» Ted Lundström - Amon Amarth
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Interview conducted March 20 2019
Interview published April 10 2019

Berserker, the title of Swedish melodic death metallers Amon Amarth's 11th full-length studio record, is out on May 3rd and hence Metal Covenant met up with bass player Ted Lundström a couple of weeks ago in his hometown of Stockholm.

Tobbe: You have another record out soon, and what can you say about a new Amon Amarth record without coming out too cliché?

Ted: Well, that's impossible. I guess it's like people sometimes say: We're, you know, kind of the AC/DC of death metal. You know what you'll get. But with this record we have, the way we see it, stretched out quite a lot, you know. We went to L.A. for the recordings. New studio, you know, and we've tried to get a different guitar sound. It's still in the framework of Amon Amarth, but we kind of went for more in the vein of heavy metal guitars and gave more room for the bass. Everything is a little bit more separated sonically.

We wrote the songs; guitars, bass, drums and vocals, you know, but as we were going forward we spiced it up with little things like acoustic intros. And there was a huge grand piano in the drum room, so we thought a little piano would be cool to have on the record. And we also had some clean singing and some other stuff. So I think that we have stretched it quite a bit, yet stayed with our sound, you know, so no one will get greatly surprised.

Tobbe: Does it get easier or harder for you guys to make records? I mean, you get more routine and experience for each record, you get a couple of years older and hopefully a couple of years more skilled, but also there's a greater risk to repeat what you've already done.

Ted: I guess it's a little bit of both. As songwriters, even though I personally don't write so many songs, but I know that our guitarists [Olavi Mikkonen and Johan Söderberg], who are writing all the riffs, try to watch out. It's easy, when they're sitting down a whole day playing riffs, to just slip into an old track, you know.

But at the same time, during the last couple of albums when we have worked more with producers and stuff, with Andy Sneap and Jens Bogren, we have been taught a whole lot, like how to construct songs in a better way, with more thought-out build-ups and what is working, and this makes it easier when you write a song, because you kind of follow something and you know what will work and like "This riff seems too long. Let's cut it by 1 and just do 3 instead of 4.". We fix some stuff like that, you know.

It makes it easier when you write a song, because after the song is written you start to polish and trim it, and cut out and add stuff to make it perfect. Stuff like that is what we've learned along the road and that's what makes it easier now.

Tobbe: You said that you don't write so many songs, but if you look at the credits in the info sheet for the record it states you and both of the guitarists as composers and Johan Hegg as lyricist.

Ted: To the outside we have always put down the entire band as songwriters. For sure, our guitarists write pretty much all the riffs, but when we go into the studio everyone comes with ideas and thoughts, you know.

Everyone has an input, so even from the early days of the band we've said that it's a collective effort. Our singer writes all the lyrics and they write pretty much all the riffs, so it's more like a team thing and therefore we have a greater chemistry in the band, you know.

Tobbe: Heavy, fast, melodic are 3 pretty simple terms to describe your music, and even if there's some growth, how many albums will a band be able to make with this kind of sound, but still continue to find new stuff?

Ted: Well, I don't know. You just don't have an answer to that. But we don't feel limited yet, you know. If you look at our career, for every record touring and sales have increased, so we have grown for every record. So, so far we're making something right and we haven't exactly been losing ground on any record.

Many bands maybe grow a lot in the beginning, then lose some ground, and then maybe come back after a while, whereas we've had, I would say, for every record, a slow increase and have become bigger and bigger.

Tobbe: Are you still really trying to get bigger or have you now kind of come to a level where you just try to keep your position? Is this something you talk about?

Ted: No, not really. And as Olli said last week when we did a lot of press in Paris and Berlin: "We're still very hungry, and there's no time to relax and enjoy what we have, because there are a lot of bands right behind us that are very eager to take our position.". So it's just keep on going and we always aim higher, you know. Surely, things go great in Germany, the USA and a lot of countries, but at the same time we want every other country around to reach the same level, because then we can do greater tours and stuff.

We like to do grand shows, but that costs a hell of a lot of money and therefore you have to play big enough gigs, you know. It's hard to combine a smaller club and then in another country a bigger club, like "What to do?". So I guess the next goal is to kind of take it all up to the same level.

Tobbe: But isn't it sometimes easy to lose focus? I mean, when you have reached a certain level.

Ted: Well, maybe not lose focus in that sense, but it's easy to kind of get spoiled. Sometimes it's like: you have a bad day; you haven't slept well and maybe you're hung over and you're thinking "I'm tired of traveling and do what we're doing.", but then you think back a bit, like "Come on. All our buddies back home who still work at their jobs think that we're living the dream.". So you tend to get a little spoiled, you know. Well, no matter what people do, they kind of get stuck in a rut, even in a profession like mine and sometimes you have to remind yourself that this is rather nice anyway.

Tobbe: You know, touring around the world is one thing in the beginning of a career, but when you have passed 40 you're often looking more for comfort and convenience and stuff like that. So, what's different from then and now?

