I tell you what - this interview was not meant to be at all. Due to the fact that HammerFall arrived to raise the hammer in Moscow's Tochka club it was supposed that a press conference with the band is a possibility. However, it turned out that organizers were extremely talented and experienced people in the business and promised to organize personal interviews with the band. Originally it was told that only Joacim (Cans, vocals) or Oscar (Dronjak, guitar) will be available for 15-minutes interviews. But upon arriving at the club I was proposed to choose between any member of the band. Certainly Anders Johansson was the most natural choice - he's the most experienced musician out of the whole band and, though many HammerFall fans are too young to remember that, Anders used to rock Moscow almost 20 years ago. We also tried to extend the barriers of a typical music interview and talk about more natural issues… but hey, read on to find out!
MetalKings.com: Hey, Anders! It's great to see you back in Moscow almost 20 years later!
Anders Johansson: Thanks! It's been a real trip, very mysterious. No rock band from the West played in Russia at that time and Yngwie J. Malmsteen's Rising Force was one of the debutants. We stayed in Moscow, I think, for 3 weeks or so.
MetalKings.com: How can you compare the city of the late 1980ies with the one you see today?
Anders Johansson: Oh, Moscow is extremely different. It's totally another city. I remember that we lived in the Rossia hotel and walked to the Inturist hotel bar to dine over there. We walked through the Krasnaya Plo…. how is it pronounced in Russian?
MetalKings.com: Krasnaya Ploshchad', the Red Square.
Anders Johansson: Yeah, we walked through Krasnaya Ploshchad' and we all wearing jeans or leather pants. And many people were coming over to us, pointing to our clothes and asking to sell them. Of course, we didn't have extra pants at all! But it was very shocking to see all that.
MetalKings.com: I can hardly remember those times since I was in my early teens but parents told me that even good food comparing to the Western one was hard to find. Dieter Bohlin of Modern Talking visited Russia in early 1990ies and had to call his secretary to bring over the food he used to eat in Germany.
Anders Johansson: (laughs) Yeah, that was exactly the case! In that Inturist hotel bar all we could find was sandwiches and Champaign. We were drunk the whole time we were in Russia strolling through the hotel and the city like zombies. (laughs)
MetalKings.com: Can you tell me how you got into the Malmsteen band in the first place. Did you play together in Sweden before he moved to America?
Anders Johansson: I can't say that we played together in a band. You see, the scene in Sweden was relatively small, we all knew each other. Europe, Easy Action, 220 Volt, Yngwie, we were all familiar with each other. At some point I got in the band with Yngwie, we met in a music store and decided to jam together. But it didn't work out and we separated, we didn't play any live shows at all.
MetalKings.com: And then Yngwie went to America and soon you were playing together.
Anders Johansson: Yeah, that's right. I think he wanted to be in a band with Swedish musicians so that the communication between members could be easier. He couldn't feel comfortable enough with Americans due to the mental difference.
MetalKings.com: Anders, what do you think is the reason why musicians from the 1980ies including Yngwie were taking drugs and drinking alcohol so much? Is it the pressure of constant touring or any other problem?
Anders Johansson: Basically I guess it depends on the person. Of course, in case with Yngwie all the people around him like record executives, fans, and friends were always telling him that he's a god, that he's the best, and we're just hired guns. I can't tell you exactly but he could have believed in it or maybe he wasn't sure of himself enough. So drugs and alcohol maybe gave him and other musicians the power to believe in themselves. I took a little drugs and drank much but never got lost in the ozone.
MetalKings.com: After those concerts in Moscow the long-standing Rising Force line-up split up. What was the reason for such dramatic events?
Anders Johansson: We were just too tired. We literally lived on the road all the time or recorded albums. Also Yngwie was a star in the band and he told us how he wanted the instruments to be played. But when Joe (Lynn Turner, vocals) joined the band we suddenly had two stars and their egos were so big that they could hardly stand each other. The aura in the band was too heavy at times. Also I personally wanted to take a break from the scene for a while due to personal matters. I got married, I had two small children, and wanted to devote my time to their upbringing.
MetalKings.com: What is the situation with you family now?
Anders Johansson: It's much easier. The boys are about 13-14 years old and when I tell them that I have to play in Moscow with HammerFall they are cool with that. It's easier for them to understand nowadays why dad is not home at times.
MetalKings.com: Anders, I really loved your drum solo on the "Live In Japan'85" video during the song "Anguish And Fear". It was amazing to see a teenage drummer playing so hard and so professional.
Anders Johansson: Thank you very much! Man, Japan was like our second home. It seemed like we never left Japan during the whole time with Yngwie. In the early days of Rising Force we used to play much smaller places than this club (Tochka) but it got bigger and bigger with every tour. Japanese fans still remember me and I have lots of friends over there since those wild times.
MetalKings.com: In the 1990ies you released a couple of solo albums, "Shu-tka" (1992) and "Red Shift" (1997). They are totally impossible to be found anywhere. What kind of music was it?
