Interview By Kassu Kortelainen / April 2009
Swedish heavy metallers Grand Magus’ latest album ‘Iron Will’ was released last year and with it’s raw power become a big favourite amongst the Steel Mill guys – and obviously a lot of other people’s around the world as well. So, the time couldn’t have been better for an interview with the Grand Magus guys, and we were happy to get the GM vocalist/guitarist JB to chat a bit about the bands past, present and the future.
Cheers, and welcome – it’s great to have you over at the Steel Mill. At the moment your latest album ‘Iron Will’ is constantly getting high nominations on different ‘best of 2008’ polls in the media, a lot of new fans seem to be finding the band and new concert dates are piling up. So things in the Grand Magus camp are looking quite nice at the moment?
JB: Cheers for having me! Yes, last year was incredible for us and Iron Will has really made a huge difference for us attention-wise. We also feel a lot stronger as a unit than ever before, so yeah things are looking good.
It seems as – even though you have three solid previous albums under your belt – that it’s Iron Will that is strongly turning into the definite Grand Magus album of your career so far. The reviews have been in most cases really good and looks like ‘Iron Will’ has recruited a lot of new fans for the band. Has the album’s success been what you thought it would be, and do you yourself feel that it’s sort of a true groundbreaker for Grand Magus?
I’d have to agree, it has been kind of a breakthrough for us, but the ground work was really made with Wolf’s Return, which kind of set us up for Iron Will. Wolf’s Return also made us realize that we had to change certain things within the band in order to go where we wanted.
I liked 2005’s Wolf’s Return a lot, but even still the first spin of Iron Will nearly knocked me off my feet. The band’s sound and songwriting seemed to have really clicked together better than ever before, and the album went from strength to strength. How do you see the evolution of Grand Magus during the two years between Wolf’s Return and Iron Will? Had something changed or did the band just refine the old skills?
I seem to be one step ahead here, haha. Well, I’d say that the development is a combination of band chemistry and experience. Wolf’s Return was the first album that I felt combined our various influences in the way I had envisaged. So that was kind of step one. Then SEB came into the band and things just exploded. We had such great time just fucking around with old songs and covers in the rehearsal space, and when the time came to start getting serious with new songs, it just went to another level. With him in the band, we felt like we could do anything and that we didn’t have any excuse not to make great music. Thirdly, I think we concentrated a lot more on the actual songs than ever before, rather than just a riff or a sound. We got rid of all things that we didn’t feel were kind of hair-raising, so I think the songs are more to the point.
One aspect in Grand Magus’ evolution can be heard when one listens through your discography. On your first two albums (Grand Magus 2001, Monument 2003) the music was predominantly more of the doomy side, whereas towards Iron Will the doominess has given more room for more fast and poweful style of classic heavy metal. This is obviously one thing that has changed from the early days?
True. It has been a totally emotional change though. We have always played the music we want to play. You change as a person, you go through different stages and phases and for us the music changes along with that.
At this point let’s get the readers familiar with a little band history. Could you give us a short run-through on how Grand Magus was born and was the style of metal the band would play clear from the very start?
Well, the band officially started 10 years ago and it was me, Fox and Fredrik. We wanted to play metal but as heavy as possible. There was a strong doom influence at the time, but the songs we all lead by a melody rather than anything more extreme. In essence, I think we have always aimed at making heavy metal, but heavier than the norm, you know?
How about your musical influences? One could draw connections to f.ex. Black Sabbath, old Rainbow, and other classic heavy metal bands. What are the bands that have had the biggest impact on you?
Yes, all those you mentioned have had a huge influence. Then add bands like Bathory, Mercyful Fate, Accept, Manowar etc. + Stockholm death metal Entombed, Dismemeber, Unleashed + Immortal from Norway and you have us, haha.
You told us before that K.K. Downing and Priest also have had a big influence on you. Any special memories of Priest before or during your career?
