Raised Fist – ‘People get fed on what they want to see’

Words: Miljan Milekić

Being a teenager in the early and mid-2000s in Novi Sad, Serbia, and listening to punk rock and hardcore, there is a great chance one would feel like an alien. Or be looked at like he’s one. The band we loved coming to town was considered a miracle for how rare it would happen, while we were usually hanging out around one of the two skate shops the town had, with a few older guys who were working there, giving us stickers, and bootleg CDs with the music they loved. Two Swedish bands had a special place in our hearts, for a special reason – hardcore heavyweights Raised Fist, and skate punk powerhouses Millencolin. Ever since we learned that both Alexander Hagman (Rajković) and Nikola Šarčević have Serbian heritage, they became more than bands – they became an inspiration that some of us can one day make a career of the music we loved. Therefore, after all these years, I feel lucky to share a massive interview with Alexander, the Raised Fist commander, and talk about their amazing new album ‘Anthems,’ the way they approach their music, his martial arts career, and his growing up in Sweden as the second generation of immigrants from Serbia. Check it below.

Hi Alexander! First of all, thank you for finding the time to do this so close to the holiday season. So, you’re just back from your EU tour with Boysetsfire. So, how was it, are you happy with how it went? Unfortunately, I couldn’t catch any of the shows, but quite a few people told me it was a blast.
Alexander: Yes, very happy with it, because we haven’t toured in quite a while. We were a little bit ring rusty, you know, but it’s always like that when you have that long break, and then you rehearse for a couple of days and start with shows. But all these shows were sold out – very big club shows, so it was amazing to just jump right into the fire with this new album and everything in the back. So yes, pretty awesome.

It’s been a little over a month since ‘Anthems’ dropped, and it’s easily one of my favorite records of the year. Are you happy with the feedback so far?
Alexander: We’re very happy with everything around it. The response has been crazy – it’s only been out for a month, just over a month, and we have between three and five million streams on the platforms. I see that it’s very popular right now, and everything is just going crazy all over. So, we are happy with it. We were happy with it, of course, because otherwise, we wouldn’t have released it. We knew that it was a little bit extra this time, but you can’t know how everyone else would react to it. But on the other hand, we are making music for ourselves, so it wouldn’t have mattered if people would have hated it. It’s like sometimes you make a record that you want to do, and people hate it, but it doesn’t really matter. But we are lucky that people think the same way as we do. So yes, overwhelming support, overwhelming response, and even the critics had been with us this time. The stars are aligned.

I kinda knew it would be amazing as soon as I saw ten songs on it. In my experience, whenever I see ten songs, it means there are no fillers, and the band went all-in, holding no brakes.
Alexander: Yeah, that’s exactly how we approached this album. We are just going to make 10 songs, not more, not less than. And even if we got some like 70-80% feeling good about a song, we’re not going to put it in there. It’s going to be 100% or nothing. We did it from start to finish, and these ten songs are what we got. It feels like a very good package, and it holds together good. The songs are different in style but have kind of the same atmosphere throughout the album. It’s a rock, and rock and roll vibe throughout the album, but still, we have a little bit more punk rock in it, and hardcore is also evident. Maybe a little bit less metal. It’s a good concept, the whole thing. It feels good for this release. I don’t know about the next one, but for this release, it was a really good concept.

‘Anthems’ keeps the energy and aggression of the previous albums, but it still brings a different vibe and approach. Is there anything you did differently this time?
Alexander: Vocal-wise, I did it 100% differently. I mean, I spent a lot more time producing the vocal areas of songs. I wrote special passages, just to bring some more dynamics into it. Like a verse could be split up into parts, and then we had the pre-chorus, and then we had the chorus, and then we had like, something else there. I wrote specifically, not like I’ve done many times in the past, where I just wrote lyrics and just fly with them over the verses, and then there’s a chorus. Everything was built up, more block-wise this time, so it’s very easy to understand where you are in the song and go back to it. It’s similar to what I did on ‘Sound of the Republic’ on some songs, and especially on that song.

