"I Wanted To Be A Fighter Pilot": 13 Questions With Sabaton's Joakim Brodén

Whether it’s his long-standing love of desert paradises or that deep-seated hatred of spiders, there’s much more to Sabaton singer Joakim Brodén than bombastic war stories and OTT power metal...

"I Wanted To Be A Fighter Pilot": 13 Questions With Sabaton's Joakim Brodén
Sam Law

As they prepare a first assault on Wembley Arena for February 8, there’s no denying that Falun battalion Sabaton have finally made it to metal’s big leagues. Their blend of wartime narratives and cheesy power metal mightn’t be to everyone’s tastes, but you’ll hardly find more bang for your buck in the live arena – especially if you bloody love tanks. As he steps out from behind the mirrored aviators and bulletproof vest, we introduced frontman Joakim Brodén to Kerrang!’s 13 Questions...

Why should people come to see Sabaton at Wembley?
“Because it’s a blast! It’s very simple: if you like hard rock or metal, join us! With it being The Great War tour, we understand there is something of a paradox. We’re a bunch of cheerful guys jumping around and smiling while we play music about death and destruction. But playing onstage is fun. We don’t want to be there standing around trying to look serious or cool. At the same time, although we don’t take ourselves seriously at all, we take the subject matter of these songs – the stories that we are trying to tell – very seriously indeed. Also, if you want to get to see a bunch of Swedish guys become toast in the pyro, that’s a pretty good reason to come along as well!”

When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?
“I wanted to be a fighter pilot! Being a musician wasn’t even on my radar. I actually was a professional musician before I realised that this is what I wanted to do! As a kid, I was just the perfect age to be obsessed with Top Gun when it came out! Nowadays, we sing songs like Red Baron about fighter pilots, but I don’t really get the fighter pilot vibe from those songs. When I play Red Baron, it feels like more of a tribute to bands like Uriah Heep than those pilots I dreamed of being!”

Where’s the best place you’ve ever been?
“I’d have to say Hawaii. I’ve been three or four times now after my sister studied out there. I’ve visited Pearl Harbour twice! Visiting in 2008 was the last time I took an autograph – from one of the veterans who was serving on the day of the 1941 attack. It’s so rare to find a place that has that balance of the infrastructure and safety of a well-organised country, the beauty of those islands, and the not-too-touristy feeling. If you want to see a volcano, there are many places on this planet that you can do that. But in many of those places there is a real danger of unexpected eruption, or the security situation in the country might not be ideal. In Hawaii, it’s like America, but not America because the people are so chilled out. I love Scandinavia, too, for sure, but if I had to relocate, Hawaii would be my ideal alternative. It would be a bitch to drive to shows, though!”

What is the funniest rumour you’ve heard about yourself?
“There are so many! The ones that always surprise me tend to come up in interviews where I get asked if I used to be a member of these different bands that I couldn’t possibly have been because I was five or ten years old at the time! I have to tell them it’s not true at all! I remember once, I was asked if I was a member of this Swedish right-wing punk band that was big in the late-'80s. I was born in 1980! It would have been hard for me to a part of that!”

What is the most illegal thing you’ve ever done?
“I don’t tend to do a lot of illegal things, but there is one that sticks out. When I was entering Swedish military service, which was mandatory at the time I came of age, I did the tests and told them I wanted to be in a decent position. After the physical and mental assessment, they informed me that I could be the equivalent of a non-commissioned officer: a canine patrol platoon sergeant guarding a marine base. I thought that was a proper job and I was happy to do it.

“At the time, however, I was awaiting surgery so they couldn’t enrol me. While I was awaiting medical clearance afterwards they called me up and let slip that the position they were going to give me had been filled. They wanted to make me a Chief’s Staff Officer, or something like that instead. I started calling friends in the army, and they all told me not to take it because I’d just be the whipping-boy, boiling coffee for the professional officers. I called back and told them there were complications with the surgery and it would have to be delayed again. I lied! They were stupid enough not to check with my doctor and I never had to go.

“I’m still registered for service, so if there was an urgent need I could be called up, but I never had to take that position. If they had known at the time, I could’ve gone to jail, but it’s thankfully too long ago now [to be punished].”

