Pontus Norgren (Lead & Rhythm Guitars) from Hammerfall
Just a couple of hours before their concert in Langen I had the chance of having a nice and relaxed chat with Pontus, Hammerfall’s guitar player in their tour bus. In about half an hour we did not only discuss their current tour and most recent album ‘(r)Evolution’, but also the merits of touring as well as the downsides of the music industry.
Reflections of Darkness [ROD]: So, you have been on tour for a couple of days now – how has it been going so far?
Pontus: I have to say that this tour has been very smooth. We had great shows, I think, and so far we had nine sold out shows. We just came from Spain and Italy, and it’s been fantastic everywhere. Everything works with the band, the crew – everything runs perfectly and smooth.
RoD: I noticed that you have a lot of shows booked, especially in Germany – where the distance between some cities is not that big.
Pontus: Yes, I think that Germany is our market and has always been. When we planned this tour, we saw on the ticket sales that it worked very well. So the booking agency said it was going to work, and of course the sold out shows helped us as well. Surely, some shows are rather close, but still, a lot of people are coming.
RoD: Speaking of sold-out shows: tonight’s gig is not sold out, but what are your expectations towards it?
Pontus: I am really looking forward to it; it is always good in this territory. And it’s a great, nice venue.
RoD: Since you mentioned that you just came here from Spain, where you played sold-out shows as well: do you see any differences regarding the audiences of different countries?
Pontus: Of course, HAMMERFALL has always been very territorial. I mean, Germany and also some Eastern countries work very well for us, but there are also some places where I think we might not be heavy enough. We are still doing more melodic Metal, where some might appreciate growls and so on. That’s why I think it becomes a little bit territorial. Of course, there are differences between the countries, but also between regions. Being really long in the business, I can see the difference. In the past, I played with the Poodles, which were more melic, and when we came to Northern Germany, it did not work at all, but when we played in the South, our melodies worked perfectly. And this is more or less the same everywhere you go, even in Sweden – the South appreciates more melodic stuff. I do not really know why [laughs]. Also relating America – of course, its big cities there, and we always had great audiences there. But when you come down to Texas, they really want heavy music. Maybe it is because Texas is so damn big, but it is hard to find good places there and attract a lot of people. Somehow, it has been bad there for us, I do not know why. If we go up north, and also to Canada, it works perfectly. And South America is amazing, they are crazy [laughs].
RoD: Relating America, I heard and read in other interviews that it is getting harder and harder for European bands to tour there, with certain tax issues. Does that affect you as well?
Pontus: Tax issues have always been a hard thing in America, it is worse now than before, with all the paperwork’s and stuff. I was just on tour with King Diamond last year in North America, and they have the same problem. Luckily, King himself lives in America, so they could make use of companies in Northern America and so on. But it is not only America – Italy is worse than ever, it is so corrupt when it comes to tax issues. And they want to have a part of everything. So in the end, when bands cannot tour any longer, it is just because everyone else wants a piece of the cake, all the time. That’s the same in nowadays record business. And if it comes to the next level, when you cannot make money out of touring or selling records, then everything is going to be very weird. And of course, through the years, it has been very luxurious to be on tour and make money. But when you go back in time, you could buy a ticket for 5 Deutsche Mark, or 2 pounds, it was like so cheap. But they did not need to make that much money by selling tickets, they went out to promote themselves. Nowadays it is really hard. I understand both sides of the industry. For instance, when bands pay to play – that already existed in America during the 80s. And if this is going to be the future, then the live sector might die as well. You see theatres and operas struggling as well, but they still get some money from the government. Otherwise, those would be gone a long time ago.
RoD: I mean, pay to play is rather common nowadays, unfortunately, especially if smaller bands want to support a bigger band.
Pontus: Yes, but back in the day, bands got a record deal, where tour support was also included, which was in turn paid by selling albums. When I was on tour with the Poodles in Europe in 2007, with Hammerfall and Krokus, instead of getting money from the record company, we got 1,000 CDs we could sell. In the end, we came home with nothing. It is really hard.
