EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW WITH IN FLAMES’ BJÖRN GELOTTE
There are probably very few metal fans that don’t have an immediate, vehement reaction to In Flames. Either they’re devoted and loyal, stubbornly sticking to the belief that the band can do no wrong; or they’re self-righteously angry, declaring that In Flames has let them down too many times, musically speaking. If there’s a middle ground, I’ve yet to encounter it. Everyone has an opinion and is more than happy to share it.
Well, so does guitarist Björn Gelotte. He and I had a nice chat recently, covering everything from the group’s new album, Sounds of a Playground Fading, to the internet, to loud family members, to Star Trek. Read the full interview after the jump!
Good, I’m a bit tired. We just got back, did a few shows this weekend, and I just got home and found out my wife had to go to Finland for an emergency so I have the three kids straight after touring. It’s great fun, I mean it’s summer time now here for the kids so school’s out, but they have other activities. It might get a little loud, though.
That’s totally fine. I’m actually visiting family and am home, too. My little sister decided today was the day to have all her friends over, so I’m sorry if there might be some screaming from my end.
[laughs] That’s pretty much the same here, yeah.
You just did a bunch of shows within the Sonisphere Festival, including a date in Istanbul, Turkey. I actually got to see that show and brought my little cousins to their first metal show. Was that your first time there?
I believe it was our second time in Turkey, and the last time was in Istanbul as well. But that was about five or six years ago, and [part of] a really small festival in the woods somewhere. It was very cool but very small, so this was kind of different for us. It was absolutely perfect. The weather conditions and the audience were fantastic. We didn’t really know what to expect but we always knew that Turkey’s fans are fanatic fans. In a positive way! And that goes for soccer and everything!
Yeah, I wasn’t allowed to go to soccer games when I was younger. My parents were too worried.
Yes, yes. We had a great time and had some really great food and met some cool people, we’re good friends now. It was a great day.
We had a lot of fun, too. But it got pretty hot standing in the sun with no shade for almost twelve hours.
It amazes me how tough some people are that they can do that.
I’m never doing it again.
[laughs] It was very warm that day.
I’ve seen In Flames before and, honestly, the last time couple of times you guys looked pretty tired and unenthusiastic. I’m so glad that you seemed quite happy to be onstage and performing this time around. Are you happy to be back on tour? Was that just a fluke? Just being worn out at the end of a tour or something?
When was the last time you saw us before this?
It was about two years ago, in the States.
Oh, yeah, I think that was around the end of the tour, and we had all the problems with Jesper [Strömblad, former guitarist] and all that crap, you know? There are a lot of things that can affect a show and we try not to make it happen but inevitably after a really long run we just don’t have the energy or patience anymore. It could be something small like bad sound onstage, it could be anything. We try to be professional and not let that affect the show but sometimes it does and I’m sorry to say, sometimes it happens to the best of us.
Of course. You touched up on it but do you mind me asking about the split from Jesper? I mean, it was amicable, and I believe you two have a side project (All Ends), but there were rumors stating otherwise?
No, no, no, there was never anything bad. The thing is, he asked us not to talk about it. He thinks that everyone knows, you know, alcohol problems and so on. But that said, we love him and he loves us and we’re friends. We have been friends for the last twenty years and we will continue to be so. We just couldn’t work together anymore because he can’t tour, so that’s pretty much it.
Makes sense. And if it’s better for his health then that’s the way it should be.
Yeah, yeah he needs to take care of himself. You only have one life and hopefully it’ll be a long one.
Exactly. There are so many artists crippled by these problems and yet, they’re forced to go through the motions. I was supposed to see Amy Winehouse in concert but it was cancelled because she was so out of it. It was all over the news and just so sad to watch someone in that state.
Yeah, I mean, that’s just fucked up. We worked around this problem for five years but in the end it was his decision to not tour. That’s the only way to do it to be fair to the other guys in the band, the people that work with us, and ultimately, the people that come to our shows. If you don’t have your mind in the game then you’re in the wrong place.
That’s a good way to put it. Speaking of the people at your shows, I know my little cousin came asking me for some of In Flames’ stuff afterwards. I always like seeing peoples’ reactions to music they’ve never heard before, especially if it’s positive. That probably never gets old for you?
Yeah that is — one second.
[Swedish dialogue between ensues between Gelotte and one of his kids]
Okay, back! Yes, do we like new fans? Was that the question?
Pretty much [laughs]. It sounds stupid when you say it back to me! Let’s go with touring. How big a deal is it in terms of getting your music out there? It’s a pretty constant thing in your life, yes?
Touring is what we do. Sometimes I joke around a little bit and say the only reason you do an album is to go on tour again! It’s partly right, you know? It’s great fun to do a new album and start with something fresh and interesting, something more challenging than maybe songs of the past are.
So you’d say that In Flames’ sound always tries to evolve? There are quite a few fans that prefer older material, and aren’t shy about saying so, but are you trying to get away from sounding the same on purpose? Is it a conscious effort?
