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.
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  and Firepower ,
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
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
 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.
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.
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,
Tobbe: I'm digressing now, but about hearing
songs thousands of times, the debut album Glory To The Brave  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
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.
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
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
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.
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