Joacim Cans was born on February 19th 1970 in Mora, Sweden, and Cans is his actual last name. In the old days the names of farms were used as a prefix to people’s names.
– So then it would have been Cans Joacim and a proper last name after that. I think it used to be Eriksson. A lot of people think I’ve taken the name, but why would I want to have “cans” as my artist name?
In a small town like Mora, most things revolved around skiing or ice hockey. The Cans family didn’t even have a stereo until Joacim was 7-8 years old.
– Music came into my life pretty late. 1981 I heard “Strong arm of the law” by Saxon and that was a musical revolution for me.
After trying out as a singer for local band Unseen, Joacim moved to Gothenburg with his mother after his parents separated. He was fourteen then. At this point he was a competitive swimmer at a high level. He maintained the swimming in Gothenburg but music was now competing for time and interest as he found a band to rehearse with. They wanted a singer but Joacim – who now thought of himself as a guitarist – brought his guitar. After a short time he was the only guitarist in the band.
– But I kept singing “for now”. It was like that in all of my early bands, I sang ”for now” until we could find a singer.
Joacim’s goal as a competitive swimmer had been set on Swedish elite, World Championships and the Olympics. But when he failed to reach the Junior European Championships by mere 36 hundredths, Joacim lost the passion for the sport and committed to music instead. After passing through a few more bands, during which he went back to singing, Joacim came to an unexpected decision.
– I decided to quit music. I was eighteen, so my career had been short but intense. I thought that I needed to something about my life and get a job. So I bought a candy store together with my sister.
Some years away from the music scene followed before Joacim got a call from a band that needed a singer for a contest.
– I was asked to sing on two or three songs, and that was it. This was the band which would later become Highlander and – later on – Lost Horizon.
At this point the candy store had gone down the drain and Joacim was working as a student assistant at a school. The turning point came when Mikael Myllynen (better known as Mike Moon) of King Diamond asked him to join his new band. Nothing came of this but it gave Joacim the push he needed.
– When he called me I decided to give music a proper chance. Nothing kept me in Gothenburg except for Highlander, who were active now and then. So I applied to Musicians Institute in Los Angeles in 1992.
He was accepted and after a year in Los Angeles he returned to Gothenburg in 1994. He was out of work and heavy metal was completely dead. Joacim kept busy in the music scene, though. Highlander were back together for some time and a stint as a singer in stoner band Mrs Hippie resulted in an album. That’s when the phone rang again. And again, the call was from a band that needed a singer for a contest. The caller was Jesper Strömblad (then in In Flames), the band was called Hammerfall and the contest was Rockslaget (“the rock battle”), a prestigious contest at the time. The band’s singer Mikael Stanne was off on tour with his regular band Dark Tranquillity, so they only needed Joacim for this gig.
– Actually, I had quit music again. But I thought that it would be OK to do two or three songs with them. I told a friend that if nothing happens with this, I’m out of music for real.
When Joacim came to the rehearsal room, a guy stood there playing a guitar lick. Joacim identified it as “Dorian Gray” by Stormwitch. The guitarist, Oscar Dronjak, looked up in surprise and that moment gave birth to a long and fruitful relationship. The contest gig was filmed and somehow the film ended up with the small Dutch label Vic Records. They promptly offered Hammerfall a record contract.
– Oscar, Jesper and I wrote most of “Glory to the brave” in less than three months and in November it was recorded and mixed. It was then that Oscar and I realized that this was too goof a thing to waste as some kind of side project.
The other members were in other bands, but Joacim and Oscar explained their intentions and asked the others to make a choice.
– And everybody disappeared. Instead, we recruited Stefan Elmgren on guitar and Magnus Rosén on bass. Patric Räfling played drums on the first two albums, before being replaced by Anders Johansson.
Now there was a band and an album. But just as Vic were about to release the album, Markus Staiger at Nuclear Blast happened to get a promo tape and Nuclear Blast bought the entire product. They set off a campaign befitting an established band and “Glory to the brave” entered the German chart at 38; then a record for a metal debut album.
– We were dumbstruck. Now we were about to embark on a tour, after only playing the occasional small gigs. We had played a bar in Mora and now were about to play the main stage at Wacken Open Air at eight PM. The goal was to sell 5000 units of the album. I believe we sold 60.000 units in four months just in Germany.
