Interview with Oscar Dronjak – Lead Guitarist and Founder Of The Legendary Heavy Metal Band HammeFfall!

HammerFall stands for powerful, majestic and melodic heavy metal! One of the most beloved and prominent bands of the new generation of metal has been churning out killer heavy metal for 20 years and they’re still going strong. These epic warriors were destined for glory, and they always would be!

Hammerfall was founded in Gothenburg, Sweden in 1993 by guitarist Oscar Dronjak. Their unstoppable creations reigned in a time when none cared about classical Heavy Metal, and they have and will always deserve credit for bringing the melodies back to metal music.

Their legendary debut ‘Glory To The Brave’ (1997) cemented the band as the pioneers of modern Eighties heavy metal. Real music is immortal, and classics like a ‘Hearts on Fire’ and ‘Any means necessary’ they are a metal hymns for eternity!

 The bands latest offering, ‘Built to Last’ (2016), is a great selection of quality songs and a unique sound. This is definitely old school HammerFall with a fresh approach. Straight and heavy riffs, blazing guitar solos and killer vocals as powerful and epic as ever. 

We’d like to bring to your attention this interview with HammerFall guitarist Oscar Dronjak! Thanks to our special Scandinavian reporter & photographer Jörgen Rasmusson. The following interview is taken exclusively for Rock Arena! Enjoy it!

– INTERVIEW –

– Hello, Oscar and welcome to Rock Arena! Almost 25 years into the band’s career, what’s changed for HammerFall?

♦Oscar Dronjak: Thank you! Everything has changed, both for HammerFall and me personally. I’ve been in HammerFall for more than half my life. When I formed the band it was just in my head and my closest friends, that I thought would be interested in this. But it really took off after the release of the first album. We never dreamed of the success that we were having, not even now.

We never thought anyone would be interested in our music, so we just did what we wanted to do. And if someone wanted to listen that would be cool, but we did it for ourselves in the first place. When it took off we found the audience in Germany, so that´s where it took off in the beginning. We had a German label and they promoted us very well there. Many of my favourite bands are German so the heavy metal scene there has inspired me a lot.

– You’ve been a member of HammerFall since the start in 1993… What does it take to keep the band extremity alive during all those years of Metal Glory? And what has metal meant for you personally?

♦Oscar Dronjak: I think it´s the same ingredients that brought us to the music in the first place. We started in a period when this kind of music wasn’t so popular and to be a little cliché, we have heavy metal in our hearts. So we started this with passion and a life long passion for the music. We didn’t exactly wake up one day and said we should start HammerFall, this is the music we grew up on and wanted to take to the next level. When you look at it in that point of view, we never thought about writing hits or letting labels or other people tell us what to do. It has always been our vision and never the labels, producers, and promoters.

So what you hear on our albums is directly from us. Since we love the music so much it´s easy to get back the inspiration when it´s time to record and write new songs. Coming down to it, I write songs that I like and feel good about, that’s always been criteria number one. When writing a new song and record I always cool down for a couple of days and go back and listen to it. If I don´t get the feeling then I change some things. This is how to keep the passion alive in the band.

– HammerFall has been very successful with Nuclear Blast for almost 20 years, and last year the band have inked a deal with Austria’s Napalm Records… How essential has it been to record the album from the hands of Napalm Records?

♦Oscar Dronjak: We weren’t angry or unhappy with Nuclear. But the thing was that we felt they took us a little for granted. We asked for a marketing plan and we didn’t get the response that we needed, and we felt like who wants to be taken for granted in any relationship. So we started looking elsewhere and even when it was time to sign the deal with Napalm. We didn’t feel like we’re gonna do it because we’ve been with Nuclear for so long and become such good friends. It was a difficult decision, but we felt it was the right one for us.

When we signed with Napalm Records it looked like Napalm did 20 years ago, a young and growing company. That´s why we did it and keep the things fresh and not roll in the same tracks. They don´t have so many bands, which is both positive and negative. But they are hungry and we don´t get lost under the shovel. But record labels today aren’t as important as they were 20-30 years ago. Today with all the promotion channels it´s easier for new bands. Of course, you need them but they are not everything today.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

– The band’s latest album, ‘Built to Last’, is a great selection of quality songs and a unique sound. This is definitely old school HammerFall with a fresh approach… Who writes the music and the lyrics, who’s the producer?

♦Oscar Dronjak The music and lyrics are like all songs, written by Joacim and myself. I write the music and sometimes I also write the chorus lines so they fit the title. Then Joacim takes over and writes the vocal melodies and the rest of the lyrics. The process had been the same since ´96, of course, we had Jesper back then also. Normally Pontus is a little more involved, but he didn’t have so much time for us on this album.

– What’s the best part of music making process to you? Is it the songwriting, recording songs and videos, playing live shows?

♦Oscar Dronjak It’s absolutely NOT records music videos, it´s a lot of waiting and then you just go up and perform to a 100% and then wait again. To be honest I think it´s the live shows, the interaction with the audience and you get the immediate response. You see it in their eyes and I have been there myself. I watched my favourite bands so I know what they are feeling. And that´s the greatest feeling for me as an artist to be able to give that to somebody.

