In our latest interview we talk to Bjorn Gelotte of Swedish metal band, In Flames about their latest album, ‘Siren Charms’, some of his personal evolution as a musician and the band’s dynamic through the years.
S] What have you been up to?
B] “Some radio stuff, so far and some beers.”
S] Your new album, Siren Charms comes out in a few days. How are you feeling about it upon the release?
B] “Same as every time, it’s super exciting and you never know what to expect. But at the same time we’ve done all the work we wanted to do on it, we’ve written the songs that we wanted to hear so we’re very confident, but you never know what people are going to think about it. It’s part of the game.”
S] How have you, yourself, changed as a musician through the music you’ve made with the band?
B] “That’s interesting because I started out as the drummer in In Flames, so I did the first two albums. When I joined the band I joined as the drummer because Jesper kind of sucked at playing the drums and I sucked a little bit less so I got to play the drums and he got to play the guitar. But the reason why I still thought it was okay and actually a lot of fun was because they would let me write music right away and that hasn’t changed and that was super important for me. And when we released the first record it was great, then we started touring a little bit and it wasn’t really what I wanted to do, not musically, but playing the drums so it was kind of up hill for a couple years. It was extremely fun to record, write and everything, but playing the drums was really not what I wanted to do. During that time I played very little guitar. The only times I played guitar were when I wrote and recorded a little bit. But since I moved over to guitar I had to practice more and had the opportunity to enjoy playing guitar more, so that’s something that kind of grew. Songwriting wise, in our case the more we play live and the better understanding of what we want to do with the songs, we learn from the live environment, we learn where we want to put the dynamics of the songs. The important stuff like how soon you want to get to the good stuff like a chorus, that’s something that you learn along the way, at least for us. But I didn’t really play that much guitar before the shows as I do now a days. Jesper, when he was in the band, never really considered himself a guitar player. He was a songwriter and a fantastic one at that. But he was also very lazy, like I am, so we rarely jammed or warmed up or anything and it worked out. We did the job, but it was kind of tough sometimes. When he couldn’t tour anymore and Niclas joined the band that was an enormous energy boost and it really boosted my guitar playing because this guy loves to play the guitar, he plays the guitar all the time if possible. I ended up jamming with him for hours before the set. So now we do maybe 2 hours before the show and we do an hour and a half set perhaps and maybe afterwards we just continue to jam a bit so my guitar playing and songwriting have improved a lot thanks to Niclas coming in.”
S] What are some of your personal influences outside of music?
B] “I wouldn’t call it ‘art’ but I kind of use drawings and paintings as, not an outlet, but I kind of zone out when I draw and paint. It’s something I really enjoy doing, I’m not very good at it but it takes a couples of hours away on tour everyday. I do it at home too just to relax. I read a lot, always. It’s good to keep your imagination alive without being shown everything in a movie, even though I’m a sucker for movies as well.”
S] What do you like to read?
B] “I’m kind of a fantasy guy. There’s an English author, Terry Pratchett, sort of a mix in my opinion between Monty Python and Lord of the Rings, it’s a lot of fun. Right now I’m reading a book called ‘Child 44’ by Tom Rob Smith, it’s really dark and very cool.”
S] In Flames always have a great energy on stage where it seems like you’ve having a lot of fun. What is the dynamic like in the band with the changes you’ve gone through?
B] “It’s like being with your family all the time. You know, pretty much how to play the other guys, if you want to make them happy or pissed off. But these are the guys that want to do this, the people that love the music and love playing live. There’s a respect and a love there. It has to be, the people that don’t want to play live or live on the road, they kind of disappear anyway. So now we’re down to this setting that we have and we love it. It’s kind of different nowadays with our kids compared to how it was back in the day when life revolved around music and touring. Now we have kids, we have different interests and other hobbies. I have a bar, for instance, together with Peter. Aners has his own beer brand, he works at a record label, Niclas has other bands that he’s writing for. We all do other things on the side, but when it comes to In Flames, it’s one hundred percent focus, it’s what we do and what has given us the possibility to do the other things. So for us it’s a no brainer, this is what we want to do and what we’re going to do and do well. Now we have a new album out and that means at least two, maybe three years of touring which is fantastic in my book because that’s what we want to do. We’re all looking forward to it, we have some pretty cool dates and tours coming up with awesome bands and we’re going to see the world again. It’s been a year since the last show and we can’t wait to get back out there again.”
S] Has the new record pushed you out of your comfort zone or does it come easily to you now?
