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A New (r)Evolution: Exclusive Interview With Oscar Dronjak Of HAMMERFALL, Part II

By Cary Gordon, Metal Geek
Friday, December 26, 2014 @ 12:09 AM


"It took me almost five years to realize that bands actually went out on tour, and I could actually go see my favorite heroes."

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In case you didn't catch Part I of this exclusive interview or just want to refresh your memory, check it out right HERE.

As we continue on with our interview with HAMMERFALL guitar slinger, and songwriter, Oscar Dronjak, we dive back into the topic of being a geeky metalhead, the pigeonholing mentality of the Metal genre, what got him into metal in the first place, KING DIAMOND, touring plans, and various other topics about the band! This was an amazing interview, and I urge everyone to check out the newest album from HAMMERFALL, (r)evolution, available now!

KNAC.COM: One of the other shows that I do is a podcast called Metal Geeks Podcast, where we geek out on not only heavy metal, but comic books, movies, tv shows, video games and we have different guys from bands come in sometimes. I was going to ask you, but you sort of already answered the question a little bit, but what do you really geek out on?

DRONJAK: (Laughs) Usually things like that. Iím a video game enthusiast as well. I play a lot now, but what Iím into right now, and have been, is...Iím a collector by nature. Iíve collected a lot of things over the years. I never throw away one single thing. I still have all of my old Nintendo consoles, and the games, and everything from the Eighties and Nineties still in really good condition. For the most part anyways. Iíve just recently started buying a lot of Super Nintendo games that I didnít have. Iíve played them but I didnít own them. I would just borrow them from people back then. These are complete with the booklets, and the box and everything, in as good as shape as possible. A couple of years ago, you could get these really cheap here. 5 or 10 years ago nobody wanted them. But they are getting more and more expensive now. I bought two of those today actually, letís see how much that would be in dollars; maybe Fifty dollars or something like that. For two complete games.

What I was going to say also, was that I also have a huge Star Wars collection, of vintage Star Wars stuff from the Eighties, which I keep from back then in mint condition, for the most part. Now, I didnít keep all the boxes and everything, but for many things I did. I also have expanded on that collection quite a bit, when eBay started coming out, or when I discovered eBay, I should say the first time. It was about 2000. Ď99 or 2000. Somewhere around there. 2001 actually maybe. I started buying vintage Star Wars there. For a while, that was the only thing that I did for a couple of weeks. I had to force myself to stop doing it because I usually had to buy from the States. The stuff I wanted was usually available over there. It would take a week or 10 days for the stuff to arrive. Once I realized I had just finished buying stuff, or bidding on stuff online that I had actually already won previously; I got them delivered from a different seller, I realized that I had to probably stop doing this now. So I scaled it down, and then I stopped completely. I still have, I donít know how many boxes I have of stuff. when we recorded Renegade, I was really into; well, that was the year after The Phantom Menace came out, and they did some sort of vintage style series of toys, and collectibles. I loved those. I felt they were as close to the vintage as I could get, you know. We were there for eight weeks, internationally, in the States, and I had a lot of time to buy Star Wars toys. I ended up buying so much; my suitcase was completely full. It was completely packed, and then I had to ship. I sent two boxes. One was from a television set, and the other was from a receiver or something. So, they were pretty big boxes., completely packed with Star Wars toys that I had bought and I couldnít get home any other way. So, I think I paid $110 for shipping alone for those two things. If you are a collector, you know, you canít get rid of those things. I never play with them, obviously, but I know I have them, and that is all that matters. I love it. Star Wars has just been my favorite since I was a kid, so. That collection means a lot to me.

KNAC.COM: Are you looking forward to the new movie?

DRONJAK: UmmmÖ.(pause). Yes, and no, I think.

KNAC.COM: I feel the same way.

DRONJAK: (Laughs) Yeah, you never know. Iíve heard a lot of good things from the guy who is directing, oh, what is his name? Abrams?

KNAC.COM: Yes. J.J. Abrams.

