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Interview: Oscar Dronjak (Hammerfall)

Pure metal...interviews

I managed to spend a few moments on the telephone with Oscar (lead guitar) when he recently did a promotional tour of Hammerfall's new album, 'Threshold'. Other than discussing the making of the album, I gave him the chance to defend Hammerfall against the nay-sayers, as well as asking him about his experiences as a long-standing musician.

I've been listening to 'Threshold' this morning. It's an excellent album.

Thanks a lot.

I'm sure it will appeal to people that are already fans of Hammerfall. Do you think it will win over any new listeners?

I really hope so. That's the idea with every release. I definitely think that this album has much more energy, in the performance and in the production, than anything else we have ever done. And I think that will hopefully help in getting some new people to discover Hammerfall. I usually refer to this as a heavy metal album with a rock and roll feel, which is the way I see this album. It's got a lot of the attitude and energy from rock and roll bands - you know, bands like Backyard Babies - the energy from that genre of music, I think we managed to get into the compositions.

Of course Hammerfall is a heavy metal band, and we're not going to stray very far from what we are, obviously, but at the same time I think that when we release new albums that we create something that is fresh. If you like Hammerfall, you will absolutely like this album, that's for sure, but at the same time you will also discover some new elements and we progress towards what we consider to be the ultimate heavy metal album. That's basically what we're trying to do every time, and I think every time we get a little bit closer to it.


Do you find it quite frustrating that people are sometimes prejudiced against you? You know, you've worked hard on an album and people won't bother to listen to it just because it's Hammerfall?

Um, yeah. That could be really frustrating. But I stopped caring that much about it a while ago - years ago. Because it just takes too much of my time and it's not worth it. This is the way I see it, if people want to miss out it's their loss, not mine.

Do you think that people are quite resentful because you've had chart success and you've sold a lot of albums?

I think that was the case in Sweden a couple of years ago, from a vocal minority. That's the way all these things are. The squeaky wheel gets the grease, that's what they say. But not so much any more. I think people have realised that first of all we're not going to go away no matter what happens and second of all that we're actually telling the truth. This is what we live for. We love to do this.

I don't care if people like Hammerfall or not. That's not the main point, the least they can do is respect us for doing what we feel is right. Everything else comes second. If you don't like it there's nothing I can do about it.

So like you've said on the album, 'The Fire Burns Forever'?

Exactly. For us that has been a very important way of life actually. Because if we didn't have the fire from the beginning we wouldn't be here today. So for me, I can't state that clearly enough. That is why Hammerfall exists today, because we have a burning passion for what we do.

Your music is quite upbeat and happy sounding. Are you an optimist yourself?

I like to think so yes. I think I am. Because there's a line in the lyrics on this album in 'Titan'. Joacim writes most of the lyrics so it's his line but I still think it applies to me as well, 'Even the dark has a silver lining'. So it can be really tough to find something good in everything, but there is something good about everything and I'd much rather find the good in the bad than the bad in the good. So I'm a pretty positive person yes.

And what about having to do promotional tours and that kind of thing? Is that something you enjoy, or just a necessary evil of having to promote your band?

Do you want the truth or the politically correct answer?

Well not everything about being in a band is going to be fun is it? Unfortunately.

No, that's absolutely true. But it's a little bit of both, it's a lot of hard work, sitting all day on the phone or with people face to face, talking about the same things, same questions, giving the same answer every day. But at the same time we are talking about something that I feel very passionate about, something that I'm very proud of. So in that respect it's not hard at all, not a chore at all.

You just have to get the energy for every interview, just feel the energy and try to be as good an interview subject as possible. It's hard sometimes when people don't speak English enough to understand what you're saying. Obviously in the UK that's not a problem. I prefer to people that speak English well, because I can get my point across without having to worry about whether they understand me. It is different going on the road like this, all I need is a suitcase and a laptop.

I don't need huge amps or guitars or whatever. Plus we don't drink before shows, that's just a rule we have. And going on the road like this means you can have a drink whenever you want, if you should feel so inclined, which is nice I guess. So it's much more relaxed in that way. We're here to talk to people and not entertain them, which makes it a little different. It's nice to go out and see what people really think of the album and the band and what you've done so far.

That's quite interesting, you get the rock and roll cliché of bands getting drunk every night and trashing hotel rooms, but when you meet bands they're actually quite civilised and normal people!

I did an interview with a guy today who said that many musicians are just teenagers that never grew up. And I think that's spot on actually. Everybody's just a normal person who wants to enjoy life and have fun. And that's basically what it's all about.

What about making videos? Do you enjoy doing that?

No, I fucking hate it! If there was anything - actually there's one thing that's worse than making videos and that's photo sessions. That's the worse thing I know. Stand there looking like an idiot, you know, in hot lights and just feeling weird. I don't like that at all. That's the one part of all this I could easily skip. Videos are fun because of the result - well actually the result of the photo sessions, if they are good photos, then it's fun to watch them to see how they turn out, but it's just no fun doing it so I'd rather be without it.

You gave your backing to the Swedish Women's Curling Team earlier this year. What prompted you to do that?

There was an article in a Swedish newspaper about curling and about sport, it was in the sports section. And this guy said that curling was not very rock and roll. And obviously the curling team took offence at that because they thought their sport was a lot of rock and roll. So the PR firm that was responsible for the Olympic athletes contacted us and asked if we wanted to help the curling girls change that impression. So the 'Hearts On Fire' video is a result of that.

You shot footage of other sportspeople at the Nineteenth European Athletics Championships, so are you a bit of a sports fan?

