A moment of ‘Clarity’
with In Flames
||Björn Gelotte of In Flames
July 26, 2006
A year after opening the main stage of Ozzfest 2005, Swedish metal kings In Flames are braving the near-100-degree heat of the American summer yet again with a featured slot on the second installment of the Sounds of the Underground tour. Jeff Maki and Greg Maki of Live-Metal.net caught up with guitarist Björn Gelotte at the tour’s recent stop at the Merriweather Post Pavilion in Columbia, Md., to discuss the band’s evolution, touring and early plans for the follow-up to their latest release, Come Clarity.
Live-Metal: It’s a little warm.
Björn Gelotte: Yeah, but it’s not as bad as yesterday. It was really fucked up. The humidity was just—
Where were you guys yesterday?
Not that it matters.
Yeah, but it’s, like, only two hours away from here.
Yeah, it was outside Philly, one of these amphitheaters. That’s why I get confused, because they all look the same.
They do, and it’s weird. We did a bunch of them on the Ozzfest last year, and just waking up on the back side of an amphitheater and it looks exactly the same as they day before. Might as well have stayed.
So what’s it been like so far on the Sounds of the Underground tour?
It’s been great. It’s actually been really good. It takes a couple of days for us to get our sound together up on stage because it’s like everybody’s using the same mixing desk, monitor desk, and storage. We had a pre-production day which got kind of fucked up, so everything got lost. So it took a couple of days for us. But now everything is coming together pretty good. It doesn’t really affect the show, but it feels better if everything works good, if everything is where it should be. So, yeah, it’s coming together. We’re having a lot of fun with the rest of the bands, good friends most of them and if they’re not already good friends, they will be good friends. A tour like this is a very social thing. I don’t think I’ve ever played so much poker as on this tour. It’s a school trip, basically. Everybody knows they have a job to do, but at the same time, you want to have some fun around it and you want to make sure you enjoy other people’s company.
What is a typical day like?
Um … Getting up kind of late since we don’t have to play until, like, eight or something. We do a little bit of interviews and stuff. We do some signings and start drinking beer around that time. Try to get some lunch if it’s any good food. Today kinda sucked, I heard. I haven’t been there yet. And then maybe there’s a poker game going or just hang out, watch a couple of the bands. I mean, it’s not like you won’t ever see them, because it’s a lot of shows. We have a lot of time. But I try to get up on stage and see a couple, depending on what the venue’s like. Keep drinking beer, play a show, drink more beer and then get fucking cunted after a show. I mean, we’re just hanging out. Depending on who’s in the vicinity, that’s the guy you want to party with.
Who are the best poker players?
So far, the Converge guys. Some of them are really good. And, also, one guy from Gwar. Well, let’s put it—they’re constant, you know? They’re always there playing. With that, you get pretty good at it.
You were talking about hanging out with the other bands. Is there any band that has particularly impressed you?
I think there’s a whole bunch of bands that, in their own way, stand out a bit. But the guys that, for me, are extremely cool guys that I didn’t know what to expect before—I thought they were too tough to talk, basically—is the Cannibal [Corpse] guys. But they’re the sweetest dudes. They have total knowledge of every band, especially from the same kind of music that I listen to. So it’s very, very interesting to talk to them. And they’re hanging out, drinking beers and just having fun. They were kind of worried, I think, to be, like, aliens on this tour because their music really stands out, but whenever they play, everybody’s there watching it. Everybody enjoys it. So I think they’re a bit surprised. I was very surprised that these guys are so cool. They’re the sweetest guys.
Are you pleased with the overall success of the last album, Come Clarity, and the fans’ reaction?
Yeah, if people listen to the album and enjoy it, that, of course, is nice. It rules when people love it, but at the same time, I couldn’t spend a lot of energy thinking about, “Wow, people love this album,” because that would mean that if people hated it, that I’d have to spend the equal amount of energy on that, and I don’t. But it’s great. If people like it, that means that people come to the show, people want to hear a couple of the new ones. I really like the album. I love playing some of these songs live way more than any other older stuff.
Yeah, it’s made for this band at this time. It works really good. Some of the songs really kick ass live. They sound fat and, you know, I like that.
The album is definitely more up-tempo, more aggressive and maybe less commercial than Soundtrack to Your Escape.
Commercial is—unfortunately, it’s used in the wrong way, usually, when people use that word. Commercial is something that you can sell, and I think that some of the songs on the new one are more accessible than many of the songs on the last two albums. And we’ve never been a commercial band. It’s a label that’s been put on us. We didn’t change the way we write songs. We didn’t use any bigshot producer to make sure. So commercial is the wrong word for us. Accessible, yeah. I think some of these songs are more accessible than Soundtrack and Reroute were. At the same time, already on Clayman we started working a little bit with clean vocals and that makes the songs a little more accessible to a bigger audience, of course. Then if people like it or not, that’s another thing. So we’ve been doing this for quite some time, using keyboards and clean vocals. But the core is still we play metal, some sort of aggressive vocals on there and the clean parts are to make it cool and nice dynamically. That’s probably what makes it more accessible.