DRONJAK: Yes, Iím not a Star Trek fan, so I havenít seen what he has done with that. I have to say that I loved... The Phantom Menace is my favorite Star Wars movie. I saw that movie five times in the theater. I couldnít get enough of it. And that was the same thing. I was very skeptic when that came out. I wasnít sure. At first, I was like, ďOh my god. what have they done with itĒ, with all the previews and everything. A friend of mine, actually Jesper Stromblad from IN FLAMES, he is also a huge Star Wars geek. Well, IN FLAMES. He is not in IN FLAMES anymore, but he was in the band back then. He told me to check it out. ďI think you will like itĒ, and this was after the movie had already been out in the theaters for a while. I think he saw it at a premiere or something like that. He said it is really good, and to check it out. And so, I was at home, just hanging about, and all of a sudden, ďDuel Of FatesĒ came on, the music video that they did for that. I started watching it and I found myself three and a half minutes later, sitting like one meter from the television; just goosebumps all over. I had to immediately go see the movie, and I did obviously, right away. I get goosebumps even now. Sitting here, it is really warm and everything, really sunny, and I still have goosebumps just thinking about this movie. The John Williams compositions for the Star Wars moviesÖ.I love the old stuff. I donít know what it is called, but I think it is the Princess Leia theme or something, maybe itís not that, but it is one of those themes that comes back in all of the movies. It is one of my favorite tracks ever. But ďDuel Of The FatesĒ tops that one. There is nothing wrong with that song. I mean, there is not a single thing wrong. It is perfect. It canít be any better. John Williams is a musical genius, in my opinion.

KNAC.COM: Totally agree. I guess letís get back into the metal for a little bit.

DRONJAK: (Laughs) Yeah, yeah, if we have to.

KNAC.COM: I think it is sometimes an inevitable and necessary thing for a band to be pigeon holed into a certain genre, and then sub-genre, and subgenre of that. How do you get away from that?

DRONJAK: Well, by not looking so much online. I think that is the only way. This is kind of a bone of contention, as you say in English, for me because the thing isÖ.a lot of people nowadays, everywhere call HAMMERFALL a power metal band., which I can see why people do that. For me, when I formed HAMMERFALL in 1993, the only power metal available was U.S. power metal which was JAG PANZER and OMEN, or whatever. Those types of bands. I think they are quite different from HAMMERFALL and the melodic German scene that we are getting most of our influences from. Also, in 1993 and onwards, heavy metal as a genre, as an epithet, it was a bad word basically. It was very uncool if people said they were playing heavy metal, or liked heavy metal, you got one of those laughs. ďReally?Ē People at the time were looking down on you for that. I didnít want to be ashamed of anything that I loved as much as I love heavy metal. I loved it for my whole life. Ever since I discovered it when I was 10 or 12 or whatever it was. Itís been my life since then, basically. We didnít want to be ashamed of that, basically. Obviously, the reaction was then that if people want to laugh at us when we call ourselves heavy metal, that only makes us want to call ourselves heavy metal even more. We sort of embraced the term, ďheavy metalĒ, when nobody else wanted to basically. That is why I feel so strongly about this today. Like I said, Power Metal didnít really exist back then, ďHeavy MetalĒ was all that there was for us. People wanted to put us in a certain compartment, just because it fit their needs more than anybody elseís. I didnít approve of that. I am regularly going onto our Wikipedia page and changing it from ďPower MetalĒ to ďHeavy MetalĒ, because it always says that HAMMERFALL is a ďPower MetalĒ band from Sweden. I always change it to ďHeavy MetalĒ band from Sweden. I will never stop doing that. I havenít done it in a while now. I just realized that when we were talking about it. Itís been a couple of months now. Maybe somebody changed it again. Anyways, this is a really important thing for me, which is what I am getting at. Being a heavy metal band, that means much more thanÖ.itís more than just a term. It is what we base our whole lives on, basically. So, that is why it is so important. I can see now that it is still Swedish Heavy Metal band from Gothenburg.

KNAC.COM: Speaking about coming from Gothenburg, which is really popularized with a certain type of music, Death Metal, how has HAMMERFALL always kept their own sound and style and avoided all that?