Priest is probably my favourite band ever. Priest is the band that really got me into metal in the first place. I can’t really think of anything that I would NOT connect with Priest in my teens, haha! I have such strong memories of hearing “United” when I was 7 or something and then I was just hooked. We used to stand around with our bikes and someone had a tape blaster and we just listened to British Steel and Defenders of The Faith and Screaming etc. It just made a huge impact. One of my friends had a really rich family, so he had this enormous Hi-Fi system of countless watts and I remember being in his huge house and we made the walls shake listening to Love Bites and Bloodstone and Devil’s Child…
In the traditional Steel Mill fashion, we like to ask people about their favourite Priest albums and songs. What would you name as yours and why?
For me, my personal favourite album will always be Defenders of the Faith. I guess I was the right age when I heard it, eight or so, and it really got to me. I still think that it was the perfect metal album and that it has the best songs, best performances of all the Priest albums. It has that certain special magic, you know? The Sentinel, Some heads are gonna Roll, Rock Hard, Ride Free, Jawbreaker, Freewheel Burning, Love Bites… it’s fucking insane! All those classics on the same album. In addition, I think the album contains the best solos of both KK and Glenn and the best lead guitar sounds of all the albums. The cover art is also fucking perfect. Defenders is simply extra special to me, but I mean, I love Painkiller (probably my number 2 favourite), Screaming, British Steel, Stained Class, Killing Machine, Sin After Sin…. I could go on and on…
I could actually write a fucking book about each song on all of their albums really, haha!
Alright, let’s move back to Grand Magus. One thing that’s notable in your music are the lyrics. Listening to them it’s easy to see they’re not just thrown in there but been written with care. There’s a lot of depth and strength in them, with powerful statements and opinions transferred into their midst. Where do you draw the lyrical inspiration for the songs?
Thank you. Yes, the lyrics are very important. The inspiration is really hard to pinpoint exactly, it just turns up. I have always had pretty strong opinions about certain things and I try to put across my emotions and ideas as strong as I can. I guess a lot of people who deal with creative things like writing and other “intellectual” forms of activity have their own world inside, you know? You experience things and then digest it psychologically and emotionally and then you put it into words. At least that’s how I work.
A lot of the songs, lyrically – but also the band’s overall image reflects this – draw strength from the North, cold winter and violent times of the past. But unlike many of so called battle metal bands with their polished songs of vikings in shining armour, Grand Magus’ approach to the theme is much darker and ruthless. So one could say your northern heritage is an important factor of Grand Magus music, and also shows it in more realistic light than many other bands?
Yes, absolutely. I can’t really add anything to that. Nail on the head, haha! The Scandinavian nature is probably the most important source of creativity and strength for Grand Magus.
So, currently Grand Magus is touring hard and appereances on notable festivals are added constantly on your tourdates. The fans can catch you for example on this summer’s Sweden Rock, Hammerfest in GB and Rock Hard Festival in Germany. What are you thoughts on the upcoming concert schedule?
It feels great to finally get the chance to play some of the biggest festivals in Europe. I think the festival setting is perfect for our music.
Going a little bit off the track here, but since I’m also a big fan of your (JB) other band Spiritual Beggars, I have to seize the opportunity and ask about the Beggar’s latest news. Any activity ahead on that front or are your main bands (Grand Magus, Arch Enemy…) keeping you busy enough right now?
You never know! We keep in touch and I know that there is material waiting to be recorded…
Time to ask about Grand Magus’ future plans. Apart from touring, what’s up in the horizon? Could we perhaps start waiting for a follow-up for Iron Will anytime soon or perhaps a live DVD?
Yes and yes!
To close the interview down, we’ll throw five quick questions for you…
– Best album of 2008?
– Unleashed – Hammer Battalion
– Weirdest place you’ve ever played a gig?
– A huge cirkus tent in the middle of an actual city dump in Italy. Dark Funeral played the day before.
– The best ‘unknown’ band in the business?
– I don’t know… I really don’t haha!
– If you had to have a guest vocalist doing a duet with you on a Grand Magus song, who would you choose?
– Mr. Rob Halford of course!
– The definite guitar solo of all time?
Ok, that wraps it up perfectly! Any words for the Steel Mill readers, staff and K.K.?
Thanks a lot. Judas Priest created metal as we all know, cheers to KK for the inspiration and the magical performances throughout the years!
Thanks a lot for the interview!