Are there plans for the next single from the album? I’d recommend “Crawl Through Knives.”
Yeah, I’d love to. We don’t play it on this tour, unfortunately. That’s a song that I really like to play. We can’t do that many. We’ve got 40 minutes and we can’t just play the whole album. That’s not fair to everyone. We gotta play at least a couple of albums back. We did a video for “Come Clarity,” the song. We figured we’d start out with “Take This Life” just to show that this is how we sound and then try out another single, which it hasn’t been done by a death metal band or any kind of metal band, to put out a ballad kind of thing. It’s fun, you know? Just to put that song together was awesome because it’s probably the last thing anybody expects. Stuff like that’s fun. So that’s probably gonna be the next single.
When you have a shorter set like this, is it hard to pick the songs out?
Yeah. We’ve got over a hundred songs that we want to play and if you can only play, like, nine, it’s pretty tough. But it’s a challenge, as well, because you only have 40 minutes to capture people’s interest. If they’re totally not there to see you, you still want to leave an impression so that next time you come around they see you when you play. So it’s a challenge.
You talked about putting together the song “Come Clarity.” How did “Dead End” come together with Lisa Miskovsky?
The whole thing came together—we found out that she’s a—she grew up in a, like, hardcore environment.
I was gonna ask if she was a fan of the band.
Yeah, she’s a metalhead. She knew about us and she liked us. We met her at some Swedish festival and we started talking. We asked if next recording—this was way before we recorded—“Next recording, you want to do a song or just try something out?” She said, “Yeah, sure.” Later, we called her on that. She goes, “Yeah, fine. I’ll do it.” Instead of just writing something for her, we figured we’d want to see what she can do on a typical In Flames song, because it is very aggressive, it’s up-tempo and it works, just adds to the dynamics of the song.
The closing track, “Your Bedtime Story Is Scaring Everyone”—what exactly is that?
Basically, the way [vocalist] Anders [Fridén] explained the whole concept of that song to me, it’s all samples of news broadcasts, radio and TV and stuff. It’s just samples from that. All the crap that’s going on, it’s very easy to just look at it and then flip to another channel. But in reality, there’s something really scary, something really bad going on. And this is the last thing most of your kids see before they go to bed because it’s evening news, then it’s bedtime. They don’t see it, but it’s in the background because I’m watching it. And that’s not a nice story to tell your kids.
The guitar solos seem to be making a big comeback on Come Clarity. They’re badass, too. Is there any reason for the lack of solos on Soundtrack? They’re still on Reroute, but maybe in a lesser sense.
Last record, we recorded all the guitars with a guy that did all the samples and he’s not a solo guy. So he found other ways of putting out the stuff. Some of the stuff just disappeared after we recorded it. So, yeah, he wasn’t a big fan of it. But this time we recorded all the guitars ourselves. So we were sitting down, me and Jes [Jesper Strömblad] were just recording. I recorded him, he recorded me, and this is the way we want it. And that’s why everything is there. We didn’t remove anything. I think we shortened a song a little bit. Otherwise, everything that we ever wrote is on there, plus added guitar solos. I’m a guitar player, so I like when there’s guitars on our albums.
In general, guitar solos seems to be coming back. What do you think of that?
I think that’s good. It’s not essential for a song, it doesn’t have to be there, but usually it puts the icing on the cake. It’s something that I could buy albums in the past just because I knew this one solo would be on there. If somebody, like, a friend came over and did a solo on somebody’s record and it turned out to be one of my favorite guitar players, I’d buy the record. So for me, it’s important, but I guess for a song, if it’s not there and you don’t think about it, then it wasn’t necessary.
Yeah, it kind of depends on the song, I guess.
Can you talk about the band’s progression from when you started out early on as pretty much a straight death metal act into what you’re doing now?
I think from the start it was—Jesper came from a pure death metal band, very rough, no finesse, no nothing.
Ceremonial Oath, yeah. It was not melodic or anything. It was very influenced by the Stockholm kind of sound, like Dismember and all that stuff and even earlier than that. And he was influenced by that. There was really no melodies. It was a really dirty kind of sound. And Jesper wanted to do something different. So he formed this other little project where he can put some melodies into it and stuff and record in a more slick way, you know, so people can actually hear what you’re doing. It was a project for the first two albums, Lunar Strain and Subterranean. They were lucky. They lied and said, “Yeah, we’ve got 13 songs, dude. Sign us.” And somebody signed them and they had three songs. So then they had to write a lot of songs. And they did. They made it. So that’s, like, the start-up point with In Flames.
