They are dressed in olde tyme military costumes and play catchy power metal anthems about immortal heroes like General Lee, Wyatt Earp and Napoleon. You know we’re talking about the reb soldiers of Civil War. It all began in 2012, when four talented Swedes left Sabaton to start their own brand of war-themed musical goodness. Today, they are a thriving formation with three albums under their collective belt. Their latest creation, “The Last Full Measure”, was released a couple of months ago through Napalm records. Chock-full of infectious melodies, the record was well-received by fans and critics alike (for our review go here). Grimm had the opportunity to catch the band live during the third show of their most recent European tour.
A lot of people came to De Kreun in Kortrijk that evening, in part because Civil War brought along the excellent support of French heavy metal pioneers Nightmare and the up-and-coming Athanasia from the USA. A few hours before they were to go on stage, we had a lengthy chat with four of the band members. Drummer Daniel Mullback and guitarist Petrus Granar indulged our more serious questions, while second guitarist Rikard Sundén formed a comical duo with new singer Kelly Sundown Carpenter, known for his work with Adagio and Beyond Twilight. Check out the interview if you want to find out more about Civil War’s newfound thirst for touring, the departure of Nils Patrik Johansson, writing about history and the legacy of the Sabaton years.
Recently, your singer Nils Patrick decided to leave the band. What’s the story on that?
Ricard: Just before Christmas, he dropped the bomb. It was the same day we announced this tour actually. Definitely not the best timing. At a time when festivals usually book their bands, standing without a singer is not a good thing for a band.
Daniel: We really want to play more live shows. It’s very important to get our name out. Patrick said he didn’t have the energy to do that. So we parted ways.
Luckily, you were able to find a new singer very quickly. What are your ambitions with the band, Kelly?
Kelly: A while ago, they contacted me to ask if I was interested. I already knew some of their songs. When I checked out the others, I really liked them. Very accessible, catchy music. So I said: let’s do it! We’re going to do some good stuff together.
Is there a difference between your voice and Patrick’s?
Kelly: I have a different voice tone and a different delivery. A different kind of power also. But I’m not planning to change up the music. We have a lot of fans that really love the existing material. So I choose to be faithful instead of hijacking the songs.
Let’s talk about your music. Do you guys sit comfortably within the European power metal genre?
Petrus: When growing up, we listened to a lot of power metal. Nowadays, we listen to all kinds of music. So I guess you could call us power metal, but every song has its own character. A good song is a good song.
And how do you write a good song? Can you describe your typical songwriting process?
Ricard: Usually, one person comes up with the idea of a song. Our keyboard player, Daniel Mÿhr and Petrus (the other guitarist) have done that in the past. Our former singer Patrick wrote a lot of songs as well. Of course, all the band members contribute to the arrangements before the songs are recorded. I can do my own thing on guitar, but I don’t want to mess up the entire composition.
You write guitar solos as well?
Ricard: Some of them, yes. Petrus is really our guitar wizard. When I write solos melody is the most important thing. It has to fit with the song. If you’re going to shred, you have to do it with style and taste. Not for the sake of it. That’s why Yngwie Malmsteen, Randy Rhoads and Gary Moore are my favourite guitar players of all time.
I’ve noticed you don’t have a permanent bass player? You guys work with a backing track in live situations?
Kelly: (humorous voice) our bass player is invisible, he doesn’t have much personality on stage.
Ricard: Yeah, he’s the only one who doesn’t fuck up the songs (laughs) . . .
Kelly: . . . he comes in a can (more laughter).
Ricard: No seriously, what you hear on track are the real bass lines that Petrus wrote.
Who comes up with all those war-related lyrics?
Ricard: Patrick is really into history, so he was writing all the lyrics. I always found it very interesting, even if I’m not so well-informed about all the battles that took place.
Kelly: We already have certain songs that are not just about war, but perhaps in the future, song topics could become even more diverse.
Daniel: When people come out to see us, they expect war-related themes. It would be suicide not to do at least some songs about war. In any case, it makes sense to write about that stuff. War evokes powerful emotions. It is something everybody can relate to.
Will it be a challenge to write new historically-themed lyrics, now that Patrick has left?
Petrus: I am always thinking about writing new music. That includes new lyrical ideas. I actually have a history book with me on this tour. I try to read something new every night. Yesterday, it was Russian history. Truly powerful stuff. I think it’s really inspiring to have a great story from history. My songwriting usually starts with a riff or some tiny bits of music. Once I come up with the main lyrical idea, it can affect the whole composition process.
So you’re not planning on dropping those civil war costumes any time soon. Kelly being from Texas might add to your mystique as well.
Kelly: That might be true (laughs). American history was greatly shaped by the Civil War (1861-1865). Actually, my family was involved in the subsequent civil rights struggles. They were really supporting the black community in the effort to fight segregation and oppression. A lot of them were from Mississippi, so it was pretty controversial what they were doing.
What does the future hold for Civil War?
Ricard: Right now, touring is our first priority. It’s really all about promoting the band.
Kelly: That and drinking beer (laughs). We go for the whole package.
There is also a downside to touring, something Ricard and Daniel experienced during their time in Sabaton.
Ricard: It’s great to tour, but you need a break from time to time. We all have our lives and families at home.
Daniel: I’m proud of the Sabaton years. Everyone thinks it was hell for us back then. But I really have no problem talking about that period. It is true that we left Sabaton because of the heavy touring schedule. We were playing up to 250 shows a year. Leaving that band was definitely the right call for me. I wouldn’t be here if I had done otherwise. In the end, I was so drained I didn’t play drums for half a year. I really needed a break in order to move forward. So I’m happy where I am right now. Everyone is in fine form and the new guys are doing perfectly. The future looks bright. We are writing a totally new chapter and I know it will be good.