In a way, it’s pretty similar to that, but this time I worked so much more. I spent like double the time that I usually spend when I work on vocals. I had time, no stress, and I could sit down to write. I even rewrote songs. We even recorded one song, it was finished, and a couple of days after, I was listening to it over and over, I was like – no, no, we got to do it again. So we just scratched the whole thing, and I went to the hotel and rewrote the whole song, and then we recorded it again. I didn’t want to leave anything to the side, I just wanted to make everything perfect. So yeah, a big difference. I’ve put much more effort. I wasn’t stressed, and that’s a big part of it, I had the time to sit down and write good things. I produced the lyrics. I mean, I write the lyrics, but I also compose the melodies and the way of singing. If you have a guitar riff in the back, that’s one thing, but then you need to compose the hooks and everything on it to make this song “do or die.” So it’s kind of a big thing. People sometimes don’t understand that.

I mean if you have three chords, then you can have [sings chords], and it’s just three chords. But when Axl starts singing – “Take me down to the paradise city / Where the grass…” – okay, then you have a hit. You can totally make a three-chord thing, and if you make a new melody on it, then it’s a super-hit. So I really needed to sit down with these songs, to compose and really create these kinds of rhythmics, hooks, and everything on it, even the melodies sometimes. Yeah, it was just about time. If I get the right time in the studio, I will create something. It’s always been like that. It’s really nothing magic, and it’s not luck, it’s just time.

If I have the right time, and people are ready to wait for it, I’m gonna deliver some good hooks. I have this capability in my musicianship. I know how to do it, and I’ve done it in the past. Even with the fast songs like ‘Running Man,’ or ‘Get This Right,’ or ‘Dedication,’ there was always a hook in it. Mostly rhythmical, but always some kind of thing that puts the song down to it. Also, ‘Sound of the Republic,’ if you go back to that, there are some similarities with some hooky pre-courses, etc. So this time I’ve told the guys that I’m going to work, and it’s going to cost us because it’s going to be a lot of time in the studio. It was, basically, the biggest production that we ever made, money-wise. And it made the result. Sometimes you overdo it, yes, but sometimes you get exactly the time you need for it, and that’s what happened with this album.

It’s been almost five years between ‘Anthems’ and ‘From the North’ and six years between ‘From the North’ and ‘Veil of Ignorance.` Do you think that the period of five years or six years between records is what you need to make sure to make an album you want to make?
Alexander: I don’t think so. I think we can do a record tomorrow. Like, take ‘Venomous,’ for example. I wrote all the music and all the lyrics on it, it’s my guitar. I wrote these riffs, I think it was 11 years ago, so it’s a decade old already. And I have plenty of these. So if I make a record in five years, it might be riffs I had four, five years ago, or it might be something new. I’m always going for what suits the song, and then I find something old, or I make something new. And this goes with everyone in the band. I think we can make a record with 10 songs, we have enough material already, but it would be kind of similar. You know, I’m in the vibe right now in writing, where I make, kind of, the same vocal attacks. It would be like an Eminem album. (laughs) One just coming out, and then another one. It would just be the same. Like, okay, the first one was ten songs. Now, there are ten other songs, but they could have been on the same album, like 20 songs instead. So, you are partly right, when we wait, we get the natural distance.

It’s like being in a relationship with your girlfriend. If you end up in a good relationship, and you have been in a long relationship, you can’t find another one the day after, because you want it to be like that. So you need time off. Often, I’m not saying always, but often you need some time to reset and get everything flat, and then start being a better person yourself, so you could do it in a better way. I feel the same way with music albums. I have a relationship with ‘Anthems,’ we are in relationships right now. It’s about THIS right now, and this is the way we write music right now. This is what topics are right now. For example, on ‘Anthems,’ I wasn’t as political as I used to be, because of the current climate. One would think – okay, but there are more problems right now. Yes, and that’s why I don’t want to want to go so deep, it’s fucking too much.

You just open social media and you get left, right, blah, blah, blah… It’s so fucking polarized fight. And for me, it felt like I needed to come in with a more positive mindset than in the past. And I mean, for the next album, everything might be different. You need the time to think of new things to write about. You need time to get the experiences to write about. You need time to get the distance from the mold you were in, all these rhythms that you were into. I remember after ‘From the North,’ every song I wrote was like – poof – tat, poof-poof-tat, [singing drum beat] and like dodo-dodo-do-do [sings guitar melody] – like ‘Until the End,’ that was like my favorite song on that album. Like, every song I made was that beat. And I was like, fuck, I need to get away from these drums! It’s the same BPM, everything is just the same.

