As HammerFall prepare to hit Bloodstock later this month, I caught up with vocalist Joacim Cans for rushonrock.com.
With new album Infected causing quite a stir the stars of the Nuclear Blast stable are on a roll! Read on and reacquaint yourself with one of the finest heavy metal bands on the planet…
rushonrock: The new album Infected has seen James Michael produce for the first time. Tell us a bit about that…
Joacim Cans: It’s been co-produced by James. We decided at one point to stop working with Charlie Bauerfiend, to try to take the next step. Pontus (Norgren) came to the band two years ago and we realised we had a very good technician, sound engineer and producer in Pontus. In order to make the albums more alive, we realised we needed to break from Charlie and take matters in our own hands. James was a gamble. I was sitting at one point realising we needed to take Hammerfall to the next level and to find a person to do that and to maybe find not a new sound but to find a sound with a twist. I am a huge fan of Sixx: AM. The first Sixx: AM album is on my top 10 list of all time. I showed it to the rest of the guys and not everyone was enthusiastic because they had no clue who James Michael is. I explained and we played some songs. When some of the band realised that he was the man behind Motley Crue and Saints Of Los Angeles, they thought ‘wow, cool, of course we’re going to work with him’. It was kind of a gamble. As a singer it is really hard to start working with a new producer, you’re not really sure how he’s going to work you. All singers are prima donnas, it’s simple as that! We always have a cold, we can’t sing, we can’t do this, we can’t do that. The first time I worked with Charlie we almost ended up getting into a fight because I didn’t like the way he was working me. In the end, we got to know each other and it was really relaxed. We did the drums, bass, guitars in Gothenburg and we flew over to Nashville to do the vocals and the final mix. That was the basic idea – to take the production elsewhere and see what he could do with the sound that we already had.
rushonrock: Do you think he made a big impact on the sound?
JC: Yes. First of all what we did ourselves was to get rid of the old amplifiers and went back to Marshall. We’d never worked with Marshall before and I think that made a thrashier sound that we actually have on the album. Also if you listen to the drums we haven’t overproduced them. Some cool sound replacements have been going on, but overall it’s the performance that Anders delivered in the studio that you hear on the album. We wanted to maintain this life in every section of the album. I think for me, working with James was fantastic. Everything I wished for and asked for, he could deliver. It comes to working with me, producing me and also bouncing ideas. It’s so much easier when you’re a singer and you’re working with a singer. He knows when I’m having a rough day, he can tell because he’s been there himself. On elaborating certain notes I can ask him – ‘hey James, how the hell did you do this when you sang on your album?’ He’ll say ‘aha, I did it like this!’ ‘Oh you mean like this!’ ‘Yes, exactly.’ That’s not possible with a non-singing person. A guitar player will only show you on the guitar and they’ll say ‘what about, like this?’ But keep in mind, you’re showing me on a guitar.
rushonrock: Was the recording process smooth flowing then?
JC: Yeah, absolutely. There were no problems whatsoever and when I did the vocals we came to Nashville and I was in the shape of my life. I was really in good shape both physically and mentally and James also gave me a lot of self-confidence. A lot of self confidence. That is what you hear on this album, that I was able to really get up a notch in my performance.
rushonrock: Would you say Infected takes a more traditional metal stance as opposed to the power metal that has described your sound?
JC: Power metal is something that all the journalists around the world have been labelling us since day one. I’ve always said that we play heavy metal and within heavy metal there’s room for the power as well. The progress while writing the album – these songs came natural. We were aiming for something more alive, maybe with a little more roughness to it. We didn’t really sit down and have a ‘cunning plan’ on how to write the album! Everything happened naturally. When we were done with the first two songs (Patient Zero and Redemption) we set the standard already there. The main theme for the album was the zombie and we had to add a little more attitude because a zombie without attitude is a lame fucking zombie!
rushonrock: So in terms of content, Hammerfall are going in a different direction?
JC: I think this is really back to the roots when talking about the lyrics. It’s back to the original idea I had when I started to write music, in terms of storytelling. Every song on this album is a well-thought-out story, and I really had battles with myself in writing the melodies as well as the lyrics, but at the end of the day I got a lot of recognition from James when it came to the lyrics. He said it’s unbelievable that someone who’s second-speaking language is English came up with all these twists in the lyrics. That really made my day that he was a part of them. In the end, a song like Let’s Get It On is a typical Hammerfall story about being an army of one and battling your own battles. It had all the ingredients there but they’re with a twist now.
rushonrock: In the past you’ve portrayed these personal battles with older imagery, but now you’ve moved to a different platform in zombies. Was it a natural progression for Hammerfall?
JC: I think we’ve added another level to everything within the band. The zombie stories were also inspired by horror
movies and zombie movies in general. This was like a natural step for us, that everyone could stand behind. There’s still only two songs with the zombie theme (Patient Zero and Dia De Los Muertos).
rushonrock: Is the album name a reference to anything else other than a zombie infection as such?
JC: Not really, we had a hard time coming up with a title for the album, but then the opening track Patient Zero has the word ‘infected’ in every chorus. The impact that word makes said: ‘come on, let’s infect the world with Hammerfall’, so we decided to put infected there.
rushonrock: This is the first time you’ve had an album cover without your legendary mascot Hector! What was the reasoning behind ‘dropping’ Hector?
