Interview with Dag “Hell” Hofer from Bullet
The original Swedish veterans of old school heavy metal released their sixth album, Dust to Gold, on the 18th of april. Stargazed Magazine called up vocalist Dag “Hell” Hofer to have a chat about the new album, LPs vs. CDs, differences between heavy metal and rock ‘n’ roll, musical conservativity and motor vehicle inspections.
Your new album, Dust to Gold, is very much classic Bullet.
We hope so! We’re not trying to push the envelope too much. Of course we’re doing our best, but heavy metal is what we like.
Does it get harder for each album to write songs that are true to your sound?
Yes. As you can see, this is the album that has taken the longest to make. We’ve been very caring this time! You always want the new album to be the best one you’ve ever done and so of course it gets harder and harder each time. When you make the first album you don’t have anything to refer to.
Is it the best album you’ve ever done?
I think so! I have said it before but I really think so.
Has every album given that feeling?
I don’t think so. Maybe when you send the album to print, when it’s finished, at that time there’s never been a feeling of “it didn’t turn out that great, but let’s do it anyway”. It’s never been like that, and I don’t feel there’s anything I would like to change when I now listen to this album, and I’ve listened to it quite a lot by now.
It’s taken four years to make this album. What caused this very album to take so long?
The recording, the vocal recording, and then the recording and above all the song writing have all taken much longer than earlier. We switched bass player in the middle of it all, kind of unexpected. But he’s a very good lyricist!
You’ve always kept a straight pace of about two years between each record…
Yes, I guess it’s the ambition. We’d rather release less albums and see to it that they are great than release more albums that may be a little too hastily made. The finished albums are gonna live forever, so we’re careful about that and don’t want to press too many ugly t-shirts and things like that either. We are quite sensitive about that, really.
What sets Dust to Gold apart from your earlier albums?
I guess it’s a slight return to heavy metal rather than rock ‘n’ roll, and that’s about it. It wasn’t any ambition to say “let’s write in this direction” or “it has to be more heavy metal”, it’s just what comes up.
How come it became a heavy metal-direction?
I don’t really know, it depends on what you listen to for the time being and what ideas pass. There are no band meatings where we say “this is what we’re gonna do” or “we’re looking for these kinds of riffs”. It’s just what turns out good, and sometimes it’s a little bit more rock ‘n’ roll and sometimes a little bit more heavy metal.
Your previous album, Storm of Blades (2014), was also quite heavy metal…
Yeah, it’s no style violation, but if you are to find a difference it’s a little towards that direction.
Did you listen to any particular music before making this album?
No, it’s just what we listen to on the tour bus and things like that. It’s not like we’ve found any new bands we got caught up in, it’s just what felt good at the time.
Do you have any favourites on the album?
Yes I do! Dust to Gold I think is nice, it’s a little different for us.
I too think Dust to Gold is the albums strongest track.
Yes, and that’s great!
And which ones do you think will become the great live favourites?
I’m not sure. Highway Love is of course kind of a little sing-along-song. Fuel the Fire too, and Aint Enough will definitely be played live!
How do you work when you create your songs?
This time we started out trying to meet every morning and work all day and really try to create, and nothing happened for months. When we realized nothing got done we loosened our strings and it turned out more like usual, putting ideas together at home. I have to be honest and say that I write very, very little. I help somewhat with the song melodies, but I don’t play any instrument really so I don’t deliver any riffs.
Does it usual work to get up in the morning to work?
(Hell thinks for a long time)
No. It has never worked and it didn’t this time either. We wanted to be diciplined and write fast and neatly, but it didn’t work. It went much slower than usual, and that’s why it all took so long.
How have you worked on earlier albums? Have you done it more like you ended up this time?
Yes, we’ve been away so much before. The last years we’ve been a little lazy, and I think a lot of ideas and riffs gets written while we’re away playing gigs together, and that part has suffered since we haven’t been around each other in that way. Earlier stuff did… not write itself, we put a hell of a lot of work into it of course, but it came a little bit more natural.
Don’t you ever get a will to experiment completely and do something like Judas Priest – Nostradamus (2008)?
Not really. We’re playing some troubadour-gigs with old swedish progg-classics, and i guess you get most of your need to experiment and make something completely different satisfied with that. And also, Bullet is Bullet, therefore it shall sound like Bullet.
Are you a little conservative in that area?
Yes, but it has never been any discussions. You can bring any ideas you want, but what passes is… Well, if we’re all on the same page at least it has the heavy metal sound to it.
So that’s where you all meet?
Yes. It has never happened, but if I were to come dragging a synth saying “doesn’t this sound cool, guys?”, a majority wouldn’t think so, so you have to purify yourself.
I even think I’ve seen you cut a synth in half with a chainsaw…
(Hell laughs out loud)
Yes, I think there was someone who tried to bring a synth up to the stage, but of course I always carry a chainsaw close at hand!
Do you think that your way of always holding on to your classic sound is what has kept you back from making it bigger, or do you think it is this way that has made sure you have been able to keep on going and kept you floating through all these years?
I can’t tell, really… Radio music swings so quickly. I still feel I can die and be proud of what I’ve done. There’s a hundred examples from the 80’s when it was hip to have these big synth-sounds, and I think a lot of the people who did that back then can now feel it didn’t sound all too great and has now grown out of the 80’s. But I really don’t know, others can estimate, we’re just gonna keep on going as long as there’s an audience, it’s as simple as that.
When you first broke out on the metal scene with Heading for the Top in 2006 it was quite unusual to have such and old fashioned sound like you had.