Then after the Subterranean EP was released, or actually when it was recorded, I joined the band. I didn’t record on that one, but I just joined then. We started writing songs for The Jester Race and then Anders joined in. So all of a sudden we became a band instead of a project. It was kind of weird in the beginning because Mikael Stanne, he sang on the first In Flames album, but he’s in Dark Tranquility. He’s the singer of Dark Tranquility. So we just borrowed him. And Anders came from Dark Tranquility. It’s kind of a mix-up, members coming and going. Daniel Erlandsson, he plays drums on Subterranean and he’s from Arch Enemy. And a couple of other songs have the drummer for Dark Tranquility. So in the beginning, it was a mess.
So The Jester Race, when we started writing and recording for that one, that’s the time when we became a band. And the lineup has changed since. I started out as a drummer, actually. Not that I can play drums, but that’s what they needed at the time. So we recorded a couple of albums and after Whoracle—we did Jester Race and Whoracle, and then the guitar player and bass player left. So we had a session guitar player for a while, but it didn’t really work out, so I saw my chance to step up to the guitar and I grabbed it. We looked for another drummer who could actually play and we found Daniel [Svensson] in a band called Sacrilige. He’s probably one of the most consistent drummer’s I’ve ever played with. If he makes a mistake, you can count those mistakes on one hand on the whole tour. He simply doesn’t do it. Then Peter [Iwers] joined us, the bass player. Playing with this foundation has been the best experience ever because that has led us through all these other albums. We did Colony, we did Clayman, Reroute, Soundtrack, Come Clarity. All these—it’s been so easy. It’s been so easy to be out touring with it and everything. Before, when the members came and went, it was really hard to plan tours and stuff. Now, this lineup is the one that we want. It’s the one that works and obviously, it’s been working pretty good.
Was guitar your original instrument?
Yeah, that was what I started doodling with. I never went to—I wish I did—but I never took any classes in anything, basically, which kind of sucks because even though you’re free to do whatever because you don’t know you’re doing anything wrong, you’re kind of limited. There’s a lot of stuff you can learn, I guess. So that’s why none of us are very interested in shredding or doing the right things or putting jazz stuff or whatever. We don’t know how to. We do what we know how to do.
What inspired you to start playing originally?
My dad’s a metalhead, so I grew up with Dio, Rainbow, Sabbath and when I found my own music it was the typical rebellion kind of thing. You gotta find music which is more aggressive, but since my dad was a metalhead already it wasn’t easy. I saw these concerts. I heard all these great albums, even old stuff, real old stuff. Like, the first Elf and Rainbow albums are fucking awesome. Ritchie Blackmore and Ronnie James Dio are the ones that definitely inspired me to start playing music. Before I even knew English, I was sitting there writing down the lyrics, just that I heard them, because there was never any lyrics in their records. If I saw those papers now, I’d probably laugh my ass off. I was so into it that I knew I just had to be part of this.
How do you feel about your band being labeled the pioneers of the Gothenburg sound and what do you think of so many bands, especially in the last few years, that have somewhat borrowed from you guys?
I guess it makes you proud that people say, “We were inspired by you guys.” That’s very cool as long as people take that inspiration and mold it together with their own stuff and make something new out of it. That’s awesome. That’s what music is about. You should develop it, put it together and see what happens. That’s what so fun about writing music because you’re technically allowed to do whatever you want. Then if people don’t like it, that’s another thing. But in the end, when it all comes down to it, that’s not why you do it. So I guess it’s a cool thing. I’ve never put a label on our band or our music. I know we’ve put a lot of years in, but there’s so many other bands that did that, as well. So I don’t know. I guess it’s cool.
You’ve shared stages with Metallica, Maiden, Sabbath, Motorhead. Obviously, these have to be highlights of the band’s career, but what else is there to do? Who else would you like to tour with?
I’d love to tour with a band like Metallica, for instance, because that’s on a level which it doesn’t get bigger than that. It just can’t get bigger.
You did a couple shows last year? Two years ago?
Two years ago, I think, we did a couple of shows. And it was great. They’re really cool guys, very down to earth considering how big they are. The second time we played with them, they came into the dressing room, “Hey, guys. Good to have you guys back.” They remembered, and I was like, “Whoa. That’s very sweet.” Lars is a funny guy because he immediately started talking Danish to us because we understand. And he invited us up on stage, stand right behind his drum kit when they played in front of I don’t know how many thousand people. It was very cool. So they’re very cool guys and I can imagine a whole tour with these guys would be awesome. We’ll do a tour with Slayer, which is one of my favorite bands because I don’t think they ever put out anything bad. We’re gonna tour with them again and I’m very excited about that tour. We’re gonna do that in Europe. It’s the European leg of the Unholy Alliance, which is running here right now. So one of my wishes is coming true.