DRONJAK: Difficult. The thing with HAMMERFALL is we never had any delusions of what we are. HAMMERFALL has always been from day one a heavy metal band. We didnít start out as a Death Metal band, or anything, or wanted to try different genres. We started playing heavy metal because we loved the music, not because we wanted to be famous, or people would enjoy hearing our music. Like I said, in the 90ís,. especially in Sweden, I guess it was the same in the U.S., there was no market for anything like this. There were a few bands like HELLOWEEN, or GAMMA RAY, MANOWAR, that did release albums occasionally. And STRATOVARIUS as well, but I didnít know who STARTOVARIUS was back then. I only learned about them a couple of years later. Bands like that, they did exist, but they were few and far between. No band was ever coming to tour. The closest band that I saw touring in Scandinavia was MANOWAR. I saw them in Ď95 in Denmark. Copenhagen is pretty close to Gothenburg. Itís like three or four hours away only, so it was pretty easy to get there. But that was the closest I came to a metal show. I just wanted to...I start losing track of what I am talking about, but now I remember. The thing is we always knew that this is what we want to do. We didnít want to try something different. We never had any life crisis or anything. HAMMERFALL has always been a heavy metal band. That is how we have been able to keep it like that all the time because we knew from the start, from day one, what we were. We werenít on an explorative journey of any kind. We were a heavy metal band period. That is what we wanted to do. We were able to keep it contained, so to speak, for such a long time.

KNAC.COM: I know when you first started, you were playing in a couple of Death Metal bands. What was that catalyst to first start HAMMERFALL?

DRONJAK: I was in a band called CEREMONIAL OATH. We recorded an album in Ď92. It took a while for that album to come out. It didnít come out until Ď93, in April or so. When the album came out, I had already quit CEREMONIAL OATH. Letís just put it this way, people wanted to change the style of music into something I didnít, basically. I wanted to keep going where we had, and some people wanted to be more contemporary in terms of bands. It doesnít matter. So, when I quit CEREMONIAL OATH, I had already started to write some songs. I think, ďSteel Meets SteelĒ, I had written originally to be a part of CEREMONIAL OATH. At least half of the song was done by then. This goes back to what I was talking about before, because nobody else was playing the type of music I wanted to listen to. I said, why not do it myself? Because of the outcast status of Heavy Metal, we didnít really have any aspirations. Everybody already had different bands. I had another band called CRYSTAL AGE for several years in the beginning, which was a death metal band as well. Everybody in the band was doing different things with Death Metal. That was always their main priority, basically.

We didnít see a future with HAMMERFALL, as far as we could do anything with it, because we didn't think anybody would be interested in Heavy Metal anymore. So that, to answer your previous question, that is why it was easy for me to keep those two seperate as well because I already had an outlet for the Death Metal stuff, and HAMMERFALL was an outlet for Heavy Metal. I did form the band, HAMMERFALL, basically right after I quit CEREMONIAL OATH, and then I broke my arm actually right after that, really one or two months after that, so I didnít really do anything for maybe four or five or six months. And when I started up again, I had Jesper Stromblad join me, because he was also in CEREMONIAL OATH, but he had quit CEREMONIAL OATH by that time as well. That was key in the beginning. In the beginning, it was basically just him and myself doing everything, all the music. That is how it basically started.

KNAC.COM: What first got you into music? What was that first band?

DRONJAK: I donít know, to be honest. I canít put a finger on exactly. Thatís why Iíve always been skeptical when people say, ďI heard KISS when I was 5 on television or live or whatever, and I knew what I wanted to do with the rest of my life.Ē I always take that with a grain of salt. I donít even remember when I was 5. I donít really have any specific memories about how I was feeling about certain things back then. That came a lot later for me. But anyways, I discovered metal when I was about 10. For me, it wasnít just one instance that the world changed. I have some things like that. It was always built up by several other things. I bought Screaming For Vengeance (JUDAS PRIEST), and like an ACCEPT kind of collection album. I bought them from a friend who didnít want them anymore. This was in Ď82 or something. Early Ď83 or something like that. This was when I first started to get into it. I had listened to KISS before. KISS Alive!. I had the cassette that I had borrowed from my cousin before that. It was just a cassette that I listened to that had good music. I really didnít know KISS. I didnít really have any avenues of pursuing like a metal interest or anything. I was just listening to ACCEPT. But then I realized that this was all the same type of music, and with ďBalls To The WallĒ; it was a real eye opener for me because they played this song on the radio in Sweden back then. I think it was brand new. It just came out or something like that. I didnít know what ACCEPT was. Well, letís put it this way. I didnít know that ACCEPT was a band, and that bands put out albums, and they put out new stuff every once in a while. I had no concept. It was just music for me. It was just stuff. I didnít have a concept of touring either. It took me almost five years to realize that bands actually went out on tour, and I could actually go see my favorite heroes.

