Interview with In Flames Guitarist Bjorn Gelotte
Band Photo: In Flames (?)
This Swedish band doesn't need much of an introduction. Since it's inception in the early 90's, In Flames has revolutionized the metal genre by pioneering the burgeoning Gothenburg metal scene, influencing countless bands worldwide along the way. 18 years and nine studio albums later, In Flames has sold more than two million records, won a few awards and become one of the biggest metal band on the planet.
While the band was in Vancouver, BC as part of their North American tour in support of their latest album, "A Sense of Purpose," my trusty sidekick, Sean, and I sat down with In Flames guitarist and self-proclaimed nerd, Björn Gelotte, to ask him some questions. Here's how it went down:
darkstar: How has this North American tour been going for you so far?
Björn: It's been really good. I think it's really cool package that we have on this tour. Interesting because I've been listening a little bit to 36 Crazyfists before, mainly because Anders [Fridén, vocals] plays it a lot. He likes them and I heard a couple of songs I recognize. I bought two of their albums and they're amazing. So I was really happy about that. We can actually play with them and I can finally see them live. And Gojira, obviously, we did the whole European tour with these guys. Extremely cool guys and one of the heaviest bands on the planet probably. So that's another lucky thing. Some really cool friends in All That Remains. We've had a lot of fun so far and I'm guessing we're going to have a really good time coming up.
darkstar: How was touring with Megadeth on Gigantour this past summer?
Björn: A lot of fun. Obviously, I grew up listening to some their albums, like pretty much everybody else in metal did. It was pretty cool. I haven't seen Megadeth in many years. I saw them once and they were still with Marty Friedman at that time. Now, a friend of ours is in the band - Chris Broderick. We've toured with him numerous times with Jag Panzer, then with Nevermore as well. It went on really well. It was fun seeing him pull off the solos. So that was a cool experience. It was a lot of shows. It was the first tour we did after the album got released. It was a fun thing.
darkstar: How has the audience in North America changed over the years now that you've been here multiple times?
Björn: It hasn't changed a lot, but I think that's more because we played in front of different audiences before than we do now, especially when we toured with bands like Earth Crisis and Skinlab. That's a more hardcore audience. We also got teamed up with other hardcore acts. That audience is always a little bit different. A lot of mosh pits with the different bands that they do. I didn't get that at the beginning. I know it now that the guys are not fighting; they're just having a good time. I didn't know that back then. But nowadays, you don't see as many of those kids at the shows. But then again, we get the younger audiences nowadays than we did back then and I think that's a really good thing. Because when I was between 14 and 18, that's when I devoured music the most and I had to press my music, what I liked, on everybody else. It's a really good age for us to reach people at, to spread our music and that's the whole point. We want as many people as possible to listen to this.
darkstar: What are your favourite songs to play live?
Björn: It really, really depends. Some songs you're always comfortable to play. They will get the audience nuts. Songs like that are quite fun. Sometimes you're looking for a challenge instead and you try to play something which is kind of harder than the most obvious ones. But it differs everyday.
darkstar: Reportedly, you now write songs to be played live since your older material requires three guitar parts and you only have two guitarists in the band.
Björn: I think that what we have done is learn a lot on touring that we did. You don't want to overdo things in the studio because you want to be able, at least in some way, to do the songs live as well. It's really important. A lot of bands that I've seen do this. They do an amazing album. Then, you go see them at a show and it's nowhere near that. It's not ok. I don't think it's ok. For us, it's really important to be able to be at least in the same area as the song, sound pretty much the same. And since we're not Dream Theater or anything else like that, we don't shred that much so we try to keep it fairly simple in the studio. Not only the sound and stuff - that, of course, is very important - but the arrangement of the songs is extremely important, that you put the dynamics in the right places and everything. So you can actually use that dynamic live as well. We learned this from all the touring that we did. Some songs simply doesn't work live. We still try to play them every now and then but it's really hard to fit them in the set list. It's really hard to actually get people into the song because it's very monotonous, it's very relaxing as a breathing space or something. And that's something that we learn or, at least, something I think that we learn.
darkstar: What is the meaning of the title "A Sense of Purpose"?
Björn: If you would have asked Anders, who writes all the lyrics and came up with the name for it, you probably would have a really good answer. I think it means different things for everybody. For me, it was really good to have all five of us in the studio at the same time recording everything. For the last couple of albums, we did drums in one studio, we did guitars in another studio, we did vocals in a third studio, then we mixed it at a fourth studio. That was really chopped up. It was hard to get the whole album together. But, this time around, we had our own studio. We recorded everything there and everybody was there all the time, including Anders, who doesn't live in Gothenburg. That's always good because we get everybody's opinion right away instead after we recorded it. So it's good to have everybody. I don't really know what it symbolizes. I don't know if it's requiem or anything like that. It's sort of a new era. I like it very much.
darkstar: Do you have a sense of purpose?
Björn: I'd like to believe so, yes. I think that most people have a sense of purpose or that people have a purpose with their lives. I do. I have kids. I have my band. I have pretty much anything I dreamt of, except Hugh Hefner's house with all the chicks in it. But everything else, I'm a very happy guy. I'm a happy person.
darkstar: Did you intentionally go for a retro In Flames sound on the new album by using more melodic leads compared to "Come Clarity"?
Björn: More leads? I don't know. We write music that we feel should be on the album. This time around, because of the fact that we had our own studio, we had more time. We were really relaxed about the recording and we came up with many ideas that this is the first time we actually wrote more songs that we needed for an album. Most of the time, we write songs that fits on the album. So I don't know if it's more or less leads. If it's the album that we think is missing out there, then that's the way we write the music. We don't try to flirt with what we did before or try to intentionally invent new ways of doing things. We just write stuff that we think is killer. It always takes us another step.
darkstar: I guess I shouldn't ask you anything about lyrics?
