).
Afternoiz: This North American tour is a big one; twenty-three dates and then it looks like you’re heading right into the European festival season. Do you prefer the bigger festivals or do you like the more intimate club shows?
Fredrik: I will say I love them both… but such a different experience. When we do our own shows, it’s kind of small and sweaty stages and we do it for our fans and pick and choose the songs for that environment. When we do a festival, we need to reach out for a much larger audience and pick songs that really appeal to a much larger crowd. It’s a different kind of set.
Afternoiz: What are your plans after the summer? Are you taking a breather or hitting the road again?
Fredrik: No rest this year. We had twenty-three shows in Europe before we hit off this North American tour and then we have a lot of festivals and we’re going to do a small Swedish tour after that. I’m sure there’s going to be a South American tour. Yeah, we have a lot of things in the pipeline.
Afternoiz: I assume you’ll be touring this album into next year as well. I know it’s a bit early, but when does the creative process start? Does it flow from one album to the next or do you guys take a mental breather?
Fredrik: We take a small break before we start with the next thing. It can happen if there’s a long period between tours. We might have time to start the writing process but that’s mostly in Oscar’s head (laughs). Or in Joacim’s head. But we have plans for a new album to record next year.
Afternoiz: After twenty years on the road, do you have a favorite tour memory that stands out?
Fredrik: Yeah, there’s a lot of memories. One of my favorites would be playing in Gothenburg, my hometown, at the big venue called Scandinavium where I saw all of my childhood heroes like Priest and Iron Maiden and Accept when I was a kid. Playing there on that stage was really huge for me.
Afternoiz: Do you have a worst tour memory?
Fredrik: (laughs). I don’t know. Of course there’s a lot of those too. Nothing that comes to mind right now. Sorry!
Afternoiz: Describe your other bandmates with one word each.
Fredrik: Wow! (laughs) This is difficult! Joacim: Intelligent. Oscar: Heartful. Pontus: Musician. Johan: Funny-guy.
Afternoiz: One word for yourself?
Fredrik: Oh! All of the above (laughs).
Afternoiz: (laughs) I guess I’ll take that! Unfortunately, our time together is coming to an end. But, I’m really looking forward to seeing you guys on stage tonight! I did get to catch you on 70000 Tons of Metal last year and I saw you in New York two days ago. Do you have any parting words for your fans?
Fredrik: I hope to see you out there on this tour! It’s a great package and we have a lot of fun on stage so be sure to not miss it!
Afternoiz: Thank you very much!