JC: It felt like we had had Hector in every position possible. He’s been sitting down, standing up, he’s been on a horse, he’s been riding an eagle, he’s been everywhere! We sent him to rehab for now! The black cover is a slip-case cover and we had a little fight with some people about that. If you remove the slip-case cover when the album comes out, you’ll see the real cover. It’s very bright and I really like it because it is so different. Hector is involved but not on the cover! There will be a lot of Hector on special editions. More than you’ve ever had before!
rushonrock: You originally wanted to put the biological hazard symbol on the front cover didn’t you?
JC: That was also on the slip-case, but for some reason the band Biohazard (New York) have it copywrited. They have the sign copywrited and I don’t really understand how they can copywrite something like that. Then there’s a biohazard virus all over Europe, you can’t put up the signs because Biohazard own the rights for it. They own the rights for the music so we said ‘ OK, it’s fair enough, we’ll take it away. It has to be Biohazard’s music.
rushonrock: Going back to album lyrics, was Bang Your Head written as a unification of metallers?
JC: That tells the story of what I felt when I bought my first metal album in 1981. The album was Saxon’s Strong Arm Of The Law. I’m describing the feeling that I felt inside when I heard that album. That was my big step into it. The funny thing is, I had dinner with Biff a few weeks ago in London. And I said ‘you know what, it’s exactly 30-years ago I listened to Saxon’s Strong Arm Of The Law and I described that feeling on this album, and now I’m sitting having dinner with you! That was a great feeling.
rushonrock: Who else do you get along with well?
JC: I’ve been around Udo Dirkschneider since day one and Kai Hansen has always been treating us with a lot of respect and helping us. I had a great friend in Chuck Schuldiner until he passed away. Kai was a person who we went on tour with because he heard Hammerfall on the first album and said ‘I want to have these guys as support’. That helped us a lot – to meet the right people and to meet the people who really want to benefit from everything you did, and profit from everything.
rushonrock: What was the music scene in Sweden like when you were growing up?
JC: I grew up in a pretty small town up north. We had a couple of local bands and that was more or less it. But we had a really good record store. Every week after school I went there to check out all of the new releases. We had a very good atmosphere even though the live scene was pretty poor. I still remember when I heard Grim Reaper for the first time. I just went in there and thought ‘wow cool cover!’ I got See You In Hell. I heard a band called Picture for the first time in the store. This record store was an essential part in my musical career or whatever you call it.
rushonrock: You then moved to Gothenburg. Tell us a little about that..
JC: I moved to Gothenburg with parts of my family in 1984 and then I could see Wasp, Scorpions, Iron Maiden, Motley Crue – all these bands were coming once in a while to the big Ice Hockey Arena. I was only 14-years-old when I went to Stockholm on my own to experience Monster Rock – the AC/DC, Motley Crue line up.
rushonrock: How did you get your music recognised in an area renowned for death metal?
JC: I was playing heavy metal long before any of the death metal bands came about. I think the big problem was when Grunge came and all of my friends decided that it wasn’t cool to play heavy metal anymore. The only thing they’d play was stoner rock and grunge and there I had my problem. But I refused to betray myself, so I went the US, to music school in Los Angeles just to improve my vocal skills and then I came back to Sweden after two-years with nothing and then Hammerfall came around. People were still laughing behind our backs because we were playing something so uncool like heavy metal. But who’s laughing now?! We set up stage with armour with tournament dresses, we had pyro, we were the total opposite of everything and that was cool at the time. We dared to be different, we dared to be ourselves.
rushonrock: Do you think that’s what attracted people to your shows?
JC: We had a lot of people who came to our shows. With the grunge people, they were standing there and we could see them tapping their feet and they liked the music, but would never admit it.
rushonrock: Do you think it’s still ‘uncool’ to like Hammerfall nowadays?
JC: I think it’s different, but still, there’s a lot of people who don’t dare to say it. If you go to a festival, you talk to people and ask ‘do you like Hammerfall?’ They’ll respond ‘no’, but when you ask them if they’re going to the show it’s – ‘well, yeah, I’m going to see the show’. They do like it but they can’t really admit it.
rushonrock: You’re coming over to Bloodstock this year. What message do you have for those awaiting the show?
JC: Be there or I’ll kick your ass! If you want to have a show from the heart of a band, they should check out Hammerfall.
It doesn’t really come if we come with a full production or a small production, we always deliver. That is the strength with Hammerfall. We’ve been playing so much live for 14 years and there’s a lot of energy going on. Come and experience the songs live and I promise you you’re going to leave after the show and have a feeling. If you don’t have a good feeling then I can’t help you!
rushonrock: Do you still enjoy touring now?
JC: Yes. Playing on stage is one thing, it doesn’t really matter if you’re 25 or you’re 41 – there’s always this rush before the show starts. But waiting on the tour bus and hanging in the hotel room is getting even more boring the older you get but it doesn’t really matter because the time on stage counts.
rushonrock: Is there a chance you could do a UK tour this year?
JC: Absolutely. We’re talking about it now but I can’t reveal any details but we have a couple of ideas of how to conquer Great Britain!
rushonrock: One last question. Who would win in a fight – Hector or Eddie from Iron Maiden?
JC: Hector of course, he has a hammer! You can’t beat the hammer! But I think they would be pals, they would go off to a bar and go somewhere to have a pint and kick someone else’s ass!