ANDERS BJORLER OF AT THE GATES AND THE HAUNTED: THE METALSUCKS INTERVIEW
At the Gates’ new, triple-disc DVD, The Flames of the End, was released in Europe earlier this year, but we finally get it here in North America tomorrow. And I can tell you, it’s a must-own: the first disc consists of an incredible feature-length documentary, Under a Serpent Sun: The Story of At the Gates, which was directed by guitarist Anders Bjorler ; the second disc is the band’s complete reunion performance from Wacken ’08 (clip above); and the final disc is a whole heap of other live footage, some of it dating as far back as 1991. It’s an amazingly comprehensive package that no At the Gates fan can afford to miss.
Back in February, Bjorler actually flew to New York for a special screening of the Serpent Sun documentary, and a few hours prior to said screening, I got to meet Bjorler at his hotel for an interview. As I said, I hadn’t actually seen the film yet at this point, so I was only able to get so specific with the questions. Still, Bjorler turned out to be an honest, interesting, and deeply sarcastic (and deadpan) interview subject. Read the full transcript of our chat after the jump…
Alright, so tell us about your new DVD…
Basically, the main features, of course, are the documentary [Under a Serpent Sun: The Story of At the Gates], [which is] the history of the band, and the Wacken show from 2008. And there are some live shows from between 1991-2008.
And it’s a very long and detailed documentary from what I hear.
Yeah, it’s 130 minutes, but my director’s cut is five minutes.
And what is the other 125 minutes that’s not your director’s cut?
Eh, it’s just porn. [laughs]
No. I’ve been working on the documentary for approximately two years, doing interviews, and the most dedicated work [took place] last year from May to September. It started in 2007, when I called Adrian [Erlandsson] up about the reunion. He immediately said “Oh, we have to do a DVD.” That triggered me somehow, and I went through some old video material and photos. It was like getting together a big, giant puzzle with everyone’s personal stories and how they differ from each other’s. Also, it was getting in touch with Jesper [Jarold] and Alf [Svensson] because we had sporadic contact. So getting in touch with them was really good, and to get their point of view about that time was good.
So you conducted the interviews for it?
Yeah, I did the original interviews. I did the first template on myself, then a really long interview with Tomas [Lindberg]. That was my base. It was based on that.
How do you interview yourself? I’m just curious.
[laughs] You just put up a tripod, lighting, and a mic.
What was it like hearing the At the Gates story from other people’s points of view? Did you guys discuss these things in the past, or was this all revelatory for you?
It hasn’t been that long ago, so the stories are kind of correlating in a way. It’s more tiny, little details that differ. We haven’t really talked about At the Gates when we meet because there is so much else to talk about. You know: “What you’re doing nowadays, how’re things?” So we didn’t delve too much into the past. The documentary was the perfect opportunity to do that, and developing hundreds of photos brought back a lot of memories and stories. I had a huge amount of help from Tomas with scheduling and helping me out on the interviews.
Okay. The pro of you doing the interviews is that everybody knows you very well, and you know everybody very well, so probably any formality is thrown away. But were you ever worried that somebody might be holding back – that maybe that there was something that somebody didn’t want to say to you?
Maybe their hatred for me for quitting. [laughs] Some of them had baseball bats, but they didn’t use them. [laughs] The whole story is down to earth in a way, because we don’t have to maintain or uphold any image, because we’re not an active band. We were passed that, so that made it easier for people to open up. It’s so long ago that that helps with the nostalgia factor, so people want to remember the past fondly.
Got it. Did you conduct the interviews before or after the reunion tour?
I started before, actually, with myself. Then I did the long Tomas interview before, as well as some of the main titles, intro, and stuff like that. On the reunion tour, I didn’t film that much because I was too busy just enjoying the reunion. I wanted to experience that. I brought the camera with me to the U.S. to get some interviews with Tomas, but the main work was done after the reunion. The whole year of 2009 was spent doing the last touches, interviews, putting everything together and editing.
And who filmed the live footage, since you were obviously on stage at the time…?
My ex-girlfriend, friends, tour managers, basically everyone. I got a lot of contacts from people and fans from all over the world contributing with material both old and new.
So as you were working on the documentary, were you constantly showing versions of it or cuts of it to the other band members to get their feedback?
