Matt Coe called Grand Magus one afternoon recently. He learnt that vocalist/guitarist JB is a down to earth, thoughtful person who has a good head on his shoulders. Enjoy these thoughts emanating from one of the best Scandinavian bands currently assaulting the scene.
It’s never easy losing a member of the band, but due to family/work reasons you’ve had to replace Sebastian Sippola on drums with Spiritual Beggars drummer Ludwig Witt. Was he the natural first choice to join Grand Magus? How would you describe his style in comparison to Sebastian?
“Yes, he was the first and really the only choice. Even Sebastian and I had talked about this before he decided to leave that Ludwig would be the only one that could do this properly. Style-wise, they are from the same school of drumming- it’s something you don’t find often today because they are real hard rock drummers. The same way that Cozy Powell and Bill Ward are hard rock drummers- but they also have the metal chops. Lately I think Ludwig has turned away a little bit from the 70’s style and gone for a more stripped down approach so he plays a bit straighter and doesn’t do as many fills as before. He told me this before- he is now into early Manowar, early Judas Priest style drumming, and Accept - Stefan Kaufmann’s drumming on “Restless And Wild”, “Balls To The Wall” - so we both agreed that this was going to be a perfect approach for this album.”
Any special secrets for how you are able to sing so well live? Is it difficult for you to separate your mind between playing your guitar parts and also singing with such power and conviction?
“Secrets… well I think, the key is not to think too much about how you are going to sing, you need to relax. Sometimes it’s a struggle but most of the times if I’m in a good frame of mind its usually great and a lot of fun. The main thing apart from relaxing is you have to have conviction, you have to believe in what you are singing and you have to put your heart and soul into it otherwise it’s not going to mean a thing - if you can’t reach people with your emotions people aren’t going to believe in you. Vice versa you can be a ridiculously bad singer but still touch people because they love the way you connect with them. When it comes to playing and singing at the same time it is difficult. There are guys like John Sykes who is a super guitar player and a super singer, he can play these incredible rhythms and sing at the same time- and I’m not anywhere near his class. You just need to rehearse and play to the level where you don’t have to think about it - you feel it in your body. If I get lost I don’t know what chord I’m in because it comes so automatic through the number of rehearsals.”
What do you consider the advantages of Grand Magus as a power trio outfit? Do you think there are any specific disadvantages - would you ever consider adding another rhythm guitarist to beef up the sound?
“I would say that the advantages far outweigh the disadvantages. The advantages have to do with longevity, you avoid the potential of conflict. Everything logistically is so much easier to deal with, you get tighter as a band because you have less people to deal with- as a trio you really have to be on your game. Disadvantages are you can’t have an off night or you are in a world of hurt. I would say that there is a bit more pressure on you in a live situation being a trio. At the same time you have a lot of freedom. Yes, we have thought about adding an extra guitar player for live work but we also realize we have done things the way they are for close to 15 years so it doesn’t make sense to change things now. We don’t want to be one of those bands that add session players for live work- being in a trio in the studio or are you five people live? People seem to get off on the fact that we are a trio - we make a noticeable racket as a trio.”
Now that it’s been a few years since your ‘breakthrough’ with the “Iron Will” album, why do you think that particular record connected with so many people across the globe?
“How many was there? I certainly didn’t get rich from that album (laughs). It’s a combination of the songs, the production, and the performance with the sound. It was the right timing, we had good songs and that’s the most important at the end of the day. You can’t polish a turd. We haven’t changed anything in our approach to music. “Hammer Of The North” was a greater success sales-wise than “Iron Will”, but that’s not the only measure you can have on music obviously. We realized our potential with “Iron Will”, that’s probably the best short answer.”
How was the recent headlining tour you did this past winter with Bullet, Steel Wing, Skull Fist and Vanderbuyst as support? That must have been a dream lineup for an audience into traditional metal and old school hard rock sounds…
“Yes, it was a great tour. We had so much fun, all the bands really made an effort to make everything work, there were no rock star attitudes or immature behaviour. Everyone kicked the hell out of the audience and took care of business. The turnouts were so much better than we had hoped for, all in all a great success. Very good times.”