What is your biggest fear?
“I do not like spiders – at all! It’s not an irrational phobia, either. My mother is from the Czech Republic and I was in Prague visiting some friends when we went to the zoo. My cousin introduced me to a friend in the spider house and he took out this big one to show me, which somehow managed to crawl down inside the collar of my t-shirt and either bit or stung me. It hurt like a motherfucker!

“Over the years, I got that fear under control, but then we toured Australia a couple of years ago and I woke up with this massive spider on my face. That freaked me out. Then, more recently, we went to Tunisia to film the music video for Seven Pillars Of Wisdom and were sleeping in tents out in the desert. Getting up to go to the toilet in the middle of the night meant marching through scorpions, spiders and cockroaches in the sand. I didn’t really have a problem with the scorpions and cockroaches, but the spiders weren’t very nice!”

What is the most disgusting thing you’ve ever eaten?
“I actually like it, but most people would consider it to be the Surströmming: the fermented/rotten herring that Swedish people are famous (or infamous) for. It smells like shit when you open the can. I’ve seen people throw up just from that, and there are a lot of YouTube videos of the same. People really can’t believe that we eat it and enjoy it, but it’s something of an acquired taste. It’s not the sort of thing that kids eat from an early age, but once or twice a year when your parents would have guests over they’d have it and would let you try a little bit. Over the years you get the taste for it!”

What is the worst job you’ve ever had?
“When you’re in middle-school in Sweden, you go out into the community to do a week or two of work experience. I ended up working at a store that shipped out fruit and vegetables to supermarkets. The first order I shipped out was two tonnes of potatoes. That sounds like a lot, but when you’re loading it in 20kg bags, it’s not that brutal. But the way they treated me was.

“It was in the middle of February, so it would have been 20 or 30 degrees below freezing outside. The trash-compactor was getting full so they told me to get outside and stomp everything down into it. I was happy to do that, but I needed a jacket to do it because I hadn’t expected to be doing that kind of work. They wouldn’t give me one of theirs because then they would get cold. I just thought ‘Fuck that!’, went over to my friend who was working in the bakery next door and ate some cinnamon buns instead.”

What happens when we die?
“I would say, first and foremost, that I have no idea. Beyond that, I reckon the answer is nothing. Zip. Nada. It’s not something I really think about at all, though. People say that getting older sucks, but I just think it’s better than the alternative!”

What would you like it to say on your gravestone?
“I would rather not have one, to be totally honest. I feel that gravestones are just a way of giving people guilt who haven’t visited in a while. They worry about not having come by the grave on your birthday or Christmas or whatever. I get it myself for my uncle who died young from cancer. I would rather that people didn’t have that weighing on their consciences. Just cremate me and spread my ashes somewhere on a battlefield!”

Have you ever been kicked out of a bar?
“I’ve never been literally kicked or thrown out of a bar, but I’ve been asked to leave a few times because I was too drunk. The funny thing is that, in Stockholm especially, security guards can be fucking dickheads. I’m a pretty loud person and I’ve actually been asked to leave the bar a few times before I’ve even started drinking! On the other hand, we’ve gotten away with a few stupid things over the years that we probably shouldn’t have because we were at aftershow parties...”

Have you ever been in a fight?
“Considering the places we’ve visited and the states we’ve been in after shows, I’ve actually not been in that many. The one that stands out is from when I was much younger, before Sabaton – before I was even a musician. I had just started dating a girl when her ex came at me on a night out and started making trouble. In those days I was training a lot as a swimmer and doing some boxing as well. I hit him, almost knocked him out and told him to get out of there. Ten minutes later, he and five of his friends came back and I got my a*s whooped pretty bad!”

If your house was on fire, what one thing would you save?
“After I had gotten my loved-ones and dogs out of the house? None of my technology is irreplaceable. My phone and laptop are all completely backed-up, so I guess it wouldn’t need to be anything like that. It would be something of more sentimental value: a memory. I mentioned earlier that my uncle died of cancer. One day I was playing golf with him when he hit a hole-in-one. I still have that ball, so I guess it would be that something that couldn’t be replaced.”

Sabaton headline Wembley Arena in London on February 8. Get your tickets here.

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