“I’ve been through that extreme period in my life” – exclusive interview with Joakim Brodén of Sabaton

Sabaton has worked its way up to the top in the past few years. The Swedish heavy metal band was formed back in 1999 and during those long years, they faced many difficulties and line-up changes. 2012 was probably the toughest year for the band, that was the year when two-thirds of Sabaton’s lineup left the band, and that time even Joakim himself confirmed the rumors, that the band would be going separate ways. Luckily this option didn’t become a real-life scenario, and the band is now more successful than ever! We had a pleasure to do an exclusive interview with the frontman of Sabaton, Joakim Brodén prior to their show in Budapest.

“I feel ready for a party in Budapest” – opened Joakim the conversation. “I know that it’s going crazy here, I like this city. One of the most beautiful cities in Europe and we have a lot of fans here, and tomorrow is a day off which means I am ready for the storm of pálinka is coming my way tonight. (laughs) So yeah, I’m very good now, I think tomorrow morning I will not be so good. If you know what I mean.”

Photo: Péter Tepliczky / MyTouche Blog

Well, if you’re not Hungarian you may wonder what pálinka is. This beverage basically is a traditional fruit brandy in Central Europe with origins in Hungary, known under several names, and invented in the Middle Ages. Protected as a geographical indication of the European Union, only fruit spirits mashed, distilled, matured and bottled in Hungary. So, after he mentioned the Hungarian “hot water” I was wondering if he likes it or…? “No, I used to like it but it’s… It can be really good, but it’s dangerous! I’ve tried so many… (laughs) At the beginning, of course, you know being Scandinavian, you drink a lot. Which is a bad idea if you are trying many kinds and especially when people throwing on stage like “hey, pálinka!” it’s like, okay… I can’t remember where it… I think we were at Petőfi Hall in early 2014… Something happened with the drum kit, so we had to keep the show going somehow, it happens every now and then.

It’s my job to make sure nobody notices if anything is wrong.

And somebody threw pálinka on the stage, I got a little bit, it was strong but okay, but then someone from the crowd shouted: “hey, try mine!” and they kept throwing… And of course, you know this is a good way to make the time go by, so I was drinking and started giving it to the band and that is the only time in our history when I was drunk on stage, because we don’t drink before going on stage, we want to make a really-really good show.

But I didn’t realize because you know, when you just drink and drink, try this and that, but when we started playing again one or two songs later I started feeling… “Oh, shit!” (laughs) So when it came to my turn to play the piano I realized that I must have been drunk because the rest of the guys from the band were staying on the other side of the stage pointing and laughing at me. (laughs) So I was like “oh shit, I have been talking 2 or 3 minutes now.” I wasn’t super drunk, you know, I was just yuppy-yupp, talking, having a good time at the piano, making jokes… So dangerous, but fun!”

Photo: Péter Tepliczky / MyTouche Blog

At that point, I decided to ask him about his past, because it’s not a well-known fact that Joakim actually used to be a competitive swimmer in his youth. “Yeah, I quitted when I was around 14-15″ -he added. “I took part in the Swedish Youth Championship a couple of times, but I was never really that good… I think I still held the Swedish record thought for 50 meters backstroke for 12 years and younger. So I was a good swimmer back then.” (smiles)

But I was fed up with it. At a certain point when you’re training there’s just… it’s just too much, because with swimming at even such a young, early age to keep myself at a competition level I trained a minimum of 10 times a week, which means when you’re 14 you get up then you go to the swimming hall before school where you swim, then you go to school, then you go back to the swimming hall again and swim for 2 hours. You know, if you consider that every training session is two hours approximately, just the swimming then plus the time it takes you to change and have a shower and everything then you’re spending a minimum, an absolute minimum of 20 hours in a swimming hall. That’s fucking half working week!

So at that point, I gave up because yeah… It wasn’t worth it. It wasn’t that much fun.

Photo: Péter Tepliczky / MyTouche Blog

Fun fact, that Joakim in 2016 and 2017 took part in the Swedish national pinball championship placing 167th the first time and 255th the second time. “I’ve actually liked pinball ever since I was a teenager. Those were found in the youth centers or in the arcade halls, pool halls, and stuff. And I always liked it!

It was 2014 I think when I realized I needed something that could take my mind off songwriting, because I was in a songwriting period. And I needed something.

