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Grand Magus: for the triumph of heavy metal


Grand Magus are here to fight and conquer with a new album, Triumph And Power, in the great tradition of The Hunt and Hammer Of The North. J.B., the band’s leader, confesses willingly that, although the band is forever moving forwards to turn their dreams into realities, it’s heavy metal that allows the guitarist and vocalist to overcome all his doubts. That’s why Grand Magus is now firmly set on a heavy path, after starting out in high-quality doom – and a good path it is, too. It is a therapy of sorts for the vocalist. This genre allows him to nurture certain traditions and to make good use of the wisdom of the Scandinavian people, whose legends he was brought up with.

The reasons that have led Grand Magus to heavy metal are plenty. The following interview with J.B. revolves around the meticulous conception of this new album, which also marks a reunion with his former sidekick from Spiritual Beggars, drummer Ludwig Witt.

« For me [this album] it’s also about the way Heavy Metal made me feel when I was in a bad place or feeling weak. […] I always want to keep a positive energy around me, but obviously, sometimes it’s hard (laughing)! »

Radio Metal: Since 2012 the drummer for Grand Magus is Ludwig Witt from Spiritual Beggars. How did it feel to be touring and recording music with him again?

J.B. (vocals, guitar): It feels great. He was really the only candidate that I could think of to replace Sebastian when we learned he was going to leave. We were very lucky that he had the time and the interest to join us. It’s been working out perfectly; we’ve done a lot of shows and two albums and everything feels really strong.

So there won’t be any schedule problems?

No there hasn’t been any schedule problems at all and I don’t think there will be.

Apparently when Ludwig came into the band, the music for The Hunt was already composed and the band had to start the recording for the album almost right away. So did he have more chance to add his own input into the compositions this time?

Yes and especially since we’ve been playing together a lot during the past year, his drumming has really influenced me and Fox as well. We jammed together and made sure we were thinking in the same direction. His playing is such an important part of the songs now, I think everything just fits together, it’s so much better.

Your new album is called Triumph And Power, which is a very positive, very uplifting title and the same thing could have been said about Iron Will. Are you a very positive man in general?

(laughing) Well, not really! But deep down I think I have a desire to be positive and I have a desire to be happy. But most of the time, I guess I’m not (laughing). Triumph and Power is about many things. For me it’s also about the way Heavy Metal made me feel when I was in a bad place or feeling weak. Heavy Metal music gave me the energy that I needed, so that’s one aspect of it but it’s also about completely different things that have to do with the power and the triumph of nature over man, for instance. I always want to keep a positive energy around me, but obviously, sometimes it’s hard (laughing)!

Would you say that Heavy Metal is a way to escape reality or the bad things in it?

No, it’s not a way to escape at all, it’s a way to feel better. It’s rather a tool to use against things that don’t work the way you want them to.

There are often themes associated with the act of fighting in your music. This is obviously a legacy from the northern history and mythology. But would you say that this also symbolizes your own combative spirit?

YES! (laughing)

Okay, no more explanations?

No (laughing)! I’m sorry but this is the only answer I can give (laughing).

Why would this be your only answer?

Because it’s the answer! You hit the nail on the head! That’s it!

« When I was a little child, my dad would tell me stories about Odin and Thor, Loki and Baldr, the Fenrir Wolf and the Midgard Serpent to put me to sleep […] as I’ve grown older, I’ve also realised how much they have to do with the way I look on things »

Ok! (Laughs) This is the third time in a row that Nico Elgstrand is producing a Grand Magus album. Didn’t you want to try out another producer at that point or do you just think Nico is perfect for Grand Magus?

He’s perfect in the sense that we know he will always bring out the absolute best that we can do at a certain point in time. I really trust his judgment and I respect his input. We talked a lot before we recorded this album and I tried to explain what I was after, this time. We wanted to make a really heavy, really majestic and really powerful album and he was very interested in doing that. The recording process, this time, even though it’s still very hard work, was a lot more relaxed and easy than both Hammer Of The North and The Hunt. Who knows what’s going to happen in the future, but for Triumph and Power, Nico was definitely the perfect choice for us. Also, in regards to your question, when it comes to the actual recording, the guitar playing and the singing, I, personally, much prefer to do that with someone I know because it takes me a while to get to know someone and I don’t want to spend studio time feeling someone out and wondering if I can trust the guy, if I can relax enough to make it really good or if will I be shy and uncomfortable instead of concentrating on the performance! It’s a very important aspect for me.

Since he’s produced three of your albums, do you think he has evolved with the band as a producer?

Absolutely, he didn’t mix Hammer Of The North but he did produce it, but recording-wise and mixing-wise, these three albums are very big projects for him so I certainly think he has both improved and gotten new ideas.

