Interview In Flames: Bjorn Gelotte

Artiest: In Flames

Geïnterviewde: Bjorn Gelotte

Interview afgenomen in: Düsseldorf Airport Maritim Hotel

Label: Nuclear Blast

Zet 11 november maar in je agenda als de dag dat het nieuwe In Flames album ‘Battles’ uitkomt. Ter ere van dit nieuwe album dat de Zweedse band opnieuw uitbrengt onder Nuclear Blast hadden we een interview met gitarist Björn Gelotte waarbij we naar verschillende aspecten van dit nieuw album vragen.

Battles was recorded in Los Angeles with producer Howard Benson, how did you come to work with him?

We’ve had producers in the past, but they were more like friends. In the beginning we used to work with Frederik Nordström from the Fredman studio, mainly because that was the studio where we wanted to record, not so much maybe with him specifically. We’ve been supser protective all the way, in the end you can say we never let anybody co-produce. We used these guys more as engineers. This time around we worked with management. We haven’t had management for a very long time, we did everything ourselves, but we figured it took too much time away from the creative side and the fun. So we talked to these guys and they helped us, they opened doors for us. We had the chance to talk to our heroes, producers that were involved with music that we listened to when we grew up and who are doing really important stuff now. So we talked to them and it was an opportunity too good not to grab. So when we talked to them, everybody seemed to know who we are and what we do and such, that’s a good ego boost. Howard said the right things. He said he didn’t want to turn us something into what we’re not. He understood the fact that we’ve done 11 records already, so obviously we know what we’re doing and what we want to do. But obviously he wanted to help us focus on what is important, be that filter or wall where you can bounce your ideas off. In essence we loved what he was saying and also the fact that the studio is in LA, it’s in Los Angeles, I mean come on, 25 to 30 degrees every day, it’s a nice area and very inspirational. That’s the long version of it.

But everything starts at home though. The first rough demos in our houses, then record the ideas, … But I don’t want to put too much work on this because I know we are going to discuss the ideas and arrange it together. So then we take this bag of riffs to wherever we want to record. We did the same thing now. Me and Anders went over there 2,5 weeks before the studio time started, there they had a small studio in order for us to do demos. That’s something that we wanted, to be part of it. And I liked that because then at an early stage you can figure out if you’re doing the right thing. But Gothenburg is very inspirational, it’s our hometown. Last time Berlin was also very inspirational. I think it’s more in our heads, like a mindset, that is the reason why you feel inspired. I don’t need to have a nice park to go to or be at the seaside or around kids or I don’t know what, I don’t need those things. But I think the mind needs to be tuned in to the environment. It will eventually leak into what you’re doing.

How did the recording process with him differ from the one of the previous album?

Many things are different. They always do. Else you just refer to previous recordings. One thing is that we took that bag of riffs up to LA, this was the first time. We figured, we have Howard Benson, let’s listen to him, for the first time to somebody else. That also sort of forced us to start listening to each other as well. We’ve done that, we always meet up and mix but the music has always been done first and then on top of that we put the vocals on separately and nobody has been able to touch that part, only then we meet to mix. But this time around Howard wanted demos of everything, like vocals, the ideas for the choruses, … That sort of forced us to open up to each other. I could poke in the vocal ideas, the concept, building a chorus, … and that’s a new way for me. Usually we do the music. If there is a chorus I just add tons of guitar in order to make it feel bigger, but this time I could also work on the vocal melodies and this is really cool. The same with Anders, at a really early stage he came and said this is awesome, let’s work on those melodies because I have this idea for the vocals and such. Also very practical, the team surrounding Howard is amazing, it’s a really well-oiled machine. Normally we do 14-hour days, the main reason for that is that during recording something doesn’t feel right and we try something else, it could take 2 hours before we find something or even longer before you find something that you think is right. Maybe at the start of the recording it doesn’t feel right either, so you lose 3 to 4 hours just trying. This time we had 12 to 15 amps connected already and the only thing they had to do if something didn’t sound right was switch and not even a minute later it was redone and sounded right. Me taking a 5 minute break, I actually felt bad because they were waiting for us. Normally I get like an hour break because someone is trying to connect something. Now from a practical point of view it was extremely efficient. We could focus 6 to 8 hours in the studio, get so much done way more than before and that was it, get back to the house to continue writing. We did not stop with the 11 songs that we wanted to have on the record, we actually ended up with 15 songs, we never do that. So it says a lot both about the creative side and the practical side.

So would you like to work again with him?

I would love to work with him again. I’m so proud of everything that we’ve done, it’s lead up to exactly where we are today. But at the same time it makes me a little annoyed that we didn’t figure this out earlier. So I would love to work with him more.