I missed TWISTED SISTER and I missed ACCEPT, KING DIAMOND and a bunch of other stuff I did miss in the 80ís because I didnít know. I was just clueless when it came to that. But with ďBalls To The WallĒ, a friend of my brothers; I have a younger brother who is a year and a half younger than me, and you know how it was when you are 10 or 12, you were always fighting all the time. (Laughs) And if he had the power to deny me something, he would in a heartbeat, always. So, when his buddy came over, he had a cassette with ďBalls To The WallĒ on it. And the living room was the only place in the house where we had a stereo. So, we sat down, and out the cassette on and I finally heard some good music. I came into the room, and continued to listen to the song. And as soon as my brother understood that I wanted to listen to it again, and hear more of it, he would instantly say, ďGet out of here!Ē And then Mom got involved and would say, ďOK, your little brother is right. Go to your room. He is here with a friend, and he can be down here.Ē And of course, I didnít get to listen to this song anymore.

But then, an hour or two later, my brother and his buddy went outside to play or whatever. I donít know what they were doing. But, then I snuck back down because they had left the cassette in the player; I started listening to that song, over and over and over again for a while, before they came back in. I just took the chance. I knew that that song was a connection for me with Heavy Metal music. I knew that this was something that I loved and I started to understand what I was loving it as well. The energy and the power of the music itself. I started playing guitar a couple of years later. I was playing the trombone for four years. I think it was Ď82 to Ď86 or something like that. When I started playing guitar, I did that because I realized you can't have a heavy metal band with a trombone in it. If I wanted to play something close to the music I was listening to, it would have to be guitar or Bass; it would have to be a Rock instrument. So then I switched from Trombone to the guitar. This period of my life, from like Ď82 to Ď84 or something is when I discovered Metal and getting really into it. One of the first albums that I did buy was Stay Hungry from TWISTED SISTER, when that first came out.

KNAC.COM: Going into more current times, what are some of your favorite bands to listen to now?

DRONJAK: When Iím really into something, I think this has to do with the collectorís side of me. When Iím really into it, I never let go of it. I never stop listening to any music ever. I think, maybe GUNS N ROSES - Appetite For Destruction, I stopped listening to when i started listening to Death Metal a lot. Everybody loved GUNS Ní ROSES, and I didnít want to be like everybody, basically, but also because I had so much new stuff with the Death Metal scene. It was growing back then. This was probably Ď88 or something like that. I did pick up GUNS Ní ROSES again after a while. My girlfriend, that is one of her absolute favorite bands, so if I didnít like GUNS Ní ROSES, I would have a really hard time living in this house. Letís put it that way. Contemporary bands that I am really into right now...like KING DIAMOND and MERCYFUL FATE, ever since I discovered them, have been one of my favorites. Lately, itís just one of those bands that I get a craving for sometimes. I have to listen to MERCYFUL FATE. I have to hear the voice of King Diamond. I donít know what it is, but I also have to sing along with whatever he is doing. I think that is part of it. I want to be a part of the music when I hear it, and not just listen to it.

KNAC.COM: And he is back, and he is touring the States!

DRONJAK: I know! I went to you know, Wacken Open Air festival. We played there this year on a Thursday and he was playing on a Friday, so I stayed there one day longer to be able to catch the show. I donít think I could have lived with myself otherwise. I really had to go see it. Itís unbelievably good. Our guitar player, Pontus (Norgren, Lead Guitar), is doing the sound for KING DIAMOND, and has been for a couple of years. So, he is going to be on the tour of the US. When he is done with the soundchecks and everything, he sometimes takes a couple of pictures. ďLook what Iím doing right now!Ē, because he knows how big of a fan of KING DIAMOND I am. Itís sometimes really annoying, but sometimes it is also really fun to see the setup and seeing a picture with the King. I hate him for it, but I am still interested in it. But King is...Do you like KING DIAMOND?