The only filters that we need are the ones that we, us five, in the band have; if we think it’s very good, if we work very hard on them, if we can stand behind the songs live and enjoy it, then we’ve done the right thing. You can’t please everybody, especially fucking idiots on the internet…
[I crack up at this point]
…who don’t even have names and just say things because they can. Most of the time, they don’t even listen [to the music]. But that’s just the way it is. I’m not writing music for them, I’m not even writing music for those who love my music. I’m writing for us. If someone else likes it then that’s a great bonus. For us to be able to tour and enjoy and have a good time on the road we need to be happy and proud of our music. The whole point with music is that it is [a matter of] taste. It’s not political, it’s not religious, it’s a taste thing, you know? There’s always a moment where someone can all of a sudden like something else but we write the music for ourselves every time. Every album we’ve done for us. It’s never been like, “Maybe the trend will be this, this year,” and we change for that because you will always be a step behind. The only way to do it is to stand behind you music. The really early stuff we did were awesome songs and they’re great on the albums. But the problem is they weren’t really arranged or [written to be] played live and well, we didn’t know any better at the time. The first album I was in, Jester Race, was done in eleven days so we didn’t have too much time to focus on whether this [song] was going to be played live. We were like, “Oh fuck that, just record,” so that sort of hurts the songs now. The classics are fantastic songs, it’s not like I’m not proud of them but it’s tough to make them work live and that’s what we ultimately aim for. We try sometimes to reinvent the songs a little bit, put something to make it flow better, but most of the time it’s a waste because the songs are good as they are but just not for performing.
Sounds of a Playground Fading has some really catchy hooks that blend well with the vocals but I have to ask, do you think there’s any chance of an instrumental album or even just instrumental pieces for future records? Do you think you’d ever perform them, or past instrumentals, live? “Man-Made God,” is my favorite and I, uh, may or may not have heckled you demanding it at some point…
I don’t think we’d be into doing that. Instrumental tracks are fun when you’re just jamming and once in a while you feel like, “This is a great melody let’s turn it into a song.” But we have a really good singer in Anders [Friden] and he wouldn’t get to be a part of that since he doesn’t really play an instrument so what we he do? It’s a band thing. Jesper and I did that in the past because it was fun and interesting arranging those songs but they would rarely be played live so it’s sad to waste space on an album with something you probably won’t play live.
Do you have any favorites from the new album?
That really depends on the day! Everything is new and interesting and it’s a bit more challenging to play this, I had a lot of time to actually work on the riffs and the solos so it’s a little bit… the bar set a bit higher. All of them are actually a lot of fun to play. I don’t know, the ones we’ve played live so far have worked really well like, “Fear of the Weakness,” and the single, “Deliver Us.”
The crowd certainly seemed to be into them! Which brings us back to touring, sort of. Sonisphere is known for mixing up the line-ups per city. How was it playing with such diverse acts? For me it was certainly interesting as it was a one-day festival and I don’t think any of the bands playing had anything in common except being metal.
It’s not that unusual, actually, of most festivals. The difference here was that it was only these bands. You can have all sorts of genres and bands but much more, you know. The fact that it was kind of small, concerning the bill, I mean it wasn’t fifty-five bands. It’s perfect. This gives the possibility for anybody to see it. Anyone that’s into rock or metal or death metal, they can get a little bit of everything. I think it was a good sampler of a huge festival.
That’s a good way to see it. You’re back home now but you have more dates in July and throughout the rest of the year, though?
Yeah, yeah we do every week until pretty much mid-July and then we go to the States and do the Mayhem Festival. We all really like being on the road, otherwise we wouldn’t be able to do this considering how much we tour. I think we do between 160-210 shows a year. You really need to like what you do, and we do. We’ve done this for fifteen years and it’s something you grow to understand and enjoy and you focus on what’s important on tour rather than partying all the time [laughs]. But we love it. Usually when we’re added on to a festival like this we know more than half, sometimes all, of the other acts and it’s always a very nice, calm environment. Everyone is friends.
Any favorite bands? To just listen to as well?
I tend to stick with ones I know but Anders, on the other hand, is a huge consumer. He searches out new music all the time. I get a lot of new stuff from him and his iPod or whatever. Muse was one of them. He’ll be like, “You’ll like this,” and I’ll say okay and give it a listen and most of the time I do.
On a completely different note, you’re a big Star Trek fan, what did you think of the newest movie?
Oh yeah, yeah fantastic! I was so amazed because I thought it would be another one of those little bit more, “plastic” things. They’ve all been a little plastic since Next Generation, and it was really interesting to see them go back to the original series and show how they met and came to be, and I’m a big sci-fi fan.
I was really happy when that came out, looking forward to the next one.
Any last things you want to add?
Is this for an American source?
It’s based in the States but the readers are pretty international.
Oh, cool. Well, check us out on the road, we’ll be out for the next two and a half years or so [laughs], so hopefully we’ll be somewhere close to you guys.