Grand Magus interview

On the eve of the release of their new opus, Grand Magus stopped off in town to have a quick chat to The Music Fix all about Hammer Of The North, a new label and the importance of wolves.

So we’ll start off in the logical place, the amazing new album Hammer Of The North; how are you feeling about the finished product?

You can never listen to your own music like you can listen to other peoples, so I’m probably a really poor judge of what we are doing in that sense; but I feel that this is our most accomplished album so far, to me it feels that when you put it on you know this is the way it’s supposed to be. We’re very pleased with the way it came out.

The press reaction seems to be very positive towards the album.

It’s good news; with the last album Iron Will we knew we’d done something really good, and we have the same feeling now. It’s cool because it doesn’t seem to be based on what is popular now, it feels to us, which is really gratifying, that it’s a genuine belief that it is good and that people connect with it; we’re very happy with the vibe around it at the moment.

It has a very old school feel, so do you worry about becoming a parody, or perceived as a parody, of the more classic metal bands of yore?

We don’t try to sound retro; we wanted to sound as good as possible, and this time around there have been uber-professionals involved in the mixing and mastering of the album. I feel what we do is just to write songs, and that’s the connection with the classic heavy metal of Judas Priest, Saxon, Accept and all that – it’s songs that you can sing along to. I’m not a fan of these retro bands spending money on trying to make it sound like it did 1974, and we don’t do that, so if people think we are a parody it would be because of the songs that we write; if you don’t have the guts to be perceived as pretentious or over the top then you have no business doing music I feel, because we mean this with our hearts and souls – I’d rather be pretentious than be a coward.

How did you go about writing ‘Hammer Of The North’?

We’ve always done all of the writing together in the rehearsal space; we spend weeks and months piecing it all together, someone’s riff here with another bit there. So in that way we are extremely old school, we invest a lot of time in just playing these songs – which is really the most fun part of doing the album, playing together and creating new music. We don’t send anything electronically to each other, we meet up three or four times a week at the rehearsal space for a few months.

The album is imbued with this feeling of love for what you doing, and a sense of playfulness, so was it an easy process to record it once everything was written?

The recording was a pain on the arse. We brought in an old friend of ours to produce the album, Nico Elgstrand [of Entombed fame], so we know him from way back. We recorded three songs as a demo beforehand, spent a weekend doing that and had a lot of fun; and then when it came around to doing the actual recording, he turned into this sadistic slime that just punished us and saying stuff like “if you can’t play the riff properly go home and practice it, don’t waste my time!” But it was cool, because he really pushed us, so we worked extremely hard when recording this album, but once pass the point of frustration and just let go then you do your best work; he pulled the best out of us and I think that is the reason for what you’re hearing on the album sounding so real.

The artwork by Necrolord is very striking, so how did all of that come about?

It was a great experience; our manager knows Necrolord from way back, and he mentioned to me about possibly getting Necrolord to do the art, and I said “why didn’t I think of that, like 10 years ago” because I have like 30 records in my collection with his work on them. I had a basic idea for the visuals of the artwork, and we had a chat on the phone and said he knew exactly what I meant. He went off and painted it, the way it came out is entirely his vision, I just mentioned the ingredients; it was like seeing something in your dreams being realised but even better – I had the hairs on my arms standing up when I saw it for the first time.

What prompted the move from Rise Above to Roadrunner for the new album?

‘Iron Will’ was the last album in the deal with Rise Above, so we were free agents; and due to the success of that album there were a lot of labels wanting to work with us. We were extremely lucky to sign with Rise Above when we started out as they really supported us and gave us total creative freedom; so it’s thanks to them that we came to be in a position that we could chose from many labels, and we felt now we have a very clear vision of what we want to do and we want the most powerful platform from which to do that from. When Roadrunner became interested and entered into discussions it was a no-brainer for us to go with them because they are an extremely professionally run label, they are connected, they are powerful, plus they’re fans of the band so they know what kind of music we do and I think ‘Hammer Of The North’ proves that it’s not a case of us signing with another label and going off in a different direction; it’s also a testament to Roadrunner that they appreciate what we do.

Can you enlighten us as to the importance of wolves within Grand Magus?

It ties in with the whole Scandinavian tradition that is so important in the lyrics; when I was very little my dad put me to sleep by telling me stories about the Norse Gods and all their dealings, and wolves had very strong roles to play in those stories, so it was built into me as a very small child. And then I developed an extra fascination for wolves and learning more about the position of the wolf within human society; for instance the word for wolf in Swedish also means criminal. I just got more into how wolves work, and I think they are a beautiful animal. Then it became pretty apparent that like a wolf can exist on its own but also in a small society, it’s never part of a big thing, and Grand Magus has never been part of a scene or anything, we’ve always been this weird band going in our own direction. So starting with ‘Monument’, we decided that we’re going to do whatever we want to do and we don’t care about anything else; and so ‘Monument’ has a couple of very strong wolf references, and then we did ‘Wolf’s Return’ which was really the turning point for the band and from then on the wolf has been our kindred spirit.

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