Battles is again a very melodic album with less faster songs than we are used to, Through My Eyes is perhaps the only exception, being the fastest, harshest song. Is this is conscious direction that you are taking?

It’s a very conscious choice because sometimes one can get confused that when mixing a fast song, they forget to wonder if it is also powerful. Does it have something to say or is it just fast because it needs to be fast. The most important thing is the song, the journey the song takes you on. In the bigger scheme it’s actually the whole tracklist which is very important. If we would have done 12 fast songs… Well first I would never do that because it would not be interesting. Some bands can do it and it’s fucking awesome like Slayer, they can do albums where everything is super fast and you can be so pumped up by listening to it. But also if you listen to them and other bands like Morbid Angel, they have slow songs. We tend to do the opposite, we have slow songs but we have mid-tempo stuff that I think has power and has a meaning. I know what you mean, the reason we do it is a very conscious decision.

Battles sounds a bit like a dark album, both the music and the lyrics. Was this intentional or how did it become like this?

I have to say this is the first time hearing this is darker. The subjects that Anders talks about are obviously not about how great things are, sunny, barbeque, … It’s nothing obvious. I know the concept is about inner struggles, we all have those. They can be anything from small and practical to more profound or more philosophical, choices you have to make, moral questions. But yeah it is darker, you kinda convinced me. It needs to be something that a listener can relate to. So it’s not a story about dungeons and dragons, it’s not a love story in the obvious way, it’s not an exact story being told, it’s more like a feeling or an experience that a lot of people can relate to. You put your own experiences in there as a filter and all of a sudden you end up with a connection.

It actually makes me really happy you say this because that’s another part of the scale. For me it has a different vibe because my memory is from the recordings which is so different from the previous recording. We did drums in Berlin in the winter time, it was cold, dark, grey and that trickles into me, that whole heavy history in a way. Berlin is packed with history, and it was heavy on us, it affected the band and I like to think the same thing happened in LA, but much warmer. But Berlin is fantastic, I love the time we had there.

I’d like to go a bit deeper into some of the songs, to better grasp the meaning or the story behind them.

Opening track Drained – It starts very ominous and quiet, then it seems to explode. Quoting a part of the lyrics: “There is no way to recover, you broke my heart and soul”. Is it a song about a break-up or a broken love story?

I think it’s a mix. It’s ominous, that’s a good word you use to describe it, even from the first lines already. About what’s behind it, that’s more a question for Anders who wrote the lyrics. But if you read it and you connect with it, it’s about your experiences. But it is a certain mindset that comes to mind and you probably don’t need to dig deep in order to connect. I love the lyrics, I was always brought up with just the music, I never cared about the lyrics. But we talk a lot about it. But it’s all personal, from his point of view he will have a story behind it, but he wouldn’t tell you because that would ruin the purpose of it. Musically that first part is necessary to go to the next part that I think is really aggressive, up-tempo riffing which is I have to say very In Flames and then you have a huge chorus. It’s an In Flames song.

All the choruses seem to have that effect.

We love it. What’s the point in being in a band and writing music if you can’t write what you love, the ideas that you really want to hear. That’s something that we decided so early. This is not a record label, this is not a management, even an audience, it’s us. If you try to please an audience you can’t please everybody anyway. The only thing you can be really sure of is that when we are happy with it, that’s as good as we can be. We are true to ourselves musically, we’re honest with our music and then after that we play the songs live and we really love it. After that it’s a matter of taste, it’s out of our hands. We couldn’t let that affect us. Not everybody is going to like us, but that goes for almost everything, if you’re a football player, if you brew beer, many things become sort of public property and this just happens, it’s a matter of facts. There is nobody who is loved by everyone, it’s just how it is. In all honesty, if you don’t love yourself or what you do, then nobody is happy.

It goes on with The End – “When we were young, is this the dream we had, we celebrated nothing, we need to find our way back”. Does it pick up after Drained?

These are all separate things. There is an overall theme but it’s not a concept album at all or anything like it, a story that starts with A and ends at Z. These are all just ideas and snippets of thoughts. The End is actually interesting because it deals with a different aspect. If somebody told you you’ve got 5 minutes to live and that’s it, your time is up, what would go through your head? Would you summarize your life? Would you start regretting stuff? Would you regret the fact that you didn’t reflect earlier? What would you do? What would go on in your head, it’s really interesting. That’s what The End is about.

Are we hearing backing vocals in this song?

Yeah, in order to get a contrast to Anders his vocals which is leading the whole record. A good way to get this contrast was to have people singing. A lot of people think it are kids, but they are not. There are 5 girls and 2 guys in their mid-twenties. This is something that we’ve done in the past years, we require a few female singers to get that contrast. It adds another dimension to it. I think it’s really interesting.

