Few bands can lay claim to being as genuinely, earth shatteringly rock ‘n’ roll as Grand Magus. One of the most powerful live acts on the planet, capable of dominating any stage they play on whether it be as headliners or support, their blisteringly metal-infused old school heavy rock is both deeply melodic and furiously heavy and if albums such as the mighty ‘Iron Will’ and recent masterpiece ‘the hunt’ have shown anything it is that Grand Magus are more than capable of living up to their live reputation in the studio, the albums both gloriously raw and yet sonically powerful.
Yet even the mightiest of beasts can suffer setbacks and, in the case of Grand Magus, the period between 2010’s ‘Hammer of the north’ and 2012’s ‘the hunt’ not only saw the band move from Roadrunner records, a trying enough experience in its own right; but it also saw drummer Sebastian Sippola (who had been with the band since 2006) compelled to leave the band as a result of the pressures of family and career. The decision as to how to replace Sebastian, or indeed whether to carry on at all, was discussed by the band and one can imagine that losing a member of a necessarily close-knit three-piece band must be difficult, but the resolution was close at hand. Ludwig Witt, who was friends with JB from his Spiritual Beggars days, decided to join the band, a decision which came as a relief to Sebastian who had left amicably and wanted nothing more than for Grand Magus to be able to carry on with the same passion and vigour as before, and with the mighty Nuclear Blast having signed them, the band could finally get on with recording the devastating ‘the hunt’.
SonicAbuse tracked down bassist Fox and new boy Ludwig at this year’s Bloodstock to find out more about the upheavals in the Grand Magus camp and the formation of one of the year’s finest rock albums.
It seems there was some uncertainty with Grand Magus this year what with Sebastian leaving and the band leaving Roadrunner. Was there ever a point where you took stock and wondered about the future of the band?
Fox: Well of course. When Sebastian announced that he wanted to quit, it was a big thing and me and JB had to think about how to, and if we really wanted to, proceed because it’s a big thing to find a new drummer and to keep it going. But we decided and we wanted to continue with grand Magus so JB did the talking with Ludwig and…
Ludwig: …twisted my arm…
Fox: Yeah! So we’re on the road again and I think it went really smoothly actually.
How did you end up in the band Ludwig?
Ludwig: Well obviously I knew JB since before because we played together in Spiritual beggars and we’ve kept in touch the whole time and he just asked me. He told me Sebastian was leaving and asked me if I was interested and I said yes and that’s pretty much it.
From the outside it seems like it must have been an uncertain time but then you listen to the record and it doesn’t sound uncertain at all – what inspirations powered Grand Magus through that?
Fox: I think… I think nature is a big inspiration for me anyway. I can’t really explain but it’s not one specific element.
One particular song that stands out for me is ‘Valhalla Rising’ which is also a big live number for you guys. Do you have any favourites from the album?
Ludwig: That one!
Fox: I have to say – that one to, it really works well in live situations.
Again, listening to your albums you have a very live band feel that stands in contrast to a lot of bands who utilise the power of the studio. How important is it to you to capture that rock ‘n’ roll feel?
Ludwig: I guess it’s important. We didn’t actually play together in the studio but it still sounds sort of live, but JB told me he did a lot of vocals in long takes. He didn’t just do one sentence and then put it all together. We did that with the drums as well so it’s not so much cut and paste everything.
Fox: We do songs that you can perform live as well. ‘Son of the last breath’ is a hard one because I played the cello, and I don’t really want to do that live but it worked out good in the studio.
How long did it take to get the album written and recorded?
Fox: It was written in November/December I think. Some of the songs were written even earlier in fact – last Spring – but everything went quite smoothly and quickly I think. The recording took place in February and in the end of February it was done.
Ludwig: yeah – we had about five days in the studio to do the drums and we did the drums in my home town and then we did the rest in Stockholm so I just did the drums and then we sent the parts to Stockholm and after that I don’t know!!!
What do you look for in music and what makes you excited?
Fox: for me it’s the energy and the live feel that you were talking about I guess, because I listen to a lot of records form the seventies and eighties and I think it’s a different thing because back then you had to play in the studio what ended up on the record which isn’t really the case these days and I think there’s really something special about those albums. It means you can actually tell they actually played in the studio and I think some of the editing and stuff they can do these days is very good too but it can also bring the life out of a performance on a record in a way and so… just energy and good songs I guess.
Ludwig: Good songs and melody is important for me.
Listening to ‘the hunt’ one of the things that stands out for me, and one of the things I think is important in any band is that it’s not just a collection of tracks but a record you want to listen to from start to finish – how long do you spend, having got the tracks down, sequencing the record – is it spontaneous or something you spend a lot of time on?
Fox: Actually not long, but the producer Nico Elgstrund, the guitarist from Entombed, he was involved in choosing the right order for the songs because, you know, when you’re recording it you’re kind of confused and you don’t know how it’s going to end. But I think he had a real feel for it and I think he was involved in the order of the songs.
The artwork is also very important – how much is the band involved in the presentation aspect?
Fox: I think we’re really involved – all of the previous albums we had different artists making every cover but this one was the same artist that did ‘Iron Will’, Arik Roper, so we were really pleased with his result before and I think it turned out really good. And of course we want to choose what’s on it. We don’t want the label to choose because then you never know how it’s going to look and it’s the same with every recording – we want to choose the songs, we want to choose the order, we want to choose the producer and the label will let us do it.
Speaking of labels you seem to have gone through a lot of changes and you’re with Nuclear Blast now, how did you end up with them?
Fox: They had been interested for a long time, even when we left Rise Above, so it was a smooth change. It wasn’t a big thing and Roadrunner they didn’t force us to… they just dropped us. I don’t want to get into business so… we chose to change you can say!!!
How does it feel to be back at Bloodstock after four years?
Fox: it feels great – I think it’s getting bigger and bigger! Hopefully it won’t take four years till next time!
Have you played many festivals with the band Ludwig?
Ludwig: I’ve done about ten I think – we did the metal fest and one in Germany so it’s about ten festivals I guess. But it’s a first for me at Bloodstock so…
And you’re enjoying it?
Ludwig: Oh yeah – it’s really cool.
Fox: yeah I was impressed with the crowd reaction because I think it’s a bit too early to play but you can’t choose always as a band. I was afraid that people would still be asleep but they were on their feet actually – of course, on the Friday not the Sunday – I guess Sunday morning is not a good time!
Any final words for your UK fans?
Fox: I just want to say thank you for the support and keep supporting us! Because we will keep playing anyway.
Ludwig: Thanks to everyone who came out to watch us at Bloodstock and making it a great gig.
Grand Magus’ excellent album ‘The Hunt’ is out now on Nuclear Blast. Read our review here.