It couldn’t be a TV series because I would get stuck with it. I saw an ad that somebody selling a pinball machine, and I thought: “fuck it, I’ll try it!” And I bought that pinball machine and it turns out to be the perfect thing! So when I need a break for 5-15 minutes when I’m writing songs I play a little bit and then I feel okay. But at least it’s shifting my focus and my mind doesn’t get stressed, otherwise, if I would do something else maybe my mind would still on that piece of music, and that’s not good. I need to rest my ears and my mind. And it turned out that if I play a lot I can join the championship. I’ve been there twice now. If I’m at home I’ll go but it’s in November but that’s pretty much a touring period, so… I was in Helsinki last year when the Swedish Championship was in Sweden, so I couldn’t come. 

And what about healthy lifestyle and eating habits? In Sweden plant-based diet is on a rising trend, so I was curious: does he follow this “trend”? “I eat everything actually, I don’t have any allergies, I do take… How to say… With moderation, you know. I’d say half of my meals that I already eat are vegetarian or vegan, because I like that kind of food as well, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t eat meat at all. I would say I’m pretty picky about what kind of meat I put inside my body, I would say from that point of view. I mean this is an individual choice for everyone. I eat more meat at home where I can get to know where it’s from. Then when I’m on tour, for example, in America where animal treatment laws are very different, So, over there, I’m mostly vegetarian you know… (laughs) 

Photo: Péter Tepliczky / MyTouche Blog

And with workout: yeah, sure but not too extremes and I’ve said everything with that actually. I’ve been through that extreme period in my life with swimming,

you know, when I had to watch everything. And then, a few years later with fitness stuff as well. There was a time when my body fat was under 10%, and then I realized what kind of exercise and diet regiment I need to keep. And at that point, I was asking myself: is it worth it? No!” (laughs)  

On the brand new video for the song “The Lion From The North” we can see the band members working out in the backstage. The good news is, that Joakim confirmed that the workouts are still the essential parts of his life and he follows a workout routine on tour as well. “Usually I do a bit of kettlebell before going on stage, it’s a warm-up and a bit of high-intensity cardio every now and then, but it’s nothing you know… I don’t hit the gym five times a week at all, but I do a lot of bodyweights. You know, I’m trying to stay reasonably healthy without getting too fat. But I’m training and so I can stay eat some good and unhealthy food sometimes.”

Sabaton’s latest “The Great War Tour” was highly successful, most of the shows were sold-out. But they weren’t alone on that road, Apocalyptica was one of the support acts. Prior to the tour, the Finnish band announced a private concert competition, as the band shared on their Facebook page, their brand new album called Cell-0 had a concept: to challenge the listeners to question themselves. If you wanted to take part in this challenge, you had to show the band how you challenge yourself to improve how we treat our planet, then you had to send a video or a photo via comment and e-mail, then you had to describe why you should be the winner. Any green actions were counted from recycling to picking up garbage, lowering the amount of meat product consumption, choosing organic over mass-produced food, cycling to work, raising awareness to environmental issues, home-growing your veggies to cleaning up beaches…etc. I was curious if Sabaton is planning to do something similar, but the funny thing is that Joakim didn’t even hear about that challenge.

Photo: Péter Tepliczky / MyTouche Blog

Okay, that’s cool actually. But I mean, how do you check that? You know. To be honest, who is the better person: the person who got clean from drugs or the person who never did drugs? The person who has made a huge change in his lifestyle recently to win a competition or the person who’s always lived eco-friendly? It would be impossible for us to judge. (laughs) It’s my point of view. How to check it, is it true or not, so… I don’t know actually. I mean it’s a good initiative I just don’t know how to control it.” 

And what about him? Does he live an eco-friendly lifestyle? “With my job, no. I mean, privately yes, I’m doing the reasonable choices anything from reducing waste to… You know, it’s very easy to get hooked up with, it could be anything from plastic to flights… I mean without airplanes we couldn’t do our job, without tour buses we couldn’t do our job. It’s not a matter of us not wanting to, it is a matter of if we decided to take a train for example, we would have to do fewer concerts, then we would need to charge more money for those concerts, then the prices would be so expensive and no one would come to a Sabaton show. So from that point of view, I would say well no, but of course, you can do a lot of choices in your life. But in sense, it’s up to you, you know, but on the other hand, living an environmentally friendly lifestyle is a luxury.

