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Interview conducted August 17 2018
Interview published January 9 2019

"Ordinary people during the Iron Age were significantly more skilled than ordinary people are today."

Pär Hulkoff, who is usually seen in primarily Raubtier, but also Bourbon Boys, has recently been most active with his solo work. Metal Covenant met the frontman as he and his live band made a stop at Sabaton Open Air.

Tobbe: Who is Pär Hulkoff and what do you do?

Pär: Well, I'm a musician, composer and lyricist. During the last 10 years I've toured and played with a band called Raubtier and a band called Bourbon Boys and last year [2017] I made a solo album called Kven, which is deeply rooted in the history of Up North.

Tobbe: You chose to sing in English on that album and why did you choose the name Kven? It's quite hard to pronounce that title for an English speaker.

Pär: Yes, it is. But in the beginning, it was never quite clear whether this album would be in English and I actually made a number of songs in Swedish at first. But it turned out too similar to Raubtier and it felt kind of stupid to make something that might as well could have been Raubtier, if you see what I mean?

And it was fun to make these things in English. And I talked to [Jonas] Kjellgren and he thought that it made the songs take another spin. The name Kven was decided a long time ago. I wanted to do a conceptual thing about, you know, the forgotten population in the North, that was so important during the Iron Age.

Tobbe: Where does your own interest in history come from?

Pär: You know, I have always had an interest in history. The Viking Age has always been interesting, but also military history in general, even though not as profound as for example Jocke [Brodén] or some of the guys in Sabaton, who are really well-read, you know.

To me, it's more like I found things that I think are very interesting and I go more much deep into details, that aren't maybe always so conventional, and I've been getting some criticism for using sources that aren't reliable. Well, well, maybe that's the case; So what? Fuck it! This is metal music we do; nothing else.

Tobbe: But on the other hand, if you read old sources, who's to say that that exact source is reliable? You know, history is written by winners, and is this kind of how you feel?

Pär: Not just kind of. When you start turning the stones and look at who has written the history and why, then everything that is conventional, all they tell you at universities, and archaeologists and everything they know, is so colored by a clear direction, you know: economization of the North.

It's no secret that it's been going on and stuff like this has contributed to that people have been depicted as, well, humans with dog heads, you know; who aren't really humans, etc.. Well, you hit the nail on the head; a reliable source isn't per se a definition, you know.

Tobbe: And as a lyricist, how do you look at writing about different kinds of history? Like, about the North and your own heritage, in comparison to military history maybe a bit to the South.

Pär: You know, I always try to catch a feeling in what I describe and not do as Jocke does, since I don't possess that memory of details to make historical accounts. It becomes kind of like mysticism, or whatever, in order to give the right atmosphere to the lyrics. Or whatever it may be. I'm no big fan of mysticism; that's not what I'm saying, but I give it a little touch of that, you know, fantastical vein.

Tobbe: So what's most fascinating with history for you personally?

Pär: What's most fascinating for me is that we understand so much more about ourselves by reading about where we come from and who our ancestors were. I have become so amazingly stunned by realizing how far they were ahead of us, both intellectually and by personal skills. Ordinary people during the Iron Age were significantly more skilled than ordinary people are today.

I often draw these comparisons and say this when people call them primitive and that we now live in a high technology society: "Yes, absolutely. But what do you do if your phone is broken? - You buy a new one.". Do you know what happened if an ignition steel fell to pieces for one of our ancestors? They picked up a piece of flint to produce a new spark, you know. They located their medicine out in the terrain; they understood the connection between the gods, the spirits; everything is just a paraphrase of how the world actually works. It's so incredibly cool, you know.

And this has been modified by this Christian mumbo jumbo, where they, you know, made up a god and changed the whole world to fit that agenda, because they wanted to steal the natural resources from people. And we have lost so much knowledge along the road there and I want to find a way back to that a little bit.

Tobbe: Music-wise and lyrics-wise, why isn't just one band enough for you?

Pär: Well, I don't really know. But I'm a restless soul. I want to do many things before I'm done here on this earth. It's not a difficult thing for me to make a record completely on the side. What makes it complicated and what makes people get stressed out, you know, is "How will you market this? How will you be able to make business out of this?", but that's not why I'm doing this.

You know what? If I just wanted to do business or just wanted to get a salary, I would do something else. But this means so much, much more to me. And that's the only answer I can give you. Why one band isn't enough? Well, I don't know, you know; it's just a sense of insufficiency.

Tobbe: When you're writing songs, do you try to write songs to a specific album you're working on, or do you save some stuff for later, to the other bands you work with?

Pär: This is really something no one knows: You know, the whole album, that's called Bärsärkagång [2016], I actually wrote in English, because that one was supposed to be, you know, the first Kven record. That's why there are more Viking influences on that one than on other Raubtier albums, really. So yes, surely some stuff is saved and moved over on and off, if I feel that it fits another place better.

The Kven record is rather spread out, if you look at for example Raubtier's sound picture, you know. There are some different stuff on there, like everything from Celtic influences to Mongolian or Hunnic; you know, oriental stuff. But yet I tried to work rather concentrated to get the Kven record done, because, you know, life is full of challenges all the time and I have to take the time I've got and really just finish it, you know.

Tobbe: What kind of stuff can you never take from Raubtier, or Bourbon Boys, and put into your solo stuff?

Pär: The thing is: in the beginning I wanted to make something that was epic, powerful and deeply rooted in history and I have tried to incorporate that in different ways here and there. And I try to, you know, strive for that it should not sound like it's Raubtier, and it doesn't, when you get the English lyrics. That's the primary difference.