The Truth starts with clapping of hands and what seems to be those backing vocals?

Yeah, it’s that choir again, well those girls. We added them on a few songs. It’s a different approach in In Flames, we always try to do something that intrigues us. I don’t think every band is like us. But I don’t think that we are super unique either, in the way of how we approach our music. We sort of need to be challenged, musically and purely practical, too. We wouldn’t even consider to write an album unless we have booked the studio time. Practically we need to have that. And the same with the music, the song is not good enough if it doesn’t speak to us or challenge us.

You released 2 videoclips, for The End and The Truth. Can you explain them a bit?

Well I wouldn’t want to explain too much about it, but The End needs to be seen first and then The Truth, so they are connected. It’s a little bit about how we live now. With social media, news, nobody is shocked anymore. Like shock rock, what can you possibly do these days to shock people? Nothing. We just have to search on Youtube any scary thing you can think about and you find it. Back in the day with Alice Cooper, if you were into that you had to really dig deep. Everybody is so at ease and it’s a little bit like that.

Wallflower is a more focused on the music instead of text, do you agree? It starts with at least 2 minutes purely instrumental. Did you feel this as a necessity to have such a song on the album?

Yeah. While we were writing it we had a live environment in mind. In the beginning (Whoracle, Colony), we didn’t think about that because we didn’t play much live. But we started touring, playing festivals we realized we can’t write the music like that in the studio and then expect it to sound the same. We started thinking differently around how at least the arrangement should be. Having done that, we found a format that we are really comfortable with, it works for us live and it works on records. Within this format we have the time to say what we need to say. But every now and then, we need to lift things up a bit in order to make a whole album interesting. In order to make it an exciting journey all the way, you have to break things up again. We’ve done it in the past like for The Chosen Pessimist for instance is sort of like that. It builds from very small to a crescendo at the end. It’s not intro, verse, prechorus, verse, chorus, chorus, solo, verse, another chorus. That’s how we grew up with music, but by breaking it up it means something. We had sort of not The Chosen Pessimist in mind, but the feeling we had playing that.

About the just released dvd, did you think it was the time to release new live material?

Yeah it was, last one is from 12 years ago or something like that. I wouldn’t say that it’s something a band needs to do, but we needed to do this because this was the last show of a really great tour, we played well and everything felt good, we got a good production with a great team around us. In our hometown a sold out Scandinavia which is the biggest place we have and just an opportunity to capture that, it was too good an opportunity not to grasp it. We did it with the guy who did almost all our videos, he also did the previous dvd. He knows us and he was there to capture that in a way you can feel the vibe of that really cool moment.

In Flames is often mentioned as one of the three bands that lay at the foundation of the Gothenburg sound. After all these years, how do you look at that?

It’s interesting, that whole Gothenburg sound thing, right? Do you think that came from any of those bands? I mean, obviously for me and this band we listened to British heavy metal, german thrash metal, speed metal, the US death metal scene, those things. But all those bands are very different, geographically from the same place and what I think people are confusing is the fact that we recorded in the same studio with the same guy. But I think everybody had different ideas of what he wanted to do. Later on in order for some lazy journalists somewhere to just in a few words describe a band, instead of saying this is a band with heavy influence from this and that, they just say it’s Gothenburg sound. I understand the necessity of it to describe it in a few words, but none of us ever thought of this as let’s create a sound and let’s give it a name. You had all these bands, Dark Tranquillity, Grotesque, At The Gates, musically we are different but I’d like to think that we fairly early understood the necessity of touring. That would open up the world for you. I really do believe we were a big part of it, but we were not the first or not alone.

How does it feel to know that the music and lyrics that you write can be a support to people or even have a meaning in their lives?

I get goosebumps by you saying it. It’s the biggest homage, it’s extremely rewarding, having somebody come up to you, dude, this album, that song or that show helped me through that rough patch of my life or made me feel this way… It’s extremely rewarding and it just shows in all honesty how much we love music. It’s something that is extremely powerful, it’s not something you own like this new car makes me really happy. Music instantly can take you somewhere. In your mind you could have been pissed off or sad or something and then you just listen to a song and it can take you somewhere completely different. That’s how music has always been to me. Every time it happens it means a lot to me.

Also a label change happened. Where previously you were still closely connected to Century Media Records, you are now with Nuclear Blast. Can you explain this choice?

Back home! We started out with Nuclear Blast, well actually a Swedish label but Nuclear Blast came in early with ‘The Jester Race’. It was our home for many years and I think when we switched to Century Media, it was time to do something different. We went for the last record to Sony, I don’t feel that they have the tools necessary and it was frustrating I think for both parties. So then we switched back to Nuclear Blast.