Amon Amarth’s Johan Hegg: Why I Love MMA Training
Amon Amarth frontman Johan Hegg was the latest guest on Full Metal Jackie's weekend radio program. He spoke about the inspiration behind the band's latest album, Berserker, and revealed which song has shades of personal reflection masked by Viking themes. The singer, who practices mixed martial arts (MMA), explained what he loves about the training in the chat below.
Jomsviking, the last album, was a concept album with a story that dictated the lyrics. Not having a concept to follow with Berserker, what were you inspired to write about?
Lyrically, I had a ton of different ideas pointing in different directions, which was one of the reasons why we couldn't do it as a concept album this time as well.
We also didn't want to limit ourselves because it's only like it's limited with the lyrical content. It's also like you want the music to fit the lyrics, so you kind of have to force your inspiration in certain directions.
This time we just wanted it to be a real experience when it comes to inspiration, both musically and lyrically. We just try to make the best out of every idea that we have really and not be limited by what we're trying to achieve more than trying to write the best songs that we possibly can. So that was kind the whole mindset going into this album — we’re just trying to write right killer songs.
Amon Amarth songs are typically about Vikings, but sometimes those references are actually metaphors for something more personal. What's the most personal song on Berserker?
There's this is one song called the "Into the Dark," which is very personal to me — I’m not going to tell you how, but it is about personal growth. It's about the struggle that we all kind of have in a way that because we all kind of possess this dark side, right?
That [dark side] makes us do stupid stuff sometimes even though we actually don't really want to do that — we can’t help ourselves. [It's] a dark side that has to do with mental health because we all have someone in our lives struggling with some kind of a mental health issue. It's maybe a friend or relative, but there's someone there and I think mental health issues are really important to talk about because they're so stigmatized.
I got the main inspirations for that because I went to a Solstafir concert and the singer was telling the story before they played a song about a friend of him committing suicide. It showed how important that is for us to talk about mental health issues and I totally agree.
So I wrote a song about a person struggling with these inner demons and trying to do the right thing but every once in a while those demons would rise to the surface no matter how much he fights.
I realized that in many ways how the Norse god Loki is struggling to be a good person. But every once in awhile, he we will just not because he has this dark side too. It’s basically a story about Loki but it could be anyone.
Musically, the songs on Berserker have more dynamics. What did more diverse instrumentation allow you to do different vocally?
Well, first of all, I think there's a couple of segments here where I used clean vocals which I've never done before. We used it in a way to identify what comes after, so it’s not like the chorus is clean vocals. It's one part that really has clean vocals to give it personality that comes after it.
I experimented with phrasing and different things — how to find the rhythms in the songs. Otherwise, I think my approach was pretty much what I've done the past couple of records.
So I’m not going to say that music experimentation gave me a lot of new angles, but in a way, it did obviously, because when you do different stuff musically, you start thinking a little bit differently when it comes to vocals as well like how you enter choruses. A song like "She Wolf" has like three different chorus.
Amon Amarth are going to be touring the U.S. later on this year with Arch Enemy, At the Gates and Grand Magus — all Swedish bands. What will make a tour with your fellow Swedes so memorable?
First of all, I think these are all amazing bands. It's going to be one killer show. It's probably one of the strongest lineups that we've had touring the States.
At the Gates and Arch Enemy obviously are legends in the business; they've been around for years and they're great bands. Then Grand Magus are one of my favorite old school-styled heavy metal bands. It's a three-piece setting, they play heavy, groovy metal with awesome lyrics and they're a great band, so I'm really looking forward to having those guys along as well.
This is the strongest package we've ever bought on tour. It's going to be killer show each night and these bands are going to get the best out of each other. That's also a good incentive for us to have.
You started MMA training a couple of years ago. How has that clarity and functionality of that training adaptable to what you do as a performer?
Well, I'm not sure if it's adapted to what I do as a performer but it does keep me in shape. Most of all I do it because I think it's fucking fun. It's a great exercise, you use your whole body, you learn different techniques depending on what you're working on — grappling, wrestling, striking, kickboxing, Thai boxing, whatever you like.
There are so many things you train with in MMA. It's fantastic exercise and that’s loads of fun, so that's why I keep doing it. It was difficult at first because there's a lot of coordination going into it and I'm not that coordinated all the time [laughs].
Thanks to Johan Hegg for the interview. Follow Amon Amarth on Facebook, see their upcoming tour dates here and grab your copy of 'Berserker' at this location. Find out where you can hear Full Metal Jackie’s radio show here.
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