I also remember this from the ‘Sound of the Republic’ because ‘Some of These Times’ was a very good song for me. And every song I wrote was almost the same. And I was like – fuck! You need the distance to get a new approach, to get a new angle to be able to deliver something new. So, I feel very good about time passing, so you don’t even remember – you have to go like – “Hmm, how did we do it with ‘From the North?’ How did we go about it? Um, I think we did it this way.” (laughs) So you don’t really remember. And you open your project, your Cubase or your Pro Tools, and you go like – “How the fuck did put these guitars here? Oh shit, all these settings…” And you have to start all over, so it’s another thing. You create something new.

It’s never intentional. We do this because life is in the way. We make a lot of music on the side, so we have this creativity flowing all the time. We don’t have to release albums with Raised Fist to get that going. I mean we play all kinds of music instruments, et cetera, et cetera. But life gets in the way, and it’s not our biggest priority to get Raised Fist going, in a professional way. We are already pro musicians, and we could do whatever we wanted with the band, but we don’t have a goal with this band. Like – we need to release albums, we need to follow this up… Well, fuck that! We don’t need to follow up on anything. Every release we have is a single thing, and I don’t know about the next one. We are not working to follow things up and to keep any heat, I don’t even want to burst through the fucking media barrier right now, because everyone is screaming so loud to try to stick out, you know?

We just make music, and we’re really happy with that. So life – family, other things that we have, that are very valuable for us, that is coming in the way. And when we are about to explode, when we have too much music inside, we need to go – okay, should we make an album? Then we sit down and we do it. It’s like shit, you know? Sometimes you need to shit because you know – okay, I’m going on a train here, I can’t shit in four hours, so I better go now. And you don’t really need to do it. But if you just walk around, and you eat, and you just relax, you will feel the shit growing inside of you. (laughs) And after a while, it’s gonna be a problem, and you need to get it out. And then just – boom! It’s out there, and it feels so good. This is Raised Fist, we walk around, and digest all kinds of music, and feel this growth inside of us.

Sometimes, it seems like the world is really good at finding new problems for the existing solutions, instead of vice versa. And with all these things going on, do you see Raised Fist as a platform to influence other people, and try to make this world a better place, in a way like, say Greta Thunberg does in her speeches?
Alexander: No. No, I don’t think so. I lost faith in my possibility to make a change because there are so many bands out there. If I wanted to make a change, like Greta Thunberg, I would write pop music, to sell tens of millions of albums. Because I can make that, I can write really good songs with catchy lyrics. Pop songs. If I wanted to spread my message, I would do it in a different way. I could also do a podcast or do whatever, you know. Music is not a form for that, music is art, and I think art is not something you are making for a political reason. I do insert my political views into my art, and I want to say something with my piece of work, but not necessarily am I making this to make any changes around the world. I’m not narcissistic, I don’t think we have that great of an impact. Um, there are 500 million bands out there, and all of them are bigger, much bigger than Raised Fist. (laughs)

You know, if I would have the aim to bring a change, I would also have to have an aim to reach as many as possible. And if I have to reach as many as possible, I have to start thinking about what kind of music and what kind of platform I need to use for this, etc. I think the newspaper, or a magazine, or lots of other things are better ways of doing it. But as I know, we have a big audience out there listening to us. I mean, we are a bigger band than it might show on social media because we’d never been the band working with social media. We’d been pretty quiet between the albums. But I know we have a lot of listeners out there, and, of course, I take this opportunity to speak what I’m thinking. It’s kind of a multifaceted diamond, you know. We make the art, we make the music for ourselves, but then, on the other hand, we, make it also a political thing. But also, these are my words as I write the lyrics, and I can’t speak for everyone in the band. It’s a hard thing, but I can tell you right now that, no, Raised Fist is not about changing other people.

