There’s something magic about GRAND MAGUS’ new album ‘The Hunt’ and it goes far beyond the epic album cover. While the band’s previous album ‘Hammer Of The North’ treated us to heavy production ‘The Hunt’ revisits Heavy Metal’s roots paying homage to the classic NWOBHM style. At the same time acoustic, orchestral and even piano sections keep the album unique. But make no mistake, this is METAL! On the phone from Sweden, frontman Janne “JB” Christoffersson talks about ‘The Hunt’, magickal inspiration and more…
NZRock: The production on ‘The Hunt’ is different to your previous album. It reminds me of listening to bands like SAXON or NAZERETH again. You’ve said recently that you didn’t want to over-produce this album. What was the reasoning behind that?
JB: All of our albums have sounded different both writing wise and also sound wise. We just don’t want to repeat ourselves back to back. There’s nothing saying that we won’t have the same sound again on an album that we had on ‘Iron Will’ or ‘Hammer Of The North’, but when you’ve done an album you just want to move forward. You want to hear things that excite you at the time and I think we’ve always been very honest with fact that we change as people and the music is going to change accordingly. We’re not going to do a jazz album and we’re not going to do anything that’s not heavy metal, but this time this is the sound that we thought would suit the music the best you know.
NZRock: Arik did the artwork for ‘Iron Will’ and he’s done it again on ‘The Hunt’. He always does amazing stuff. Was it easy getting him to create art which reflected the album’s theme?
JB: Well it certainly was easy this time because we just gave him the title and this is what he came up with haha! He didn’t hear the album but I know he works in the same kind of neighbourhood so to speak scene-wise as we did on this album with a very strong element of nature and I think he just new what was going on behind the title. There was almost like some telepathy going on and when we got it back it was like yeah, this is the way it’s meant to be. So it was a really cool experience.
NZRock: That art would look awesome on an LP. Is that going to happen? And so you think it’s still important to release vinyl?
JB: Yeah the album is coming out on vinyl in quite a few variations. It’s going to be a double vinyl to begin with. One of them is going to have a blue and a yellow vinyl like the Swedish flag. And one is going to have clear vinyl and black vinyl. The artwork definitely looks amazing on those. I still think vinyl has got that special magic. It feels like the real thing and I guess it’s grown the last few years because even younger people are interested in it and it’s not just a very obscure collective thing. I think it’s really cool to be able to release albums on vinyl still.
NZRock: You were saying earlier that you don’t want to repeat yourselves on albums and I notice on ‘The Hunt’ that there’s all sorts going on like piano, orchestral sections and acoustic guitar. How challenging was it to incorporate them into the style of music that you play?
NZRock: This was something that we really thought about doing. We knew that we wanted those types of ingredients in the album, we wanted to have more variation and we didn’t want it to be steamlined but we wanted it to function as a whole. We listened a lot to albums like ‘Heaven and Hell’ by BLACK SABBATH for instance, which has got a lot of very different types of music from a song like ‘Lady Evil’ that’s almost like ABBA boogie rock and then you have the title track with acoustic guitars and stuff like that. We really wanted to try and make something epic that has different parts and everything so that was the reason behind the ‘Son Of The Last Breath’ song and also to go back a bit to stuff that we did on ‘Iron Will’ where we had quite a few intros and outros because we wanted the album to really flow.
NZRock: Your lyrics continue to be inspired by Scandinavian tradition, paganism which I can imagine is a vast resource that can be tapped into. Even still, do you ever get writers block?
JB: Not really but at the same time when you start working on new material it’s always really difficult at the beginning because you’re like how is this ever going to happen? But for me I have to kind of find a theme and once I’ve found that key or cracked that door then most of the stuff comes pretty easily but it definitely takes a lot of time and anxiety before that happens. And sometimes you feel like oh wow, this is never going to happen. But one of the tricks I use is that when we work on the music and I start to work on lyrics and melodies, I use just kind of scrap lyrics – just words that fit with the music. So I know that there’s going to be a melody there that’s going to work and everything and then when I’ve cracked the code to what the album is going to be about, I go back and replace the scrap lyrics or even change them completely to fit in with the whole unity of an album.
NZRock: What books are you reading to get your material?
JB: I mainly read for my own personal gratification. The stuff that goes into the lyrics, that’s really something that I’ve been fascinated with ever since I was a really small kid and I don’t have to do any research into stuff like this… I have to do it to get certain words and concepts but it’s not like I spend hours each day reading about scandinavian tradition because it’s in my blood, it’s something that my parents got into me when they put me to sleep as a baby. But you know, books that I read… I read mystery novels like John Dickson Carr and a lot of Sherlock Holmes, things like that. I wouldn’t say that the novels that I read are reflected in the music that we do.
