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Interview: Joacim Cans(Hammerfall)

Pure metal...interviews

I was quite convinced that if I was ever given the opportunity to do an interview with Joacim Cans, frontman of the most promoted Metal outfit in the recent years called Hammerfall, I would need plenty of free time, and my prediction was correct. Sitting in the bar of a very posh central London hotel, I asked him questions regarding his bandís latest studio release 'Chapter V: Unbent, Unbowed, Unbroken', his time spent with Warlord, as well as to the whereabouts of one of the best drummers ever - Mr. Marc Zonder.

Hi Joacim. Itís really nice to finally manage to meet you in person, but before I start my little interrogation, let me welcome you on behalf of the British music press. Tell me please, what news are you bringing to us?

Joacim: For the past eight days, weíve been travelling around Europe promoting our new album. It feels really good because weíre very proud of this album, even though weíre a little bit surprised of the outcome. We are really very satisfied. I knew that it would sound really good in the end, but actually this new album of ours turned out to be much more powerful. I really enjoy doing this, having a product that you can really believe in.

This album that will soon be released is going to be the last fifth studio effort, and based on the title that you chose 'Chapter V: Unbent, Unbowed, Unbroken', it sounds more like a statement rather than anything else.

Joacim: Yes, 'Chapter V...' is as you correctly mentioned our fifth studio effort. With our previous release, which was a live album released two years ago, was like a closure of our first four albums. 'Chapter V...' is definitely a statement from this band. We have been criticised quite a lot in the past, and weíve seen people that liked our music suddenly turning their back on us when we supposingly got into the 'mainstream' as they say. That was when Hammerfall became No.1 in both the album and video charts and young kids were going to the record stores, asking to buy our albums. The album title means that no matter what anybody says we will forever be Unbent, Unbowed & Unbroken. We will bow down for no one - we believe in what weíre doing, and the only thing that we ask for is some respect. If you donít like our new album, thatís fine. There is so much music out there that you can choose to listen to something else!

I find it really hard to believe that a band like Hammerfall thatís been around for eleven years, during which they have put out seventeen different releases to the market, would have to face such problems. Seventeen different releases in eleven years are quite a good figure and it is well known that you guys have a good name in the Metal market. I am a little bit shocked by your previous comment!

Joacim: There was a time when everything just went a little bit too far. That was when I was attacked by a guy in a bar in Gothenburg who managed to smash a glass in my face, and that led to me having to perform plastic surgery. This whole thing happened due to the fact that I was the singer of Hammerfall, a band that he hated more than anything else. We have heard a lot of things like that for other bands who are quite successful at the moment...yes, we heard a lot of bulls*it like that coming from several different directions. When you are living this thing 24/7 like we do, things are much different. I mean, when you go to a bar to have a drink, 99% of the people are really nice, but thereís always going to be one as*hole that is going to get drunk, and when he does he just feels the need to tell you what he thinks. Itís OK if they only talk to you, but when they attack you, itís a totally different thing.

Itís really sad. Timo Tolkki from Stratovarius had a similar incident a couple of years ago that freaked him out completely...anyway, letís not dwell any more on this. You are here to promote your new album. Before we start analysing it, I want you to tell me how do you feel that your band has evolved during these eleven years - since the release of your debut 'Glory to the Brave'. I believe that Hammerfall always had one specific style or musical direction that they followed in every one of their releases.

Joacim: Well, I think that what you heard in 'Glory to the Brave' was pure joy. Every member of the band was quite enthusiastic back then. You have to remember that we released such an album in a time when Heavy Metal was the most uncool thing to play. We only had sixteen days to record, mix and master the album.

You understand that we did everything that we could in order to manage to do that. When the album was finally released, people were taken by surprise and started craving for a similar release. When we released 'Legacy of Kings', we made it like an extension of the 'Glory to the Brave' album but with a better production. Thatís when people started to compare those two albums, and the same thing happened with 'Renegade', even though I believe that we made quite a lot of progress between those albums.

'Renegade' was a little bit different than the previous two - there were some really strong songs on that album, something that a lot of people didnít really see. Instead, they concentrated on the production of the album that most of them didnít really like. We were all a little bit fed up with the double kick drum, Power Metal stereotype and we wanted to get a producer that could actually work with a natural sound.

