First I want to talk to you about your health because your first performance after triple bypass surgery was a year later with Merciful Fate during Metallica’s run of anniversary shows. Was that overwhelming – not just Metallica acknowledging your influence but that you were healthy enough to be there?
I didn’t even know if I was going to be able to do it. It was a tough round of course with rehab and a lot of changes in your life. I cut out cigarettes completely, had to do it, haven’t had a drag since a year and a half ago so changing of the diet, working out more and all this stuff. I have totally changed, I can also see in my body how everything has changed for the better.
The first thing was, three months after, they’re pretty tough on you. The surgeon said after ten days I was home from the hospital – first day he said you got to go out and walk half a mile and are you serious? I can barely stand up, I had to have help to get out of a chair, everything was totally weird but that it how they do it. One week later I was doing a mile, so you’re pushed out there and you almost feel like you shouldn’t be here, that you’ve been given a second chance but it’s strange.
I had to literally ask my wife when we were walking if she could really see me and feel me that I was actually there and not as a joke but really I had to have that confirmed so many times and that faded slowly down the road. Eventually I got the chance three months after the surgery I got to go down to say “Hi” to some friends, cool guys that also work in a band called Volbeat and met them during the day and got the chance to get up onstage during their sound check and that made everything in my chest rattle. It felt so bad I had to get out of there that was then. Six months after that I got to go see what was going on with Metallica – that was actually a year after with Metallica – but still I did not know what was going on.
My surgeon said everything in my chest looked good and it was back together well, ‘cause they saw you open and open you like a double door practically and then when they put it back together I saw for the first time an x-ray. A month or two before going to Metallica’s anniversary I had like a braided metal rod, sitting all the way down and that’s what was tying together the rib cage and had then had the rib cage screwed together around that. It’s amazing what they do but the whole thing of learning how to breathe again was pretty hard, breathing is completely different now. The voice is a million times better it’s like if I finally got to experience what it’s like to drive a brand new car and always use to have used cars for instance. That’s how my voice feels now, it’s easier to sing all the things than ever before and it sounds clearer all because of the no smoking.
It’s so much better and easier but getting up onstage that afternoon of the show and see what the loud sounds and the vibrations are going to do to me this time. Am I gonna tell them it’s not gonna work and I have to fly back? That was a possibility. So that was a pretty anxious moment when they turned the sound up and I felt nothing, no different and that’s what my surgeon had told me a month or two before when I saw the x-rays and all that stuff. He cleared me for doing it so I did that and it worked and that was quite a big relief but there are so many other things that you have to go through.
Three months later I had a benefit that I participated in and sang three songs with some local musicians, two King Diamond songs and one Mercy and that was even better so it was like “Wow this is going to be really interesting, it might be time to see if we can do a couple full shows.” That’s what we did two months ago and we did more than that actually because the rehearsals for it. We hadn’t been playing together in a long, long time so I had a theater in Denmark and we rehearsed there for a week and in six days I did five full shows practically – had a day off then did Sweden Rock and no problems. The breathing and moving around on this new production which is really big, we’ve never had a production that big before and running around that set, not feeling out of breath at all was very new and very nice to experience.
Now these last tests have been done and they went perfect so no it’s a matter of getting out there. We are arranging for everything now, setting everything up the right way. We have a new internet store for the first time and I know the fans for good reason have been haunting us for this stuff because it’s embarrassing, we’ve been so sloppy with that stuff of course for our own sake too you can certainly make some money off it to which is good for business because we like to turn around and invest a lot of it too. The money we made from these festivals and we invested the whole thing into the production.
We’re already getting invitations for other festivals next summer and I see us touring Europe, festival appearances maybe even doing one before that here in the U.S. and then I hope we can do the U.S.and do shows, not club shows but with the full production maybe sometime in Oct. We’ll see because they’re working on all this stuff. For the U.S. we’re just about to set up with a brand new agent over there so that’s going to be a powerhouse and doing things a whole different way. I would say a much bigger scale, same lineup that we’ve had for years so it’s all good and there will be new music too down the road. It won’t be too long before we start writing some new stuff so yeah a lot of stuff very busy. I’m trying to not be too busy because stress is not a friend of mine anymore.
Now being more conscious of your health, how has having triple bypass surgery been a life changing event for you?
Oh man, you have no idea. [Laughs] There are so many things that go into it, just the way you look at life afterwards is certainly different. It’s not like you become born again or anything life changing in that respect, I’m totally the same person. The best way to explain it is actually – let’s say I’m here at my house and I look out of the windows and now and then I see things through those windows – now it’s like I have the double amount of windows. I see so much more, I pay attention to so many more things – the smelling sensation, the taste sensation are enhanced by a hundred because I don’t smoke anymore.