Ted: The thing is: we have grown slowly and steadily. It feels like we have grown just right, because back in the day you just cared about the party and you didn't care in what way you were traveling and what you did. It was just a big party, you know. But now things have changed and now you're more interested in convenience and you want stuff to work.

We are joined by a crew who works for us and you don't want people to party more than they work, you know. It must be a bit more serious, right? And that costs more, if you want to have a nice tour bus with a serious driver and bigger stages. All of that costs more money, but at the same time we have grown bigger and therefore we have been able to afford to upgrade in line with that our needs have changed.

So now it's quite comfortable; we have decent tour busses and we can afford hotels during off-days. Everything works on stage and we have a professional crew. When we go up on stage, we know that everything will work and it's nice to not have to worry every day if things will work that same night.

Tobbe: Is it difficult to set a limit on how much you spend? I mean, you must have an income too, like everyone else.

Ted: It's like: if we would have had even more money, we would have done more fun and more awesome stuff and played other venues. You have to adapt to what you have of course, but we usually kind of invest all the money we earn on a tour in our next tour, and then we have to live on merchandise and record sales. It's not like we're millionaires [One million Swedish crowns = 100,000-140,000 American dollars or 900,000-110,000 Euros], but we put most of our money in the band, you know, to grow and to have some comfort.

Tobbe: Hopefully one thing feeds another. Sales feed touring and touring feeds sales.

Ted: Exactly. Our hope is to come to a level where we can do all these things and also receive some kind of bonus payment. [Laughs]

Tobbe: When you're leading a life like yours, do you feel that you're sometimes living in a bubble or in a different kind of world?

Ted: Yes, that's the way it is. It's overall a pretty crazy world, you know. It's the exact opposite to a regular… everything, you know, this thing to travel around the world, and we laughed about that we have a rider, you know, with beer and liquor and so, every day, and think about coming to a construction site and having a minibar there. [Laughs]

It's actually quite absurd that we have that. It's just crazy. Like, why should you get wasted every day? It's this rock 'n' roll myth that's deeply rooted. Like, it's the way it should be, no matter what. But it has changed a bit, the classic rock 'n' roll myth; "Sex, drugs, rock 'n' roll" has kind of changed a bit and now there's in general a little bit more healthy people who try to stay in a little bit better shape and drink less, because it's just not worth it and you just get worn-out. And now as we're getting older, we can't party as hard as we used to do. It's like it takes 3 days to recover from a bash, in comparison to before when you could continue the next morning.

When we were support act to some other band, you know, nobody cared, and we didn't care, but as you start to realize that everyone here have paid to come and see us, then you just can't do a lousy gig, you know. You have to do your best, even if you have a bad day, because people have looked forward to the gig for weeks and have paid to see us. So you have to, you know, deliver.

Tobbe: Do you think it's important that you guys reached 30 before things started to happen for real? I mean, being more mature and stuff when you became more successful.

Ted: Definitely. If this would have set off when we were 20-25, it could have ended just anyhow. There were kind of no blocks and it was all in with sex, drugs, rock 'n' roll. Kind of, because we couldn't do that since we had kind of no money or anything. [Laughs] But anyway, that's what we were trying to live for. So if we would have had a lot of money and had gotten everything we asked for, I guess some of us or someone in the band would have gone downhill in the end. So for our survival it was just perfect and, like I kind of said earlier, we have grown in the right pace to keep the band healthy.

Tobbe: As you're now about to release a new record, do you release a new record because you really, really want to release a new record, or do you release a record because of "Hey! This is what you do as a musician."?

Ted: Well, it's a little bit of both. You just can't relax too much, like I said earlier. Because if you wait and "Let's take a 5-year break!"… You know, everything goes so fast today; internet, and many bands trying to make it. In a certain way you want to keep up the pace because it's part of the dream of growing and therefore you also have to be there.

But it's also: when we started writing for this record, the songs felt so good and we thought that it all would turn out great, and now it's like we have just been waiting since October to get this record out, like "Please put it out." so we can get to hear what people say about it and we can get out on the road again. So it's something that we wanna do, but at the same time you feel a little pressure that you have to do it if you wanna keep growing. You can't take too long of a break, so to speak, because then you could lose momentum.

Tobbe: What could your producer Jay Ruston do, that the band can't do on their own?

Ted: One of the reasons is to have someone from the outside. I mean, we have been going for 25 years, you know, and you get some kind of tunnel vision. Jay Ruston hasn't done so much death metal and stuff, you know. We did 3 albums with Jens Bogren and he started to work with a lot of bands, and each producer has his own sound picture, you know, and you want to get away from that; if they start doing too many, you know.

Andy Sneap has also done a whole lot, you know, in the same genre. So we were searching for something new; 2.0, you know. Jay mixed our live DVD. That was the first job we did with him and we think he did a good job. So that was our initial thought, you know, and then we wanted to record in Los Angeles. We didn't want to contact some hotshot producer, but we were looking for someone who wanted to do Us, you know. We don't want someone who's only doing it for the money, but someone who finds it interesting and really wants to contribute and has an input. So we went over there and checked out a few producers.