RoD: You already touched upon CD sales – your recent album ‘(r)Evolution’ just came out last year, how well was this received?
Pontus: It was fantastic, because we came into the UK charts for the first time ever. We were also 4th places in the selling charts in Germany, and first place in Sweden. Our audience are grown-ups, they have jobs and money and they want to buy the CD. We actually sell CDs. Of course, regarding digital sales, those are two different territories. We also have Spotify, which is also a promotion for new bands. If they can make some media around themselves, then they can get a lot of cliques, which might make you famous without making any money. But then you have to try to sell the album, which is hard.
RoD: Do you also see vinyl records as important for you?
Pontus: Vinyl is definitely coming back, because it is still a different listening experience than Spotify. More and more people are asking for it.
RoD: It is not always grown-ups who appreciate this.
Pontus: I have a vinyl player at home as well, so if I play my old DEEP PURPLE, it is just amazing, when you hear the cracking of the needle and everything. You have to clean it, it sounds better and it is also a different technology compared to CDs.
RoD: CDs are already compressed, and Mp3s even more so.
Pontus: Yes, you definitely miss on the ambiance that you can feel.
RoD: Could you imagine CDs coming to an end at some point?
Pontus: Oh yes. You can also give out digital data which are not compressed, so in a certain way, some media-players might work like a vinyl player as well regarding the quality. Without the crackling of course, but you can get an uncompressed sound as well. You can get some sort of the ambiance back. Nowadays, everything is so stuffed and loud. Also, I think that the kids listen to music in a different way today.
RoD: Nowadays it is probably more consume-orientated, you have so many bands you might want to listen to, and back then it maybe was more special.
Pontus: With iTunes and so on, it is not a digital album you buy- it is only a single song, and if you just like ‘Hector’s Hymn’, you buy this track, put it on your iPhone or whatever, but then you don’t get the whole thing. Also with A and B sides – the flipping created a certain suspense or expectations. Nowadays, you can skip the tracks you don’t like.
RoD: When you create an album, do you have some pre-fixed concept before you start writing the songs?
Pontus: We usually have an idea. And when you start to work around this idea, every song becomes a part of the whole. On ‘(r)Evolution’, we were thinking about the whole history of HAMMERFALL and how we could include everything, so that is In a sense the revolution of Heavy Metal, but also an evolution, a history of what HAMMERFALL is – we are warriors in our revolution. I do not know what the next one is going to be.
RoD: Since you say that you want to combine everything that is HAMMERFALL on one album – do you still see a way to move forward? Or do you evolve within your style?
Pontus: I think that is the revolution-thing, because HAMMERFALL is HAMMERFALL and sounds in a certain way, but evolves in a certain direction. But it is always taking it to the next level. If you are on tour after an album, new ideas come along. We are doing our revolution in an evolution, sort of [laughs].
RoD: Speaking of new ideas: do you already have concrete plans as to what is going to happen after this tour and when you will release a new album?
Pontus: A new album will be in the making early next year, I guess. We will do a couple of festivals, 15-20, or more 15. We haven’t been to North America with this album, so we will try to arrange something to go there for a mini-tour or so. Of course depending on the tax-thing we talked about earlier.
RoD: Just before the interview, you told me that you visited Frankfurt today. Do you always go around before a show and try to see places?
Pontus: It depends on the weather, of course. But after all these years of touring, I have to say, we have done the party-thing, hanging out at the venue, nowadays, we try to go up early and do something, see something. This time, it’s been a lot of museums, three-hour walks, for instance, in Madrid, we just walked around and just ended up in a museum about the Tsunami, it was a Sunday. Even If you have been to Stuttgart several times: this time, we just walked around, took the tram and ended up somewhere we have not been to yet. So, it’s good to open your eyes.
RoD: I imagine being able to see places and visiting different places as the most interesting part of touring, apart from playing live.
Pontus: Yeah, if you have the time, even if it is just some extra minutes, I go out for a walk, even if it is just around the block. It is great, you have to do it, and so you do not get bored. It is always good to see as much as possible.