It might sound sad for some people who thought that, but it’s more of like: “Okay, we are writing music, and we writing lyrics to it. And, in order to have a perfect fit, I also want to speak out.” If you want to listen, you want to listen, but I’m perfectly fine with you saying, – “no, I’m not going to listen to you.” I’m talking to people that understand me and feel the same. But also, I’m talking to people who just want to have a beer, and think like: “Okay, this is fucking bullshit.” that’s also, okay. (laughs) If I wanted to spread a message, I could put an ad on Facebook, it doesn’t cost that much, and I will reach millions. You know, If I say that I think we have an environmental crisis, share it on Facebook, and put ten thousand euros on this ad, I would probably reach 20 million people who will see that line. That would not even be a fourth of the studio costs to make this album, and we are not reaching 20 million people that are reading my lyric just like that. I would have another modus operandi if I wanted to change people’s minds.

But I do hope that some people are changing their minds, and I do hope that I’m part of a bigger ocean of bands that have a good statement and that together, we can have a nice impact. So, Rage Against The Machine is one band, and Raised Fist is one band, and then we have Refused, then we have this one, and this one, or this one… And we are all helping with this kind of thing. And I really, really hope that. But as a band, Raised Fist, we are not there to change people’s minds. That’s not the main focus. The main focus is just as simple and trivial as – we are making art. We’re making music, we are musicians, and we need to do it.

I would like to touch on ‘Venomous,’ and especially the Slavic part of it. I know you have Serbian roots, actually, I am Serbian too, and I know some of the people who will read this will be from Serbia. From your perspective, how was it, to start a band, and get it to the respectable level in Sweden, being an immigrant, or the second generation of immigrants?
Alexander: Um, my parents came to Sweden from Serbia in the 60s, like in 65 or something, and that was ten years before I was born. So, they were already here, and they weren’t refugees or anything. Sweden needed workers, so a lot of people from the Balkans came here. When my parents came here they instantly got work at factories, they settled down, and there were a lot of people from the former Yugoslavia that came here. So they got into society really well. And in Sweden, Yugoslavs had a really good reputation for being hardworking, decent, funny people, so it’s very easy to get into the system here. I was born here, so for me, obviously, it wasn’t a problem, I just went straight into the system.

But of course, there were some cultural differences. My mother came from a farmer’s area in Serbia, you know, the school was different there, they learned Russian in school, so for her, it was very, very different. So, it was different when I was young, and everyone was having these sandwiches with cheese and yogurt with a strawberry taste, and I came from a home with my fucking pljeskavica or ćevapčići. (laughs) People were looking like: “THIS is your food? What is it?” You know, just the culture clash, nothing other than fun, fun memories from my youth. I went to school here, started music school, started up a career, and it’s nothing different. It’s the same as in Serbia, for example, if someone is born there with German parents, but born in Belgrade. They are Serbian from birth. So, no different for me actually.

But yeah, you know, my birth name was Rajković, that was a little bit different, and Swedes are little prejudiced in some ways, and everyone with a different sounding name or whatever in the country has been through skepticism. But music-wise, no, not really a problem. I think it helped I came from another background. You know, if I did something wrong, my mother would slap me – bam! Saša, šta radiš?!” – bam! [Sasha, what are you doing?!] (laughs) And in Sweden, if you do that, people go: “You can’t hit your kids.” (in a crying voice) So I was raised a bit rougher. And also the Serbian way of… You know, when you succeed in something, you show that you succeed. “Okay, I’m doing this, I’m fucking successful. So here I come with my car and my gold chain or whatever.”

So I was never afraid of, you know, like taking up room. If I went into a room, I wanted people to notice me, and I had no problem with that. The Swedish way is more low-key, like you don’t say hello to others if you don’t know them. And I was more like, “A, pička ti materina,” [Serbian swear words] and I just walked in. (laughs) You know, I do whatever the fuck I want to do. And I see the same attitude, if I can be narcissistic enough to compare, with football player Zlatan Ibrahimović, for example. He has the same kind of mentality as I have. And some people can’t stand it, but to breach through the career, the Serbian mentality that I have is very good. It helped me throughout life, and I see it as a strength, to have been brought up by Serbian parents.