Was it different for you a few weeks later acting as an opener to Amon Amarth in parts of Europe?
“It’s always going to be different when you are the headliners with the set up. The tour with Amon Amarth was one of the best we’ve ever done because it turned out their crowds really loved us. I wasn’t surprised but it was even better than I expected because I think their audience with our names we have quite a lot in common. Even though we play different types of music there’s a lot of similarity in the whole framework of the band with the lyrical themes and very rooted in the Norse tradition feel. I’d love to tour with them again.”
Who would you say are some of the most important guitarists that aid your riff and solo process within Grand Magus? I would imagine that K.K. Downing and Glenn Tipton of Judas Priest rate as two of your favorites through the years…
“Definitely- and also… there are so many great players. Ritchie Blackmore has always been my number one, Tony Iommi from Black Sabbath for rhythm and lead work, and also Michael Schenker is one of the best guitar players that ever lived. When it comes to twin guitars no one in my book surpasses Downing and Tipton - the riffs that they created just put a smile on my face thinking about it.”
Do you think there is too much music for the consumer to sift through these days? How do you feel about the quantity versus quality issue in metal?
“I don’t ever think there can be too much music because music is music, it’s always been around in some form or another. There’s definitely a problem when it comes to quantity over quality when it comes to heavy metal I have to say. Then again who knows? The good stuff will persevere and the bad stuff will just vaporize. That’s the way it’s always been and hopefully that’s the way it will continue to be. It’s become much easier to record and put out music in some shape or form. I’m a bit worried that to create something really special you need to have support financially- not only for metal musicians but for an artist like Kate Bush for instance. Are those artists going to even exist when no one gets paid for recorded material? I am bit worried about what the future is going to look like, it would be a shame if the art of the heavy metal album would disappear. Then we would just have songs. An album is a really cool thing- it’s like the chronicle of a band, where they are at a certain point in time. An album is like a novel, and a song is like a chapter in a book- I don’t want to read separate chapters from different books, it gives me no sense of fulfillment. I want to read a whole book from start to finish. And then I can read some of the chapters again due to my deeper interest.”
You have a good relationship with many Swedish death metal musicians through the years- do you think in today’s scene people are more open-minded to various genres of metal than say in the 80’s or 90’s?
“Maybe, maybe some of the younger kids are. I think most death metal people or bands that we know and socialize with have always had a very strong love of classic metal- Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, Black Sabbath- that’s one of the things that maybe warmed people up to us because they like that kind of music. With the growth of all the metal festivals you have loads of different types of metal being played all at the same time, the barriers between each style have eroded a bit. It’s good to have a bit of resistance - when the Norwegian black metal bands came out, it wasn’t for everyone and I think that’s a good thing too. They were very protective about certain things- everything is not for everybody, that’s important to remember.”
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received regarding your music career- either from your family, fellow musicians, or anyone else through the years?
“I don’t know if I’ve ever gotten any advice really through the years in that respect. The best advice I can think I read somewhere was probably from Yngwie Malmsteen - to just stick to what you believe in. Don’t try to jump on any trends because it’s going to be too late. Stick to what you think is the best type of music or style and that’s the only choice you have.”
How do you feel about the retirement of acts like Cathedral (who’s singer Lee Dorian signed Grand Magus to your first record deal with Rise Above) and Candlemass? Will you know when it’s time to put Grand Magus to rest?
“I hope so (laughs). I think you see it. Both Lee Dorian and Leif in Candlemass, they are people with very strong integrity and intelligence. They know exactly what they are doing, and I hope I do as well.”
You enjoy the outdoors - what are some of your favorite things to do when you have the time to enjoy them away from Grand Magus?
“My favorite thing to do is grab a pair of binoculars, grab a back pack with something to eat and drink and plow straight through the forest. I could spend days just being out for a long walk, or sometimes sit down and listen and look around you. It’s the most exciting and relaxing thing that I know about, just to fill up with the scents. Fishing is the second favorite, it has an added element of fulfillment to it.”
Pictures by Audrey Dujardin
Composed by Matt Coe