NZRock: Early in the bands career you described the music that you were writing as “Black Magick Rock”, do you think that still fits the theme?
JB: I think the first album that we did and with the name and everything, I was heavily into Aleister Crowley and the Golden Dawn so there was a very strong occult fascination at the time and that was definitely something that was reflected in the description of the music. But also on that album we have tracks like ‘Lodbrok’ which is straight up the kind of stuff that we started doing on ‘Monument’ (2003) so I wouldn’t call us Black Magick Rock anymore. Our company is called Black Magick still, and there’s a very strong connection between certain parts of Scandinavian tradition and the idea of ceremonial magick. It’s all about exploring your inner self and trying to become a stronger and more complete entity, stuff like that.
NZRock: Out of curiousity, over time has your opinion or interest changed on that topic of the occult, Crowley and the Golden Dawn?
JB: Well I think as with everything else around that time, I felt that I was pretty much, at least in the music hard rock / heavy metal surroundings I was pretty much alone in that interest. And then I kind of noticed that hmmm… more and more people are latching onto this and being the prick I am I turned my back on it haha! Because the whole point in it for me was that it was something very personal and very solitary. I’ve never been interested in being part of groups doing things together in that sense so I kind of veered away from it. But I still think there’s a lot of stuff in there that’s very interesting and definitely that Mr Crowley himself had some ideas that are absolutely fascinating so I can only recommend everyone to look into it but do it on your own is my tip haha!
NZRock: Don’t share it on Facebook haha!
JB: Exactly! Oh you nailed it there because when everything starts to become part of mainstream it kind of loses it’s special magic. And Crowley and Facebook… it’s just wrong.
NZRock: You guested on the NECRONAUT album which was released in 2010, how did that come to happen? It’s more of a Death Metal project.
JB: Yeah, I don’t know if you know this, but Fred Esty from DISMEMBER, he actually produced our first album so we’ve known each other for a long time. When he left DISMEMBER he had a lot of ideas for songs and he came up with the idea to do an album like the PRO-BOT album that Dave Grohl did with different singers and having songs which suited that singer. When he did the song which I sing on, he just knew that I was going to be the one who was singing on it. It was really easy, we did it in like one afternoon and then I played the leads for the songs that Erik [Danielsson] from WATAIN sings on and it was just a lot of fun. Even more fun was first we did an exclusive gig performing those songs and then we played at Sweden Rock Festival with the whole line-up from the album and that was a pretty magical evening to say the least.
NZRock: Before you were in GRAND MAGUS you were in a couple of bands which I haven’t heard, SUPERMOUTH and CARDINAL FANG. What style were they?
JB: Haha! Well this is not something that should be talked about haha! I should be lying down and avoiding. They were just very embryonic… I guess seeds that after a while became something called SMACK which was like the precursor to GRAND MAGUS. I don’t know if there’s any stuff out of there on the Internet or not but it’s not something that anyone should look into haha!
NZRock: They say there’s evidence of Scandinavian visitors to New Zealand hundreds of years ago so it’s definitely a place you should come and check out. Is there any chance we’ll be seeing you over here at some stage?
JB: We have quite a few friends playing in bands and many of them have been to New Zealand and also to Australia and we’ve heard so many great things about playing there. It’s definitely time for us to get over there and we’re working on it. I just hope that we manage to do it this year, or next year. Next year we’re not going to do a new album probably which means that we can spend the whole year touring and playing, so that’s definitely a goal.
NZRock: Just before you go, what songs are you the most proud of on ‘The Hunt’?
JB: That’s a difficult question. It’s very hard to listen to your own music in the way that you listen to other people’s music obviously. And I don’t sit around listening to my own music except when I’m really drunk haha! But I think there are a few songs on ‘The Hunt’… I’m really fond of ‘Starlight Slaughter’ because it’s a type of song that we’ve never done before. Also I think that ‘Valhalla Rising’ is probably my favourite track at this point but I think they all have something really personal about them and they all project different feelings and that’s the most important thing I think.
NZRock: Last question, you’ve got a very distinctive voice. When did you discover that you were able to sing like that?
JB: It was quite late. We had a singer in those bands that we shouldn’t talk about haha… and he quit and we thought that hey, maybe I could at least try and carry a tune. It seemed to be working and it felt kind of natural for me to sing so I guess I was just lucky and yeah, mostly by accident and quite late in my life, but I enjoy it a lot.