Staffan Karlsson engineered for this album. Had his recent work with Spiritual Beggars had a role in the decision to work with him?

Yes, Ludwig said he was a great guy to work with and suggested we should work with him because he did a really great job on the Spiritual Beggars album and I, as well, really think the latest Spiritual Beggars album sounds great. He said Staffan was very relaxed and really knew what he was doing.

The recordings sound natural and true to a certain tradition in Heavy Metal. Are these important aspects that you keep in mind when it comes to recording and producing a Grand Magus album?

Yes, definitely. We really don’t complicate things, we try to do things as simply as possible and to focus as much as we can on the actual performance. There’s a lot going on our albums with harmony vocals, etc… but the basic ingredients are really simple.

Fox Skinner has stated in an interview that the recording of the drums is what you spend the most money on. Can you explain why?

Because drums are super important in Heavy Metal and Hard Rock or whatever you want to call it, and in order to get a good drum sound, you have to spend time on it, we don’t want to go for a cheap solution, we want the real thing. It takes a while and it takes a bit of care put into it.

« Of course you always have dreams that you will do something that becomes a superhit album and become huge, that hasn’t happened but we’re still growing, we’re not going backwards and it’s a good feeling. »

As a lyricist you moved from occult thematics to stuff more into Scandinavian tradition and Norse mythology. What triggered this evolution?

It’s always been there, even on the first album where there’s a song called Lodbrok which is taken directly from Scandinavian tradition and the song Gauntlet also has to do with that. But these are all stories that I grew up with. When I was a little child, my dad would tell me stories about Odin and Thor, Loki and Baldr, the Fenrir Wolf and the Midgard Serpent to put me to sleep so I’ve always heard those stories, they’ve always been a part of me. I think, as I’ve grown older, I’ve also realised how much they have to do with the way I look on things and the way I feel about mankind and nature, how we live our lives and what I think about life and death, so it’s just a very natural way of going back to my honest ideas about things.

Do you think we tend to lose these traditions and mythologies in our modern society? Does it seem important to you that people remember them?

Yes, but I don’t want to preach to anyone and I’m not going to tell anyone how to live their lives. I’m just expressing what I believe and what I think. It’s my belief that there is a lot of wisdom to be found in how people thought in the past. I feel there is too much emphasis on things that are going to happen, what people are going to think and how we’re going to solve problems instead of looking back: what did they do in the past when they had problems? What did they philosophize about? There are so many things in these stories that have a really close connection to what’s going on in the world today, and for me, a lot of the answers lie in the past. People can do whatever they want, you know, but this is one of the things that Grand Magus’ lyrics deal with, so, take it or leave it!

Fox played cello on The Hunt, on the song « Son Of The Last breath », which also featured a bit of piano. There’s again some piano and cello on the instrumental « Ymer », but didn’t you want to go a bit further with the use of these instruments?

There’s certainly piano and accoustic guitars but there’s no cello on Triumph And Power, they sound like it but in fact it’s several other things (laughing), and we also used a mouth harp on « Ymer ». Both « Ymer » and the other song « Arv » are really rooted in Scandinavian folk music, so there are some very interesting instruments that we might use in the future but for these songs, the instrumentation was what we wanted this time, it didn’t go overboard.

The last song « The Hammer Will Bite » is epic and contains some very nice guitar arrangements. Is this somehow a continuation of your work on « Son Of The Last Breath », which was pretty epic too?

In some ways, yes. I think. « Son Of The Last breath » was an interesting experiment and I think it turned out pretty cool, it’s certainly one of the songs that many people seem to remember and appreciate on The Hunt, so, for this album we wanted to have one song that sort of drifted into this territory and became a bit more expansive. The Hammer Will Bite, originally was a pretty short song but we felt it could really extend into something bigger and longer, so yes, I would say that « Son Of The Last Breath » had something to do with it and I think it’s cool. I remember on albums like Last in Line from Dio there’s this song called « Egypt », which is much longer and much more epic than all the other tracks on the album and it’s something I find pretty cool instead of having ten songs that are the same length and soung pretty much the same, you try to add a bit more dynamics.

« It feels that we got the attention we needed through the deal with Roadrunner and we also were very lucky to get out before we were buried with them. Now we are with Nuclear Blast and in the end, they are pretty much the perfect label for us. »

That’s the second album you’re releasing through Nuclear Blast. At the time you had signed with Roadrunner Records you had told us that you “wanted to become as big as possible” and that’s why you needed a bigger label than Rise Above. As Nuclear Blast is also a big label, are you satisfied with how things have turned out with Grand Magus since Hammer Of The North?

