HammerFall’s Oscar Dronjak Lives His Life Inspired by Dee Snider’s Lyrics
HammerFall guitarist Oscar Dronjak was the latest guest on Full Metal Jackie's weekend radio program in advance of the release of the power metal icon's newest record, Hammer of Dawn.
Most of the work on the record not only pre-dates the pandemic, but even dates back to the group's previous album, Dominion. For decades, Dronjak was not a fan of writing new material while on tour, but a stressful situation helped to change all that and it's been quite a positive move, not only in terms on song quality, but as a means of staying busy amid tons of downtime on the road.
He also spoke about his earliest influences and how Twisted Sister's Dee Snider helped provide him direction in life after he began to discover heavy music prior to becoming a teenager.
Read the full interview below.
The global shutdown was an opportunity for you to develop and record an album at a different pace. How did having unlimited time change the way you constructed songs?
I started writing songs for this album years ago, even before we recorded [2019's] Dominion. I was on a roll writing songs and I just had the creative urge to write some more. Our cover artist Sam [Didier] always says, "ABC — always be creating."
So, when the actual pandemic hit and everything shut down, I probably had 60 percent of the music written already, so I was in good shape. We had just come off a really successful European tour and we did the North American tour with Sabaton a couple of months earlier.
I just kept going over the summer. When I write songs, I need to be in a good mood. I don't need to be happy, but life needs to be good. If I feel content, that's when I write my best music.
For the first couple of months of the pandemic, I was in a good mood. As much as it sucked cancelling all the shows and everything that we had to do, there was nothing I could do about it. Why not look upon it as a positive thing? If you can find some positive things no matter how bleak the situation is, that gives you some optimism.
I don't remember when I had an interrupted summer at home with the family before because we were always going out [to play] festivals every summer. I treated it like vacation or time off from playing. It sucks. I can't be onstage, but I'm going to [make] the best of my time anyway and just enjoy myself.
It hit me at the end of the summer, when fall rolled around because it looked good at the end of the summer — things were loosening up and then everything shut down again. That was pretty hard on the creative mind because you don't have anything professional to look forward to. That was difficult to get that creative juices flowing.
The title track originated while you guys were on tour. How does the motion of the road help or hinder a creativity?
We've been doing this for 25 years now and we've basically been on the road the whole time. For every record, there's been a year or two or maybe three of touring and I always thought that, for me personally, I need to be home in my environment at home — in the studio or somewhere I feel safe and comfortable and don't have to worry about leaving next Friday for another festival. I realized that's not true anymore and maybe it never was.
For 20 years of Hammerfall, I wrote songs only when I was home and when I had the time to think about them. And then for [2016's] Built To Last, I was really behind on the songwriting and it was really stressful to go into the studio because normally we had the luxury of having six to eight months of a songwriting period. We didn't have the luxury of doing that anymore because we were constantly touring and I said it would never happen again. So, I actually started writing songs on the road. I always thought the results were going be mediocre, but it was the direct opposite.
I could use the adrenaline rush you get from being onstage and channel that into creative stuff. On tour you have so much downtime where nothing happens and you have to fill it with something good, so I tried it out and it's really fun.
I write some of my best songs on the road now. For example, "Brotherhood" and the title track on Hammer Of Dawn were written in in Cleveland. I began it in Cleveland on the North America tour we did with Flotsam and Jetsam as a special guest in 2018. It was called "Hello Cleveland" for the longest time, actually. [laughs] but then of course we changed the song title to something more appropriate.
HammerFall, "Hammer of Dawn" Music Video
You've called the new album a high point of creativity. Why do you think HammerFall is so fruitful with musical ideas right now?
We're in a good place since we came back from that hiatus we went on in 2012. We came back with an album called (r)Evolution in 2014 and since then we've been working together much more cohesively as a unit onstage and offstage as well. Everybody knows their role and everybody is working towards the same goal, which is really helpful. The success we've had since then has helped to bring a great mood into the band.
The second single, "Venerate Me," features King Diamond. What made him compatible with HammerFall and that particular track?
It's actually not "featuring" King Diamond, but it's more like a cameo — he's singing his famous trademark King Diamond voice on maybe 15 seconds of the song. It's not like it's a duet as much as I would like to have a duet with him one day.
This is basically just from us being fans of King Diamond. Since we were teenagers, we had a connection to him and our guitar player is also a sound engineer and he has been working with King Diamond live for several years. They know each other and we met him a couple of times as well over the years now, since they're working together. So Pontus [Norgren] just asked him [to sing on the song]. I said in the studio how cool would it be if King Diamond sang this part.
[We thought] that [it would] never gonna happen and then Pontus asked him and all of a sudden King said yes. I don't like to say it because I'd rather live on for a long time, but now I can die happy.
HammerFall, "Venerate Me" ft. King Diamond
You grew up listening to bands such as Twisted Sister, W.A.S.P. and KISS. How did that resonate with a Swedish kid despite the cultural differences of American bands?
KISS was the first band I discovered, so to speak. What is this hard rock kind of thing? I didn't really know what that was. I didn't have a lot of music in my life prior to that, just whatever you got exposed to, but KISS looked cool. Alive II was the first album that I that I heard or saw.
Back then, the cultural differences were huge, but I didn't know. I was only 10 or 12, so I didn't think of it in those terms. I just found music that I really, really like. It a factor, obviously, with W.A.S.P. — all the parents said, "No, no, no, no, this is something you can't listen to."
In Sweden, until the end of the '80s, we had only two channels available ad everything we had state run. They had these programs and one tried to single out W.A.S.P., probably because they had just had come out with the first album. That only made every teenager in Sweden check out W.A.S.P. to see what the hell they were talking about. It was forbidden fruit.
The videos for Twisted Sister — "I Wanna Rock" and "We're Not Gonna Take It" — were really big here in Sweden. Twisted Sister and HammerFall don't have that much in common musically. Although I have been inspired by Twisted Sister, more of the sound of HamemrFall is Judas Priest and Accept. But the spirit of heavy metal is all over the lyrics of Dee Snider.
If I have to choose one person that was the most influential in my life, except for my mom, I would, without hesitation say Dee Snider because Dee Snider came into my life at a point when I was looking for things, and maybe not consciously, but I was searching for an identity as we all are when we're 10 or 12. His words in the lyrics spoke to me so strongly.
It's weird because I felt like Dee Snider taught me to live my life according to my own rules on my own terms and make myself happy because nobody else has got give a shit if you're happy or not. More important than anything else, do what you want to do that makes you happy and don't give shit what anybody else thinks about it. That's what Dee Snider taught me. And that's how I lived my whole life since then.
Thanks to Oscar Dronjak for the interview. Get your copy of 'Hammer of Dawn' here and follow HammerFall on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Spotify. Find out where you can hear Full Metal Jackie's weekend radio show here.