Oh yes! It was so passe it was close to impossible. Now it’s much bigger to have that sound. Back then it was almost the least modern you could do. But we’ve never been that modern. When you get down to it I honestly think the classic New Wave of British Heavy Metal-albums are the ones that sounds the best, so we don’t really have any amibitions to find another sound. If you like heavy metal I hope you’ll like what we are doing and if you don’t like heavy metal you won’t like Bullet anyway.
Were you criticized for your sound?
No, actually we didn’t. Thankfully the ones who like you are the ones you hear the most of, and since those are the ones who dig what we’re doing it’s mostly just love for us. We’ve been around a long time by now so at least we’ve gained ourselves an audience. In Germany, for instance, we have a faithful crowd.
Did you feel you had the last laugh when so many other bands has popped up with the same kind of sound in recent years?
Something like that, maybe. We’ve been up to our necks into this all the way since day one, and then it’s nice to see it become more popular instead of dying away completely.
Do you reckon yourselves as an icon for the retro wave that emerged a couple of years ago with bands such as Steelwing, Enforcer and similar bands?
We’re not sure we influenced them, but of course we were early to be doing this. It was very unique when we first played it, so it was always in the description whenever we played a festival that we were playing “that old sound that didn’t exist anymore”.
Did the retro scene influence your successes? Did you suddenly find yourselves “hip”?
Well, we’ll see about that. We’re gonna give it all we got now, and see how it turns out in the future. We’ve come quite far, at least. We can go away and play shows, and that’s what it’s about. We’re not millionaires, but I guess there are easier ways to become a millionaire than play music. I think it’s quite stupid to have as a goal to play to get rich and famous, then there no heart to it.
Can you do this as a living?
No, we can’t. We have done before, but it depends on your way of life. If you live in a trailer you can do it, but if you have a car and a home it’s hard when it’s only a buck once a year and you don’t now when.
A part of the retro movement is of course the festival “Muskelrock”, in which several members of Bullet is involved. Do you think this festival has helped to bring attention to the kind of music Bullet is playing?
Of course it has helped, but we were around long before the Muskelrock was born. I’d like to see it more like we helped Muskelrock than the other way around.
A big part of the Bullet sound is your characteristic voice. How did you discover you had it?
I think it was early on when we played Accept-covers, Hampus and me, and I was to sing a little bit more distorted, a little rougher. I thought it was really exhausting and my throat hurt, but then i found it getting easier the more I did it and it became less and less exhausting for the throat. Then it was just a lot of fun! We’ve often been compared to Udo and Brian Johnson and i guess it’s correct, but if you consider how many bands doesn’t have distorted vocals, and that’s a hell of a lot more bands, it’s all the more unique. You never hear somebody complain vocalists singing with a regular, clean voice to be all the same, so hell, I like it! I guess you can say, it may sound a little weird, but then it’s not just the music that’s heavy. Even if parts of the music is a little softer, at least the vocals are always in the heavy metal tradition.
What are your vocal influences?
Brian Johnson is really damn good and Udo of course, the guys that’s always talked about. But then there’s also the ones that hasn’t got that style. I think Rob Halford is a fantastic singer. Also Blackie Lawless is absolutely fantastic, he may be my absolute favourite.
Is there any modern music that influence you, besides the classic 80’s metal?
The others are a little more open to new music, but I find myself a little stuck in this. Each time you’re gonna put on some music and think to yourself what’s it gonna be, you always end up with a Judas- or Maiden-record because you know what you get and don’t have to strain. And that’s stupid, I almost wish I could be a little more open minded. Just as you wish others could be a little more open minded towards our music you should be open minded yourself, but I haven’t sorted that out really.
Can you name one record released since Bullet emerged that has really become an influence?
The others could probably line up lots of them, but it’s harder for me. Dundertåget was a fantastic band with “Skaffa ny frisyr” (2008) and all that. Maybe not super-heavy metal, but it’s sort of the newest best thing I’ve heard, and still it’s not really that new.
Do you make money on selling records, or do you earn your payments on tour?
It’s the live shows that does it for us. In Sweden you nearly don’t sell any albums at all. Mommy might buy one but otherwise it’s not too much. The germans are actually still buying, but it’s soon gonna disapear there too, I think. Then you’re gonna have to offer something extra. We have released everything on vinyl and at least I think that it then feels more like you’re buying something really special. I’ve ruined my old CD-collection I gatherered back in the day. They’re scratched, lying in the car, spreaded all over the place in the wrong cases, bundled in plastic bags, so it feels quite dead when it comes to the CDs.
Are you selling more vinyls than CDs?
The germans are still buying CDs but in Sweden we are selling considerably more vinyls than CDs.
The legendary Bullet-bus finally ended up on the album cover this time. Was the time right for that?
Yes, we thought it was the right path. It’s been 17 years now. Although no, we haven’t had the bus for that long, but that’s how long we have been playing.
Do you have problems getting it through the yearly motor vehicle inspection?
Well, it always passes the test, it’s easily repaired, but surely there’s always something to do with it. It’s a veteran, so therefore it applies to other rules, I think.
You’ve played with many big names throughout the years. Have you gotten any great fans among the great legends?
Not that super big, we haven’t really got to meet those guys, or at least not hang around with, maybe just bump into them if we’ve been really nice. But Paul Di’Anno got really into it, he thought we were wonderful on the gigs we did with him. It was quite a lot of years ago now, but he always used to have us hanging out in his loge and then follow us to the stage and check out the gig.
What’s the future for Bullet?
A long break was healthy, because we are incredibly eager now. So we hope now that we just can keep going, really.
How long will you go on?
Until someone of us gets old and dies.
Bullets new album Dust to Gold is availabe via SPV/Steamhammer, and you can catch the band live at Sweden Rock Festival and Muskelrock this summer. You can read Stargazed Magazines review of Dust to Gold here: