» Oscar Dronjak - HammerFall
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Interview conducted June 8 2019
Interview published August 17 2019

"HammerFall is not a cool band. It's not cool to like HammerFall. It never has been and I think it never will be."

Metal Covenant talked with HammerFall's founder and guitarist Oscar Dronjak to hear his words on the band's new full-length release Dominion [Out August 16th].

Tobbe: To what extent does the new record go in line with HammerFall's already well-established heavy metal sound?

Oscar: You know, I think this is a good mix of a lot of what we have done earlier. I usually say that we make a dish, so to speak, out of the same ingredients, but there's a different recipe every time. It's familiar, but I still think that we've made something good out of it.

It's our 11th record and it's rather cool that you can feel that this is funnier than it's ever been, and you can also feel that and hear that in the actual music. I think the production is very vibrant and organic. It's the way I want it to be when I listen to music. I don't like it when it's too compressed and too correct and we have really been able to step away from that and I'm very happy about that.

Tobbe: What's the biggest motivation for the band to still put out albums?

Oscar: There's a lot of stuff that wants to get out. There are many ideas and we have something to bring forth. It's not like, like some bands do when they've been doing this for a long time and just put out an album to be able to go out on tour again, you know. We're not in that situation, but it feels like we're still a band that's on its way up and we have a lot to add to the genre, really. I still think it's incredibly fun to write music. It's as much fun as it was 20 years ago. It's different now, because a person changes in 20 years. And you learn things too and experience is also important.

But the actual core of it all is the same, that you sit down with your guitar and you come up with a riff that you think is really good, and then put it on hold for one or two days and then take it back, and then, if it's good at that point I know that it's a good riff. And there has been a lot of that on this record and I've had a really good feel through the whole process.

Tobbe: You've put out over 100 songs, and just how difficult is it really to come up with new stuff nowadays?

Oscar: Well, something new, in that sense, something that someone hasn't heard before, is impossible to make. On the other hand, I like Judas Priest, which is one of my favorite bands, and their records differ a bit over the years. They've been going through phases in their 40-year career naturally, but if you look at the two latest records for example, Redeemer Of Souls [2014] and Firepower [2018], they're pretty much the same record, but yet it doesn't really sound like that. You know, they have something that makes every little thing unique.

And I think we have that too and since day 1 I have always said that a new song must not sound like some other song we did. You know, you can't borrow from yourself. If you happen to do that, you must change it, and that gets harder and harder, you know. You have to open up your mind a little bit, instead of going in the same direction.

One thing that I think we've been successful with on this album is that especially Joacim [Cans, vocals] has stepped out of his comfort zone. He has challenged himself a lot. We talked about it during the songwriting process, but you can also notice it in the end result, because not one verse sounds like another, really. He has hit the high notes and the correct notes, you know.

Tobbe: A lot of bands talk about their own progress, but is this really so important to the band's fans actually?

Oscar: No, I don't think so. But I think people want exactly what they're used to, but if you always serve them that they get tired of it. If you give them exactly what they want, because they think that they want that, then they don't want that anymore. You can't change style after a 20-year career and neither can you repeat yourself too much, so you will just have to find a good balance there.

Tobbe: If you're really, really being honest now, how creative are you in comparison with 20 years ago?

Oscar: If you had asked me before Built To Last [2016] I would have said that the tap is just dripping a little bit instead of being fully open, because it was tough and it was stressed and it wasn't fun. We only had a few months to complete about half of the record since we toured for so long. Usually we have a break for 6 months maybe, where you can focus on writing the record. But we didn't have that then and I was behind, so this time I decided that it wasn't gonna happen again.

So I started writing songs just 7 months after the release of Built To Last, just to get it going, and it took a while before it was fun again. But when that happened, when things started to flow, you know, it hasn't stopped. I'm more creative now than ever, I think. And now I know how to handle my creativity. I have never understood that before. I don't know on how many occasions I've felt creative, but "I'm just gonna walk the dogs first. I must eat lunch now." and then it's all gone. That has happened so many times, so I try to make use of my creativity when it comes knocking.

Tobbe: You write pretty much all the music yourself and which part of the songwriting process might make you the most frustrated sometimes?

Oscar: I don't think it's a specific part of the process. I think it's easiest to write verses and especially intro riffs, but sometimes when you come to the chorus it just ends. Sometimes you have it right away and sometimes you start with the chorus, but not so often. But when it just ends, it's really frustrating, because you don't know if it will really come back to you or not. So therefore it's a positive thing to write all the time, since you don't lose it. If you have the flow and the momentum and things move forward, you just keep going with it.

