Purveyors of fat riffage Grand Magus drop their eighth album Sword Songs this month and I caught up with guitarist and vocalist Janne ‘JB’ Christoffersson. He and the band are gearing up for the European festival circuit but just what is his attitude to Sword Songs now it’s ready for release? He’s a bit bewildered actually, and he sounds slightly amazed as he says “I don’t really know how we’ve been able to do eight albums! It feels good; I think this album is very powerful and it’s got a lot of really good songs on it – and I’m slowly recovering from doing this album because it was a lot of hard work and it took its toll, for sure. But it feels like it was worth it, definitely.” What was the toll that the album exacted on you? “Well, doing an album is always a lot more hard work than you imagine it would be when you start it – you kind of forget each time how much hard work it really is – and since we’re only a three piece and I’m the singer and guitar player and lyric writer it means that I’m involved in the whole writing and recording process so I guess I’ve been doing this album since May last year and it’s just a mind-fuck, you know!?” He laughs so it’s obviously a good mind-fuck.
Grand Magus seem to put an album out every couple of years so getting the creative juices flowing can’t be much of an issue for you? He laughs again. “It’s always an issue! Usually when I start writing I spend about a month questioning whether I’m capable of writing anything that’s even worth recording! But after a while you kind of go into this mode where there’s usually one song that starts everything; when you feel that it’s like ‘Hey, I’m onto something here’ and then the ideas start to turn up and you can put them together – and then it becomes easier. But you have to have that initial spark of desire to do an album – we’d never start working on an album if we didn’t feel that we had an interest in doing it – the passion has to be there.” So you don’t ever start writing for the next album when you’re on tour for the current one? “I need separate time to write. When we’re out on tour then the last thing on my mind is new music. We focus on the live music and the stuff that we’re doing in that moment. I don’t think I’ve ever written a single note of new music when we’ve been out touring.”
So what do you do once you finish an album? “Probably check into a psych ward! I’m generally so exhausted that I just don’t want to think about it for a while and then after a couple of weeks you wake up and realise that it’s done.” Do you find there’s a hole in your life when it’s done? “Yeah – it’s both a relief and kind of bewildering,” adding “even if you sleep a few hours, your mind is still in the album so it’s kind of weird when you’re done.”
I mention the possibility of a bigger tour after the festival circuit is over and he confirms that they’re planning a full-scale European tour at the end of the year. But what about Australia? “The thing is we’ve never had any offers to go to Australia – I mean, when we were starting out that idea didn’t even exist; a small band from Sweden could go and play in Australia?! But the possibility is definitely there, and friends in other bands that have been to Australia always say ‘you must go there – it’s fantastic!’ but it’s just never happened so far and I can only hope that it will.” Come on, Australian promoters – you know what needs to be done. I mention how a lot of Grand Magus tunes seem built to be performed live and JB concedes “We certainly write with that in mind. We want to write something that is memorable and I think a lot of our stuff is easy to sing along to and get into in a live situation.” So has the band busted any of the new album out live yet? “On Saturday we’ll be premiering some of the new tracks so we’ll see how that goes. This will be the first show since the album was finished so we’ll be doing Varangian and Forged In Iron – Crowned In Steel.”
I mention JB’s time with Spiritual Beggars (he sung with them for almost ten years), was it ever difficult to juggle the vocal duties for both bands. “Not really because when I joined Spiritual Beggars, Grand Magus were already going and there was never any conflict of interests – and at that time Michael Arnott’s Arch Enemy was becoming huge – and Per (Wiberg), at that time, was in Opeth – so we all had other things that were our main priorities.”
Moving onto the lack of hard cash in the industry, I ask JB for his opinion on the issue. His answer is quite beautiful. “The business side of things is not something that I, as a heavy metal musician, am very interested in, and to be honest, I don’t think it’s something you should talk about – not because it’s secret or anything; it’s just not very metal to talk about money, right?”
Our time is at an end so I throw in one last question; is there any genre of music that you’d like to explore at a future point in your career? He gives it some thought before concluding that he rather enjoys the peace and quiet of the forest or going fishing, which I guess means we can expect an album of Swedish bird-song from JB at some point.
Thanks for talking – and good luck with the album, JB. “Thanks – say ‘Hi’ to all the metal fans in Australia for me”
Will do. Have done.
Sword Songs – out in May, 2016.