Early in their career, Hammerfall used to record cover songs by rather obscure bands. This helped bands like Stormwitch, Picture and Warlord get their careers going anew. In 2001 Joacim got a call from a band again, but this time not one that needed a guest singer for a contest.
– I was so happy I almost fell off the chair. It was Bill Tsamis of Warlord who called me! They were back together and about to record an album. He asked me if I wanted to sing on it!
He did. The album was called ”Rising out of the ashes” and was released in 2002. The same year Warlord appeared live for the first time ever, at Wacken Open Air, and Joacim was the singer for that show.
– But that was all. It was difficult logistically and at that time, Hammerfall was getting up speed.
Some people were annoyed by the sudden success of the band and there was some trash talk, even from other bands.
– Many of them have later admitted that Hammerfall opened doors for them as well. Heavy metal had basically gone out of existence before we came.
While some just sported anti-Hammerfall shirts, there were those took it a little too far. One evening at local rock bar Daily’s, one antagonist of the band spotted Joacim and felt severely provoked by that. He promptly decided to solve this inner conflict by smashing a beer glass into the singer’s face.
– I think I got 35-40 stitches and I was within millimeters of losing my sight. Most people probably don’t realize how this changed my life. After this, I became more reserved towards people I don’t know.
During the following tour for the ”Crimson Thunder” album, Joacim stayed in his hotel room for most of his free time.
– But I get so bored in hotel rooms that I almost go into anxiety attacks, so I have to do something. Then I get creative, and my solo album was born during that tour.
“Cans” was released in 2004 and offered heavy metal in the same vein as Hammerfall.
– But with more attitude. I could experiment a little more. And I had to get that out of myself, because I had so much aggression in me after what had passed.
In 2005 Hammerfall released ”Chapter V: Unbent, Unbowed, Unbroken” and the same year Joacim – for the first time – sang in Swedish with the band when they appeared in a celebration of “Melodifestivalen” (the Swedish qualification contests for the Eurovision Song Contest). They performed “När vindarna viskar mitt namn” (“When spirits are calling my name”) together with Roger Pontare, the original performer of the song in ESC 2002. The TV cameras took a liking to Joacim and he started getting requests for more TV shows. But in 2006, there were unexpected problems. Hammerfall had recorded their new album “Threshold” and the band started rehearsing for touring and release party.
– But when I sang over a certain note, my voice disappeared.
Joacim rested until the release party but the problem remained. After talking to a number of physicians, a polyp was finally detected on one of his vocal cords.
– Surgery was planned for early December. The tour was starting January 15th. After the operation, I was under orders to remain silent for two weeks. But everything went well and I actually think my voice is stronger after the surgery.
In 2008 Joacim got a question that would drastically change his status, at least in his home country.
– They called from “Körslaget” (“Clash of the choirs”) and asked me to participate in the very first season in Sweden. I accepted, provided I could do it my way. If I got to pick the songs and the choir members. I was allowed to do that and those were probably the best eight weeks of my life.
Not less so considering Team Cans won the entire contest. Now Joacim had put both himself and metal on the map. His original hometown Mora was renamed Cansas City for a short period and offers for TV appearances increased.
– This was my big breakthrough in Sweden. After this, I was offered to perform in “Rhapsody in Rock”, a rock show that was a big thing in Sweden for a number of years. Another big thing was when I was asked to participate in the celebration of the wedding of Crown Princess Victoria of Sweden.
A string of TV appearances followed, both on his own or together with band members. But these days, Joacim usually turns down the offers. In 2012 came an offer that he couldn’t refuse, though.
– I have always had this dream of acting or being in a musical. But I’ve never been able to set aside the time to do that. When I was offered the part of Dennis Dupree in the Swedish version of “Rock of Ages” Hammerfall had just decided to take a year off in 2013, so suddenly this was possible. It was the perfect part for me, a metal musical! But I had more of a speaking part than a singing part, and that was quite a challenge for me. You can’t go around calling yourself an actor just like that, I am very humble before that word. And now I was expected to act with people who did it professionally!
The year off from Hammerfall also allowed Joacim to record another solo album and to participate as a contestant in “Melodifestivalen”. With a pop song. In Swedish.