Very much so. I think that may be something that has always been underneath the surface all the time. Because every time we record during the World or European Cup football, it's been three or four times now already, and we always take a break from the recordings because we like it very much. And I think when I grew up, what you were doing for recreation was sport. You were playing football, or ping-pong - we had a ping-pong table actually - or we played basketball at the school courts, or we did hockey in the street, we played tennis with soft balls. We did a lot of different stuff, and everything was sports-based. So since I grew up with that, it's just natural to follow this. Besides, my dad was a professional basketball player, so I guess I have it in my blood a little bit. So yes, we all big sports fans.

I'm just wondering about heavy metal. It seems to be quite popular at the moment. You've had a lot of chart success as I said before, album sales etc, but do you find it frustrating that you've got bands like Lordi that perhaps have got popular because of novelty rather than musicianship?

Not really. If that's how they can gain acceptance and spread their music throughout the world, power to them, I have no problem with that at all. What I didn't really like about the Eurovision Song Contest was that we had Lordi as a support act on tour last year, I thought they were good and had some quality songs but the song that they participated with was shit. It's a really bad song. For them anyway, they have good songs, I don‘t understand why they couldn't play one of them instead. So that was a little disappointing. And also because of that, they won because they are monsters, not because they had a good song. So that's kind of disappointing in a way. But I don't see a problem with using that particular arena as a means of promoting yourself I guess, or getting people into your music.

We have been asked to do this for a couple of years actually. Every year they ask us and every year we say no - we've always said if we're going to consider participating in the Swedish version of this, it would have to be a song that we wrote ourselves. That's non-negotiable. Because otherwise it wouldn't be Hammerfall participating, it would be somebody else's songs and we don't need that. So if we were ever to consider doing that it would have to be a song that we wrote ourselves and they obviously didn't want to do that because they haven't said yes. It would have been fun to do it before Lordi won, next year I'm sure more people are going to have a rock band.

That could be a good thing, couldn't it really? I mean some of the stuff in Eurovision is awful!

Yes, well you're right about that. That's a way of looking at it I hadn't thought about before. But yes, for sure. Maybe even now you could watch the Eurovision Song Contest again. I haven't done that since the eighties.

I tend to avoid it myself. Your first album sold extremely well, you've played Dynamo among other festivals. What would you consider to be the pinnacle of your career to date?

One of them, for sure, would be the opening ceremony of the European Athletics Championships on August 6th. Because that was in our home town. It was such a normal event, it wasn't a heavy metal concert or anything, it was just a sporting event. And having done that in your home town - you have to remember, Gothenburg has 500,000 living there in total - at this opening ceremony which was held in the centre of town, there were 100,000 in attendance, so almost a fifth of the entire city was there. And being onstage, looking at all of these people, I couldn't see the end of the crowd. There was a mass sea of people. So that was really cool in that way, but obviously it was broadcast in 54 countries all over Europe. I think they had a viewership of 250 million people. So that is by far the biggest thing we've ever done.

The pinnacle I would say, I hope, that we reach a new pinnacle with each release. That's what we try to do every time. So I hope each fresh release will have something good in store for us.

And what about the future, is there anything you particularly want to do?

Yes, I particularly want to tour the UK. We have been trying to do this now, to set it up. After Bloodstock which we did last year, I didn't know that you had so many fans, and so many knowledgeable fans here. When we went on stage at Bloodstock, everybody was singing along from the start of every song to the end of every song. People knew all the lyrics and they were die-hards. And there were over 2000 or 2500, I don't know how many exactly. And that's also more than I thought there would be.

So we thought 'let's do a proper tour of the UK next time'. Instead of a one-stop show which we've done in London a couple of times now. So that's the plan. That's one of the things I'd like to see happening in 2007 for sure. And that would be at the end of February at the earliest because we're going to be on the road in the rest of Europe from the end of January until the middle of February.

I guess having people sing along to your music must be amazing, it's not something you expect when you start off your career as a musician is it?

It's very rewarding. It makes you feel like you've done something right.

Like you were saying before about having a passion for music, it's nice to see other people have that passion. It's quite sad as well though, because other people have got passion but they actually hate whichever band. You've had people attack you and I find it astounding that people can hate you so much.

I don't know. It's weird but at the same time I think somehow it changed - after that, people saw that this thing had gone too far. And some people didn't take us seriously up until that point. They thought Hammerfall was just something you to look down on, for a while, and laugh at, basically. And that has never been the situation for us, because we've always believed 100% in what we're doing, there's absolutely no question about that. I felt that a little bit changed after - I think people felt after a while that things had gone too far.

Like I said before, all I'm asking is for people to accept Hammerfall for what we are. If you don't like it that's fine, it doesn't matter to me. What matters to me is that I want respect for what we're doing because we're absolutely a band that are here to stay. Ten years as record-releasing artists must give you some sort of credit. We have never faltered from our path, we've always done what we felt was right.

Whether it's trendy or not...

Let me tell you, in 1997 in Sweden or in the rest of Europe metal was definitely not trendy. So we had our fair share of hard-fought battles I'd say. And now I kind of feel that we are reaping some of the benefits. People are starting to respect us, and realise that we are serious about what we are doing, although what we are doing is trying to have fun. So I really do think that some things have changed. But on the other hand it is good that you get this kind of passionate response from people, whether it be good or bad. Because that means that they thing it good enough to care about.

That's all I've got to ask you, so thank you very much for your time. Is there anything else you'd like to say?

Just I hope that people like the album, as always we are very proud of what we do and I hope people realise that. And also if we do a tour of the UK which I really think will happen, come and see us because it's going to be a big party every night.

Interview © October 2006 Amanda Hyne

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