Yeah the first screening was with Martin [Larsson] and Tomas at my house. I just showed my interview and Tomas’ interview to everyone to tell the whole story. They were very inspired and liked it a lot. From there it just kind of went by itself. I had a huge amount of help from friends and old bands from back in the day in the Gothenburg area. This is basically my story of what happened. It’s a very personal subjective story in a way, and maybe very biased, but at least it’s my opinion. So it’s based on the whole history as I remember it. It’s very much centered around what I remember.
It’s been a huge nostalgia experience, almost like time traveling. The whole thing has been overwhelming.
Did going through all that old stuff give you any new perspective on it? Were there things you had forgotten about?
Yeah, of course you repress the negative things, like the bad touring that you’ll see in the documentary. Just the tours from hell. We were a struggling band that was more concerned about the music and just trying to make it in spite of everything that happens – in spite of crashing the vans on tour, being stranded in England… [we] just [tried to] keep going because the music is the important thing. You don’t have to be a death metal musician to appreciate this film. It’s about artistic struggles. I hope more people other than the death metal community will enjoy it or can enjoy it. That’s my hope.
Was there anything you were hoping to bring to it or do with it that you ultimately you weren’t able to? Is there any part that you’re already dissatisfied with?
I wanted to include some strange characters, like the studio engineer from The Red in the Sky is Ours. He was a very weird guy, but [to include him] felt too exploitative. I didn’t want to make fun of a strange guy.
How was he strange?
He was just weird. When he did the mixes, he had white gloves on because he was “allergic to electricity.” [laughs]
He was allergic to electricity?
Yeah, and he worked in a studio. That’s perfect. He was just weird. He charged five bucks for a cup of coffee in the studio. Not even free coffee.
That thunder effect in The Red in the Sky is Ours? We had a very tight budget and no time, but he was in the attic for two days getting that sound proper. We were pretty pissed off. We just wanted to continue in the studio.
Is there anything you draw from as a musician when you’re directing, or vice versa?
Creativity, maybe. I think directing is not so hard when it comes to a documentary. It’s all about telling good stories, and it’s not about acting. To direct acting, that would be so much harder.
You’ve also directed some music videos…
Yeah but that’s more… I kind of adopted the flow. I haven’t been taught editing techniques, but since I’ve been a very big film fan since the age of three, I’ve watched tons of movies. I don’t think you have to learn how to edit – it’s within you somehow, by watching film and movies and visuals from your past. That’s an inspiration, and your guidance to editing. I think. I hope. [laughs]
That’s cool. So the title of the DVD would suggest that you see this as a pretty definitive end to At the Gates.
I heard you guys say that you’ll never record a new album, which I actually think is a good idea since it would be hard to live up to that legacy – but do you think that you guys will never play live again, or was this really the end?
At this point and time it would feel pointless because the reunion was so successful and we don’t want to be associated with what I think are the bad reunions. Like, bands do a reunion and then stick to it and then people lose interest.
Of course we’re not going to record anything new. So much time has passed, and we’re very different people. We’ve developed as musicians, as well, along the way, and doing a new album now would be like copying The Black Dahlia Murder – it would just sound weird. [laughs]
Well, it wouldn’t be like you guys copying them…
But it would be for the new [younger] fans.
I don’t really care so much for melodic death metal anymore anyway. I’m very proud of what we did, but I’ve kind of moved on. Now I’m really enjoying bands that take the genre further.
Anyone in particular?
Yeah, Mastodon and Opeth, or whatever bands have some progressive ways. That’s what I like, from my subjective view.
That’s actually a little proggier than your music has been in the past.
We had some progressive elements in At the Gates, but they’re not so pronounced. But they are in the background on Terminal Spirit Disease and even on Slaughter the Soul.
So At the Gates is behind you. You got some other band that maybe has a future ahead of it…
Eh, I don’t see music as some kind of career. I’m doing what we do with The Haunted right now. Music for me, that’s the ultimate.
What’s next for The Haunted?
Writing some new songs right now. We’re going to release a DVD called Road Kill. It’s a touring documentary.
You also directed that, I’m guessing?
Yeah. It was actually done before the At the Gates thing.
Well I’m looking forward to seeing that one, too. Anything to add before I let you go?
Yeah. I really like MetalSucks. It’s one of my favorite websites!