As I have already posted one interview conducted no less than 2 months, I found myself scheduled to interview Johan Hegg of Amon Amarth once again on Friday, December 1st in Detroit, MI (much thanks to Kelli from Metal Blade). The following is my face-to-face interview with this band's lead vocalist, enjoy.
Cuchulainn: So how was the trip over?
Johan Hegg: Terrible. Everything fucked up for us, from the beginning, with the airport in Hamburg. The flights got mixed up and we got there about three hours too early. Then the flight from London was delayed, so we missed the flight in Chicago, so we had to reschedule. Then we got to Detroit and two bags were missing. Twenty-four hours (spent) on airports and flights...
Cuchulainn: So did you get any sleep?
Johna Hegg: Yeah, when we got to the hotel, I got about 6 hours.
Cuchulainn: Well that's good, so talk to me a bit about cancelling the Scandinavian tour. I know it was a must since you had to pick up Children of Bodom here, but what was the decision like?
Johan Hegg: For us, it was kind of easy, you know, we were looking for a good tour to hook up with fairly early after the release of the album. This was the best one we were offered in close proximity to the release. And a Scandinavian tour we can always do. I mean, we fucking live there, you know. But over here it's hard to find good tours in the first place, so when you get the opportunity, you really have to go. Unfortunately, it meant that we can't do the exact same package when we do the Scandinavian tour in January. But that's the way it is.
Cuchulainn: How excited are you guys for the North American tour?
Johan Hegg: It's gonna be cool but I'll tell you yesterday when we were in the fucking flight we weren't too excited, but now we're finally here and it feels really good. We also have a very successful European tour in our bags so that really gave us a good boost for this tour.
Cuchulainn: I was going to ask you, how was that tour?
Johan Hegg: Amazing. We sold out every show, it was packed. I think the total average was about 1000-1100 people per show.
Cuchulainn: What are your expectations with the Children of Bodom fans, being that they are headlining?
Johan Hegg: Last time (with them) was really good. Even though we only got to play 30 minutes, it really gave us a lot of result. I think we doubled the sales of the last album ("Fate of Norns") here during that tour, which is just amazing. So hopefully, we'll be able to give this album ("With Oden On Our Side", will be referred to throughout as current album) a good push with this tour and I think we will. Pre-sales are pretty good so I think this will be a really good tour. Children of Bodom are really cool guys and Gojira seem to be a nice bunch as well so I think it's gonna be really cool.
Cuchulainn: So what about future tours? I know you are going back to Europe after this tour.
Johan Hegg: Well we are going back to do the Scandinavian tour in January that we cancelled. The first show is I think the first of January, then three or four more in Scandinavia. Then we are looking at different possibilities to either come back here (North America) or a new European tour. Then we, of course, have a bunch of festivals lined up this summer. So we definitely have a lot of stuff coming up so.
Cuchulainn: So I gotta ask about the Viking fighting. I saw it in the DVD (The Wrath of the Norsemen") at Wacken and thought it was awesome.
Johan Hegg: Yeah, they are cool guys, and good friends of ours as well. During the DVD recording, we got along with them very well. They are really cool to hang out with and they are just amazing. They fucking kick the shit out of each other.
Cuchulainn: Yeah, I read in another interview you did that there are bruises and cuts and shit...
Johan Hegg: Yeah, the Wacken live fighting show was probably the most insane I've seen of them so far. They broke a mace and an axe, and those are real weapons you know? But, it's all for the show. They are very skilled at what they do and are very professional. For these types of things, they have to choreograph of course, so that nobody gets hurt. But they really do it well, and they don't hold back anything.
Cuchulainn: Now would you ever bring that over to North America?
Johan Hegg: It's pretty much impossible to do that, for many reasons actually. First of all, the economically thing: I mean if we brought two, or three people, I mean yeah, we could put on a show but it still would be difficult. They still would have to travel with the gear and stuff. And also, here in America I think there is a problem with them live fighting with real weapons. My sister lives in Vancouver and has gone to some of these places. They have very different gear and different rules. They beat each other up with foam swords and things because nobody wants to get sued.
Cuchulainn: OK, shifting gears a bit, what has the response been to the new album, here and in Europe?
Johan Hegg: Overwhelming really, I mean we knew it was a good album and we felt that from the very start when we were writing it. But the response has been massively positive; I mean it's amazing really. Everybody seems to like it and everyone seems to have different favorite songs as well, which is a good thing because that means every song is strong on the album. When every song appeals to different people that also means that it is a very diverse album...
Cuchulainn: Now personally it is going to be my "Album of the Year". I absolutely love this album.
