It was not long ago that I had the chance to listen to the new Grand Magus album called 'Monument'. I instantly knew that I would seize any opportunity to talk to JB, the bandís frontman, about this very interesting new release, and also his plans with Spiritual Beggars. Minutes before the band stormed the stage of the London Garage, the gentle bearded Swede answered some of my questions. Long live Heavy Metal!
Would you like to tell me a few things about your new album 'Monument'? It has been released for seven months now, if Iím not mistaken. How has it been received by people in general? How has it been selling?
JB: We were very, very happy about the reception of the album. Weíve got some great press, and a lot of people seem to have discovered us, so we couldnít have done better really.
The album has a really good sound. Tell me a few things about the recording process of such an energetic and heavy album.
JB: We recorded it in a very small studio in Stockholm, with a guy called Oneman who usually doesnít do Heavy Metal or Rock music. He really doesnít know anything about that kind of music Ė heís more like a Pop singer/songwriter, but heís a really good engineer. We knew what we wanted the album to sound like, and since heís such a good engineer, he just did it.
How long did the recordings take?
JB: I think we recorded for about two weeks, and then the mixing took about one week.
Is 'Monument' your first album with Rise Above records?
JB: No, this is the second one.
How did you get in touch with them in the first place, and how did you manage to sign a contract with Lee Dorianís (Cathedral) label?
JB: It was really through the internet. We sent a demo to a label called Music for Nations, and they had a distribution deal with Rise Above at the time. Music for Nations liked it, but they felt that it would fit better with Rise Above. We kept in touch by e-mail, and then we received an e-mail from Will Palmer, the manager of the label, and he wanted to hear more, so we sent him a tape that we recorded during the week-end and we got signed Ė that was in 2000.
Tell me a bit about the style of the band. I have seen you performing with Spiritual Beggars, which I like very much, but in Grand Magusí case there are many more influences from Classic Metal, such as Rainbow, in your sound.
JB: Grand Magus is definitely a Heavy Metal band. Even though we play quite slow and heavy, itís still in the same vein as bands like Judas Priest or the classic Heavy Metal bands, and thatís the way itís going to be. Weíve done some songs for the next album already Ė itís going to be even more Metal, a bit faster, with double-bass drumming. We want to be a Heavy Metal band, not a Rock or Hard Rock band! If you see us tonight, which I hope you will, you will see that this is a Metal Band, not a Rock Band.
Am I also to assume that the audience youíre targeting is quite diverse?
JB: Anyone who likes classic Heavy Metal, the early 80ís Metal, I think is going to like our music. The only difference is that we do it a bit heavier and slower, but itís basically the same kind of music.
How would you describe Grand Magus on stage? What is it that you guys do differently than other bands?
JB: Since weíre only a three piece, I think we look a bit different than most bands that play Metal in the way we do. I think that the audience seems to like the fact that weíre only three, and manage to make that kind of noise!
Tell me a bit more about the sound, because Iím pretty stuck with it. How did you manage to achieve it? Did you use some specific equipment for the recordings?
JB: No, not really. The sound has more to do with how you play, than what you play. I think we could use any kind of equipment, and it would sound like us anyway! We donít have any special amps, or secret sound gear. Itís more in the riffs I think, and the way you play them.
What about the lyrics of 'Monument'? As youíre the singer, I assume youíre also the lyricist. What subjects does Grand Magus like to 'interfere' with?
JB: The thing is, I donít want to be too specific about it. I can say this - there is a definite meaning and a common thread to all the lyrics. If you read them, youíre going to find out what thatís about. I want people to find out for themselves. Itís not like I want them to make their own interpretations - itís just that the bands that I really liked were bands that had some kind of mystery about them, and when you find outÖ'I think I know what heís talking about now', it gives you a sense of satisfaction and I donít want to spoil that for people by telling people 'this song is about this, and this song is about that'. They are all about something very specific.
I read in the press release of 'Monument' that you have Grand Magus as your main band, regardless of the fact that youíre also the frontman of Spiritual Beggars. How can you devote yourself to two bands to the same extent? It must be kind of difficult.
JB: Yeah, itís difficult, but the thing is that I have very different roles. Grand Magus is like my band, my vision, I make the final decisions about everything and in Beggars Iím just the vocalist. So I can relax in some areas with Grand Magus that I canít do with Spiritual Beggars and vice versa. The only difficult thing really is timeÖto find enough time to do both, but so far itís been working out.