So, knowing your history, how do you look at the immigrant crisis in Europe and the Middle East in recent years, and the way people are dealing with it? And not only in the EU, it can also easily translate to people like Trump in the USA, or Boris Johnson in the UK.
Alexander: Well, the difference is huge. I mean, we were welcomed here. My mother, she just put a bottle of šljivovica [Serbian brandy] and [meat of] a young pig in a cloth, jumped on the train and she got here. And then she got straight into work. She didn’t even learn Swedish properly, because there were so many people from Yugoslavia. They just played cards and got along; they were like a little Yugoslavia in Stockholm. So, no problem at all. But people running from war, that’s a total totally different thing. And the right-wing politics right now, the populist wave that is going through Europe and the world right now is really scary. It just shows what kind of ignorant, stupid fucking animals we are, living in on this planet.

And it’s mostly about ignorance and empathy. What I see is that people are just stupid. Half of the world’s population is stupider than average, that’s just a mathematical fact. And I think the ones who are intelligent and still racist, they are their scariest ones. The uneducated ones – you can at least educate them. You can help them. You can talk them into understanding, and they will meet people, and they will change their minds, etc. So, the dangerous people are the ones in power that are intelligent but still push the right-wing racist populism. These are the dangerous ones, and unfortunately, these are the ones that gained power and came to power because they are psychopaths. They know exactly how to navigate through the corridors of power.

The thing with the Middle East and Sweden is very special because we have the right-wing movement here, the neo-Nazi, a fascist party called Sweden Democrats. And they are rising in the polls. Uh, people forget so quickly, you know. They get help from Russia, Russia is flaming them all the time, and you can see that they are using propaganda, et cetera, et cetera. Some of them have even worked for the Russian government in some spying cases. One editor of a right-wing populistic magazine here in Sweden was recently caught – he got a big house from a Russian millionaire, you know, for no reason. And they also found him spying in the Swedish Parliament.

We have a lot of involvement from everyone else, too. We have involvement from the US and Israel, from Iran and Russia and China, and, of course, everyone has their agenda. But I’m just focusing right now on what I see here. They have a lot of propaganda here, They want to polarize, and they want to split up the European Union. They want to divide and conquer. And what’s happening in Sweden is that they are flaming this polarization, but they’re also helping the continuation of the war in Syria. So they’re helping the continuation of the war in Syria, they are dropping bombs, and when the migrants are moving from there, and they come to Sweden, they are flaming the right-wing parties with the anti-immigrant agenda. They’re feeding them with – all of these crimes in these cities and in these cities, – it’s immigrants, it’s all immigrants.

This is so fucking stupid, and people don’t see this. They don’t have the bird’s perspective. People are just watching Facebook, and they get fed by what they want to see. They get fed by – “all of these crimes in these cities and in these cities, – it’s immigrants, it’s all immigrants.” And they just fall into bad habits and everything. And I think we have a problem with this globalization and the free information channels. I think we can’t deal with all this information, we can’t sort what is right and what is wrong. We can’t even see what’s true, what is not true. How to deal with information, and how to value information. Because we don’t know the sources.

But I think in about ten to twenty years, the school system will adapt. We are adapting, we are just at the beginning right now. The Internet just blew up with all these social media channels and everything. We are living our lives through these social channels right now, but we’re just at the beginning. Just think about how it was 15 years ago. So we need to adapt, and when we adapt, these “dark forces of power,” hopefully, they won’t have this open play-field. It will regulate, it will become problematic for misinformation and propaganda and all this kind of shit. I hope people will learn and we will have a better place. So I totally think that the right-wing wave right now is in direct correlation with the play-fields of social media and Facebook in particular.

OK, something little more on the bright side – I’m following you on Instagram, and to my surprise, I found out that most of the stuff you post is not really about the band, but rather about martial arts, and that you’re a quite successful competitor and instructor of Brazilian jiu-jitsu. How did you get into it, and how do you find the balance between two such time-consuming careers?
Alexander: Well, I’ve always been into martial arts, since I was like three years old. I trained different things, and actually, I did jiu-jitsu back and forth. And this is Brazilian jiu-jitsu, so it’s a little special. I got the connection with the Gracie family when I was touring with Biohazard in Australia. Billy, the vocalist in Biohazard, he trained with Rener Gracie in Los Angeles, and he was telling me to come to LA someday to train, and he’ll get me into this system, that it’s really cool… So we come home, and then after a couple of years, I remember what he said. So, I reached out to him, and he was the one who set me up there. I started training, and I was hooked immediately. And this was maybe 2011 or something. So I just started doing it hardcore, I went over to LA a couple of times, I started training with Rener and the guys. They wanted me to open a school in Sweden, so I did. Long story short, I’ve been a very, very successful student. I’m one of the fastest students that finalized their curriculum and the certification process as an instructor. I had a talent for it.

