Grand Magus






On the other side of the telephone line, straight from Stockholm, we have JB, singer, guitarist, heart and soul of Grand Magus whose highly anticipated new album “Triumph And Power” – after the amazing “The Hunt” is ready for release. The Swede, always the strong silent type giving straight and sort answers sounds confident, and pretty assured about the new albums, while he talks about his band’s discipline, the production, the artwork, his influences, as well as which album cover had an impact on him that made him buy it without knowing anything about the band that released it…
Interview: Yiannis Dolas “The Hunt” was a great album, got good reviews and appeared on several polls of “Best Albums of 2012”. Do you think “Triumph And Power” could do as well?
JB: Yes, I think so. I think it could do even better based on the initial response at least from magazines and stuff. We’ve already heard that it was album of the month in Metal Hammer in Germany and in Greece, I think also in Rock Hard both in Germany and France, and things like this. So, I think it can do really well. From what I’ve heard so far, it sounds more epic. Do you agree with that? What’s your comment?
JB: Hmm, yeah I think so. I think it’s a very heavy, majestic, heavy metal album. And I guess it’s a bit more metal sort to speak than “The Hunt”. Because, “The Hunt” had almost like a hard rock feel on some of the songs you know. The new album is much more heavy metal sort to speak. In your entire career with Grand Magus the band is releasing a new album every two years, which I have to say is something rather uncommon for today’s standards. How does this work for you?
JB: Do you mean that it’s often, or… It is often!
JB: (laughs) Yeah, OK! I think that we are very disciplined, and I like to think that in order to keep that kind of a momentum in a band you need to release new albums often. To me usually it takes about a year to kind of want to do new music again. So, it’s aa combination I think of discipline and also the desire to do something new again. Why did you choose this title for the new album, “Triumph And Power”?
JB: From the beginning it was actually the title of the song we were working on from “Hammer Of The North” in 2010, but that song didn’t really… we changed it around, we changed its title and everything. But, I kept that title, because I thought it was a really good title for Grand Magus, and also a great heavy metal title. So, this time around I thought that it was the right to do an album titled “Triumph And Power”. Basically, what we want to project with that title, I mean there are many levels of meaning behind this, but first and foremost that’s the kind of feeling we want our listener to feel when he listens to our music. That’s the feeling I got, and still get from great heavy metal music… The sound and the production on this one sounds huge. It actually sounds bigger than “The Hunt” in my opinion, although I saw that you are working with the same producer. How can you do that, work with the same guy as a producer, and still making the albums sound a bit different, the one from the other?
JB: In my experience every recording of an album is different. The vibe between albums is different and your feeling is different, and the atmosphere is different, and the songs are always different. So, I think we have an honest approach when we record and produce albums. It’s gonna be what it’s gonna be, because of the way we feel, and the way that the songs are written at that time you know? Also, Nico(Elgstrand), the producer, is a machine type of guy you know… everything he does doesn’t sound the same. He is much like us, he goes with the feeling, and that’s the reason why it’s different. Can you tell us something about the cover as well?
JB: It was made by a guy named Anthony Roberts, and he’s done artwork for many other bands as well, but especially our manager also manages a band called Conan, a doom band from England, and Anthony has done some of their album covers. So, our manager suggested that I’d take a look at his stuff and I immediately felt that this could be the right man to do it. I had some very basic ideas about some of the things I wanted to be in the artwork but he sent back a pencil sketch that it had some of the stuff that I mentioned but in a completely different way, and immediately I was like “wow!”. So, we didn’t change a thing and he just finished it and I think it’s such a great album cover for us. It really fits the music and the title, and the whole feeling of the album. Sometime ago an album cover and the artwork used to be an integral part of the music contained in the album, and although things changed with the MP3’s, downloads and all that stuff, still people still wants to buy product, especially in rock and heavy metal, vinyl records for example. Do you think that this devotion to the medium is a heavy metal thing, mostly, and it doesn’t happen in other kinds of music?
JB: Yeah, I think so! I think that heavy metal fans will be the last ones to stop buying albums, because they and me as well, we are very loyal, and we also have a stance of tradition I think. We want from something to be the way it used to be (laughs), you know? So, in that respect it’s a very good thing to be in a heavy metal band, rather than being in a pop band. They have no loyalty! This week they are into this artist, and next week they have forgotten all about it, and they jump to the next one. Metal fans are much more devoted to certain bands, and things like that, so yeah, I think you are absolutely right! Do you remember which was the first album you bought just because you liked the artwork? You didn’t know anything about the band, or artists, but you just bought it because you liked what you saw on the cover?
JB: Yeah, I remember that very clearly! It was “Welcome To Hell” by Venom. When I saw that record sleeve I was very young. It was where I grew up, we always has a fair in the summer, you know trade people came and they had vinyls, and stink bombs (laughs) and fireworks, and things like this… so, I saw the sleeve of “Welcome To Hell” and I bought it immediately! And went home and showed it to my mother, and she freaked out (laughs)! Do you plan to make any music video for the new album, and which song are you going to shoot?
