Sunday, 9 March 2014

Interview with JB of Grand Magus

Grand Magus are one of the finest heavy metal bands in operation on the planet today. Invoking the spirit of classic Priest, Grand Magus have shifted over the course of their career from dusty retro rock through doom and finally into rip-roaring traditional heavy metal.

Themes of war, individualism and historical glory make the band as metal as they come. I have been a fan for over ten years- first seeing them supporting Orange Goblin at the Bradford Rio way back when. JB, owner of one of the finest metal voices is perhaps the front running heir to Dio's throne- he also plays a mean guitar. Fox and Ludwig make up the rhythm section and show that the power trio lineup is alive and well in the frozen North. In an effort to expand upon the aural treat that is their latest opus “Triumph and Power”, I threw some questions out to the band. What follows is the result:

(SL) Congratulations JB on the new album, the general consensus is that it is a combination of the best aspects of your previous records. Was there a conscious effort to write concise and powerful songs with hooks?

(JB) Thank you. Yes it was a conscious effort, but that has been the goal since we started I think, it’s just that we are more accomplished writers now. We’re better at shaving off the excess fat, you know?

(SL) How does the writing process usually occur- do you write riffs and then set melodies to them or the other way around?

(JB) It’s a bit like sculpting or painting with oils in a sense. Not in a sense that it’s fancy in any way not being pretentious here, haha.), but process-wise. It usually starts with riffs and then with melodies on top of that. But once you start doing the melodies, they take on a life of their own, so you tweak the riffs or chords to suit the melody, and sometimes you go so far away from the original riff or tempo or mood that you have to split the idea into two separate songs. It’s back and forth really. Like when sculpting or painting in oils you put on and take away in several steps and your vision of the finished piece seldom appears right from the start, it takes shape slowly and gradually.

(SL) The progression from your first record has been continual; through the doom of “Monument” to a more traditional heavy metal approach on “Wolfs Return” and “Iron Will” etc- how much did what you were listening to at the time influence what you ended up writing?

(JB) It’s hard to pin down, but I remember that around WR me and Fox were really tired of the doomy stuff and instead were very much into Scandinavian black metal and I definitely think it rubbed off on that album. For IW I guess we didn’t really think about what we were doing style-wise anymore, we just did what we did. That’s been the modus operandi ever since. Personally, my music listening is very much a phase thing, sometimes I don’t listen to music at all, sometimes I only listen to Priest or Saxon, sometimes only to death metal etc. This has an effect on what we happen to write at that time, because we are 100 percent honest with our music, which is why all our albums are different.

(SL) What bands and albums were you listening to during the writing of Triumph and Power?

(JB) I think I came off a Saxon period before writing it, haha. During the writing, absolutely nothing. There’s no room for musical input at that point for me.

(SL) What made you want to start playing music and when did you learn?

(JB) Ritchie Blackmore was the reason I wanted to start playing guitar. I guess I was 14 when I started. I listened a lot to hard rock and metal from a very early age since I have two much older brothers. All the classic bands like Purple, Sabbath, Rainbow, Alice Cooper, AC/DC, Uriah Heep, Whitesnake, Nazareth etc. etc. Then in my early teens I got into Venom, Bathory etc.

(SL) The hooks on the new record are very strong but it is very much a heavy metal album (no sell out!). Do you feel that having traditional vocals gives you a greater range in terms of song-writing and performance?

(JB) You mean instead of growling? Well, I mean for the type of music we do it would be very strange not to have “traditional vocals” I think. I’ve honestly never reflected upon that aspect before.

(SL) Triumph and Power has a very live sounding production (the drums sound like drums, the guitars have a real bite to them). Did you direct the production and mixing towards this feel?

(JB) Yes. Haha.

(SL) Grand Magus has a signature bass sound- courtesy of Fox- how does he get that distorted tone?

(JB) It’s a dark reflection of his sunny disposition.

(SL) Is Ludwig still playing in other projects as well as Grand Magus? (I saw him play an excellent set with Firebird a few years ago...)

(JB) Ludwig still plays with Spiritual Beggars but that’s it.

(SL) Do you ever feel the need to express yourself in other musical forms- in different styles of music or even other sub-genres of metal?

(JB )Not really, haha.

(SL) Your imagery often includes the wolf- in what way are wolves significant to the band?

(JB) I’ve been fascinated by wolves since I was a kid, their appearance, their social interaction within the pack and how the solitary wolf manages to survive, their hunting skills etc. It just felt very natural to adopt the wolf as a symbol for the band in a way. We’ve always gone our own way, driven by our instincts rather than what others are doing, you know?

(SL) Do you get involved with the art for the band’s records?

(JB) Absolutely. There has always been a conceptual involvement from our side when it comes to the artwork, but we’ve also given the artists freedom to interpret what have suggested.

(SL) How much has Sweden/Scandinavia influenced the band’s sound?

(JB) A lot. Fox and me grew up in a part of Sweden were the traditional music, folk music is very prominent and strong and I think it made a big impression on us both. The nature was also a very strong influence when I grew up and has continued to be the main topic in my lyrics in many ways.

(SL) Do you know if there will be any vinyl re-issues of your Rise Above records?

(JB) I don’t really know actually. There were releases on Metal Blade of our four Rise Above albums and I guess there’s a good chance they might come out on vinyl as well. We’ll see what the future brings.

(SL) If you could jam with any other band for one day, who would it be?

(JB) Manowar, haha.

(SL) What ambitions do you have left for the band?

(JB) To continue to write and perform better and better.

(SL) Do you have a favourite venue to play?

(JB) Hmmm… I have lots of great memories from many different venues all over Europe, it’s hard to pick out a certain one. We’ve played the Underworld in London many times, and it’s always been great, so I guess I’ll pick that one today.

(SL) Is it true that venues over in Europe often treat bands a lot better than they do here in the UK?

(JB) No. I wouldn’t say that at all. I’ve never been treated badly in the UK, quite the opposite. But I guess that the standard of the actual venues is generally higher in mainland Europe though. Depending on which level you are on as band of course. In the end, if a venue is nice or not is really not as important as the way you’re being treated by the people working there. Off of the top of my head I can’t think of a single venue in the UK with less than super nice people in charge. Don’t let anyone tell you differently, haha.

(SL) Which era of Judas Priest’s career do you prefer; ‘76-‘80 or ‘80-‘84 (You can have British Steel in either era!)?

(JB) First of all, I love them both. If I would have to choose, I’d pick 80-84 starting with British Steel. You can’t beat Defenders of the Faith, the best heavy metal album ever.

Words and Interview by : Richard Maw
Grand Magus will kick off their UK Tour from the 12th March 2014, so stay tuned for an upcoming live review.  In the meantime you can read our review here.  For more information check the links below.

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