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A New (r)Evolution: An Exclusive Interview With Oscar Dronjak Of HAMMERFALL - Part 1

By Cary Gordon, Metal Geek
Sunday, October 19, 2014 @ 7:26 AM

"If I feel good, I can write good music. If I feel bad, I write usually different types of music. Maybe not always bad, but it’s...it’s less uniform, let’s put it that way."

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I recently had the extreme pleasure to have a conversation with Oskar Dronjak, main songwriter and guitarist for Sweden’s HAMMERFALL. This is part one of a two part “saga” where we discuss the brand new album, and begin to delve into some geeky topics. part 2, we will venture back into the new album, touring, and all sorts of other topics relating to HAMMERFALL!

KNAC.COM: Right when you see the new album, (r)Evolution album cover, it is clear that HAMMERFALL have returned to their roots of what HAMMERFALL is, even returning to the storyline, especially in "Hectors Hymn". Was this a conscious decision?

DRONJAK: Not so much, I think. With “Hector’s Hymn”, in particular, then yes. Because that was an attempt on my part to write a song that was, well, to write a song that HAMMERFALL fans identify HAMMERFALL with the most throughout the years. It started out that way anyways. I had a riff, and I thought if I do this, and play it like that, blah blah. You know. I worked on it for a couple of days, and had this in the back of my head that I was going to try to do kinda like you said, an old school HAMMERFALL song, kind of. But, as far as the whole album goes, no, we didn’t have anything like that in mind. Like with every album, we write the songs based on how we feel at the moment. Where we are in life, basically. That has a huge impact on how the songs turn out in the end. As an example, on “Infected”, it was a bit of a tumultuous time for me personally. It had been for a while. Whereas, this time, I was very much in a really, really good place, personally. I think that reflects the way the songs sounded for me. It’s always been like that. So, if I feel good, I can write good music. If I feel bad, I write usually different types of music. Maybe not always bad, but it’s...it’s less uniform, let’s put it that way.

KNAC.COM: Going back to "Hector’s Hymn" really quick, you can listen to the lyrics, and there are a lot of callbacks to previous albums, and especially in the music video.

DRONJAK: Yeah, that was, with the lyrics, Joacim writes almost all of the lyrics with HAMMERFALL. I think, when I told him about the idea that I had for “Hector’s Hymn”, and what I was working on, like doing it this way, I think he caught onto that idea. He liked that idea. He sorta littered the lyrics with references to different HAMMERFALL things, so songs, and albums, and just HAMMERFALL type of stuff. So that song, the lyrics to that song, are more like a reference than an actual story like we had before. As for the actual video, that sort of sprung out of all of this, you know, the way the song is, all of the references, and everything. It sort of lent itself very well to that type of video, to incorporate all the album covers from old and make them into 3D versions. We had some guys who came up with this idea, and were really good at doing it. It came together really well. It came together exactly the way we wanted it.

KNAC.COM: Do you think music videos in this day and age are a necessary evil? What is your experience on them?

DRONJAK: Well, it’s been less and less important. If you go back fourteen or fifteen years, when we released Renegade, this was our first number one selling album in Sweden and I think that this was made possible because of the video that we had for “Renegade”. It was on television a lot before the album was released. We did benefit a lot from the video there, and still did for several more years. You never get any more airplay on TV anymore. It’s always internet. Everything is internet based. The importance of it has diminished a little bit, I think. It’s still important as a promotion tool, but it’s not as it was once. Especially in the Eighties and Nineties with the videos, because now you have everything online anyways. So, television is not as important. I think it is still fun. We always try to make fun videos that are special with effects, and something that we would like to watch ourselves, basically. I think that was the same thing we did with “One More Time”, on the last album. It’s just in a different environment than what people were used to seeing HAMMERFALL in.

KNAC.COM: How long did it take to go from concept to completion for the new album?

DRONJAK: Each song takes about one month to finish, but then I work on several songs at the same time, so it is never really one month for one song. It always varies. Last time, I wrote the first two songs in one week. (Laughs) It always has its differences. Generally, I would say it takes about six to eight months of writing music. Being focused on being creative and then when we are done with that, we have a deadline, and we go into the studio. We never write anything in the studio. So, we write everything beforehand.