But it's also important to let the songs grow. There was no time for that on Built To Last and it wasn't until I heard the mix that I realized what the record sounded like. You know, I had just played on a gut feeling all the time since there was no time for doing anything else. But this time we have gone back, we have rehearsed and almost the whole record, like 85 percent, was complete 4 months early. And that's almost unthinkable, because now we were able to let the songs grow and we were able to go back and say "Well, I think we can do this a little bit better." or "This is how we should record it.". You know, those little details and that's what makes a good song awesome.

So it's been nice to have it this way and I can enjoy it more. You know, I'm a fan of my own music. It was the reason why I started writing, because no one else made this kind of music, so I tried doing it myself. Let's say that half the record was done, Joacim had recorded his vocals on 6 songs or something, and at that point I wanted to have a listening session for just me and my partner, when our kid was asleep, because I wanted to hear her reaction a little bit, but also because I wanted to feel my own reaction, even if I recorded the songs and had heard them a thousand times before.

They had been put on hold for a while and especially to hear them with vocals added makes a huge difference of course. I put myself on the outside, like it's someone else's music, and I listen to it as a fan instead. And that feeling is so nice, because then I know that the music is good, you know.

Tobbe: I'm digressing now, but about hearing songs thousands of times, the debut album Glory To The Brave [1997] just came to my mind. I remember loving it instantly, because at that point there was no such thing like it.

Oscar: Exactly. That was the whole thing. In the '80s every month about 10 good records were released, but in the '90s there were maybe 1 or 2 good records released in a year, if you were lucky, you know. Bands that did music that I thought was good. The music I wanted to listen to, you know. So we did it ourselves instead and it was great that it had such an impact right away, which we of course weren't counting on.

That record sounds like it does and the band HammerFall is what it is because we love heavy metal. That's the foundation and we never thought that it was the next step to success, because success wasn't event imaginable and we didn't aim for anything. We didn't think there was a market for it. We thought it was just us. But then it turned out that this was still very popular in Germany and heavy metal never really dropped there, which we had no idea about. Things go quickly sometimes.

Tobbe: Do you sometimes hear younger bands citing HammerFall as an influence and not only bands like Judas Priest and Iron Maiden?

Oscar: Well, it's not so common. HammerFall is not a cool band. It's not cool to like HammerFall. It never has been and I think it never will be. When you list your influences you list the ones who have been important, but also those who look cool on paper, and HammerFall is rarely in that department. I can hear those influences when listening to the music, but I rarely hear someone saying it.

We were out with Lancer on the last European tour. I really like them and wanted them with us on tour. And they aren't shy of saying that their influences are HammerFall, Edguy and Stratovarius and whatever. So they aren't afraid of saying that, but many bands are. You know, it's not cool and then you don't mention it.

Tobbe: Might HammerFall belong to the last generation of musicians who can make heavy metal for a living?

Oscar: Well, the future might be dark, unless things change. We're doing fine and we've been living on this since '97, but to take the step is becoming harder and harder, because the middle layer of bands can no longer cope. Besides the dedicated channels this music gets no airtime in Sweden anymore, but 15 years ago you could hear heavy metal at lunchtime on national radio. That's a problem, or a potential problem anyway.

Tobbe: What happens in a regular day at home in Oscar's life?

Oscar: When I'm at home I get out of bed and drive our kid to daycare every morning and then 3-4 days a week I go to the gym. Then I go home and walk the dogs, eat and after that my working day starts. So then I'm sitting on my computer, replying to e-mails and stuff, but that's depending on which phase we're in. During the first months of this year there were, like, 25 e-mails coming every hour, like "You must do this and you must do that.". But there's not so many coming right now, so sometimes there's some respite from this.

I usually don't play video games during daytime, which I used to do a lot back in the day, but I feel that I don't wanna waste… Well, waste isn't the right word, because it is fun actually, but I feel that there is stuff that is important and that I must do. I have a house and right now I'm planting a lawn and stuff like that. You know, things that you have to do.

But this is fun: You know, my son is 5, and he doesn't play video games so much himself, but I play [The Legend Of] Zelda: Skyward Sword with him. I haven't played that game before. And to him it's like an animated movie and he's like "Daddy. Can we play some Zelda?" and we're sitting there talking and he's helping me out with finding chests or whatever. He thinks it's so fun, because there's so much stuff happening. I get to play and he's helping me out, so we both get something out of it. It's not like he's just sitting there, but he is really getting involved. So, that's what I do. Trying to be with my family.

See also: interview with Joakim Cans

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