Yes and I think we were extremely lucky, actually, because when we signed with Roadrunner we got quite a lot of attention and Hammer Of The North was a very big album for us, there was a lot of stuff written about us because we signed with a major label, etc… And then, Roadrunner started having huge problems and luckily we felt that something was going on, so we got out of there really quick and, immediately after, we had the chance to work with Nuclear Blast. We could have ended up in a terrible situation but instead it feels that we got the attention we needed through the deal with Roadrunner and we also were very lucky to get out before we were buried with them. Now we are with Nuclear Blast and in the end, they are pretty much the perfect label for us because they know exactly what we are trying to do, they have such a long experience doing one thing and one thing only and that’s Heavy Metal, so we feel really at home with Nuclear Blast and I can only see things getting bigger and better. At the same time, obviously, since we last spoke, of course you always have dreams that you will do something that becomes a superhit album and become huge, that hasn’t happened but we’re still growing, we’re not going backwards and it’s a good feeling.

You just said that you haven’t had your big album with superhits on it yet, is it something you have in mind when you write an album?

No, I don’t think you can think that way. One thing we’ve never done is trying to catch a trend, we’ve always done exactly what we wanted to do and we’ve never been part of anything like that. Unless you’re really lucky there’s no way to try and do that, so the only way to make an album that becomes huge is to follow your heart and if everything falls into place, you just might succeed. But when we write songs we don’t think “Mmmh, let’s try and make a hit”, you know, it doesn’t work that way. I want the music to be catchy, but I still want it to be powerful, I’m not going to write pop songs! And for me, good Heavy Metal is catchy, like Iron Maiden, or Judas Priest. So, I guess, the short answer to your question is no! (Laughing)

We can clearly relate the terminology you’re using in your lyrics to the one Manowar uses, with words like “triumph”, “power”, “hammer”, “steel”, “fight”, “thunder”, etc. How much of an influence is Manowar to you, actually?

I’ve always loved Manowar, they’re one of my absolute favourite bands, I’m not going to try and hide that, so yes, they are a big influence. But the thing with Grand Magus and the power we’re talking about, it’s got a lot more to do with the power of nature and the Scandinavian tradition, it’s not something we picked up from Manowar, it’s something I picked up as a child, very young and it’s always been a big part of my life. But, musically and in everything else, I think Manowar are pretty much the ultimate heavy metal band, so yes, they are an influence, absolutely.

Manowar is often laughed at because of their sometimes caricatural lyrics and way of being. What are your thoughts about that?

I think those people laughing at Manowar should try and do something as good themselves. I think it’s super cool when a band never compromises and completely stands behind what they do, it’s something we want to do as well and if people laugh at us, well, that’s fine because they wouldn’t be interested anyway. So, I salute Manowar for standing tall even though some people are laughing at them. It’s their loss.

« I salute Manowar for standing tall even though some people are laughing at them. It’s their loss. »

What do you think about what Spiritual Beggars have accomplished since your departure of the band?

I think both of the albums they’ve done are great and I especially like the last one: the songs are great, the performances are great, the sound is great. So, I’m just really happy for them, they are still a band that I like a lot and I’m still very good friends with Michael Amott and Sharlee and Per and Apollo is a great guy too. I don’t know him that well but we’ve actually toured together when he was in Firewind, and he’s a great singer. I think the band has made a lot of progress and It sounds great.

And have you ever thought about doing some sort of touring package with Spiritual Beggars and Grand Magus, since you share the same drummer, now?

(laughing) In theory we could do that, but it would be a bit silly, somehow. We would have a lot of fun but I think it would be a bit weird and also, for Ludwig, doing 2 sets in a row would be really tough!

You sang on the last Ayreon album. What can you tell us about this experience?

It was a great experience, it was something completely different for me, I hadn’t done anything like that before and I was a bit unsure of the whole thing since I didn’t know if I was going to be able to perform the way he wanted. But I went down there and he was extremely encouraging, he’s a great guy, so we had a lot of fun, we talked a lot and everything went super smoothly. I learned a lot doing it, and the whole album is very impressive, so I’m very happy to be a part of it.

Where does your nickname JB come from, as this is not your initials, what does it mean?

(laughing) Well, there are few people who know and they’re all dead!

(both laughing) Who were they?

(Laughing) You know, it’s a mystery! It’s one of those things that you don’t really know, so maybe you can put out some theories on your website and someone may come up with the right solution!

I actually read your bass-player saying that it comes from your time in Spiritual Beggars?

Yes, the name originated when I started in Spiritual Beggars, absolutely.

Interview conducted by phone on December, 3rd 2013 by Spaceman.
Introduction: Alastor
Transcription: Judith

Grand Magus official website: www.grandmagus.com

Album Triumph And Power out on January, 31st 2014 via Nuclear Blast.



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