"I Eat, Sleep, and Breathe METAL!"
Johan with Wolf Hoffmann after a recent interview, June 2014
Today I'd like to introduce you to Johan Jakobsson, ACCEPT Ambassador from Sweden, and by far one of the coolest guys I know. Johan is also a vital member of the Facebook group Accept Fans Worldwide and in the various fan communities. He's a music journalist for Hårdrock – UNT.se and a fellow audiophile with musical affinities and a sense of humor as eclectic as my own, so we never run out of things to talk about!
I can't recall if I first came to know Johan in 2011 through AFW or the Accept Forum run by Joe Schlared (http://accept1.proboards.com/), but I do remember that he, like many fans, was initially skeptical when he'd learned that ACCEPT had reformed with a new lead singer: “I was one of those Udo purists who wrote off Mark Tornillo without hearing him—not because he is Mark Tornillo, but because he isn't Udo. I feel ashamed saying that, but it's the truth.” He joined the forum in February of that year, and after telling a bit about himself, he added, “After much hesitation, I went out and bought Blood of the Nations and was blown away...I've had it on repeat since and I love it! I never thought I would say this about an ACCEPT album not featuring Udo on vocals. But there is not a bad track on this album! None!” He raved excitedly, “Tonight I realized that ACCEPT is playing a week from today in Stockholm, less than an hour from where I now live! So I bought myself a ticket...and next week I will finally get to see ACCEPT!”
As the year went by, Joe's forum and Accept Fans Worldwide (to name but a few fan communities) were buzzing with new members joining left and right, and all with lots to say in praise of the band's successful comeback.
Then April of 2012 came in with a bang: ACCEPT would release Stalingrad on the 6th to much fanfare, and Johan was among the fans especially enthusiastic about the new album. He hadn't been feeling up to par around this time though, and had figured he was just dealing with a typical cold or sinusitis. Within a few short days, however, he would be taken to the hospital in critical status. He actually sent me a message on the morning of April 6 from his hospital bed in Uppsala (yeah, I thought that was hard core, too!) telling me a bit of what was going on. He was in good spirits and had a very positive attitude, which no doubt helped him through the ordeal.
Recently, we talked a bit about his life leading up to that point and how he got through that period with the help of his friends and the magic of the music. He also shared what he submitted to the Acceptology project and talked about some of his experiences in seeing ACCEPT's shows and meeting the guys.
Johan, have you always been so crazy about music? What are some of your favorite artists and genres?
JJ: I come from a home that has always been buzzing with music, much to my mother's dismay (laughs). I grew up listening to my father's records: bands like The Stones, The Faces and Rod Stewart. I often asked him what the lyrics meant, and although he couldn't always answer completely I got the general idea. That helped me a lot in learning English. Then I discovered that he had some Deep Purple records. I was truly knocked out by Ian Paice's playing on Burn. 1992 was a special year. In school there was sort of a turf war between the juggernauts Metallica and Guns N' Roses, who both had released amazing records in 1991. Mind you, this was up in the dark north of a country that still was very much affected by the cold war! At the time I actually took sides with Guns. Although I enjoyed the hits on The Black Album my love affair with Metallica didn't really ignite until 1999, when the Swedish TV-channel ZTV broadcast live their performance from that year's Woodstock.
In 1993 another lifelong love affair began. The band was Aerosmith and I fell head over heels. I got Get a Grip as a Christmas gift from my uncle and spent most of 1994 rummaging through second hand record shops in search of their records.
In 1999 there was a big metal show in my little sleepy town. This was my first heavy metal show and on the bill were the late great Ronnie James Dio, Manowar and Motörhead. That was like an awakening and I just started searching for heavier music to get new kicks.
In May of 2001, DIO and Motörhead were back in Sundsvall. This time, they had a very tired RATT with them, but the headliner of the night completely blew my mind: the man was no other than Alice Cooper, and the show was the coolest I'd ever seen. I remember coming home in the middle of the night amped up on adrenaline, scaring my mother half to death when she saw me drenched in fake blood, thinking I had been in a fight. I explained to her I'd only been front row!
In March 2002 I experienced one of the coolest shows I've seen to this day. The only rock club in town, which had a capacity of 200-300 people had booked U.D.O.. Once again I was front row, and I can still remember the moment when Udo walked on stage in that helmet thingy with the laser eye. I mean, I'd heard of ACCEPT and I really liked them, but to hear songs like “Metal Heart”, “Livin for Tonite” and “Princess of the Dawn” live was insane. I guess this concert is part of the reason why I was initially on team Udo when Mark joined, but that's a whole different story.