Live shows are for me easy, of course, you have to perform, but it´s easy for me because I love it so much. At live shows, you always do your best for your fans. And another thing for me that I really love to, is when writing a song and going back listening to it and I feel that this song is so great, that’s also an amazing feeling. After 10 albums now, it´s a great way to show yourself that you still got it and haven´t lost your edge of writing music. I love writing songs and have it come together.

– What is the main difference between ‘Built to Last’ and the previous HammerFall albums? How the recording process has evolved from album to album? And how do you feel the band’s musical approach has evolved over the years?

♦Oscar Dronjak: It depends on what producer we’ve had. For many years we had Charlie Bauerfiend, with him basically booked a 2 months recording session and had every song finished when we got there. The last 2 albums we’ve done it differently. We recorded the bass, guitar, drums and some backing vocals in our own studio, Castle black studio. It´s a house on my property that we have turned in to a studio. It works very well as a studio, it´s all wood panels, so the sound bounces very well there. Of course, we save money on recording costs, but we can also record when ever we want and as long as we want. It creates a very relaxed atmosphere when we record.

And Pontus our guitarist has produced the album himself, he is very good recording and with all the technical things. We also have the famous producer Fredrik Nordstrom from Sweden, that´s been involved in all the steps. But he has been on a more consulting basis and oversees the production. We set all the sounds together and we start recording, then he can go to his own studio, but he is always involved even if he´s not there on a daily basis.

Joacim doesn’t do the vocals here, he works with people he trusts and feels comfortable with. He found James Michael, whom also produced our Infected album, that`s how Joacim got to know him. For a singer, it´s very important that the person you work with can make you perform and relax enough so you can hit your high notes or whatever needed to give a 100%. The way they work together is really great, a real symbiosis.

I can tell by Joacim how he respects James Michaels opinion and how James Michael is great to make people feel comfortable. He’s also great at boosting people and really brings out the best in Joacim. That symbiosis when they work together is really the key to our latest albums, apart from the music itself is the way Joacim performs. We have performed a lot and we are not getting younger, but Joacim is getting better and better every year. That´s also a big factor to the fresh and powerful sound on the latest albums.

And not to forget the mixing part by Fredrik Nordstrom, he is such a brilliant guy at that job. So the two latest albums have been recorded like this. And we’ve gone to Los Angeles to record the vocals with James Michael, Joacim has liked it that way. Because he has no disturbances and could focus 100% on his singing. And this process has really paid off in every aspect. I’m really happy with the results, it sounds really good.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

– How do you think the Heavy Metal scene has changed?

♦Oscar Dronjak: It has changed a lot, the biggest change was from the 80´s to the 90´s and the introduction of the CD. It made pressing and shipping so much easier. The home studios, were you can produce album in your basement. On the other hand album sells less and less, which means that you have less money to produce an album. I don´t know if it goes hand in hand or the result of downloading and streaming. Spotify is a great service in a lot of ways, but it doesn’t pay like an album sales would. It´s very user-friendly and it´s great for the listeners, but not so great for musicians. We need to put food on the table, but it´s great to reach out to people.

But talking about Metal music, the fans are more loyal, so the metal album sales has not declined as fast as the pop artists. The metal audience wants the physical album. And we record a full album and not 3 songs, from start to finish like it was in the days before. I remember when you bought a Vinyl or CD album and you always read the everything on the inner-sleeve/booklet. I still do but not that often.

– Your first guitar? And which was the first rock/metal (CD, Cassette, Vinyl) album you bought?

♦Oscar Dronjak: My first guitar was an acoustic to see if I liked it. Then I rented an electric guitar a Les Paul copy for a couple of months. Then I bought my dream guitar, a Randy Rhodes type V-guitar, and Vinnie Vincent had one. This one was a used Ibanez and costed in that time about 140 £. I was so insanely happy when I bought it and still have it, I actually recorded ‘Glory to the Brave’ on that and it´s used in the videos. The first album I bought when it came out was Twisted Sisters ‘Stay Hungry’. But first ever, could have been an Accept or Judas Priest album, I don´t remember which one was first.

– There is always a reason to aim and fight for something. What are you fighting for with your Music?

♦Oscar Dronjak: For independence and to be able to do what you wanna do, because you love it. And not what anyone else says what you should do!

– When can we hear HammerFall live in the UK and where?

♦Oscar Dronjak: We actually have nothing planned for the UK right now, we did HammerFest earlier this year. We were supposed to do a UK club tour, but the promoter wasn’t interested enough in that. If people want to see HammerFall or any other band, they need to engage the promoters and let them know. Bands don´t decide where they wanna play, we put together a tour and then we see if there are any promoters interested and believes in this.

– Thank you for taking the time out for this interview, Oscar! Few words to all the Metal heads around the globe…?

♦Oscar Dronjak: Thank you for taking the time to do this. And thank you to the fans for their tremendous support and receiving ‘Built to Last’ so well! ‘Hammer High’ is one of my high points on the set-list every night, you can see people really get into it and that makes me so proud, so thank you for that and I hope to see you live on stage in the next couple of years!

More information at:
www.hammerfall.net
www.facebook.com/hammerfall/

Editor: Toni Rock
Reporter & Photographer: Jörgen Rasmusson