Björn: No. Well, it depends on what you want to know. I wouldn't tell you exactly what the lyrics are about because Anders doesn't work like that. He sort of shows you, "This is what I'm talking about." Not exactly what it is, but more in general terms. Then, you paint your own mental picture of it and say, "Ok, now I get it." Then, you explain it to him and he says, "Yeah, well, that's your interpretation of it." Fuck! It's very cool. I think most of the time, when he writes the lyrics, it's like observations either of other people or of situations around him. It used to be very epic -- big things: themes about mankind and the future of mankind and what we've done in the past. But nowadays, it's very small, but interesting observations. He sort of elaborates on that. I like that. I like that way of writing. You can put yourself in that situation. In the whole of mankind, I'm just a very small part of it. It's hard to get the mental image of what's going on, but small things it's very easy to identify with. I like it.
darkstar: Why don't you record acoustic or instrumental tracks anymore?
Björn: We do. We haven't gone so much instrumental though. But, we have a singer so we don't see a point in having instrumentals. Most of the time, it's just unused riffs or something thrown together in a mix to see what happens with it. As I've said, once again, we're not Dream Theater so we can't make it interesting, they can. We have a lot of acoustic parts in the songs. I actually recorded a couple of acoustic things but we didn't put it in the album because it didn't really fit. We have stuff, but it doesn't fit.
darkstar: I really like the acoustic songs.
Björn: Yeah? A lot of people do. I like it. But it didn't fit it the album. Like I said, we do music for the album. Usually, we're not lucky enough to have extra material. But this time around, we did, so I had time to record some of them. We'll see when it's going to get used.
darkstar: What does "Pallar Anders Visa" mean?
Björn: It's an old Swedish traditional song. Really old. "Pallar Anders" is a name, but it means "Anders, the guy who steals apples" and it's his song. I don't know how to translate it.
darkstar: Do you guys have any plans to release more tracks for Guitar Hero or entire albums?
Björn: I don't think we'll do a whole album. First of all, it's not up to us. It's whatever company that makes Guitar Hero. It's up to them to decide what bands. Bands have lined up since they first heard of Guitar Hero to have their songs on there. It's a great new way of promoting music. They can choose exactly what they want to have in their game. If they ask me, I'll do it again. I'll definitely do it again. I had a lot of fun playing Guitar Hero. I'm a nerd so I play a lot of video games. This one is fun because it's a very party way of playing video games. I like it.
darkstar: Who's the best at Guitar Hero in the band?
Björn: Funny thing enough, our drummer [Daniel Svensson], mainly because he can't lose. He's got what we call a winner's head. He can't lose. If it's a competition, he's gonna win it, no matter what. Even though he sucks at something, he will excel just to win. No joke.
darkstar: Have you played Rock Band?
Björn: I haven't tried that. Well, is that the one you can play the drums as well? I tried it at a festival, it was before it was released, they had it set up on a big screen. We were standing there drinking beers and I played the drums. Anders played guitar. It was fun. I've tried it, but I haven't played it much at all.
darkstar: Do you have a favourite Canadian metal band?
Björn: Yeah, several. There are some really good Canadian bands. You have Despised Icon. You have Tea Party.
darkstar: I didn't know people actually listened to the Tea Party anymore.
Björn: Tea Party - fuck yeah! Awesome.
Björn: Oh, Danko Jones! Good friend of ours, by the way. Thank you. I didn't think they were Canadian, but yeah, that's another great band. Very cool guys.
darkstar: Have you seen the documentary "Global Metal" yet?
Björn: I think we have it on the bus, but I haven't seen it yet. I've seen the other one they did.
darkstar: "Headbanger's Journey."
Björn: "Headbanger's Journey," yeah. That was a lot of fun. Cool guys that made those. They really work hard to get their shit together. It's really cool stuff. I haven't seen this one but I'm planning to on this tour.
darkstar: Besides melodic death metal and ABBA, what do you think is Sweden's greatest export?
Björn: [Laughs.] I don't know. Furniture? Ikea?
darkstar: Ikea! I forgot about that.
Björn: Or cars. Not anymore.
darkstar: Or meatballs.
Björn: Meatballs? Is that an export, really? [Laughs.] I don't know. Obviously, there is a lot of music coming from Sweden, but there's a lot of music coming from US and Canada or from anywhere in Europe. It's just that the focus, especially in metal magazines, tends to be on Sweden because of the metal, right? But there's just as much coming out of Germany or Denmark or anywhere. I don't know any other exports.
Sean: Hockey players.
Björn: Hockey players, yeah! Detroit, 11 Swedish players right now in the lineup.
darkstar: How many are in the Canucks?
Björn: See? We're spreading everywhere.
darkstar: Do you always have naked Wednesdays?
Bjorn: Not always. And it does not need to be a Wednesday.
darkstar: That's what it seems like on the DVD that came with "A Sense of Purpose."
Bjorn: Yeah, in the studio it was naked Wednesdays.
darkstar: So you have random naked days?
Björn: On tour, yeah, definitely. We've got to do everything to shake yourself up a little bit. That's a fun way of doing it.
darkstar: Any last words?
Björn: Sorry about my cold. It's always great to be here. We love Canada. They've always treated us extremely well. I like the US too. I like touring in the US. It's very convenient. There's always cool people there. But Canada feels like coming home in some ways. Really weird. People are really friendly and they just love seeing us. I like that. So yeah, we'll be back many times.
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