Kickstarting their career in 1999 and releasing their first full-length album, ‘The Battle of the Ivory Plains’, in 2001, Sweden’s Dragonland have since released four more albums – their most recent being 2011’s ‘Under the Grey Banner’ – and have performed and toured across the world. Co-founded by and fronted by lead vocalist Jonas Heidgert, who originally created the band with his childhood friend, and until 2011, then-rhythm guitarist, Nicklas Magnusson, Dragonland has taken the power metal subgenre and made it all their own. Going on to release records laden with enduring symphonic elements, inspired progressive arrangements and compositions, and a magnificent blending of keys with traditional rhythm leads, Dragonland will this year embark on their very first Australian tour in September. Leading up to their tour, Overdrive had the pleasure of catching up for a fun and insightful chat with Heidgert.
After exchanging pleasantries, we got right into the thick of as Heidgert gleefully announced his excitement regarding the tour. It was as if you could almost see his wide smile over the line. “Well, if you could see me now, you would be terrified,” he jests. “I’m so extremely excited that I’m acting out like a psycho at work. Just counting down the days. It’s a fantastic opportunity for me, personally, just to be able to go to Australia.”
Given the tight schedule at which Dragonland is hitting the Australian East Coast’s four major cities, one could be forgiven thinking the bad mightn’t be able to sight-see. Regardless, his answer again was fortified by anticipation. “I really hope so,” he says. “Stu (McGill – Stormrider Touring Promoter and Organiser / Silent Knight founder and rhythm guitarist) promised he would try to show us some of the cool stuff. So, during the days, I suppose we’ll have some free time.”
Musing on what fans can look forward to seeing from a Dragonland show, Heidgert chimes forth with vigour, “Well, first of all, we’re rehearsing like crazy to make this the best we’ve ever done. It’s going to be the longest setlist we’ve ever played for any show, I think. So, everyone who will come see us will really get their money’s worth.” Not wanting to spoil any of the fun by revealing early which songs and from what albums may appear, Heidgert adds cheekily, “You’ll have to come see for yourself.”
Researching for the interview, one thing that struck me immediately were two bands who are set to open for Dragonland at their Melbourne show at the Croxton Bandroom. Both Eyefear and Black Majesty are Melbourne bands who have had long careers in Australia’s metal scene and have found good success along the way. I was curious as to whether Heidgert had heard of either of them before when the announcement was made that they’d be opening for Dragonland? “The only band I’d heard before was Black Majesty,” he reveals. “I’m not sure if I’ve heard any of their music but I will definitely check it out before we go, so I know what I have to expect.”
After recommending a Black Majesty song for him to check out, we dived right into one of the band’s most fascinating areas: the Dragonland Chronicles saga. Dragonland’s first two albums were our introduction to the saga, with 2011’s ‘Under the Grey Banner’ serving to wrap up a number of loose ends. One thing we do see with that album’s final track, Ivory Shores, is that Ilmarion the Islander is said to wander for the rest of his days. I pondered to Heidgert if that meant it possible that Dragonland will one day return to tell more tales of Ilmarion’s journey, on a new album perhaps? Heidgert proceeds to hum coyly a few times before adding, “Well, it’s possible. I can’t really say anything about it, but I think maybe one day when we pick up the speed on songwriting.” He elaborates, “We’ve more or less been working all the time, or to be more specific, Elias (Holmlid), our keyboard player; he’s been really occupied starting a family, a new job, that kind of stuff. So, it’s under progress, the writing. And probably, from next year, we will pick up the pace a little and try to finish what we’ve started. And also, Jesse (Lindskog – rhythm guitar) has started writing some songs which might become Dragonland songs. I can tell you that much.”
Across Dragonland’s five albums, the band has written some diverse material: ranging from traditional power metal, to symphonic, and then to the progressive range. I was curious to see what Jonas Heidgert would choose if he had to pick a favourite song from across Dragonland’s history or even one that meant the most to him. Thought sinks deep on Heidgert then as he ponders his answer. “Really, really difficult one,” he says. “Well, for personal reasons, I would have to say… Oh, Jesus… I would have to say In Perfect Harmony from the ‘Starfall’ album. I was kind of surprised the first time I heard it as the demo version. I was like, ‘What’s this? Is this us?’ with all the keyboards and stuff.”
