Interview with Pär Sunstrōm of Sabaton

SABATON, L-R: Hannes Van Dahl, Chris Rörland, Tommy Johansson, Pâr Sundström, Joakim Brodén
Courtesy of Sabaton

Swedish Heavy Metal giants Sabaton kick off their North American tour, dubbed The Tour to End All Tours, on Thursday September 15, 2022, at the Paramount Theater in Seattle, WA.

Seattle Music Insider was fortunate to meet with bassist Pär Sunstrōm to discuss the band, their love of history, their motivation and how they control every aspect of the Sabaton brand from their music, their videos, to their large music festival The Sabaton Open Air Festival, the Sabaton History Channel, and being out on the road to promote their latest release The War to End All Wars.

When asked about the kickoff date of the North American tour starting in Seattle, Sunstrōm responded, “If you are excited about the show, imagine how all of us in the band feel about starting our tour in Seattle! We spend the last few months playing a combination of about 20 shows and festivals across Europe in the summer. They all worked out great even though the chaotic times but everything worked out for us. We had a fantastic summer. We just had like two weeks off where we are kind of relaxed and recharged before we start the tour in Seattle in a few days we aren’t we are beyond excited than everybody in the band is super super good mood, and the crew is in a good mood, so I am looking forward to good times on the road!”

When asked to describe some of the inspiration behind the concepts of the bands albums and videos, Sunstrōm went on to explain how the videos have different stories behind them and how the creative direction within the band works when writing new music.

“Of course, everything starts with a creative idea from the band; we have an idea of what we want to do. We take care of a lot of the process ourselves; we like to be involved in all of details with the music, the videos, the stage production and a lot of the design of it; so we are very deeply involved. The Sabaton History channel is different from the music videos, as we are creating history listens based on real historical events. YouTube is a fantastic way for us to communicate through our music because in the songs that we sing about, the topics that we sing about, are very special and when you listen to our songs you have these images and if we can produce videos with these strong visuals, the story telling and the lyrics become stronger.

Our singer, Joakim “Jocke” Brodén, is the other one who writes the music, but everybody is involved and everybody contributes to the writing music and songs. When it comes to the lyrics the highest interest in the history is that me and Joakim; we are also their oldest members of the band and we are the ones who have strong interests in historical events so we have been writing the lyrics. When it comes to the music, everyone in the band contributes to the writing process, everyone has some input.“

When asked about past or current musical influences, Sunstrōm stated that though he enjoys bands that have been creating music for decades, he also stated that he is very keen to listen to up and coming bands to keep a pulse on what people are migrating to when it comes to heavy metal music.  

“There’s always the simple answer to say Iron Maiden. However, I like to stay up to date, meaning that I like to find out new bands. That’s why Sabaton Open Air is always seeking out those bands that fit with our music style and we have brought a lot of bands for their first time to Sweden to play in front of new audiences. One band in particular that I like to listen to, I just got into them a few years ago, though they aren’t new…I really like Myath who are from Tunisia – at the moment, I listen to them the most. “

Sunstrōm talks about the idea behind the band’s annual music festival, the Sabaton Open Air Fest; how it came about, what was the inspiration behind the festival and what keeps the fans coming out from around the world to celebrate the multi-day metal festival.

“We don’t really need to showcase our own music to the most dedicated fans from all over the world. The Sabaton Open Air Festival was created to make something bigger than just a gig in our hometown. It grew from a 1-day indoor show with one stage and eight bands to something that showcases up to 40 bands on three stages over an open-air four-day festival. Fans come from more than 40 different countries and made what Sabaton open-air is today – a summer festival with camping areas, a lot of vendors and retailers; it’s also like a forum where we have networking meetings, we also have “Rock Kids” where kids learn to play music for the first time and we have professional people to teach kids to play music and stuff like that including some rock stars to jam with the kids and to inspire them. So Sabaton Open Air is much more than just a festival and so yeah it plays a lot of roles in the Sabaton Universe. We do a lot – I mean we also run our own cruise, we run our own magazine, our own history TV channel and we are about to launch some other projects. Sabaton is so much more than just a band.”

When asked to compare the European metal scene as opposed to the heavy metal scene within North America, does the band find it disheartening when they play smaller venues with smaller capacities within North American versus large arenas or festivals throughout Europe, Sunstrōm responded

“I know it’s very motivating to see where we are smaller because it means that we want to grow into bigger venues or arenas. But that can mean that when you play for a smaller audiences, it is even more motivating to try harder to grow our fan base. I think everyone in Sabaton is excited by the thought of playing from the underdog perspective or having a lot to prove. I mean when we sell out the biggest arena in the country then it’s kind of ‘Alright! That’s awesome!’ But when we don’t sell out the arena, that’s when we have more to prove and that’s where we have to step up the game even harder so I think in America, it’s always been a fight. We know that we have been billed as a power metal band, and power metal has been always seen in United States as something that will never work and everybody said it will never work with the American audience. And people said that you will reach the point where you can sell to 300 tickets and we reach beyond those 300 tickets, where were sold out some venues. We will play our biggest show ever in Seattle and it’s going to be sold out so I cannot say that it’s not going our way;  it’s not really taking a little bit longer than it’s done in Europe but I see no objections why we will not reach the same size in America as we are in Europe. We will come here, we will not give up! We are not quitters; we are a hard-working band and our fans know that of us. We are not just known for being just a being a band, but for everything else that we do. So it’s going to take some time but we are not going quit on that. “

Opening for Sabaton on the North American tour will be the Dutch symphonic band, Epica. When asked how they decided to select Epica for the support slot, Sunstrōm went on to say that “We recently met them at some shows in Europe where they were opening for us, and they have also played Sabaton Open Air Festival. We haven’t done any collaborations with them in the past but I think it’s going to be a great tour and the audience of Sabaton usually like this kind of band so I think this is going to go over very well. “

Sunstrōm talked about how he spends his time when not working or what he does to occupy his time while on tour. “Me personally I would never get bored I never been bored. I am also the band’s manager, so I didn’t have a rest in these 14 days. I have been fully occupied with administrative tasks. I mean, the last few days we’ve been finalizing and working very hard on some very big projects that we are about ready to launch. People will be aware of them very soon. So I have been extremely busy the last 14 days before the upcoming tour. I’m always busy on tour as well.  I like that way. It’s an exciting life. If I did have some time off, or if we have some down time in the bus, we usually would bring some bring some PlayStations and we play some games together It’s not difficult to make the time pass, we love nature and we like to take a walk or hike out in nature or something like that. And me personally I usually Google if there any rock bars in town and I love to go visit them as well and I meet the local people the local rockers and you know get a little bit of the local up rock atmosphere before the show – so that’s how we spend our time. 

Sabaton is know for its imagery in not only their stage shows, but their music videos and also their music production. One only has to look at the number of views on any of their videos on their YouTube channel or look at the number of streams the band has on Spotify to see that they band is consistently growing their audience.

“Yeah I mean it’s good for us, because Sabaton never saw the Glory Days of selling albums before the internet came.  It’s always grown album by album and its grown organically. We never really had any big push or anything mainstream thing going on for us. We have always grown organically by working hard. Piece by piece the fans pick up the music and listen more and more and we never had a big radio hit or something similar that worked for us. We never had the nominations of bigger awards. Its all been organic and its all been from the band to the fans directly without anybody else doing so much to work. We don’t have an external management, we do everything ourselves; we basically do the marketing plans and stuff like that ourselves and by doing that it’s all in our hands. We take a lot of the glory of what Sabtaon is today because we built it ourselves. We are fully aware of what we are, where we stand and how we got there, I think that’s one of the strengths of the band. It makes us feel damned proud. We did this ourselves, it wasn’t served to us. We are going to continue doing it. “

Sabaton is one of a very few bands that has total control of their band, product and brand. When asled about how the band decided to keep everything within the Sabaton realm, Sunstrōm was more than excited to discuss how they as a band have done almost everything on their terms.

“Yeah I think that’s one of the legacies we hope to leave behind you know. It’s not in the nature of some musicians. Most people just want to focus on playing songs and they are happy with that. I totally get that. Our singer, Joakim, he’s mostly involved in the song writing process and he can stay creative, and I take care of a lot of the other stuff. I think that’s kind of a healthy way of seeing things. But I understand not all bands are not interested at all in the business side or in the development of their band. Its shame because a lot of them get run over and they don’t realize how poorly they get treated by the industry. Unfortunately, this is the case for a lot of bands. Earlier you asked about streaming, there are some things we can’t reveal, but on the streaming side we are better than whatever you can come up with when it comes to streams, some of these kinds of things and I am pretty damn proud of what we have built without them. It hasn’t been built by somebody external, it’s been our team. It’s us doing it. 

When asked if there is anything else that that band would like to accomplish or if there are any milestones that the band is most proud of, Sunstrōm went on to talk about dreams and aspirations he had when he was younger, just starting to get into the music scene.

“We have already reached the top two that I set for myself. First, I wanted to headline the Sweden Rock Festival. It took seventeen years from the first time I set foot in that festival to the time we headlined the festival on a Saturday night as the main headliner. It was very emotional because it was in our home country of Sweden. 

Next would be (to play) the largest heavy metal festival in the world, the Wacken Open Air Festival. In 2019 we not only headlined the festival, but we also headlined on both main stages at the same time; playing for two hours, all recorded on our live DVD. It was something that people didn’t think was possible. I mean we basically played with two entire bands, an orchestra and a choir and it was something extremely demanding in terms of production. We pulled it off and the fans who came, they received something unforgettable that night. And so did we, it was super emotional. It took a few days for it to all sink in, but we just pulled off and I think we are still in the records of Wacken Open Air Fest as the most impressive show that they ever had on the site. “

Sabaton plays the Paramount Theater in Seattle, WA on September 15, 2022. Get your tickets here! Get there early and enjoy the show!