Taking walks sometimes bring back memories of my childhood because a smell might trigger a memory. For instance a wooden fence, I walked by and I smelled it and suddenly I’m with my parents who are dead now, and with my brother on a vacation in Norway when we were kids and we’re walking the Viking ships somewhere, they’ve been sprayed by this special mist to preserve them and it just triggers memories like that suddenly. It’s different, you’re more alert, more aware, I don’t take anything for granted anymore, I’ll tell you that. If I’m not here tomorrow well so be it, I don’t want that but I’m much more prepared for that kind of scenario now.
It is weird but also the feeling in the beginning of not knowing “Can you see me? Can you feel when I do this?” and my wife is like “Hey, why are you being weird now?” You see people drive to work and we’re out walking after the operation and you get that feeling of “Man I could have just as well not have been here.” Then there’s all the stuff that comes with it, the hardship of you can’t lift a cup, you can’t get out of a chair, you can’t do anything. When they cut you up all the nerves are trying to find each other again and they still are today. You get these little pains here and there but I’ve been told it’s going to go on for years.
The thing about them having punctured your lungs is that you have to learn to breathe again, it’s a very, very weird feeling. I couldn’t drive or doing anything in the beginning of course. I love driving cars so I went behind the wheel before I was allowed to do it. It was a matter of not being able to move around the steering wheel properly with your arms but it’s just these things that – I want to move on I don’t want to just sit in a chair and that was the same thing in the hospital, two days after the operation I was up walking around with the help of a nurse of course. Then when they set me free from that, I was off to a normal department to continue to get better.
It was also the more you walked the sooner you’ll get out of there and I was walking day and night. It reminded me of lyrics from ‘The Graveyard’ for instance, walking the halls at night, no one was up it was just me walking these empty halls – such strange feelings but I can tell you I brought so much with me out of there for the next album.
I got some of the ultimate horrors waking up from the operation, was the worst I’ve ever experienced in my life but when I came to a little bit, my wife was there but I couldn’t see her. What I saw was only in black and white and I saw doctors leaning in over me, it could have been in a spaceship if they exist. They didn’t look quite human, it looked weird and then I started remembering that they told me “You will be on a breathing tube and very uncomfortable.” You want to try and breathe on your own but you can’t because you are forced to breathe in a certain way and you can try and give signals to these doctors to let them know that you can breathe on your own but you don’t know if you can, you have to learn breathing again.
When I came to I was desperately trying to signal something but it was like I couldn’t communicate, I had this tube in my mouth, I couldn’t do anything, I was blinking my eyes, trying anything. I think panic was striking and I tried to pull this tube out of my own mouth and then they came in and tied me down to the bed, they grabbed my hands and my legs and they tied me down. That feeling of being tied down and not being able to communicate, I felt horror, I felt like I was being choked to death slowly because I couldn’t breathe properly. I got so far out, had they been able to hear me they would have heard me begging them to please kill me because it felt that bad. I just really wished for them to kill me to end it.
Then you wake up later on and find the wife is there and it’s like “Wow you pulled through.” I was on the operating table for seven and a half hours and I was on two days back to back. The first day they had to do an operation for four hours, the day before, where they go in your thigh through a vein – you’re actually totally alert. That went well but it looked bad and it had something to do with the way its been in my family so it was hereditary.
They said I couldn’t have gotten such bad figures in my blood even if I tried eating the worse stuff and smoking 50 cigarettes a day, could not have given me that. I never really ate bad stuff but there’s a lot of things you find out afterwards now that I’ve been through meetings with nutritionists and my wife has become an expert on this stuff. You find out seafood is great right, not shrimp, that thing has the most cholesterol I didn’t know that before. Yeah it’s a weird thing but it hasn’t changed anything of my being the way I am, how I think, it’s just broaden my horizon, big time.
You mentioned new music earlier, will everything that has happened find its way into this new music?
Oh I’m sure. [Laughs] I’m sure there will be a lot of that stuff that I experienced that will be woven into a new album. It not be a story of what I experienced but the feelings behind it, those will come across maybe in other ways. There has been so much in the old albums too, throughout the career much more than anyone will ever know is real or real feelings behind it then you add something to it, to make the story fluent. There are so many more things in the stories and sometimes I really felt like “Oh man, you’re showing way to much of yourself here ” and then I’ll think “Well no one’s going to know if I don’t tell them.” It will be a lot of that here too, it might hit home for a lot of people maybe even deeper than before.
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