Being a new member in the band is a difficult thing, especially with respect to Metal bands. The first time I saw you with Spiritual Beggars I couldnít help but notice how well you fitted with the band. How did you feel about the reaction of the SB fan-base and how much do you enjoy being a member of this band?
JB: I think it went really well, I didnít try to be anyone else, I just tried to be myself. I like this kind of music, Iíve been a fan of SB before I even knew the guys in the band. It was just an opportunity that I couldnít pass. I think as far as fans are concerned, the majority of the comments I heard have been really positive. They think that ĎOn Fireí was a good album and that we were a good live band. Itís different, but you can still hear that itís SB. Itís a bit funny, because a band like Black Sabbath, for instanceÖI love all the old Black Sabbath albums with Ozzy, but I must say that I like the Dio era even better, yeah. And thatís something that always happensÖyouíre gonna lose some fans and youíre gonna win some. If SB had tried to make another ĎAd Astraí with ĎOn Fireí, or ĎMantra IIIí or something, people wouldnít have liked it, but this album has a different kind of sound Ė different style of songs.
It is more than obvious that youíre influenced by the Dio era. One last question about Spiritual Beggars, since this is by the end of the day a Grand Magus interviewÖWhich are the bandís current plans? Are you preparing any new material?
JB: Yeah, but as I said, I donít make the decisions in Spiritual Beggars, soÖI can say that things have been done, and Iím part of it.
Ok, I understand that Mike Amott has quite a busy schedule, especially since heís involved with so many different bandsÖback to Grand Magus! Today youíre playing a gig in London. Whatís happening next Ė any upcoming tours?
JB: This is actually the first day of our European tour, together with Orange Goblin. Tonight weíll leave for Belgium, and then weíll be on the road in Europe until July the 15th, so itís a full European tour the one thatís starting tonight. When we get back, weíll start recording or working for the next album.
Any idea whether the new album will sound similar to 'Monument'?
JB: I think that the next one is going to be different. 'Monument' was quite different to the first album we made, and this one is not going to sound like 'Monument' Ė itís going to have different types of songs, itís going to have a different sound, but itís still going to be Grand Magus. I think that we cannot do the same kind of album again. 'Monument' is the album it is, and we cannot change that now, but we need to do something else for the next album, while still retaining our identity. I promise that itís going to be faster Ė more Metal!
What is it that makes Sweden the stronghold of bands that prefer to use the 70ís sound? There seems to be a big scene up thereÖ
JB: I donít know. One of the reasons could be that Swedes are really good in taking influences from the outside. Weíre really good at packaging them into something new thatís quite original, compared to the things that other bands play. When you were in school in Sweden, at least while I grew up, at a very early age you got to play an instrument. I used to play the flute!
Do I detect some Jethro Tull influences there?
JB: Well, yes! Many people in Sweden are quite musical, you know, and that helps.
I kind of experienced that thing first hand. I was in Stockholm a couple of weeks ago, and I donít exaggerate when I say that in every corner of the city there was a person playing music!
JB: Sweden is a small country, but thereís a lot of music thatís made up there.
If you were working in the promotional department of the label, and you needed to find a good reason for people to buy the new Grand Magus album, which would have been your main argument?
JB: Thatís not my job you know (laughs). If you like 100% Pure Metal, down tuned and Heavy with memorable vocals and riffs that grab hold of you, then Grand Magus is your band.
Your plans for the future? How do you see the course of Grand Magus in the years to come?
JB: The thing is that Iím the kind of guy that doesnít like to think ahead. I live one day at the time, because I know that life can end one day, just like that! I could walk in front of a bus after we finish here, so I donít really have that kind of vision. The only vision I have is about the music, the lyrics and the essence of Grand Magus. Weíre just going to do everything that we can to reach out and become a bigger band.
What about your influences? What made you decide to become a musician in the first place?
JB: Ritchie Blackmore.
JB: Thatís it!
Ok JB, thank you very much for this interview. A message to the people who are going to see you and hopefully buy your new album?
JB: Bring your leather and your studs, and be prepared for a Metal onslaught!
Thank you JB
JB: Thank you!
Interview © 2004