– I’ve always been fond of Swedish “vispop” (closely related to singer-songwriter music). During my teens I enjoyed several Swedish pop singers in that vein. And later on, the singer-songwriter Magnus Johansson became one of my favourites. When Hammerfall took a year off, I embarked on a musical pilgrimage. I wrote “Annelie” as a tribute to Magnus Johansson (Annelie is the female character in one of that singer’s most popular songs). Everybody expected it to become a hit song, which is why I brought it to “Melodifestivalen”. It didn’t perform as well as expected, though. Anyway, it was also on my new solo album “Nu kan mörkret falla” (“Now darkness can fall”), consisting of songs in Swedish and in the “vispop” genre. Those songs are about my youth. It’s my way of dealing with that period and the lyrics are much more personal and deep than the Hammerfall lyrics.
It also got personal when Joacim was one of the celebrity hosts for a jukebox radio show in Sweden, where he played and talked about songs with invited guests. For several years Joacim also found the time to visit his old school in LA to lead a workshop.
– And that developed into a kind of ambassadorship in Sweden for the school. I also lectured at “study abroad”-fairs, talking about my journey from the junior national swimming team to becoming the singer of one of the most popular metal bands in the world. It’s been a fantastic journey.
In 2016 Joacim began to feel that his solo album “Nu kan mörkret falla” hadn’t been getting a sufficient amount of tender loving care. Therefore he put together the band Joacim Cans & Mörkret (Joacim Cans & The Darkness), with himself on vocals, Magnus Holmström on key harp and Tomas Lindberg on guitar. The trio headed out on a short tour, armed with the songs from the album.
– We just did a few shows. But Mörkret has been with Hammerfall for shows at the Wacken Open Air and Bang Your Head festivals. We have a fucking blast when we play together!
That year the Rock of Ages ride also took a new turn, in the form of an arena tour in Sweden. Because of the rights situation they had to name it Rock of 80s instead, with partly the same music and artists.
– That was a dream come true. Number one: to sell out the Stockholm Globe Arena. Number two: to sell out the Scandinavium arena in Gothenburg. And several other arenas as well.
Around the same time Joacim got an invitation: would he like to do a Christmas show in his old hometown Mora?
– I asked what they wanted me to do. “Do what you want”, they replied.
Joacim laughs heartily at the memory.
– So I got the opportunity to write, direct and play the lead in a Christmas show. There was a bit of angst when I sat down to write it, but a month later I was done with the script, dialogue and music. It was a “jukebox musical”, though, so there was no new music.
The show was named Viva Mas Vegas. “Mas” was jokingly (for anybody who understands Swedish) pronounced as rhyming with “cars” minus the r. Joacim played the lead as a slightly more arrogant version of himself.
– It was a kind of homecoming, to get to do that thing in my old hometown. Then you have to raise the bar a and open up a little.
Speaking of his old hometown, Joacim is a long time fan of the local ice hockey team, Mora IK. He has repeatedly come to their aid and lately – when the team has had economic problems – it has been needed even more.
– I produced three t-shirt prints for them, with the Hammerfall mascot Hector in team colors. They were allowed to sell those t-shirts and keep all the profits. I also produced the “Mora IK For Life” logotype for them.
Since several years, the team is showing their appreciation by having the Hammerfall logotype on the boards in their arena.
He also participated in an evening for the team in March 2016.
– I called my close friend, as well as Mora IK fan, Per Holknekt (fashion designer and lecturer). So he gave a lecture. It’s very interesting to hear him talk about his life. After that, we gave a concert with Joacim Cans & Mörkret.
In 2017 Hammerfall went out on tour. For the first time in seven years they got the opportunity to tour the US. Something they more or less had given up on.
– And that was probably the funniest tour I ever did! We decided from the start to live in the night liner the whole time, avoiding hotels. The band grew stronger by going to the US and living together for some weeks.
Those weeks also gave Joacim a chance to explore two of his biggest interests: champagne and running.
– My interest in champagne was just getting serious at the time. Before that, I had tried my way through that world. Now I managed to draw Fredrik (Larsson, Hammerfall bassist) into it as well and we were going to attempt to taste our way through the American sparkling wines. Because they can’t be called champagne if they aren’t from that district in France. But 90% of them tasted like some sour Chardonnay that the producers had run through a Soda Stream and felt it was enough.
Another effect of the champagne enthusiasm was that Hammerfall, previously having released two whisky brands and one wine, became the first band ever to release a champagne brand. Joacim personally went to Champagne, France to be part of the process in manufacturing Templar Cuvee Joacim Cans 2008.