JB: The plan was that we were supposed to shoot it that week, but we had to postpone it, but the plan is to make a video for “Steel Verus Steel”. I think if we can get around to do it, it would be cool! A lot of stuff that you right about in Grand Magus is based on Scandinavian culture, and history. Where do you find all these stories, do you know them, or do you have to go to a book and read about them to get inspired?
JB: No, I know them really well! When I was a kid my dad told me these stories as bedtime stories to put me to sleep, so they’ve been in the back of my head for a long long time. When I grew older I became very interested in nature and animals and things like this, and I realized that there was a strong connection with that, you know the enjoyment of nature and Scandinavian, or Norse tradition. So, I spent a lot of time reading about it and thinking, so these days I don’t need to go read some special books or anything, I have them in my head you know? You sing and play guitar in the band, which are two of the most important roles in any band. When you got into music, who were your heroes both guitarists, and singers, and how did you feel when you managed to combine both skills?
JB: (laughs) I am not sure I managed it completely though… when it comes to guitar players my absolute guitar idol, and still I think my personal favorite of all is Ritchie Blackmore. He is the reason and inspiration for me when I started playing guitar… Ritchie Blackmore! No one else really! When it comes to singers I mean I always been a fan of huge singers ever since I started listening to music really… but, it’s hard to pick just one. Obviously, I would say that if I had to chose one it would probably be Ronnie James Dio… that doesn’t mean that I at all sing like him. I think he has it all. He’s got power, he’s got an extremely quality in his voice, which is something you can’t buy, I mean you can learn how to sing, or phrasing, but you can never completely imitate someone else’s voice. Of course, some people do that, but I can’t do that! So, it’s more the way and the attitude you know… The band, Grand Magus, you have been tagged as a “stoner” , “doom”, “Heavy metal”… I know that you don’t like tags in music, and I don’t like them either, but which one would you say that it fits the band better?
JB: I would definitely say “heavy metal band”, that’s what we were when we first started, and that’s what we are today, it never really changed. I mean, of course you change over the years, because your influences and your taste changes, but for me I think it’s pretty obvious we are a heavy metal band, and not something else really, but as long as people don’t call us… (laughs) you know a shit band, I am happy!  I’ve read somewhere that Fox, your bassist, is a classical trained musician, and then he turned into being a heavy metal musician. Do you think that this offers something extra to song writing?
JB: Fox is classically trained on cello. To one extent on our previous album “The Hunt” we had a song called “Son Of The Last Breath” , it’s Fox who plays the cello on that song, and obviously he does it pretty well. He’s got a very good ear for harmonies and melodies and things like this. So, I think that definitely he gives another dimension to our music. Maybe, there’s a Rainbow connection there, because Ritchie Blackmore liked classical music a lot and he could play the cello, what do you think?
JB: Maybe, but I know for a fact that Ritchie Blackmore can’t play the cello! He loves the cello I think, but I don’t think he can actually play it. I’ve seen maνy pictures where he is sitting around with a cello, but I think everyone around him, who worked with him knows that he couldn’t play, properly at least! What would you say it’s more important for bands today in order to survive and be successful, releasing lots of albums, playing shows and touring, making videos, or sharing their information on Facebook and Twitter?
JB: (laughs) Well, I don’t really know! Sometimes it seems that whatever is going on online is more important than the actual music. And, I guess for some bands that’s the key. For us it’s definitely not the key. We do music! That’s what we do. We are not an internet service provider you know… Ludwig (Witt), who plays drums in Grand Magus, also plays in Spiritual Beggars. Does this leave that chapter open, not that you are going to return to Beggars, but in a way that you follow what they do? Do you like Apollo as the new singer?
JB: Yeah, absolutely! We are still very good friends and I am in regular contact with Michael Amott and everybody, and Charlie (D’Angello, Spitirual Beggars bassist) and so on. We are still great friends and I follow them, I have the two albums with Apollo and I think he is a great singer… really great singer! So, it’s just a very good vibe between the bands. You have a tour ahead of you , how are you going to prepare yourself for this, is there something special you are going to do?
JB: For this tour, obviously we are going to play our songs from the new album, and we never have played them before, so we need to think which songs we will play, and then we have to rehearse them properly, so we won’t have to think what we are doing… so, that is the main preparation that we are doing. But, generally, there is a lot of stuff you need to think about before you go on tour, but we’ve done it quite a few times now, so I guess we go through the list and we check each box to make sure we are as prepared as we can be. Do you feel excited when you have new material to play for people, like now that you have a new album? Are you worried if the new songs are going down well in the show?
JB: Well, you always think how it’s gonna work! Because, you never really know! But, I would say that I am more excited about this tour, than I have been for any tour in the past. Because, we have a really really strong album and I have a very good vibe coming off from it. Usually, when you just finished an album you are a bit confused, because you don’t have any perspective. But, this time I am just very happy about the whole thing, so I am really looking forward to tour… Great! I hope we can see you in Greece during that tour…
JB: Yes! Absolutely! But, that’s going to be later in the year I think! Do you have a message for the Greek fans?
JB: We can’t wait to come back to Greece to play for all of you crazy metalheads, and we will play for as long as you want us to play!