Some people didnít really get that, but I saw it as a natural progress for the band. In "Crimson Thunder' things changed a little bit since we became a three-part songwriting team - me, Oscar Dronjak and Jesper Stromblad. He (Jesper) didnít want to do this anymore - he didnít have the time, and we also felt that it was time for me and Oscar to prove that we were capable of doing this by ourselves.

In every interview that we made back then, we were talking a lot about Jesperís work and because people didnít know who did what, Jesper ended up getting all the credit for our compositions. Of course, he should get a lot of credit since he has recorded some really amazing stuff.

In 'Crimson Thunder' I think that we found more or less the essence of what Hammerfall are really all about - more mid-tempo compositions. The album turned out really well, maybe a little bit too 'ousted', something that we were able to change on our new album.

I believe that 'Chapter V...'has a certain live feeling that was missing from 'Crimson Thunder' and probably in some of our other albums too. We did a really good job together with Charlie Bauerfeind who has also helped us on our previous effort. He was able to analyse the perfect Hammerfall sound in my opinion.

With this new release, we managed to take a bigger step on the Hammerfall stair of evolution, so to speak. Everyone did their best, and I also have to say that I feel really proud about my vocals on this album. I think that I finally found a way to use my voice 100%.

In the previous releases, I maybe play it a little bit too safe, if you know what I mean. I was relying too much on my technique instead of adding more feeling and emotion to the songs because I didnít really know how my vocal chords would respond to something like that. 'Would I lose my voice if I started to build up tension from the very first song?'...maybe by doing that I would not have any voice by the time the last song would be ready to kick off. This time, we simply said, 'letís go for it', so instead of doing one song each day, with a dayís break in between, we just did five songs in five days. On some occasions, I was standing in the vocal booth for four or even five hours, begging Charlie to show some mercy. This is by far our most mature album to date, and also the release in which we added more new elements than ever before.

If you were asked to describe the music of Hammerfall in the year 2005, what would be your answer then?

Joacim: That is a very good question. Let me just start by saying that Power Metal to me is not Hammerfall. Hammerfall is the essence of what Heavy Metal music is and was all about back in the 80ís. We play a modern version of the so-called 'true' Heavy Metal. If you want a band whose music combines the best bits and pieces from that period in a more modern approach, then you need to listen to Hammerfall. When I say modern, I am not referring to any Nu Metal elements or anything like that - I am talking about freshness, and thatís what this band is all about.

I managed to detect quite a few influences from bands like Accept in the way the riffs are constructed, and on the other hand, many of the melodies that 'Chapter V...' has are more 80ís Hard Rock orientated. Was this what you guys had in mind when you started composing the new material?

Joacim: Everything that we have done so far as a band was done naturally. Oscar is very influenced by Accept and Judas Priest and I think that our music is more towards that school of Metal. We had some people trying to compare us with Helloween, this is something that I donít really see...maybe on the first album with a song like 'The Dragon Lies Bleeding'. Back then we used to have strong elements from the German Speed Metal scene - apart from that, I always saw the band more towards that riff-based Metal scene.

Talking about the promotion of the album, I always believed that Germany is the biggest selling market for bands like Hammerfall. Now, you obviously know the market better than I do so which in your opinion are the countries that are going to 'support' 'Chapter V...' more than the rest?

Joacim: Well, the number one country is still Sweden. I donít know how it happens, but thatís always the case. Of course, Germany is a very important market for us. I really hope that this album will sell well in territories where people like to have something a little extra in their music - a sort of heavier sound. I have the feeling that it will do pretty well here in England and in Italy - a place where our previous efforts didnít do that well and I still cannot understand the reason why. I also hope that the US market is going to show some interest too. I feel so strong about this new album of ours that I believe that even in places that we normally do really good we will manage to do even better this time. Some of the people that are really not into our previous albums might really appreciate this one.

Thereís been a three year gap between the release of 'Chapter V...' and that of your previous effort 'Crimson Thunder'; what did you do as a musician during this time? You are also a member of the legendary Warlord and you have a solo project going on. Which was the exact period that you started composing material for the new album?

Joacim: Well, everything just ended for us when Oscar had his motorcycle accident. We were supposed to come to England and do Bloodstock but we had to cancel. We also cancelled a huge show in Gothenburg, where we would have played in front of 15.000 thousand people, since Oscarís accident took place the day before that show. That kind of gave us the opportunity to take a small break.