KNAC.COM: Oh, Definitely Yes!

DRONJAK: So, you are probably going to go and see them. You will not be disappointed unless he has a really bad day, but I donít think he will. You are probably going to have a really good time. It is very, very good now. The setlist and the performance from everybody, especially KING DIAMOND. Iíve seen him over the years when he has not been his best. I guess, around the time of Voodoo, I went to see him in Gothenburg. He is always good, but not as good as I had hoped. This time, I think it is even better. It is even better than he has any business of being, actually, you know, because of his triple bypass, and the back problems and everything. Itís super, super good. Performance and show. Everything is fantastic with that, so. I really, really recommend it.

KNAC.COM: So, you just mentioned Wacken. Do you prefer larger crowds like that or do you like smaller, more intimate audiences?

DRONJAK: Well, both are different enough that...I think I like both. I kind of am more into intimate shows because itís easier to get a connection with people. On bigger stages, sometimes you get the feeling that you are playing in a bubble or on television for people. Itís like they are not really there because they are so far away. On the other hand, looking out and seeing 85,000 people...Itís an impressive sight. Itís a really nice feeling, too. I canít really say that I prefer one or the other. Itís just different. I like the fact that we are fortunate enough to do both.

KNAC.COM: With such a large back catalog now, how do you decide what songs to play live?

DRONJAK: Oh man, it is getting harder and harder each and every time. I thought it was difficult last time, when Infected came out, but now itís even worse. I would like to play for three or four hours. That would be my optimum, so I wouldn't have to take some songs out. Obviously, we canít do that. Usually this is done by Joacim and myself and we bounce it back and forth a couple times before we agree on a good set list. Now it seems like we are focusing more on the older days, but we haven't really made up our minds on what is going to be included on the tour yet. I think it all depends a little bit on where we are. The next shows we are going to do are...we start in Moscow, and we go to Latin America, which is a territory we haven't done in 8 years. Iím guessing, the setlist might be a little bit different then say, when we do Europe after Christmas. I dont know what it is going to be until...We usually play a little bit from every album. That is not going to be the case this time. I don't think we can do that. We can't just play the older hits, so to say. People expect us to play some new stuff, and some fun stuff. I don't think we are going to be able to cover all the albums anymore, which will be a first. We always put a lot of effort in making sure that was the case because I donít like it when bands tour and they do just do songs from 2 or 3 albums. It depends on the type of band and the type of career they had. But as a fan of the band, I donít want just the obvious songs. I want something more. But I dont want just the non obvious songs either. I want a good mix of it, I think.

KNAC.COM: There are always those songs that you feel obligated to play, too.

DRONJAK: Yeah, absolutely. We have a few of those now. It's funny how people are. I know I shouldn't take it so seriously but every time we do a show, they say, ďOh yeah! Really good show, but why didnít you play this song?Ē Iím like, ďYeah OK. We didnít play it, but we played this other one instead.Ē We canít please everybody. Itís really difficult. ďGreat show, butÖ.Ē kind of thing. Iím so tired of hearing that. I donít want input on what songs people think we should play or shouldnít play. You get that anyways from the reactions of the people; of the fans when you do it. I understand that people only mean well. They want to tell me about what songs they like the best. That is obviously why they are talking about it. But itís just tiresome that nothing you do seems to be good enough. There is always some people who donít like it. That is the way with life. I am not complaining about it really.

KNAC.COM: You write the music for HAMMERFALL, but have you ever put any thought or ideas behind maybe doing a solo album, where you could do a little bit different?

DRONJAK: Not seriously, because for me, HAMMERFALL is my solo album, in the respect that I get to do exactly what I want. I have no limitations. Because the type of albums we do with HAMMERFALL, if I were to do a solo album, this is exactly what it would sound like. If I were to do a solo album, I would probably do a cover album, just for fun, basically. Maybe try out playing the bass, or singing a little bit, trying different things. That would be the reason I would do a solo album, to try out different things more, musically. Not necessarily creatively, but more to try out other things out that I wanted to do. Itís something that is never going to happen, but it is something I have been thinking about. I get this question asked a lot because Joacim (Cans, vocals) did a solo album, Stefan (Elmgren, Touring Bass) did a solo album, Anders (Johannsen, Drums) has done many solo albums as well. Itís so easy to do a proper album as well. I never felt the inclination to do one.

KNAC.COM: I was going to say, HAMMERFALL has done their share of cover songs. Is there anything in the back of your mind where you feel that you really have to put your touch to this song.

DRONJAK: Yeah, I guess so. Like you said, we have done a lot of cover songs over the years. I have so many bands that I really like. There are definitely songs that would be interesting if HAMMERFALL did them. We did one on the Infected album, "Send Me A Sign" from a German metal band called POKOLGEP. Not many people know them obviously because they are not very famous outside Eastern Europe. But that song. I heard that song, probably 25 years ago or something like that. When HAMMERFALL started playing, when Joacim came into the band and from that point on, it was always a song that I wanted to cover. I thought he would sing this beautifully, which he did. It fit his voice very well. The type of melodies and all that. So that was the last one I had on my mind like that. We did that on the last album. I would like to do a cover of HEAVEN'S GATE. That would be fun. A german Heavy Metal kind of band from the late 80ís, early 90ís The guy who produces the AVANTASIA albums, for example, Sascha Paeth, he was in HEAVEN'S GATE. That is the kind of band I would like do a cover of once. We were on the verge of on doing another STORMWITCH cover because the main songwriter and founder had died. I think it was 2013. But for whatever reason, it never materialized. I donít think Joacim and I could agree on what song to do. We had different opinions on that so we didnít do anything. Definitely. I can think of hundreds of songs that I would like to do. But it is all a matter of getting Joacim on board and getting a good version of it together, I guess you could say.

KNAC.COM: Now are there any plans for the book you wrote about the band to be transcribed into any other languages including English?

DRONJAK: Plans? Hopes? Yes! But no concrete plans yet. The publisher that released the book in Swedish has agents that work to get other publishers in England, and Germany, and whatever countries, to get them interested in picking up the book basically. I keep pushing for them that they should not miss out on the opportunity, especially when we go on tour to have the book translated. We go on tour in January, so I donít see that happening. Unfortunately. English would be a great idea as well. We donít do a lot of touring in English speaking countries but if we go back to the US next year, it would be a great idea to have the book available at that time. But it is all a matter of agents and publishers agreeing on things. Things are out of my hands. I can only tell my publisher what I would like to happen, and try to push him. But he canít do anything either because it is up to the agent now. Iím keeping my fingers crossed. I hope it will happen.

KNAC.COM: Besides the touring you mentioned starting up early next year, what else is planned next year for the band?

DRONJAK: The immediate future will be some interviews, and maybe some promotional appearances. I donít know if we will be doing. I just became a father for the first time. Itís not even a week now.

KNAC.COM: Congratulations.

DRONJAK: Thank you. Iím going to be doing that for while. That will take up about two months. We will be doing Moscow in December so that is the next thing on our agenda, and then we do Europe after the new years. After that, it is pretty much open. We have some festivals booked already for next year in Europe. We have a lot of spaces available, so to speak. Iím hoping we can go to the US again. I mean, itís been now 4 years. It will be 5 years next year. That is sort of the timespan that we have been doing things over the last years. Itís been 4 years, and then 4 years, and now 5 years I guess. I think it is about time we go back. I like being in the US. I really enjoy being there on tour because it is a different world. I mean, we are still Western civilization but there is still a different culture from what I am used to. And itís different than being on the road say in some place like Germany where all the tv stations for example are in German. Like the whole English language thing is much easier for me over there. Itís also a matter of getting the promoters. We have an agent obviously, booking agents in the US, to get us good tours there that doesnít send us home with a loss basically. That is the way it has been for most of the time we have been touring there. At this point and time, when people are getting older. I am the last guy in the band to have a child; everybody has families. Obviously, supporting the families has become more and more important. So, we canít waste any money anymore, like we could before on tours. That doesnít mean that we canít do it. It would just have to be right tour basically. That is what I am getting at. A properly planned and put together tour that will ensure that we donít get a loss out of it. Thatís not out of the question. It just has to be done right.


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