The band has had some side projects going on, Dimension Zero, Passenger. Are these on hold now?
Yeah, we’re kind of busy. It’s a lot of touring, a lot of things to do. We actually started working on new stuff for our next album. This kind of takes all the time. We all have families back home. I’m building a house at the moment at home, so I don’t feel I have time to. We bought this really, really old wooden house, so my girlfriend’s dad is working on it now when I’m not there. That feels weird.
We’re kind of busy with everything, so side projects, it’s not a priority right now. But Jesper, we have another thing that we put together. My sister’s in it—she sings—and a girlfriend of her’s. They sing and it’s really good, actually. We’re putting together songs for it. It’s called All Ends.
I remember seeing that on a message board. It had the girls pictured and there was a big debate as to whether it was really an In Flames project or not.
It is. It’s me and Jesper. It’s coming together. They’re gonna record. We’re not playing in it. We just write all the music and maybe record. We put together a whole band for that, so they can go out touring and do their stuff. And it shapes up pretty good. We’re gonna do the last couple of songs when we find the time. And then they’re gonna record, hopefully, this year.
When you’re over here in the United States touring, what do you miss most about home?
I’m kind of comfortable touring. I like touring. That’s what we do. But, of course, the obvious things, my daughter. I miss not being there when my house is being built. I miss my girlfriend very much. The first week is always the worst because then you have your home and everything you miss fresh in your memory. Seven days into a tour, you feel kind of pickled all the time. It’s always a little bit drunk. It numbs up, just fades out a little bit. You talk to them every now and then, but there’s no point in wishing you were home all the time because then you’re in the wrong business.
You have to kind of get into a rhythm, I guess.
Yeah, you get into a rhythm, and as I said, you hang out with all these fun people around here. It kind of takes the edge off it, so you can live through it. You have to be a certain kind of guy. I wouldn’t do this if it wasn’t for me. It is a lot of hard work. [laughs] I’m laughing when I say it because it’s not work. But it’s kind of a hard living because you’re away from everything. You have to be a certain person to do this.
What do you think are the five best In Flames songs?
You know, that’s gonna be like a taste thing or what’s fun to play at the moment. It’s probably gonna be a couple from the last one. I think that “Come Clarity” is fun to play and it’s the opposite of a gut blow to the audience because they’re like, “Huh?” That’s fun to play to see all the reactions, see all the lighters up and cell phones. It looks like a fucking Scorpions concert on a metal tour. It’s cool. So that one’s fun to play. I love playing “Take This Life,” “Crawl Through Knives.” “Cloud Connected” is a great song. I like when we play “Only for the Weak” seeing 50,000 people jump. That’s insane. The first time you see it, you’ll never forget it. We’re not playing it here. When we’ve got a full set, we will definitely do it. When we do headlining shows, it’s definitely there. But doing 40-minute sets, as I said, we’re here to promote an album, I suppose, so we’ve gotta play a couple songs from it, add some of the older ones and the obvious ones we’ve gotta play. That’s a fun song to play when there’s a lot of people. I think that’s five, right? Three from Come Clarity, “Cloud Connected” and—yeah, there you go.
Are things working out well with Ferret Records?
Extremely well. We’re very happy with these guys. We came from Nuclear Blast, which is, for us, in Europe, a really good label for us. They’ve taken care of us. They’re really good at what they do. They’re one of the bigger independent labels over there. And they’re great, so we tried out being with them over here and they just weren’t great. They couldn’t get the CDs out. It was always, “Well, we’ll get it next album. We’ll get it next album.” We figured, “Well, how many albums do you need?” We write the music the same way all the time and we’ve got a bunch of videos. People come up to the shows and there’s a lot of people at our shows and they just can’t find the albums. They couldn’t find the albums anywhere in stores around the shows or anything. So we were kind of pissed about that, so when it was time to renegotiate or whatever, we started looking for other labels and Ferret just came with the best idea. It’s not a lot of money involved, but their commitment to the album is perfect and that’s the only thing we care about. Get the album out there. And besides, as it is over here, you’re not going to get rich touring the U.S. unless you get a radio hit. You can’t write music that way. We’re not producers in the band.
You said you started writing for the next album already. What are the plans for the next In Flames album? What can we expect?
I don’t even know yet myself. I don’t know. It probably will be very guitar-based again. We found a good way of recording and a good way of writing the songs together. I’m pretty sure it’s gonna be guitar-based, very heavily guitar-based again. We’re looking at different options on who could actually produce or record or do a proper mix of it and some of our favorite producers. We’ll see if they have time, and if schedules work out, then it will be real fun, try something like that out. I’m not really good at working with someone that tells me what to do. So it’s gonna be interesting. But I think most of these really good producers, they work in a way that you don’t need to argue about stuff. So it’s gonna be interesting. But very guitar-based. That’s the only promise that I can give you.