Johan Hegg: Yeah, I think it's a killer album. Normally, when we record albums, I can listen to them for like a week or two. But this album I can still listen to and it's been half a year since we recorded it. It's kind of hard to listen to your own stuff though...
Cuchulainn: What other stuff do you listen to?
Johan Hegg: Mainly metal, but I'm pretty much stuck in the 80's...
Cuchulainn: Any hair bands? (Laughs)
Johan Hegg: (Laughs) Not the hair bands but Metallica, Slayer, Motorhead is one of my favorites, and Iron Maiden. Every once in a while I'll listen to some new stuff. Bloodbath, for instance, is a really good band.
Cuchulainn: Agreed. I also read in another interview that the great reviews kind of worry you. Why?
Johan Hegg: (Laughs) Well, when you start getting great reviews maybe you start believing you're God (Laughs). Just kidding, but those reviews may be hard to live up to. You can end up putting a lot of pressure on yourself to put out another awesome album. But also in my opinion, I think we've been able to exceed ourselves with almost every album. I have faith in my colleagues here (motions to Ted who took a seat with us). Especially now that we are 100% musicians and don't have to do any other work, we really do have the time to focus on the writing aspect and everything more than we did before. That really helped us on this album and it will help us in the future as well.
Cuchulainn: Now talk to me a bit about the writing/recording aspect. How long did it take to write and record the album?
Johan Hegg: Well, of course, we had some ideas before we started putting things together but pretty much writing and recording the album took three and a half months. That's actually pretty fast work for us. As I said, we had some ideas before we started writing in January so we worked with those ideas and got five songs out of that. Then we took two months off, not doing anything really, not even rehearsing. We took that time just gathering our thoughts and I worked on some lyrics of course while the guys (individually) worked on the musical aspects. Then we took the full month of April and wrote the last four songs, then it was straight into the studio to record.
Cuchulainn: I love the production of the album, I think it's the best produced album you guys have put out coupled with "Versus the World" and "The Fate of Norns". But for some reason this album upped the guitars, the drums, and the vocals. Everything seemed to step up a level.
Johan Hegg: That's much thanks to Jens (Bogren), our producer. He's very good. The thing I like about him is he seems to be the guy that finds the right sound for every band he produces. He doesn't have a specific sound for his studio, which works out for the band. He was very meticulous in everything he did, and he pushed us really hard to get the best out of everything. Also, previously, we've tried to produce ourselves, which led to the fact that everyone (wanted their instruments to sound a certain way) and that didn't necessarily work that well together. Now we have one person in charge of the whole thing, so he tells us what each (instrument) is supposed to sound like. He actually changed some vocals for me on some songs he wanted deeper (and etc.)...
Cuchulainn: I actually love the vocals. I think the vocals are probably the most improved aspect of the album&
Johan Hegg: Yeah, we worked very hard with that. And I think one of the things that really jumped up a notch with me was, I would write the vocals and he would not only change the sound but also he would say "it would be better it you phrased it like this or maybe if you cut that word out it would sound better", and etc. Which was kind of tough because we had re-write some stuff but I think it was better in the end for it.
Cuchulainn: Now did you come in with a list of lyrics and then he would just cut and paste?
Johan Hegg: I had the lyrics written out and we just worked with it. When we came to a part in the song where they didn't work out, we either tried to work around it or change them.
Cuchulainn: OK. Now talk to me a bit about the history of the band. Take me back (Laughs)...
Johan Hegg: (Laughs) Actually, it actually started back in '88, when our guitarist Olli put together his band Scum. They split up in '91 or '92. But I also knew one of the other guitar players in the band, who is actually my best friend. He, Olli, and me went to the Greek Islands on vacation and I didn't know Olli back then but I asked him, "Are you going to put the band back together". He said "We need a singer". I said "Oh, I can sing". Olli said "Yeah right". (Laughs). So I got piss drunk one night and started growling, I think it was to like "Final Countdown" (Europe) at a bar or something. Olli said, "Oh, I guess this guy can sing". So that's how I got into the band. They called the drummer up when we got home and I started rehearsing and singing with them. Ted joined the band shortly after, at the moment he was in a band called Eternal Oath who rehearsed in the same building. The story is a bit different as to how he joined the band so we'll leave that to the side. No, but that's how we started really but we still went under the name Scum then. We got a new guitar played and then we decided it wasn't Scum anymore...
Ted Lundstrom: Yeah, with three new guys we should start from the beginning...
Johan Hegg: Yeah, start from scratch. Also, the lyrical concepts changed drastically (laughs) so (at that time) we really thought it was a new band.
Cuchulainn: What was the shift to Viking?
