Interviews : Amon Amarth
With Fredrik Andersson
Amon Amarth has reached such a legendary status in the minds of metalheads that not knowing of them would be akin to a blues fan not knowing who BB King is. The band is one of the few that has its roots firmly planted in the soil of death metal, but has the power and melody to cross over and garner the fancy of the more mainstream fans without the usual obligatory style change, which has earned them the ire of many an underground elitist. Love them or hate them, Amon Amarth, after over 16 years, are stronger than ever.
On a bracing December day in Cleveland, Fredrik Andersson, percussionist extraordinaire for the band, gave me the chance to sit and discuss the band and other topics with him; the exchange follows...
Now, the first question is a very important one: Does the source of your power come from lutefisk?
Uh, it might have something to do with it. (laughs) We don't eat that much of it, but when we were kids, some for new year. It's actually eaten around this time, around Christmas, but I don't think that the younger generation eats it that much. It's not that good. (laughs)
How has the tour been?
Really good, I think. We didn't really know what to expect, of course we had kinda high expectations, but considering that this package isn't as strong as some of the other competing packages, it's doing really good. People are actually surprised that it's doing as good as it is. I don't know the average, but the two Canada shows were over 900 people, New York was over 900 people, so it's been really good.
After 12 years, what keeps you going?
Playing live in front of people. The normal day routine stuff that you do makes it feel like it's just another job, but the difference is that when you go home from a normal daytime job, nobody is cheering you and wants you back for an encore, which happens here. It's that confirmation that you get that keeps you going. And, of course, it's always fun to play. Like, being onstage, we enjoy being up there and playing our songs, so that keeps us going so far.
What is your idea of an ideal fan reaction?
Well, the fists in the air, and clapping along, and singing along is very nice. There have been a couple of occasions where not only singing along with the lyrics, but with the melodies and guitar harmonies, and that's really nice.
Many people have said that "With Oden On Our Side" was the best Amon Amarth album to date, was there anything different in the preparation or recording?
Yes. With this, we made Amon Amarth our full-time priority. Before, Amon Amarth was just a hobby, and we were doing it in our spare time. What we did was we quit our daytime jobs, and thought, "we're going to try this full-time," and focus on the band. It made us very focused, so the whole songwriting process and preproduction part was very intense, we put a lot of energy into it, and also the change of studio, and that we used a producer that got involved with the songs in an early stage also helped us a lot to make the best album.
What were these daytime jobs that you quit?
Me and Johan Söderberg worked for the Swedish post, Olli was a carpenter, Ted, painter, and Johan, the singer, was a salesperson for cheese. He used to be a butcher, which was much nicer, but he got moved in the company.
Is there anything that you're doing differently on the next album?
No, I think we're going to try to keep the same approach. Basically, we're going to go to the rehearsal room every day, like 9-5, that's what we did for the last album, we spent time working on the songs, and try to top "With Oden..."
Do you ever find that you over-anayze with all of the time that you spend in there?
No, not really. To put it this way, we've always been a rehearsing band, like other bands- the guitar player makes the songs at home, puts the drums to it, and they never rehearse; they just meet in the studio and record it. We have always needed the feedback from each other, even if there's one that made the riff, everybody is still putting their input into the songs, that's something we need. We actually realized it with the last album, it's something that we did more in the past, and we got away from it a little bit, and the goal was to try to get back to five people working together as a team and writing.
What's on the horizon for the band after the tour?
We're home for the holidays, for ten days, then we're going to Australia and New Zealand, which is going to be very exciting, so mid-January we're gonna be back home and writing new material and rehearsing. There's a couple of shows in Europe, like every other weekend or so, but no big tours or anything until probably the next fall. We're gonna record next summer, and we're hoping for a fall release.
A friend of mine, (deadtide's very own Rahn) in a discussion that we were having about viking metal, when asked about the differences between you and Enslaved- the other big viking metal guys- said this "Amon Amarth has become an almost sagely war-chief, regaling his troops with stories of past battles to temper their eagerness and sharpen their sense; while Enslaved has become the wise old man, like a shaman casting the runes and foreseeing the events to come, communicating them cryptically and with uncertain diction. What's your reaction to that?
That's what I would call overanalyzing. (laughs) We just don't really care, like the music that we play is what we like to hear, and we try to make the lyrics fit with the music. I mean, that's the whole idea, that we're trying to make it work together and write interesting lyrics. But we don't really have any...