KNAC.COM: Let’s talk about the studio experience this time. Tell us about the decision to use Fredrik Nordstrom again for the first time since The Legacy Of Kings.

DRONJAK: It was something I think we felt we wanted to do. We always felt that we wanted to work with him again. When we decided to do Renegade with another producer, it was never a case of not being satisfied with Fredrik or anything. We were always very satisfied with his job. It was just a matter of us wanting to keep things fresh, I think. And for us, as huge ACCEPT fans, like we still are and have been since kids, working with a guy who was at least partially responsible for the ACCEPT sound, Michael Wagner, for Renegade, it was a dream come true, basically. But still, at the same time, we always knew that we wanted to go back to working with Fredrik because he is a really, really good producer, obviously. I’ve known Fredrik since the Eighties so I have a different relationship with him than just a producer kind of relationship. It was always a matter of time. When the time was right, like it was now, that is when we wanted to do it. I believe that Fredrik has the knowledge, but I feel that he has the aspiration to I think. I don’t think he liked us going somewhere else after Legacy Of Kings. I think he felt snubbed, as you would say in English, right? It was not intentional on our side. We just wanted to expand our horizons basically. I think he felt that he wanted to get another chance. I think he was happy that we wanted to give him this chance now. We were obviously happy to do it as well. From the second we started thinking about it and talking about to him about it, we knew we were going to get a fantastic sounding album out of him.

KNAC.COM: With this being your Ninth studio album, what is your mindset when you go in to write? Is it, “We want to keep that traditional HAMMERFALL sound, but try something different as well”?

DRONJAK: When I write music for an album, I never write ten or fifteen songs, and then we pick whatever songs we like the best. That has never been the case. I always try to make it into a complete album so there aren’t three or four songs that sound similar to each other. Like the same tempo and the same key and everything. I always try to be wary of that when I write the songs. Like, if I have, say, six songs finished and a couple of more in the pipeline, I always try to make them different. That’s why when I’m done with the songwriting, I always have a couple of more that I didn't use. A couple of templates or demos of stuff in various stages of completion, obviously, that didn't make it this time out, but I know I can make a song out of it for the next album or the next after that; when it works. We never sat down and thought, “Let’s do this type of album”. I don’t think I can do that really. I tried it with one song, and it didn’t work actually. I think with a whole album, it’s just a matter of everything coming together, in a good way. It’s much more timing, than an actual intent.

KNAC.COM: Let’s get into a couple of the tracks from the actual album. The first single that came out was, “Bushido”. What’s the story on that song?

DRONJAK: Well, “Bushido” is Japanese and it means the way of the warrior. We have a song called “Way Of The Warrior” from the Renegade album. I’m a fan of mixed martial arts (MMA). I had a tape or something, I can’t remember, maybe I saw it online or something. There was a Japanese organization called Pride, and there was an MMA event called Pride Bushido. I found out what that meant, and when I did, since that day, I always thought , “I’m going to do a song called "Bushido" one day”. "The Way Of The Warrior". We already have that. So, I wanted to do "Bushido" once because it is a cool word and the meaning is very typical for HAMMERFALL. It took me a while. I was almost halfway done with this song when I realized this would be the perfect name for the song because of the tempo, and it has triplets and all that stuff. The title goes well with the type of song it was. And, if you listen to the song, and if you listen to “The Way Of The Warrior”, from the old days, you can hear at the end of “Bushido”, there is a little bit of a nod to the way I took the intro for “The Way Of The Warrior”, and made it into an outro for “Bushido” somehow, just to link them together a little bit more.

KNAC.COM: It’s a very catchy tune.

DRONJAK: Thank you. I agree with you actually. That’s the one song that everybody who heard the album for the first time, that’s the one song that people had ringing in their head afterwards. I did several tests with this because the actual chorus is made by the vocal melodies by Pontus (Pontus, Lead Guitar) and Joacim (Cans, Lead Vocals). They did that one. When I heard it, I felt something. I couldn’t stop listening or singing it in my head. I tried this on my cousins, and friends. You know, before the album was recorded and before it was released just to see how they reacted to it. Pretty much everybody had the same feeling towards it, that this is something that gets stuck in your head. So, that is one of the main reasons we chose it as the first single, because even if you hear it just once, you can sing along with it. It’s pretty basic, I guess. For me, this is what HAMMERFALL heavy metal is all about.