I like a lot of different music, from classical stuff like Chopin, to Motown soul and country music too. But because of my profession, I usually end up listening to some type of Metal. I could go on naming bands forever, but acts like Metallica, Slayer, U.D.O., Machine Head, Mastodon and DIO pop up, and of course ACCEPT! We also have quite a few cool local bands like Watain, In Solitude, F.K.Ü. and Loch Vostok.
The armour of a true metal fan!
And what made you decide to go into music journalism? Was it an intentional decision?
JJ: It's pretty simple actually. I've always loved writing stuff like poetry and song lyrics and so on, and I've always liked music and Metal in particular, so I decided I'd give it a try and combine the two.
Well, that formula seems to be working! You know, when I first got into doing this myself—writing about artists and their music—you were one that I immediately thought of. You write well and you write from a fan perspective, which I think is important and also appealing to readers. You also have a great, easy rapport with your guests, which makes for good questions and interesting replies. How long have you been at it?
JJ: I've been doing this for almost four years now and loving every minute of it! I've met a lot of interesting people and made connections that I couldn't have dreamed of just four short years ago.
Who are some of your favorite guests and interviews, and why?
JJ: One of my very first face-to-face interviews was with Mille Petrozza of Kreator. I was so nervous I was literally about to crap my pants! He turned out to be a laid back and almost gentle person—nothing like his intimidating stage persona.
Bobby Blitz from Overkill was one of the most fun interview subjects. Our 20 minutes became almost 50 after another journalist had to call in sick. Blitz was also very welcoming, and it's impossible not to mention his legendary laugh. It's [so] enchanting—after you've heard it once you just want to hear it again and again. Luckily it's never far away.
I've done two interviews with the wonderful Ms. Doro Pesch, and she is one of the absolute most genuine people I've met. She radiates passion for what she's doing, and her soft spoken, almost whispering voice makes you really pay attention to every word. A true metal queen without any diva mannerisms.
Do you have any other passions or projects?
JJ: It may make me sound boring, but Metal is my passion. I eat, sleep, and breathe Metal, and it takes up most of my time.
Tell us a little about the area you call Home.
JJ: In 2002 I moved to Uppsala, which is less than an hour away from Stockholm. This made it much easier catching cool concerts! Uppsala is the fourth largest city in Sweden, home of the oldest university of the Nordic countries and also the seat of the archbishop. We have a very active Metal scene especially when it comes to Black Metal, with Watain receiving worldwide acclaim.
2011 was an eventful year for you as an ACCEPT fan. You were one of the skeptics when you'd heard that the band had reformed with Mark Tornillo as the new lead singer. But evidently he won you over immediately, because you were very generous in your praise of Blood of the Nations. And you had a few nice surprises later in the year too.
JJ: 2011 was a great year! I got to see ACCEPT twice, and got to interview Peter at Getaway Rock Festival in Gävle, Sweden. The interview was set quite a long time before the festival, and I had plenty of time to prepare. I decided early that since I've always looked up to Peter, and I knew almost everyone else would choose Wolf, it would stand out more to interview Peter. I was of course insanely nervous, but on a different level because this time I was not only a casual fan; this was a person who meant a lot to me. I remember that I showed him my Forum member pass. The interview is sort of a haze...
After the interview I did what I always do: I asked for a pick. Sadly, Peter didn't have one on him. That would in many cases be the end, but it wasn't. Instead of asking me to wait while he retrieved a pick (which would have been enough of a grand gesture), he told me to follow him, gave me a guided tour of the stage, and then found me a pick. Talk about going the extra mile for your fans!
Let's go back now to April, 2012. We were all buzzing about the release of Stalingrad, but we didn't see much of you around in the group (AFW) or the forum at that time. Something was terribly wrong.
JJ: I was born with a condition called hydrocephalus, which basically means that the cavities in the brain are too narrow for the brain fluids to flow freely. They put a shunt in my brain when I was four months old. A shunt is a kind of drainage system connected to a tube which runs down in my stomach. I've been able to live a normal life and never had any problems, which apparently make me kind of unique. In 1992 I had planned surgery to change the tube in my stomach, since I had outgrown the original one. Then came April of 2012. Around two weeks before Easter, I started getting headaches and feeling like my nose was blocked. I just figured I had sinusitis. However, I also got visual disturbances, which left me a little worried, but I didn't think too much about it. I went home for Easter to visit my parents but I really felt under the weather. The first night I fell asleep sitting on the living room sofa watching TV, which seemed a bit strange. I woke up the next day with a blinding headache. It was like nothing I'd ever experienced. It felt like my brain was out to burst out of my skull. I went to the emergency room and they couldn't find anything wrong with me until I uttered the magic word: Hydrocephalus. And before I knew it, I was on my way back to Uppsala in an ambulance. (In Uppsala we have one of the country's leading hospitals. This is also where I had my first surgery at four months of age.) Apparently the tube in my stomach had withered from old age and broken apart.