And I gathered a huge following from jiu-jitsu. I mean, 80% of my followers don’t know anything about Raised Fist. They are starting to know now, when I started posting things. (laughs) And some people like: “What, are you the singer of Raised Fist? I listen to Raised Fist and I follow you for a long time, but I didn’t get the connection there until you posted the picture!” Yeah, it’s kinda funny. So, I teach, and when I teach I’m also forced to be on the max, so that’s almost like a little job. I train and teach at the same time, so it doesn’t take up more time than it would for you to have a couple of training sessions a week. A little bit more. But, on the other hand, I don’t have a nine to five work that I have to go to, so it makes up for that. I have nine sessions a week, but two of the sessions are one after another, an hour, and then an hour and a half. So basically, I’m doing this three days a week. And that could be training, that could be watching football, playing chess or any interest that you could have. Maybe playing music, we never rehearse, so this could be rehearsing. So, time-wise, it’s perfectly okay. Then I have my businesses that I operate, but they are pretty much self-going and they make up for all this, so I can have this free time to do whatever I want.

The rest of the time, I try to focus on my family and also Raised Fist, which is, kind of, weird because Raised Fist is a pretty big operation. I mean, we can have a big team, we can have a big crew, and it could be a financially stable thing moving. So, when we start that train, it’s kind of the big thing. We actually just need to do that for a little while, and then we don’t have to do anything for a long time. We are fortunate to be able to do that, but we treat it as a side project, as a hobby. Even though it’s like, we go down, and we play for twenty thousand people. We have a crew of eleven people now. We have a big trailer with all our gear, you know. Sometimes we have sound, sometimes we have stage lights that cost 10,000 euros just for one show. It’s kind of a sick, sick environment, it’s a sick thing that happened with the band, but we still, sort of, treat it as a hobby. It’s still like – “Okay, we’re going to play, we’re going here and there, it’s going to be fun.” We are not actively working on this as a band that we need to grow. It’s not that we have 100% full-time action with it. And we could tour 365 days a year if we wanted to, but it’s not really what we ever did with this band, or wanted to do with music. I guess it’s going to be like this until the end. It’s weird, and I can’t really explain because I know how other bands work, and we are very different from that. I think we’re just satisfied with what we already have in life, so we don’t need anything more.

How much does being in shape and training that much help you on stage? I had a chance to see you three times – twice at Punk Rock Holiday and at Exit Festival, and you always delivered an insane amount of energy from the stage.
Alexander: I think it helps a lot because it takes a lot of physical motion to move around and things like that. And I also think that has always been our thing. We need to go all-in or nothing. Sometimes we need to be a little bit more controlled if we play a big festival and there’s like 20,000 people there. The people in the back will hardly see you, so you need to play it right. Back in the day, it was not about playing everything right. It was just about going crazy, so sometimes you couldn’t hear the thing we were playing. Today we’re a little bit more composed. And I know this because I’m seeing a lot of bands, and I played with a lot of bands throughout 25 years, and I’ve never seen anything like Raised Fist, to be honest. That’s just how we are. And yes, the training and everything around it probably make us energetic. I mean, we are always in pretty good shape and things like that. But before tours, I actually train a little bit harder. I change it up a little bit. I run on the treadmill, for example. I try to run on the treadmill for as long as the set is. So, if the set is 45 minutes, then I want to be able to run on the treadmill for 45 minutes nonstop. I do it every night and know it’s not going to be a problem. Then I know I’m fit for the tour.

So, one more, and I actually haven’t asked this anyone on this website so far. Kada se vraćate u Srbiju? [When are you coming back to Serbia?]
Alexander: Um, I don’t know man. It’s up to the promoters. But I think we have something going on there. I don’t know how popular we are right there, but I know Punk Rock Holiday, for example, they are always reaching out to us. So, Serbia may just blow up as well. I don’t know, I just want to go back there, put the fucking mic out and hear the audience sing “Puši kurac!” [Serbian swear words] along with me. That’s a dream of mine, so hopefully, that will happen at one time.

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