Anders Johansson: Not long and boring drum solos at all! (laughs) Those albums were very experimental, I made drum beats on tables and other things like chairs or lighters and whatever else. I also played on solo albums of my brother, Jens. They were less experimental that my solo outputs, more in the fusion key, especially the album "Fission" (1998).
MetalKings.com: You also had a band called simply Johansson and released three albums ("The Johansson Brothers" (1994), "Sonic Winter" (1996), "Samurai" (1999)). And you had Leif Sundin as a singer, who later joined Michael Schenker Group and also sang on a John Norum album. How did you find him?
Anders Johansson: I think we saw him in some bar. He was the singer in Great King Rat, band that released the self-titled album in 1992, and we just saw him playing in a blues or rock'n'roll band in a bar in Stockholm and asked him to sing on those albums. After our band he went to join Schenker and Norum. He was a tough person to deal with, very heavy drinker. He was always late and almost always drunk and it was extremely hard to cope with him.
MetalKings.com: How do you see HammerFall? Is it a team or not?
Anders Johansson: Well, it depends on what you consider to be a team. Yes, we are a tight band, we are together, and seem to be all for one. However, you cannot avoid the fact that Joacim and Oscar are the band founders and they are the most important members of HammerFall. They make most of the decisions and take care of most of the issues within the band.
MetalKings.com: Why your name never appears in the credits to albums then?
Anders Johansson: It's because the riffs I submit mostly get rejected by Joacim and Oscar. They say that one riff sound too much like Accept, another is too much Van Halen, another is too much this and too much that, and that they already have a song like that for the album. So after a while I decided not to get too involved in the songwriting process. If they want to be the main songwriters, I'm OK with that. I just like playing rock'n'roll and touring the world with a successful band, that's it.
MetalKings.com: Recently Joacim broke his hand while practicing taekwondo.
Anders Johansson: He stopped practicing at all, he's not good at that. Oscar also did it for some time and he now thinks about quitting too. I personally still take taekwondo lessons and have one belt before the black one.
MetalKings.com: Is it the brown one?
Anders Johansson: No, no, you confuse it with karatedo. In karatedo the brown one is the one before the last one but in taekwondo the red one goes before the black one.
MetalKings.com: HammerFall recently recorded a song for the hockey team involved in Olympic Games. Are you a hockey fan yourself?
Anders Johansson: It was not my decision, Joacim and Oscar were responsible for that. But yes, I like hockey.
MetalKings.com: Did you play as a teenager and do you still practice?
Anders Johansson: Well, of course, I come from a northern country and I tried to play hockey when I was a teenager. But I wasn't strong and motivated enough to do that so I stopped. Currently I just watch hockey on TV once in a while. I remember that in the Soviet times your team was absolutely unbeatable. You see, music sometimes reminds me of hockey. In Sweden you have to be cooperative, you have to pass the puck to other members. If you try to win as an individual nobody would want to have you in the team. I think the same thing used to be in the Soviet team. Also Japanese people seem to be extremely cooperative.
MetalKings.com: Yes, you're absolutely right, Anders. Japanese people are very together and they always do things collectively. It goes back to their history that a sports team or a village or a company is only strong when all people cooperate with each other and do everything to win together instead of competing with each other.
Anders Johansson: I always saw it in Japan and I think that's the reason why all our nations - Russians, Swedes, and Japanese - are so together and so strong in sports.
MetalKings.com: I'm also highly interested in the fact that almost all albums of HammerFall come out in special editions. For example, "Crimson Thunder" came out in a comic book version as well while "Threshold" was released on a double-CD with the "Natural High" EP. Who comes up with such interesting ideas?
Anders Johansson: That's totally up to the record company. The comic book for "Crimson Thunder" was created by Joacim and Oscar, I wasn't involved in it at all, I don't even understand the concept of the story. I think it's mainly done to boost sales of an album and also for those fans, who collect everything from HammerFall.
MetalKings.com: I was very much surprised when Magnus Rosen announced his departure from HammerFall. Of course, he has two solo albums but I don't really think that it's a good reason to quit such a successful band like HammerFall.
Anders Johansson: Yes, you're right. That's not a good reason. He had other problems. First and foremost, he's a real Christian. And he is not just a believer like maybe we all are - he lives and breathes it. That's why the whole concept of the band and many ideas coming from Joacim and Oscar were quite alien to him and he was frightened with their attitude many times especially on tour. He was also much more careful and nice that other members of HammerFall, so it was mainly a clash of personalities, I guess.
MetalKings.com: Anders, hope it won't take 20 more years so see you in Moscow again! Have a great time and looking forward to the show!
Anders Johansson: Thanks a lot! It was a pleasure talking to you! Enjoy the show and have fun too!
Special thanks to Alexei Kuzolev for the perfect organization of the interview and for letting us talk for the whole hour.
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