Curious as to what made Dragonland want to go down that direction, tapping more into the progressive and keyboard side of things, I pass the question to Heidgert. “Well, originally, when I and my childhood friend Nicklas founded Dragonland, we were really clear about the idea: ‘Okay, we’re going to create this fantasy story. We’ll create two albums and the first one will just end in a bad-fashioned way where the bad guys win, and the second one will be a hundred years later and everything will be alright again.’ After we released ‘Holy War’, we were finished with that power metal-ish thing, or so we thought. So, we actually wanted to explore and see what else we could do. That’s when Olof (Mörck – lead guitar) and Elias got more involved with the composing. And they definitely put their mark on ‘Starfall’ and forward.”
Next year marks the twenty-year anniversary of Dragonland. It’s a rather special and incredible feat when you consider Dragonland has been able to craft something for themselves over these past twenty years, cementing their name firmly in the annals of power metal’s history. Did Heidgert imagine in those early years that Dragonland would still be here after two decades performing and producing music? “To be honest, no, I didn’t,” he affirms. “In the beginning, it was just a hobby. A fun project. Then it started getting more serious along the way, especially when we got signed for the first two albums. We didn’t plan to get signed for the two first ones. Suddenly, everything became serious, but I never thought we would hang on for, like, twenty years and still be going.”
Across the two decades that Dragonland has been performing, what has been some of Heidgert’s more memorable moments on tour, you ask? “One of the coolest things I’ve done was back in 2005, I think. We got a panicked call from our friend in England – I think she called us on a Thursday and wanted us over on Monday – and wanted us to support Yngwie Malmsteen in London at the Hammersmith Apollo. It was like, ‘Yeah, sure, we’re there, no probs!’ (sic). That was a really cool show. I think it was in Nottingham as well because Malmsteen’s support band had had some Visa issues or something like that. And then, of course, ProgPower was fantastic as well. The first time we went to Japan and we were so young, it was like, ‘Wow!’ It’s going to be cool to go back there as well, and see it with older eyes.”
Listening to Jonas Heidgert’s vocals, I often hear traces of Michael Kiske and some Tobias Sammet in there. I was interested to discover who some of Heidgert’s main vocal influences have been? “Michael Kiske, without a doubt,” he confirms, “and, of course, Bruce Dickinson. They are my two main idols. I tried to mimic them a lot when I started singing. (Helloween and Iron Maiden) was mainly the two bands that I listened to when I started out with music when I was 15 or something like that.”
Heading away from your standard interview fare, I ponder the question to Heidgert if he has ever tried his hand at fantasy role-playing games like Dungeons & Dragons? “Yeah, of course!” He answers quickly. “I grew up with the Swedish version. It’s based on the same system, so to speak, but it’s not the real Dungeons & Dragons. What’s it called in Sweden?” He thinks for a moment before answering, “Dragons and Demons.”
In Sweden, the game is entitled Drakar och Demoner and was first published in 1982 by the game company Äventyrsspel (Swedish: “Adventure Games”), which was later renamed Target Games. Instead of the acronym “DnD” (as Dungeons & Dragons is colloquially known by), Drakar och Demoner adopts the acronym “DoD”.
“It’s fantasy role-playing,” Heidgert goes on to say. “I still have all my stuff in a box back at home.” Prodding further, curious as to how old Heidgert was when he started, he explains, “I think I started with my childhood friends around 10 or 11 or something like that. We did it for three or four years. I also wrote my own adventures as a dungeon master and that kind of stuff.” What did a Heidgert dungeon-mastered game look like, I hear you ask? “Basically, the same,” he laughs. “Something happens and your characters are always sitting drinking in a pub, but then something happens. Somebody approaches and needs help with something and then it evolves into either a dramatic story or a very silly story. But it always ended up with a big pay-off in cash. So, very basic!” He chuckles. “No, it was good times!”
Musing further as to whether he had a preferred race to play as, Heidgert contemplates on it, “Mostly, I played Elf,” he reveals. “I liked the archery and that type of stuff. So, it was like wielding a dagger as a melee weapon and a longbow, and that’s how I play my video games, as well – if I play games like Skyrim. I’m replaying Oblivion right now, actually, and it’s all bow and sneaking. I like to shoot people in the back,” he laughs.
Dragonland is touring Australia for the first time ever this September. Grab your tickets via Stormrider Touring HERE! For those in Sydney, be sure to check out the FREE Meet & Greet event at Utopia Records on September 4th HERE!