All of the sudden we were unable to follow the plan that we had to start writing new songs, after the Bloodstock festival had taken place. We just had to wait for Oscar to get back on track, and that was something that took much longer that whan we originally thought it would.

The doctors said that it would take eleven weeks before he could start using his arm again, but it finally took more like three to four months for that to happen.

We started to compose songs in February last year, so from February until we went to studio, which was September that year, we were composing songs. I really cannot do anything until I get the material from Oscar. Then I start doing my choirs and adding my vocal lines to the songs and finally I write the lyrics.

In the meantime, I recorded my solo album and I did a really short tour which was five or six shows. That was a really good thing in deed, because I was also working with Charlie on that album. We started experimenting a little bit with the way I was singing, and that somehow worked as a stepping stone to what I did on the new Hammerfall album. I brought with me a lot of good knowledge on the recordings of 'Chapter V...". Even though I was still a little bit afraid, I did manage to push myself and my vocals a little bit harder and now listening back to it, I think that I should have added a little bit more attitude - a little bit more edge to it. Now, I knew exactly what I had to do for the new Hammerfall album, which was a really good thing. So, even though nothing really happened with Hammerfall last year, the help was quite essential.

Hammerfall

Since you have mentioned your solo work, how different is it to that of Hammerfall? I havenít listen to any of that stuff, and I believe that our subscribers would be really interested to know.

Joacim: Right, the reason why I did it in the first place was because I had some ideas and feelings that I couldnít really direct into the music of Hammerfall. It was something that I needed to get out of my system in a way. The music of my album is both rougher and harder, and I have also added some new elements that I would never do with Hammerfall - some weird things are going on, but itís still straight in your face kind of music. It has quite a modern riffing, and it sounds close to what Annihilator is doing. I like that riffing, I simply love it but thatís not for Hammerfall - itís something that I like to experiment with outside the band. I got some really good reviews - the journalists seem to have liked it a lot. This album was treated like a debut release with another band standing behind me, and I believe that it normally takes some time for something like this to build up. The album did so well, that both Noise and Sanctuary who released it took the second option now. They want me to record another album with them, but they will have to wait another two years before that happens, because right now I donít have the time nor the energy to do something like that.

'Chapter V...' is going to be released on the 7th of March, and I would expect that you will be quite busy during that time. Do you have any idea as to what your schedule is going to be during that period?

Joacim: Yes, I do have an idea. As I told you earlier, we are here now promoting the new album. We are going to continue doing that in Sweden, where we have plenty of TV shows to attend and a lot of radio shows too.

As soon as the album is released we are going to do an eight-day signing tour, during which we are going to visit many places in Sweden, signing our albums at CD stores. I think that this is a really cool way of meeting with the fans and show them that you care. If you want to have my name on your album, I am going to be there! After that we are going to start rehearsing for the upcoming tour which will start in April. We are only going to do five shows in Europe - then we are going to go to South America and hopefully in Japan and then we will come back and will start the summer festivals.

Since the album is coming out later than usual, if were to do exactly the same things that we had done in the past eight years, it would mean that we would have gone on tour in April and May. If we were to visit our European destinations during spring, it would not have allowed us to do the summer festivals straight after. The organisers would have said, 'well, you just played here' and it really wouldnít have made any sense. So we said 'OK, letís present Hammerfall to the world in the biggest possible way. In Gothenburg we are playing in the ice hockey arena which can host 12.000 people, In Germany we are doing venues with 4.000 people capacity and in Switzerland the venues are a little bit smaller, but then weíll also do the pre-production down there.

Instead of going to several different places, we will try to make people come to us this time. Then, we will try to focus more on the summer festivals and instead of playing in territories where we would only gather four or five hundred people, we can play a festival like the Gods of Metal in Italy.

Any invitation yet from festivals like Wacken or Bang your Head?

Joacim: People are working on some offers, but nothing is confirmed yet. But of course we are going to perform in this yearís Bloodstock festival here in England.

I really hope that Oscar doesnít get any funny ideas this time (laugh).

Joacim: I will hide Oscarís motorcycle (laughs). I will hide it from him (laughs).

I think that we should now talk about the ten compositions which put together 'Chapter V...' Are there any specific songs that you personally find more attractive?

Joacim: It is true that there are some songs that I find a bit more attractive. As I told you before, we have added some new elements in our music and that makes all ten compositions quite interesting. A for the songs that I am personally more proud of?

Well, first of all itís the last song of the album 'Knights of the 21st Century', which is twelve minutes long. This song is so different to what we have done in the past - it takes both courage and knowledge to do a song like that because you need to make sure that youíll keep the attention of the listeners going for these twelve minutes.

Another track that I like a lot is 'Fury of the Wild'. I had different melodies for that song, and I was not really satisfied because I felt that I was playing it too safe and I said to myself 'no, I donít want to do another song like this'. So, I went in my computer, I deleted everything I had prepared and I went back in the beginning and started everything all over again. I was trying to find a different approach to the whole thing, and what came is what you can now hear on the album - these high-pitch singing melodies with an actual edge on the vocal lines. I am really satisfied with that one, especially this question and answer chorus that came out really cool.

We had the melody, but we really didnít know what to do with it. Should we harmonise it or do something else? Then Charlie came up with an idea and said 'why donít you guys do it like this?'. So, we tried it and I said 'yes, cool - this is exactly the way it should be'.

I also fancy a lot the first song of the album, 'Secrets' - especially the way it comes down in the middle when it lets the keyboard go to work a little bit, and then as a punch in the face, it goes straight into the solo. These are the three songs that I think that are my personal favourites.

So, why was 'Blood Bound' the song that was chosen as the video for the new album? Is it because it has a more catchy riff?

Joacim: Well, first of all the length of the song is perfect for video purposes. The longer the song is, the more the video will cost. I would love to be able to do a video for 'Knights of the 21st Century', but no one will pay for it (laughs). I donít think that any station would play the video, and then we would have to record two studio albums in order to pay back the cost of the video. When you have to choose the single of your new album, you have to think of two things. You need to satisfy the fans and give them something to chew on until the main dish comes out and also give the label and the distributors something to work with, in regards of the video and a song that has some catchy elements. That way you have some possibilities of having it played on the radio. In Sweden we have a heavy rotation of the single, something that I find really fantastic to have on a national radio. Some people said that this is exactly what they expected from the band, about all the surprises that I mentioned earlier.

Hammerfall

Even though you are from Northern Europe, I assume that you must have felt a bit cold during the shootings of the video for 'Blood Bound'. Tell us a few things about that experience.

Joacim: Well, actually the whole video was filmed in the same 'location' as the one thatís featured on the cover of our new single. We are actually standing on the hammer playing music. For us it was not a problem - we were indoors, in front of a green screen shooting everything in ten to twelve hours. Then both the producer and director worked for seven weeks, doing all the animations and the 3D effects. Everything thatís featured in this video is actually built up by computer graphics. It was really nice, and believe me when I say that Iíve done worse.

How are the fans going to be able to get their hands on it then? Is it going to be released as a single, or even in a separate DVD format?

Joacim: I think, Iím not 100% sure, that it is going to be on the digipack version of the album, and if not, I think that there is going to be a link in the Hammerfall web page where you will be able to at least watch it. You will also be able to watch it on the Detonator TV, and probably also in the next Nuclear Blast DVD collection, along with videos from many other bands. Demand it from MTV (laughs). At the moment MTV is advertising our new album in Germany, so you never know.

Do you normally like making videos, or are you one of those people who do not believe that they are useful enough in promoting the music of their band?

Joacim: For some territories itís really important - especially in Sweden I would say.

Why is that?

Joacim: Because according to the impact that a video has, a band gets more airtime than it would if they didnít have any video available. I believe that this is the exact reason why 'Renegade' sold that well - because we had a video, which became No.1 on the video charts. I am not really sure but I think that they also have some channels in Spain and also in South America.

Do you remember anything unusual that has happened during the recordings of 'Chapter V...'?

Joacim: Everything went really smooth. We were located in the middle of nowhere on the Danish countryside. We found a place that had three great studios, a restaurant and a catering service. Everyone had their own room and some days I really didnít leave the house at all. Sometimes I looked out of the window and felt creepy, so I decided that it was better to stay inside (laughs). I kept looking to find hidden cameras, because the whole environment reminded me of that of 'Big Brother'. Some other times I felt the need to get out, because I felt that the house would start to possess me with an evil spirit or something (laughs). Nothing unusual happened during the recordings - at least not to my knowledge. I tried to remain sober the whole time. We had our Friday nights when we stopped recording and watched Friday rock show on VH1, so I baked some pizza for the guys. Then we had some shots, drank plenty of beer and started to sing along with the TV.

How do you feel being a part of that family for over eleven years now? Do you find the recordings easier now that you know these people so well?

Joacim: Working with Charlie for the third time made things pretty easy for me. We know each other really well now. When Charlie says that something sounds like sh*t, I know that actually this is the case. The first time I listened to something like this coming from his mouth I said 'OK, he doesnít like this' and I started to freak out a little bit. That was before I started to know him. I normally record only with Stephan (Elmgren: guitars) and Oscar in the studio - the rest of the guys would have finished their parts by that stage. I know that in the morning Oscar needs some more time to wake up, so I try not to disturb anything. I do my thing, and when the others wake up they do their thing without really invading our space. We know each other really well so as to do such a thing. If we were to do that back in 1997, maybe I would have knocked on Oscarís door saying 'hey, wake up we need to do something'. When one of your colleagues needs his space and freedom, you need to respect that.

Do you feel that as a band, Hammerfall have a lot of say as far as the production is concerned?

Joacim: We actually have pre-productions of every song when we enter the studio. This time around I had a lot of the harmony parts, backing vocal parts already there and Charlie also had some ideas. We tried his ideas, then we tried my ideas and then in the end we said 'OK, what sounds the best?'. All the songs are arranged and done when we enter the studio.

Which is the audience that this album is targeting in your opinion?

Joacim: I have a really strong feeling for the album, and I really hope that it will open new doors for us. We are doing a show in Slovenia, which is a new territory for us, and I hope that this album will help gain us some new fans. In other countries like Greece where we played once back in 1997, I spoke to a lot of people down there, who want to see us. I told them that no matter what it takes this time, we are going to go there. We also contacted one of the promoters yesterday, we talked to him a little bit and he said that we would probably do a show in Turkey so I said, "OK, then we will also stop in Athens'. We have many enthusiastic fans in your country towards our music, and I have to admit that I kind of feel ashamed that I havenít been there for so long, but we need to make a detour in order to get there. In order to get to Greece, youíll either have to take a ferry from Italy, or drive through Croatia and the former Yugoslavia. It is very difficult to get down there.

How have you pictured the future of Hammerfall, Joacim?

Joacim: I think that the most important thing will be for us to be able to develop as musicians - if we manage to do that, everything else will just come out naturally. As long as we enjoy what we are doing and have the same passion for music, I think that we will be able to continue - as soon as the day comes when we wonít know how to do things any more and what direction we will have to take, then, I think, that will be the end for Hammerfall. It will have nothing to do with time though, because those negative feelings can not appear only when you become older. Iíve heard a lot of people saying 'well, I used to do this kind of thing when I was younger', but I guess that the reason was because the hunger of finding something new and fresh was not there anymore. I still believe though that some artists will always be there for their fans. There are a few bands whose albums I will buy as soon as theyíre released. I donít really care whatís on them really - itís just that Iíve been following their career since I was a kid so, of course, I will have to buy their album.

A question has just occurred to me, and itís based on what you said about those elements that we can find in your personal band and that would never fit in Hammerfallís music. Are you in a way saying that thereís a limit as to how much you can experiment with Hammerfallís music? Is there a specific direction that youíve all decided that this band must take then?

Joacim: Experiment - well, it depends on what you mean when you use that word. Hammerfall is a Heavy Metal band - thatís it, and within the boundaries of Heavy MetalÖyes, there are some rules as to how much you can experiment. Thatís because, as soon as you step over the 'borders' of that style of music, then the result would not be Hammerfall anymore.

As one classic Heavy Metal fan to another, what is your opinion about the two albums that Judas Priest released after the departure of Rob Halford? For some reason, I always wanted to ask you that question.