– Hey, we’re approaching fifty! We want to sit down to eat well and drink less but better. I am very interested in alcohol, but champagne is my trademark.
Joacim has also developed a penchant for ”sight running” when travelling around the world. It basically means that he runs until he’s lost. Or, rather, dares to get lost, in order to experience new places and sights.
– I always venture out in the city I am in, and run. Those runs can be pretty long. And if I lose my way, I can always conjure up a map in my phone. But it’s not so good to run about 14 kilometers on the same day as a show, where I will be walking between 6000 and 8000 steps…
Another good thing that happened in 2017 was when Joacim was offered an assignment: to fill in as a radio show host for Ian Haugland and Mic Michaeli when they went on tour with Europe.
– I have always liked the radio format and now I once again got an opportunity to be a voice on the air. I also got to bring in some guests, like for instance Tomas Wassberg (famous Swedish skier). Fancy that!
The next year brought Hammerfall to the US again. This time around, Joacim stayed after the tour with his partner and two friends to check off one important item on his bucket list.
– We drove by car on the legendary Pacific Coast Highway from Los Angeles to San Francisco and took the opportunity to go to the wine district in Napa Valley. There we got a proper lesson in American wine production.
That year came with another exciting offer for a television appearance. In the show “Stjärnornas stjärna” (“Star of stars”), Swedish singers from diverse genres compete with each other by singing popular songs, each week in a specific genre. Joacim was taken in as a coach and guest judge for the hard rock episode. And then did it again the next year.
– It was a lot of fun, and also good to be on the other side instead of competing. 2020 I couldn´t do it due to an illness, so Ian Haugland had to replace me.
Other than that, though, Joacim has appeared less on television lately, mostly because Hammerfall have been working more intensely.
– And I’ve come to realize that it´s thanks to Hammerfall that I get these opportunities. If I play my cards right, I can do some cherry picking.
Besides another season of ”Stjärnornas stjärna”, 2019 was mostly a Hammerfall year. The band released studio album “Dominion” and then proceeded with a lengthy tour, laying Europe and the US at their feet.
– We have built on what we had to begin with, and today Hammerfall are bigger than ever. It´s good to see that years of loyal service works. Today, we sell out reasonably big arenas. In Ludwigsburg, Germany, where the live album “LIVE! Against the World” was recorded, we had a crowd of 4000.
And then the Corona pandemic grinded everything to a halt.
– But I have to get out and perform. It doesn’t matter if it´s in front of 50, 500 or 50 000 people. It´s always as much fun, but in different ways. And I´ve read a fucking lot of books since the pandemic hit! The whole series about the emigrants, by Vilhelm Moberg, and the entire “Stadsserien” (“The city novels”) by Per Anders Fogelström. The latter grew under my skin a bit more, perhaps because I live in that part of Stockholm these days.
At the time of this writing, the world is waiting for the pandemic to go away, and the future seems uncertain. Joacim, who has recorded two solo albums in very diverse styles, doesn´t rule out recording a third.
– During one of the Hammerfall tours I decided to learn to play the bass. I’m a little jealous of bass players. They can party all night long and the bass still sounds the same the next day. So I started learning the bass and started the punk band Migrän (Migraine). The plan was to play songs by Björn Afzelius (Swedish singer-songwriter, deceased in 1999) in an oi! punk vein. I love oi! punk! It’s myself and Tomas Lindberg (Mörkret guitarist). Thomas Vikström will sing. But possibly he’s too good a singer? Perhaps I’ll let Per Holknekt do it instead. We still haven’t rehearsed; that’s also on my bucket list. But I do have some thoughts about releasing something under my own banner. We’ll see what comes out. I would love to explore the Swedish singer-songwriter treasure chest.
Thanks to his successful career, Joacim has been able to fulfill many of his dreams. But at least two remain.
– One is to walk the S:t Jacob pilgrimage. I’ve read everything by Paulo Coelho and “The Pilgrimage” was one of the first I read. I love being on my way to somewhere. It’s like the old cliché says: the goal is nothing, the road is everything. When you get there, you’re there. So I’d like to do a long walk. And I dream of training to be a sommelier, but I don’t have the time for it. It really takes a long time.
Author: Peter “Zendt” Bernhardsson.