In many parts of the world buying a Tesla is not a fucking option.

If you can buy a car that means that you could go to the hospital and save your child, for example. You don’t fucking care what kind of fuel is in that car and I know any sensible person would take that choice. You can get a job because you can travel further, so you can feed your family… So it’s a very good idea and a very good initiative but people must understand that everybody has different circumstances and different advantages when it comes to this. So it’s very easy to sit in one part of the world that has an infrastructure and economic situation that allows such a lifestyle. In many ways though people seem to forget to get there they have to fucking rape their country first.”

Artwork: Fausto Dalla Chiara


Before we go further, I’d like to place here an “editor’s note” kind of stuff: I really appreciate how Sabaton educates us, the fans and the metal lovers! Yes, that’s a well-known fact that the band’s main lyrical themes are based on war, historical battles, and acts of heroism and even the name is a reference to a knight’s foot armor. But the most interesting thing is on 8 January 2019, the band announced the creation of a YouTube channel called Sabaton History, a cooperation between Indy Neidell, TimeGhost History and Sabaton. The channel documents the history of the events behind Sabaton songs and the songs themselves. The channel was created on 7 February 2019 – according to Wikipedia. At the moment you can find more than 60 videos on the channel.

And now, let’s continue where we left off!

And when was Joakim becoming interested that much in history, and if he could go back in time, which era would he choose and why? “I’ve always been interested in history. My history teacher would disagree with me, but probably because he asked me “between which years was Gustav Vasa the king of Sweden” and I think it’s totally irrelevant. If you know who he was in the early 1500s that’s okay, but the main question is: what did he do? I mean if history was boring then there wouldn’t be fucking Hollywood movies about it, would it? So yeah, I mean I’m interested in history but the way most school systems – I’ve come across – teach it, I think is a very stupid way to teach it.

Photo: Péter Tepliczky / MyTouche Blog

But if I could go back in time, I have to options… I mean, first of all, I’d prefer to go into the future rather than the past but if I have to go back there would be two options for me. Either going to an ancient era where we don’t know so much. I would like to go back to the ancient history of myths and legends period. It could be ancient Greece or it could be Vikings to see how things really were. Or I would go back to the ’70s or ’80s just to see maybe Queen perform live with Freddy Mercury.” (laughs)

I was also curious about the process behind those history-themed albums and songs, how they do their researches and do they cross-check with experts? “It depends… As soon as we feel like we need an opinion, of course, we have friends we can get in touch with regarding this. Especially with Carolus Rex album which was about the rise and fall of the Swedish Empire. And there are so many books that are out of print, where you can get those information, because it’s so far back. You know, if we go back to II. World War it’s much more documented obviously then what happened in the 1600s-1700s. And well, the research itself: every situation is different. Everything from an old, antique book that you cannot buy because it’s not in print anymore. Yeah, it doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s hard to find but you have to order a used, you know. It could start out with Wikipedia, it could go a documentary or a regular book given to us by a fan… We don’t have a certain way, every approach is different, the way we come across it, the moment when we get passionate about it, that’s the way we state, we want to be in when we write the lyrics and tell a story.

Photo: Péter Tepliczky / MyTouche Blog

And if he could be someone in history, who would he be and why? “I am pretty happy being me actually! You know, some people say that I have no regrets, but that’s bullshit. Everybody has. But I have very few regrets… But if I have to choose someone else, I don’t know, that’s really hard to answer, I don’t wanna be anyone else! You know what? You can choose yourself: Mao Ce-tung, Joseph Stalin or Adolf Hitler and blow my fucking brains out.”

Don’t forget to check out the full gallery of  Sabaton gig at Budapest Arena.

Interview: Afrodite Szeleczky
Copy editor: Alexandra Égi
Photos: Péter Tepliczky
Artwork: Dalla Chiara Artwork

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"I associate heavy metal with fantasy because of the tremendous power that the music delivers." - Christopher Lee

2 thoughts on ““I’ve been through that extreme period in my life” – exclusive interview with Joakim Brodén of Sabaton

  1. Love you Joakim, and the boys. I’ve learned more about history since my 20 year old son introduced me to the band in the last 6 months than I did in the 50 years before that! You guys are legends and I think your music should be used in High School to teach history!

    Liked by 1 person

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