Yeah. Well, there is a bigger picture, obviously there's a bigger picture that we want to make the best music, and the ideal is that everyone that listens to the music sees what we're trying to do with it, like get the same feelings that we get, and stuff like that. I mean, I think the whole "labeling of music" thing is kinda overdone; it's just not relevant anymore.
Do any of the songs that you've written have more meaning to you than others?
Almost all of the songs that we write have something very personal to us. Most of the lyrics are written in metaphorical ways, but almost all of them have some relation to us as bandmembers. For example, the whole "Versus the World" disc is about how we had a hard time and basically were thinking about quitting the band and not doing it anymore; it was supposed to be the last album. "Fate of Norns" is about how fate and change, and something can happen, it's a bigger picture because "Fate of Norns" is very personal to Johan; it was written metaphorically that it's about his son dying, but it's someone in his family who died, and it's very personal to him. So we always feel very much for a song, obviously it's very personal for one person, and we all feel it, but when that happened to Johan, he was having a hard time, and it was a tough time for him, so we all feel it in the band.
There's a sense of empathy for him?
I wouldn't think that you guys would not have been around that long if it wasn't for that...
Yeah, probably. We're like a family, but I guess that happens to most bands when they get together and play for a long time. And even if we are a business, so to speak, we are still all equal, we don't have a heirarchy, and within the band, it's all a democracy and everybody gets their fair share.
On "Hermods ride to Hel..." you told half of the story of Baldur. Why the decision to stop there?
Because otherwise the song would have been too long, I guess. It helps for us to do the second bit because we wanted the lyrics to fit with the music, and this part fits. There is an idea for the second part, but we don't have the music for it yet. We're working on it.
Which Norse God would be an accurate comparison to you?
Me, as in myself?
It's kinda hard...
Which one do you model yourself after the most?
I don't really model myself after any of them... (laughs) But I guess a favorite of mine is Ullr. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ullr).
The other members?
I guess Olli would be Thor, because he's a carpenter. Obviously Johan would be Odin; Ted is Baldur, he's a funny guy. The other Johan is... I dunno.
No Loki lurking in the wings?
Well I've been described as Loki, but we're all a bit of everything, I guess. That's the thing with a lot of the gods of Norse mythology is that a lot of them have different personalities and stuff, I guess we have a little bit of everything.
What aspects of the olden-day viking mentality and lifestyle do you incorporate into your life?
The point of view and way of thinking we have a bit of, not only the band, but as Scandinavians as well. There is the mentality that is in our personalities or whatever, but other than that, we're all modern people. We drive our cars, we don't ride horses around.
You don't do any viking war re-enactions or stuff like that?
No, not really, but Ted and Johan, there's a viking fair in Auckland that they usually attend, and they've got the armor that they dress up in, but they're the only ones that do it, basically.
If you could go back in time and actually be a viking, would you?
For a day or a week, yes, but other than that, I think that I would prefer the comfort of today's life. As glamorous as it may seem in stories, the average life was around age 30. I think we would all be dead by now. (laughs)
If there was one thing in the world that you could change, what would it be?
Oh, man. That's hard. That's impossible to say; I don't have any grand visions. My point of life is to take it the way it is and accept it, basically. I don't think that there's a plan for mankind or a person, or anything like that. Everything just happens. It's just randomness, that's my personal point of view. I care about the environment and want things to change, but on the other hand, it just happens. There's nothing you can really do about it, except to deal with it, I guess.
A last question, I've asked a lot of bands this, is that I think that "The Final Countdown" needs to be covered...
It has been covered.
In a metal style?
Yeah, I know no big bands have done it, but I've heard a couple of different versions of it. And yes, it's a grand song, it's awesome. (laughs) I guess "glam rock" exploded in '86, when that band came out, especially in Sweden, and it still stands. Even today, it's still a great hit. And if you play it anywhere in Sweden, at any point in time, everyone will sing along with the lyrics, even in supermarkets.
Is there anything that you would like to conclude with?
Well, actually, you had some interesting questions, and thanks for that.
Surprisingly quiet and soft-spoken, Fredrik seems the antithesis of the jubilant energy of Amon Amarth, though he's still a monster on the drums. The band proceeded to pummel the faces of a jam-packed venue for over an hour, with vocalist Johan Hegg peering out over the colliding mass of humanity and unleashing, along with the rest of the band, an extremely intense, energetic, rollicking show, the likes of which are not to be missed if you're a fan of the band.