So this was a life-threatening situation! What went through your mind when you figured out it was likely the hydrocephalus that was causing this great pain?
JJ: Well, as I had figured it out before the doctors, I had time to prepare. I knew that it was serious and time was critical towards brain injuries and worse. But I can't say I was ever afraid. It was just something I had to do and that was it. Of course I had a lot of thoughts, but I just went straight into fighter mode.
What procedure did you undergo to correct the problem?
JJ: I had surgery to change the tube in my stomach. They didn't have to go into my brain this time, but were able to go in through the neck to the stomach, and that relieved the pressure in my brain.
One of the high points of every day in the hospital bed was reading the well wishings from the people at the Accept Fans Worldwide Facebook page. The personal well wishings from Peter Baltes and Mark Tornillo on there really touched my heart, and made me fight even harder to get well.
"This was taken the day after the surgery," says Johan. "I spent a whole morning shaving my head and chin, since I was left with a big bald patch in my hair and a small strip of beard after the surgery. The nurses were calling me stubborn for even being out of bed by then. Ha ha!"
The week after the surgery I was able to listen to music again for the first time since the surgery, however at a very low volume. The first piece of music I listened to was “Shadow Soldiers”, and the beautiful haunting melody brought tears to my eyes. Just a couple of days later, an ACCEPT show was announced for early November in Stockholm, which is 40 minutes away from me. It was like a sign: Here is your carrot, a goal to strive against.
After I was released from the hospital I had gone to my parents' house to recuperate. One day, I was well enough to be blasting the Stalingrad album—at full volume! I was at the stove cooking dinner when my mother came home from work. When I offered to turn down the volume, she just looked at me and said, “Don’t bother. It's still better than 99% of the music you listen to!” This was kind of a sign of approval from my mom who usually hates the music I listen to.
Did the surgery correct the problem? Have you had any more issues with this?
JJ: Yes, it did correct the problem. [Hydrocephalus] is treatable but it isn't exactly curable. But the shunt I've had since four months old is keeping it in check when it's working properly, and it has been since the surgery. I haven't had any more health issues because I've gotten quite suspicious when it comes to headaches, and I've realized I'm one of those who's lived the longest with the same shunt (32 years) so I do know it won't work forever. We'll see what the future holds. My condition isn't something I think about at all, really. It doesn't restrict my life in any way.
I'm happy that you are happily and healthfully carrying on unhindered with the passions that mean the most to you.
So what became of your attendance to the concert in Stockholm in November of 2012 ? Please tell us about your experience.
JJ: I got to interview Wolf on Thursday, November 1. I was nervous at first, but had gained so much experience that I could go into professional mode pretty quick. It was a very pleasant experience. Wolf was very attentive and energetic. He's also very funny and almost always has a smile on his face. We both seemed to have an equally good time. Afterward, it was once again a question of acquiring a pick, and Wolf told me he had brought extra because he knew people would be asking him. [But] the only one he had on him was one [belonging to] Peter! Ha ha!
But that made a good conversation starter with Wolf at the after show a couple of days later [on] Sunday, November 4. Peter had set me up with an after show pass (and a guest list spot, which I was grateful for but turned down, since I had bought my ticket the day they went on sale). I was extremely nervous about this not happening, but I was able to pick up the pass at the venue. There was no problem whatsoever.
The venue was quite small, which really helped building an intense atmosphere. The opening act, WOLF, did a good job, but the only thing I could think about was that it was time to see ACCEPT again! I was prepared for it being an emotional evening, but was caught totally off guard when the P.A. started playing the live version from Radio City Music Hall of Heaven & Hell playing the song ”Heaven & Hell” right before the show. This brought back a lot of memories for me as I'm also a huge fan of DIO and took his passing very hard; it felt like kind of a sign of this being a night of healing and comfort.
My eyes usually focus on Peter since he is such a force of energy on stage, but this time I caught myself focusing on Mark. He fits so perfectly in this band that I've almost forgotten that there was an ACCEPT before him (not really, but you know what I mean!) and I'm absolutely sure that there can't be an ACCEPT without Mark anymore. That is a big step for me since I was one of those who believed that there could never be an ACCEPT without Udo, a stubborn stance which made me miss both the show in Stockholm 2010 and the summer show in my place of birth, Sundsvall, the same year. This is something for which I will never forgive myself!
On with the show... I was smack dab in the middle, front and center. It was insanely hot but I kept rocking and singing along. My absolute high point of the night was “Shadow Soldiers”—not only because Wolf recognized me in the crowd and acknowledged me, but also because that song is so beautiful and is the essence of all that is ACCEPT—and of course it holds a deeper personal meaning for me. The set list was great with a nice mix of new and old songs, but as always we die-hards have our own favorites that we would like to put on there.
