I was recently given the opportunity to interview Johan Hegg, lead vocalist for Amon Amarth. Their new album "With Oden on Our Side" is gaining critical acclaim as well as charting all over Europe. Amon Amarth will also be touring Europe over the next month with Tyr and Wintersun. Not to mention, they will be direct support to Children of Bodom in the U.S. in December.
Cuchulainn: First and foremost, it's a pleasure to speak with you and thank you for doing this interview. May I say that I believe that "With Oden on Our Side" is the best overall album that Amon Amarth have ever done. How would you say this album ranks versus the rest of your album collection?
Johan Hegg: Well, the latest album is always the best, but we're proud of all our albums.
Cuchulainn: After looking at a few other sites and checking out their views on the new album, I'd say that album is getting the critical acclaim it deserves. Not to mention charting in Austria, Sweden, and Germany. How do you feel the overall response been (in the press and on the street) thus far?
Johan Hegg: It's been very good, and the high chart entry in Sweden was a huge surprise. We didn't expect that at all.
Cuchulainn: The musicianship on this album is amazing, more melodic but firmly planted in brutality as well. Would you say Amon Amarth wanted to make a more melodic album?
Johan Hegg: I think we gave the melodies a bit more space on this album. One of the key reasons for this is that our producer Jens really brought them out in the production without compromising the brutality.
Cuchulainn: This is such a consistent album in my opinion. Every song on "With Oden on Our Side" offers a piece to the overall picture of the album. How do you feel that everything "came together" in that way?
Johan Hegg: I agree. The whole process of writing and recording was very inspiring. The fact that we were able focus on the music a 100%, not having day jobs anymore, and to do this together as a band really helped getting the best out of every song and the whole album.
Cuchulainn: The vocals are so much improved from albums past on this record also in my opinion. To what do you attribute how profound the vocals are and how well they meshed with the musicianship?
Johan Hegg: We worked a lot with the vocals during the recording, and Jens really pushed me to the limit with it. I think all the hard work really payed off in the end.
Cuchulainn: Is there a collective favorite track of the band on this disc, or are you divided, if so which ones?
Johan Hegg: Not that we have talked about. Personally I have nine favourite songs on this album.
Cuchulainn: Just watched the "Runes To My Memory" video which I loved. Where was that shot and who was the director? How does you feel that video turned out? Are there any other songs you would like to make a video for off this record? (May I suggest "Prediction of Warfare"?) Sorry, go ahead.
Johan Hegg: The director is Bill Aestheti and we shot it here in Stockholm at Europa Studios. We did the shoot virtually working for 36 hours straight, and I think it turned out great.
We'll see what happens about a second video. We haven't really discussed it yet, but we have thought about it.
Cuchulainn: Speaking of videos, "Wrath of the Norsemen" is an excellent DVD. How tedious was the making of the DVD for the band as far as deciding what is in and what's out?
Johan Hegg: We had to go through all bonus material to see what to use, and that took quite some time, but otherwise it wasn't so bad. We just had some problems with the mixing as it was done in Germany and we couldn't attend, so there were some misunderstandings but everything worked out in the end.
Cuchulainn: Amon Amarth recently completed another Wacken Open Air festival gig. First and foremost, how was the show from your point of view? And secondly, how has Wacken changed over the years for Amon Amarth?
Johan Hegg: The show was fucking fantastic! We had Vikings fighting on stage and everything. The crowd was great, and I think we did a very good show. Wacken has grown since we first played there, and so has our audience. First time we played there we had about 15.000 people at noon, now there was about 30-35.000 people at the show at 2 a.m.
Cuchulainn: It appears that the entire month of November (give or take a few dates) will be spent touring Europe with Tyr and Wintersun. Then you come to the States for about a three week span with Children of Bodom, Sanctity, and Gojira. How did both of those tours come together? And what are looking forward to on each tour?
Johan Hegg: Well, the European tour is something weve worked on for a very long time since it is our headlinging tour. We were looking for two suitable support acts, and I think we found perfect ones in Tyr and Wintersun. The North American tour was offered to us a couple of months ago, and since we really had a good time touring with Children of Bodom last year, and were offered a direct support slot this time, we decided to accept the offer. We wanted to get over the "pond" as soon as possible after the album release so this tour was perfect.
Cuchulainn: I take it after these runs Amon Amarth will spent some more time in Europe. Is there another full U.S. tour on the horizon in 2007? Any other overseas travel coming your way?
Johan Hegg: We have several plans for touring, and we are definately coming back to the U.S. It's just a matter of getting the right tour offer.
Cuchulainn: I saw that Amon Amarth is letting the fans choose the set list for the upcoming European and U.S. tours. Who came up with that idea? And also, if it were up to the band, what would you play?
Johan Hegg: Well, that's the problem for us. It's hard to choose the set list for every tour, so we figured why not get the help of our fans. We will however try to focus on the new album of course as we are touring to promote it.
Cuchulainn: I'm sorry but I have to do it: Would Amon Amarth rather play to the European audience or an U.S. audience and why? Also which one do you feel is more receptive to Amon Amarth's assault? With that, would you rather play in a big, festival setting or the smaller more intimate club level?
Johan Hegg: Seriously, we enjoy touring in both North America and Europe, so the answer is both. I think metal fans on both continents enjoy our stuff, so the answer is both there as well.
Open air festivals are cool 'cause you get to play in front of a larger audience, but as you say a club show is more intimate and you get a better conection with the audience which is also cool. I guess I like both equally much.
Cuchulainn: Other than touring to support the new record, how do you feel the "state" of Amon Amarth is right now? How bright does the future look?
Johan Hegg: I think it's very good. We have a good vibe in the band, and we feel very confident with the new album. So I guess the future looks very bright right now, but we do have a lot of hard work in front of us.
Cuchulainn: I guess that will conclude my interview. Thank you very much for an amazing album and good luck on upcoming tours. Here's to hoping you do come back to the States in 2007, because the U.S. dates with C.O.B. are almost completely skipping the Midwest (except for the one in Detroit that I still might go to but thats quite a haul). Love to see you guys play Cincinnati or Columbus though, or Cleveland again (sorry had to drop the general Ohio plea in there). Thanks again for your time. Any final words?
Johan Hegg: Yeah, check out the new album, and see you on tour!
I'd like to take a moment to thank Johan Hegg, Kelli from Metal Blade, as well as fellow writers Tgod and Wayfaerer for hooking this up. 'Til next time, stay brutal,