You know, met them, talked to them about how they wanted to do it, how they wanted to record. And we checked out, I think, 5 or 6 different studios in Los Angeles before we decided. I think what really made us go for him in the end was his way of recording. On the last couple of albums we have recorded all the drums… Well, we jam together, but we have just recorded the drums, to every song, you know. Then you start with the guitars and do just that for 2 weeks. And it feels kind of unfocused when you're sitting there playing your instrument for 4 days in a row, all the songs, and you polish into absurdity. In the end it becomes boring.

So Jay thought that we were gonna have the studio for 6 weeks, rig everything, and then do song by song. So we more or less recorded a whole song until it was done and then moved on to the next one. So everybody was recording kind of all the time and you were constantly on your toes, like "Tomorrow I will start recording again; the next song.". And he has a more old school way of recording, like when I play my bass I maybe play the song straight through 3 times and he tries to take, of course the best, but as big blocks as possible, and fix the little details later, to get more of a live feeling, instead of taking one riff and then the next one and record it riff by riff.

Tobbe: If you would use different instruments in your music, yet keep the melody of the songs, how difficult or easy would it be to make pop songs out of your songs?

Ted: It would probably be pretty easy, because we often have, you know, very catchy melodies. Of course the vocals have to be sweeter and you can't have as much double bass drums, but there are so many of those, Denniz PoP, or whatever they were called, that enjoyed heavy metal, you know. So they have come from there when they have made those pop hits, you know. A lot of the times it's a bit the same, you know; it's just that you use a different sound and different tempos and beats, but it still has some common factor, especially melodies and how you build up a song. So it's probably possible to do pop out of our music, if you put some hard work into it.

Tobbe: Has anybody in the band been tempted to write music for other artists? Or is someone already doing that, incognito?

Ted: No. [Laughs] But I and Söderberg have had some kind of little love for heavy synth music, like Front 242, and he has a lot of synthesizers and stuff at home. So for a while we had some plans to make heavy synth together. We even had a name, pictures and everything. Just a fun hobby, but it never materalized.

Tobbe: The new record follows your development with adding more regular heavy metal to your music, although intense heavy metal of course, and you started out as a true death metal band before heading more toward melodic death metal. So, where will Amon Amarth end up in the end?

Ted: The thing is: we have our vocals, you know. But we've had rather many heavy metal influences all the time anyway, even when we played more death metal. So the vocals have kept us kind of on track a little and that's the actual death metal part of it, you know, and of course fast bass drums. But melody-wise and guitar-wise, already on the early records we were very influenced by [Iron] Maiden and, you know, more heavy metal than by other bands, like Entombed. Maybe that's why we sounded a little different too; a slightly different sound picture in comparison with the rest of the bands from Stockholm during the early '90s.

Tobbe: I'm gonna draw a parallel to In Flames, although that band sounds like a different band today, but as you've become more melodic a larger audience have come to the bands. Perhaps you don't write songs completely to please your audience, but still, is it like "You know what? We get a bigger crowd if we make more melodic songs."?

Ted: Well, no, I don't think we're really thinking about it. We're playing what we personally want to hear, you know. I mean, this, like Amon Amarth, is what we like. It's heavy metal, yet, you know, we come from this death metal thing, so we're this perfect mix of heavy metal, what we grew up with, and death metal, that was big as we got a little bit older. So that's kind of what we have done.

But of course: you write a song, and then you notice that it's really cool when there's a sing-along part, so obviously we think about it when we rehearse and write songs, like "This could go down really well with the audience." and then that, in some way, goes into the song. But we've never said that we have to write a song for the audience, but we write a song for us and the audience.

Tobbe: Besides of course getting more skilled as players during the last 20 years, what would the early records like Once Sent From The Golden Hall [1998] and The Avenger [1999] actually sound like if you would have had today's possibilities?

Ted: What's most noticeable is the actual arrangements of the songs, you know. You go back and listen and "What the hell was I thinking there?", like this song has one and a half minutes with this riff before the vocals even start and the chorus doesn't come at the right moment. That's what I mean: you learn to build up a song; how long you can extend something before it gets boring, before something must happen; like how long this bridge is going to be.

There's a lot of that stuff, because I mean, the riffs are what they are and that's what we wrote back then. Perhaps we wouldn't write those riffs in the same way today, but if we would have had better knowledge how to build a song, we would have cut them in a different way and removed a lot of unnecessary crap.

From the very beginning it was a lot like: you came up with a riff, and then another cool riff, and a third riff, and "Do they work together? - Yes. - Okay. Let's go!", whereas now it's more that we build a song maybe on one riff and then you kind of expand it and add stuff, so every song is a little more solid, you know. It's based on one thing, or maybe two; one fast and one slow. But nevertheless, you try to stay there, in order to not come out too long, with 100 riffs that don't really go together. It's a rookie mistake, that you add a lot of stuff without really knowing why.

See also: interview with Johan Söderberg

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