I've probably seen close to a thousand Metal shows over the years, and this was the absolute best I've ever seen! The after show was as I'd expected: the memory of a lifetime! I wouldn't say I felt star-struck, but it was a humbling experience. I've met Wolf and Peter before, but this was the first time that we were able to discuss personal matters. I usually prefer to take a step back out of respect, not trampling the band. I'm not saying that anyone did, but this is the way I am. I managed to jokingly tell Wolf that he still owed me one of his guitar picks (which was a reference to our interview a few days prior). I got one of Wolf’s own this time though. I introduced myself to Peter and he was so wonderful to me, taking a lot of time listening to my story and asking questions about my condition. I'm eternally grateful that we got the time to take a picture together too. Peter then introduced me to his lovely wife, Johanna, who was just as nice as the guys. It was a night I will carry with me for as long as I live!
Johan with Peter Baltes after the show in Stockholm, Sweden, November 4, 2012
Johan's knowledge of all the culture of his homeland and his naturally good communication skills made him an easy choice in the autumn of 2013 to represent Sweden among the ACCEPT Ambassadors.
“It is of course a huge honor! Sweden is a metal country and there are quite a lot of high-profile dedicated Accept fans. So to get this recognition is an amazing thing.”
In December of 2013, Johan had the opportunity to interview producer Andy Sneap, a major factor in ACCEPT's successful comeback. Johan recalls: “He was more than OK with talking about Accept, and it really shined through how much he has invested emotionally in this comeback. It’s not just another job.” As a long-time fan ever knowledgeable about the intricacies of their music and sound, the idea of producing a new album for the band had been appealing to Andy, as was perhaps the chance to massively prove the naysayers wrong. Andy explained to Johan how he knew it was risky to take them on, but he decided to follow his instincts (Blood of the Nations was met with positive reviews and took a solid place on the album charts. It was voted #1 Comeback Album on a VH1 poll).
He also spoke with Johan of plans to get together in Nashville with the band the following January to begin tracking for Blind Rage (due for release this August 15). Read the interview here: http://unt.se/blogg/hardrock/intervju-med-andy-sneap-2013-12-07/?blog=1473521&entry=2811151
It appears that at some point during Johan's interview with Andy Sneap, the two men compared their impressive beards...
Johan interviewed Wolf Hoffmann for the second time in June 2014. He stated that they had a very nice long conversation, discussing Blind Rage, a second chapter in Wolf's Classical library, and a few other things: http://www.unt.se/blogg/hardrock/intervju-med-wolf-hoffmann-2014-06-02/?blog=1473521&entry=3230906
Johan, you've mentioned a few of ACCEPT's songs that you really like. It sounds like “Shadow Soldiers” is especially meaningful for you. Do you have a particular favorite?
JJ: “Shadow Soldiers” is certainly ONE of my favorites. To pick just one is an impossible task. Lately I've fallen completely head over heels in love with “Dark Side of My Heart” from Blind Rage.
Well, for the rest of us who have had to wait, the anticipation really has us stoked. Just 9 days at the date of this post until the release of Blind Rage, but it has felt like an eternity! Johan was one of the lucky few who has already heard the album, and said “I'm finding new things to love about it every time I listen to it.” Johan added that the album evokes much emotion within him. “It sounds like modern era Accept, but the songs really have an old school feeling. There are several nods to the past both lyrically and musically and you can certainly hear that Wolf has brought out some of the old toys!”
So, Johan, do you have any plans to see the band during this upcoming tour? I think they've got three dates in Sweden for the month of September and two more planned for October.
JJ: The Stockholm show for sure! Hopefully I can make it to one or two of the other Swedish shows as well. We’ll see. Although the hardcore fans love the small intimate club shows, I would like to see Accept back at playing arenas in Sweden, because they really deserve it!
Johan, it is always a pleasure to chat with you from across the world! Many thanks to you for your time and patience. And all the best to you in life, health, and happiness. Rock On!
If you'd like to stay current on what Johan is up to, feel free to visit the following links:
Johan's section at ACCEPT Ambassadors: http://www.acceptworldwide.com/accept-ambassadors/accept-ambassadors-group1/sweden-forum12/
Johan's music blog: http://www.unt.se/blogg/hardrock/?blog=1473521
Johan's Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/unthardrock
(Regrettably, after extensive search, no links were available for the July 2011 interview with Peter, nor for the November 2012 interview with Wolf at the time this story was posted. If they can be obtained at a later time, I will include them here! )
Are you or someone you know a big ACCEPT fan? What's your story? I want to hear from you and how ACCEPT's music has a place in your life. Write to me at email@example.com.