Joacim: That was definitely a new era in the band. The funny thing is that the band decided to do what Rob Halford did so many years earlier, right after he left. What I was always thinking was why didnít they do this thing together in the first place? It really doesnít make any sense - still we need to give a lot of credit to Tim 'Ripper' Owens (ex-Judas Priest vocalist) for the way he treated the 'old' songs live. He sang them with his heart and that was really good. I am really curious to listen to the new album, and I do not intend to pass any judgement based on the single. I have really high hopes for it and I want to believe that it will definitely sound like Judas Priest. On the other hand, the problem starts when people start having high expectations for an album. I do have a lot of expectations for this album, but maybe we should let them have the freedom to write and release whatever feels natural to them - as long as it sounds Judas Priest of course.

You are also the vocalist of Warlord, one of the most classic Metal bands in the history of Heavy Metal, and a favourite of mine. How did it feel when you first joined them, knowing that you would have to fill the shoes of both the Damien Kings?

Joacim: I am really glad that I didnít have to wear their shoes, because they would end up somewhere here (laughs). (Joacim indicated the level of his waist, simply because both the Damien Kings used to wear really high boots). Actually, I put a lot of trust in Bill (Tsamis: guitars) when he asked me to join them. I know that he is a perfectionist when it comes to music, and I didnít really give it too much thought really. I was so proud to be asked to join them - Warlord was and still is one of my favourite bands. Like I said to him, when he asked me to join, 'Bill, I donít really have enough free time to do this, but I cannot say no'. It was a really great experience, and I believe that it was also a really good treat for the fans that we were able to bring Warlord up on the stage - or better Bill if you prefer. Warlord, as you know, never played live before the Wacken show. The label that released the last Warlord album didnít treat it with any respect whatsoever, and I think that the band will only manage to survive if we put it on a long rest.

So, there are no plans for a future release?

Joacim: No, but I still believe that some bands are better off if we 'allow' them to retain their cult status. Letís keep the myth and everything that surrounds this band thatís called Warlord. The best thing though is that me and Marc Zonder (drums, ex-Fates Warning) became really good friends after that collaboration and I managed to have him play on my solo album. Every now and then he calls me and says 'hey, come on, we have to do something'. See, he doesnít tour with Fates Warning anymore.

Well, youíll have to tell me a few more things about that, because Iím, a huge Fates Warning fan and was totally disappointed when I first heard that he left the band. Do you know if he has any plans on releasing a personal album?

Joacim: Yes, he is doing quite a few things at the moment - he even asked me if I wanted to participate in any of them, but I had to turn him down because right now I do not have any free time. I have my daughter to think of, and she definitely needs plenty of attention. He played on the last Fates Warning album 'X', but he definitely said no to touring. I think that he will record again with Fates Warning, probably on their next album.

Hammerfall

Well Joacim, you are a family man yourself, and being a member of such a demanding band as Hammerfall, means that you will have to spend plenty of time away from home. How does it really feel? You understand of course that for us, the fans, everything looks ideal.

Joacim: This is going to be a new experience for me - I have not really done this before. I was home for over six months without doing anything when my daughter got born - who can do that? Maybe itís better for me to be a couple of weeks here and there, and when I come back home, Iím really home all the time. Itís better than having a regular job, working seven to four - coming back home knowing that you can see your kid only for a few hours before it goes to sleep. In the morning, I would have to take her out of bed, feed her and take her to the care centre because I would have to go to work. That way, you donít get to have any quality time with your kid at all. Now, when I have a couple of months off, I have plenty of quality time to spend with my child and I think that it works better. On the other hand, now that I am away for a few weeks, I call home and I hear her saying things in the background, like playing with words, and I think 'she didnít do that a week ago'. She is improving all the time and I donít get to see that now that Iím not at home. Thank God I was there when she started to crawl, and even better, when she started to walk - I managed not to lose those moments.

She must have given you plenty of inspiration for future 'emotional' songs I guess

Joacim: You never know. Sometimes, things that you experience in your personal life will actually become part of your songs, but in a different way.

Well Joacim, I think that I have 'tortured' you enough. Thank you for doing this interview with Get Ready to Rock. Best wishes for the band and yourself. Any messages to your fans here in the United Kingdom and the subscribers of our website?

Joacim: Well, I would once again want to apologise for not playing at Bloodstock festival back in 2003. Now we are ready to come to the country where everything started back in the 80ís, and I really hope that there would be more than just one show. I would like us to come back after Bloodstock and do a few more gigs in your island. I believe that there is a decent movement going on here, and that some bands need to wake the people up.


Interview © 2005 John Stefanis

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