I compose everything for Raubtier and most of it for Bourbon Boys and everything for the solo stuff, so somewhere it becomes pretty obvious that the main theme is there in one way or another, you know. You put a mark on your work, whether you want to or not. But, you know, the Kven record could never have been made by Bourbon Boys for example, since that's a country rock band, and shall so remain.

I mean, I think it's good to have different epithets to use, in order to not make it kind of too messy. There are many Bourbon Boys fans who don't want to listen to heavy metal, you know. That's the way it is. And I understand them, you know. The same goes for both ways, like "Well, country is not for me." - "Okay, that's fine.", you know. But most people accept that I like both.

Tobbe: I think there's a greater chance that someone who listens to Raubtier also listens to Bourbon Boys, than that someone who listens to Bourbon Boys would start listening to Raubtier.

Pär: Yes, that's the way it is, I guess. You can notice that heavy metallers tend to be more generally musical, you know, and have a greater musical interest than what they perhaps have in other genres. Without being prejudiced, you know, but that's my spontaneous feeling.

Tobbe: You have started to put out singles and might that be a step for you to put out more singles and fewer albums?

Pär: You know, even before I made Kven, the thought occurred to me to go from the album format and more to start releasing song by song. Even if heavy metallers might be open-minded, they are still at large pretty conservative as well and many of them want a record, you know, like "It's the way it should be.", but now I have made a record and now the plan is to release, you know, one song at a time.

I will try to combine those releases with live premieres and other cool stuff, just to create more participation around the whole thing, because I know that the fans that actually show up are real die-hards and it's really great if we can do things more together, you know. And every song gets maximum exposure instead of having 3 singles, and the rest of them in some way become fillers, even if they are really great songs. So, as a songwriter, I think it's a positive progress. As a record company executive, maybe not as great.

Tobbe: Can you actually end up with even greater songs in the end, because you can work more on details when working with one song at a time?

Pär: Well, I'm inclined to agree with what you say. I do whatever I can to avoid making fillers or bland material, but everyone who has a deadline, journalists or composers or whoever, knows that it always comes to a point where there's very little time left to work with, like "Deadline in a month, and I've got 6 more songs to complete." and that's not so good. I'm exaggerating of course, but the deadline is always there.

I think it will be much harder to build a career on just a gimmick and you will need really great songs if you're gonna be successful on singles only. It's like back to the '50s in a way. But great songs and great live shows; that's what makes you still stick around, you know.

Tobbe: Could there be a difference, economically seen, for you between putting out singles and a record? You don't have to mention any numbers, okay?

Pär: Well, fact is: Kven sold way more physical copies than what anyone expected it to do. I won't tell you any numbers - Classified! [Laughs] Certainly it could affect the result, but at the same time it's very expensive to make albums and there's a lot of work with it. You know, this is the way it is: I'm very, you know, inhibited when it comes to new technology and the use of social media, and whatever beautiful word there is for it.

Let's say I'm not really super interested in all that and I very often have some problem with remembering those things, you know. If you're really good at doing that stuff, then, I think, this new way to work might generate a great impact. Well, I'm not that person, but on the other hand I have fans that are very valiant and loyal, who make sure that people find the material, you know.

But of course we will get it together in the end and we're working on the label site, in order to develop that whole detail, with people who actually are able to get it done. It's all about headhunting the right staff to get the job done, you know.

Tobbe: I just asked you an economy related question, and might there be too much focus nowadays on bands' economy and such stuff?

Pär: I think that, on the whole, everything today is about money. Money and weird status symbols that I don't comprehend at all. That's the way it is; it's like if you don't make a lot of money, then you're nothing. But I know a whole lot of people that live, you know, to hunt, to fish and to build their own log house. I think they're real men too; or real women for that matter as well. They're not living under the yoke and are free from the debts, the panic, the stress and everything like that. So, I mean, that's complicated.

And of course, when you run a business you aim for a good result and somewhere you have to find the right balance. And like I said before: If you want to make really big business, maybe the music industry today isn't really the right way to do it. I mean, all the ones who made big money moved to another line of business when, you know, downloading took over from the CD market. They quit and all the great businessmen are working with something else today. That's the way it is. And all that's left are the passionate idiots in a way. [Laughs]

Tobbe: Through social media and internet people get information about everything, and doesn't that create kind of a situation that make people call for deeper information about bands too?

Pär: Well, I think that 9 out of 10, or maybe even more, of the people that you can call my fans are incredibly respectful, you know. They respect the fact that I don't want to get into their life and they don't want to get into mine; but we have one thing in common and that is the music I deliver. And that's how I think it should be. If it starts to cross some kind of line and gets so up-close that you have to report what color your feces have in the morning, then it's gone too far, you know. That doesn't work for me; I'm an individual that requires a lot of freedom.

Tobbe: You're not so young anymore, but do you still have some kind of dream of what you want to accomplish with your music?

Pär: You know, I've had the gods with me, in every single way, and have really been given this great opportunity to do this thing and to experience a thing that very few from my region have. I usually say that if you really want your dreams to come true, they do, and then you have to be able to handle it. So it's all about dreaming carefully and one thing at a time. I mean, I keep developing the business side, know you.

My dream of what things will be is, you know, that I will be able in some way to build this tribalism around all merchandise and all music related editions there are. You know, you communicate directly with the fans and the fans communicate directly with the band and you build the business around that.

Everyone benefits from that, so to speak, and more people can make a living of what they do. You know, all unnecessary middlemen will have to step aside, which I really think it's time for. There are so many people that just live to suck the blood out of other people and trick people into contracts that will break their future for good.

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