KNAC.COM: I was going to say the same thing. To me, HAMMERFALL songs, the music, the songs, they just get stuck in your head. That is what the band is all about to me.

DRONJAK: Yeah, it is really difficult to do that. This is something we try to achieve. You never know when you have a song if people are going to get it stuck in their heads, until you try it a couple of times. I think we succeeded very well with “Bushido” in that respect.

KNAC.COM: Let’s talk about “Winter Is Coming”.

DRONJAK: Well, this is about obviously, well, I am a huge fan of A Song Of Ice And Fire. We had several song titles, and even an album title (Chapter V: Unbent, Unbowed, Unbroken) back in 2005 that came from this book series from George R.R. Martin. Previously, all these songs have always been...I write the song, or the music for the song, and then Joacim writes the lyrics and I put a title to it, and Joacim writes the lyrics for that song. He has not read the books. I don’t even think he has seen the Game Of Thrones TV series. He doesn’t really know the universe. All the lyrics that he has done has never really been about the actual Westeros, and everything that goes on in the books. This time, I decided to write a song that actually had something to do with A Song Of Ice And Fire. So this is my take on a possible ending or possible future for all of the story lines in the book, basically.

KNAC.COM: Doesn’t get more geeky than that.

DRONJAK: (laughs) Yeah, well, I am trying to hold back a little bit because if I start talking about these books, I can go on forever. I’ve made that mistake before. The world that he (George R.R. Martin) has created with this book series is...it just blows my mind. I can’t understand how somebody could have such talent to be able to do that. I think it is unbelievable. I really, really like it. Every time you read it, it feels like you are there. So I wanted to contribute something to this, basically.

KNAC.COM: I take it you are a fan as well of the TV series.

DRONJAK: Absolutely. Even if I hadn’t read the books, I think that Game Of Thrones would have been my favorite television show ever. Because I have read the books several times, I can’t help but feel annoyed that they change some things here and there. It hasn’t been that bad. The second season was worse, I think. The last season was Ok. I understand that they have to cut some things out. They can’t do all of the story lines that he does in his bricks of books that he does. They are like 1000 pages almost. The one thing that really annoyed me was the character of Stannis Baratheon. This guy. They tried to paint him as the sort of thing they do in the books, but they fail when they have him have sex with Melisandre, or whatever her name is. The red witch or whatever they call her. That is something in the book that Stannis would never do. His character is all about honor, and righteousness. He doesn’t want the throne, but he feels it is his right and his duty to assume it. That is why he is fighting for it. I have such a hard time seeing him having an affair with someone. Even if it is the red witch. That really annoyed me for several episodes, actually. Just that particular thing. But these are all details. As a whole, I think the TV series, Game Of Thrones, could not be better. It’s very, very, very good.

KNAC.COM: One of the other shows that I do is a podcast called Metal Geeks Podcast, where we geek out on not only heavy metal, but comic books, movies, tv shows, video games and we have different guys from bands come in sometimes. I was going to ask you, but you sort of already answered the question a little bit, but what do you really geek out on?

DRONJAK: (Laughs) Usually things like that. I’m a video game enthusiast as well. I play a lot now, but what I’m into right now, and have been, is...I’m a collector by nature. I’ve collected a lot of things over the years. I never throw away one single thing. I still have all of my old Nintendo consoles, and the games, and everything from the Eighties and Nineties still in really good condition. For the most part anyways. I’ve just recently started buying a lot of Super Nintendo games that I didn’t have. I’ve played them but I didn’t own them. I would just borrow them from people back then. These are complete with the booklets, and the box and everything, in as good as shape as possible. A couple of years ago, you could get these really cheap here. 5 or 10 years ago nobody wanted them. But they are getting more and more expensive now. I bought two of those today actually, let’s see how much that would be in dollars; maybe Fifty dollars or something like that. For two complete games.

Stay tuned for Part 2!

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