B] “A record never comes easy, it’s not supposed to come easy. The first couple of ideas and riffs and melodies, those are, I would say easy, but they’re there for a reason. But when it comes to putting it together and making it interesting and intriguing for us five as a band, that’s the hard part. There’s no way we can guess what other people like. The only thing we can do is talk amongst ourselves and say what’s good and what’s bad and how we can improve it. When we’re done and all the discussions are done, we’re all super proud and ten feet tall and bulletproof and nobody can tell us what to do; it’s a really cool feeling.”
S] What were the inspirations and ideas that went into the track ‘Rusted Nail’?
B] “It started out very differently from what you hear now on the record. It didn’t have the intro with the delayed guitars and everything like that, that’s something that just came out when I was sitting in the studio because I felt it needed something more than just the ‘punch in your face’ intro that came before. But the actual song is kind of straightforward. Something that started out as something that we felt comfortable doing, but we felt it was too comfortable so we added something that we rarely do. We stuck on something that we felt was nice and went with it, instead of going fairly quickly, as I said before to the good stuff, like the chorus or something else. We stuck around long on the verse and it was something new for us to do. There was no inspirational moment where I thought, ‘this is it’. It was hard work together with the other guys. It was one of those songs that came together fairly easy, compared to the title track that was really hard to put together. It came in four or five different shapes, that song. One was a super death metal vibe and one was a ballad vibe and we couldn’t get it. We knew there was something really good in it, but it just didn’t feel right so that was a lot of work.”
S: What inspired ‘Through Oblivion’?
B] “It was actually something that was meant to be between songs, no vocals or distorted guitars. I’ve always had the idea of doing something in between songs, connecting two songs with something in between. But when I presented it, it was a no-go. Anders said ‘we’ll make a song out of this’ so we started working on it and it ended up being something different for us. It moves on and on with nothing sticking out, it’s like a mantra or something. It’s a very different approach to music than we normally have. Usually there’s a lot of melodies and a lot of layers and it’s fairly straight forward. When the chorus kicks in it makes total sense, it was really fun to do. The bridge after the second chorus just makes the song even stronger. It was meant as a solo part, but Anders started singing on top of it and it sounded better. A lot of small things came together to make it the way it sounds today.”
S] How do you look back on the success of Sounds of a Playground Fading with the release of your new album?
B] “Normally this is a never-ending journey because as soon as we’re done with the tour we start recording or at least writing, then we go to the studio and then we start playing live again. It’s actually the way we want to have it. This time, we had a whole year off from playing live. Granted we did the album, but we’ve had a long time to reflect on things. It’s one of those albums that we’re super proud of and it led us to where we are today and with the new album, Siren Charms, and this is us. It’s a sample of exactly who we are, how we sound and what we want to do. Every album is made like that. I didn’t really see any greater or less success, it’s just another step towards where we are today.”
S] From the early days to now, what has kept you passionate and motivated?
B] It’s very simple; we love what we do. We love each and every f**king note, each and every song. We’re not doing it for anyone else. It might sound like a cliché or something. But if I started looking into what other people are doing to succeed, I would be in very unfamiliar territory musically. I would rather do what I really want to do and take the experiments within what we do than just move into something different. I can’t speak for the other guys, but I’m fairly confident that this is what we all love. There’s no way you can tell what people want to hear, so let’s just make sure we love it. Then we stand on stage and play what we love and I think that shines through.
S: Is there a defining moment for you when you look back on your career?
B: “One of the most important things is listening to the first rough mix from ‘The Jester Race’ in Glenn’s car because that recording was so intense. It took about eleven days, including mix. I got all my dreams shattered while recording. Before that I never really recorded, we did demos and stuff and that was very innocent, but going into the studio doing ‘The Jester Race’ just crushed all my dreams of how it was to make a record with all the chicks and champagne, but it was nothing like that. It was really hard work and long hours and listening to it in Glenn’s car just brought that all back. In that moment I just knew, I can’t do anything else, I never planned to do anything else, but I just knew I had to make it work.”
S] What inspired the album art for Siren Charms?
B] “The guy that did it is called Blake Armstrong, he did a comic book for us a couple years ago. It was something that he wrote the script for and he wanted to do every album and make a story around it. He was so good and such an inspiration for all of us and at the same time he could listen to the music and get his inspiration from it. When it came to the cover art for this one we had a couple of ideas, but nothing really fit or felt honest about where we are right now. We started talking to him and he started talking to Anders about the lyrical theme and the feeling Anders wanted to have when it comes to the lyrics. It’s a nautical theme, we’re from the west coast all of us, Gothenburg, and it’s very close to heart, but at the same time it kind of symbolises the lyrics as well because it is about the siren who lures the sailors down just by showing something which they know is wrong, but still do it because it’s something dirty or evil hidden behind that beauty.”