Johan Hegg: It was one song actually I wrote, I wrote some other stuff too but I guess none of us really liked those lyrics. But then I wrote "Thor Arise", which the lyrics are kind of simple and basic. But I guess that's when we realized that we all found something we could stand behind and we all really liked. For me, the Viking history and Viking culture has always been very interesting since I was a kid. I know Ted shares the same feelings as does Olli and the other guys.
Cuchulainn: Now do you just keep up on literature, or...
Johan Hegg: Some movies and I read some legends and the mythology and stuff like that to keep it fresh in my memory.
Cuchulainn: Do you base the lyrics directly off the legends or do you throw in...
Johan Hegg: I throw in a lot of stuff in my lyrics. In the early period it was mostly based on mythology, but lately it's been more historically oriented. But also, in many occasions I write about stuff that happens in our life as a band or in my life as a person or in the world in general. I use the Viking theme as a metaphor for those things. Like on "Versus the World" there is a song called "Across the Rainbow Bridge", which I wrote about my grandfathers, one who died of cancer and the other who was suffering from dementia who is currently deceased. So that was a song about "the right to die with dignity"...
Cuchulainn: On this record did you incorporate any of those onto these songs? Or would you say that is something sprinkled throughout all of your albums?
Johan Hegg: There are many of those, maybe not obvious stuff, but "With Oden On Our Side" is definitely one of those songs which is about the band really. How we fought through the years and how we are still fighting really even though a lot of people would probably consider us pretty fortunate to be where we are. But we worked really hard for this you know? It took us a long while to get there. But also songs like "Cry of the Blackbirds" which is sort of like a small tribute in a way to our fans. We wouldn't be here without them you know. There are small things everywhere...
Cuchulainn: Now the historical aspect is evident in songs like "Valhall Awaits Me" and "Prediction of Warfare" which are two of my favorites on the album. The battle is vivid, you can almost see it...
Johan Hegg: "Valhall Awaits Me" is an idea I've had for a long time, to have a first person perspective of the Berzerkers. The Berzerkers were the most fearsome Viking warriors because they would work up a frenzy and they were sort of Oden's chosen ones in a way. Berzerkers actually comes from a word that means "bear coat" because they wore bear skins in battle. They fought til death because for them to die in battle was a glorious thing, they would go to Valhalla. So I wanted to capture the moment before he dies, and as he dies...
Cuchulainn: Now with "Runes to My Memory" following that...
Johan Hegg: Well, the idea kind of worked together lyrically and musically to put them after one another. But there was no intention of that from the start. But I wanted to capture that moment and if you read the lyrics, it's actually a very short moment chronologically. And "Prediction of Warfare", I'm not exactly sure if it's 100% historically accurate, actually I know it's not but I know that Viking kings from Norway landed on Ireland and Scotland. On occasion, people in those regions would revolt and they would set out to quell the resistors. Eventually though, the Vikings who settled there actually assimilated into the people, so warfare actually made it possible for them to live together.
Cuchulainn: See that's actually odd that you bring that up as I'm of Irish and Scottish descent. I actually tracked it back and found that Vikings also lived in our villages as well.
Johan Hegg: Actually some people have commented that the Vikings are going to Ireland and killing Irish, but you know, it's not anti-Irish by any means. It's historical, but I also try to incorporate literary things like old legends where you read about people who had psychic dreams. So that's the part where he dreams about Thor fighting the serpent.
Cuchulainn: For some reason, the lyrics strike a chord with me personally, being a writer myself, I love it.
Johan Hegg: That's cool.
Cuchulainn: Pretty much the last question I have for you is: what do you feel the state of Amon Amarth is right now?
Johan Hegg: I think it's looking really good. I think we've had a good thing going for a couple years now and the previous album gave us a big boost. But I think this album is going to take things a step further. The thing I like about it is we haven't really changed anything that we do. We've never tried to go commercial or anything, we try to make minor changes and of course, you have to keep developing your music, but it's still very much Amon Amarth as it was in the beginning. So I think that now we are stronger than ever and hopefully we can continue forward growing. With the festivals we have lined up the summer and the future tours as well as European headliner tour and this tour, that's what we were sort of aiming at.
Cuchulainn: And finally, any last words for our readers?
Johan Hegg: Yeah, check out the new album and hopefully see you guys on the road. Cheers! (Laughs)
Thanks so very much to Johan Hegg and all the guys in Amon Amarth for an amazing experience. Also thanks again to Metal Blade Records for hooking this up, and Kelli in particular. You can check out Amon Amarth on the road with Children of Bodom through December in North America. Also without question, check out "With Oden on Our Side", it is quite an awesome album. Coming soon, my review of the Amon Amarth / Children of Bodom Detroit show so stay tuned. Til next time, stay brutal,