TBT: 2011 Interview with Bjorn Gelotte of In Flames!

By Jenna Williams “The Scream Queen”

July 18, 2011 – Mayhem Festival – Englewood, CO


We love what we do, we really do. And that’s why there’s always huge smiles on our faces when we play.

You just released your new album, Sounds of a Playground Fading… It sounds a little different compared to your previous releases…

There will always be elements that we’ve changed a little bit. It’s mainly to keep us (laughs) interested and challenged a bit, as well. We don’t want to make the same record over again. This is our tenth album. So, we’ve done a lot of things on our album. We try to find new ground a little bit, but most of the stuff comes kind of naturally… I mean, riffs and melodies, they’re created the exact same way as fifteen years ago. But it’s more about the arrangements and the fact that we’ve toured– wow, we started touring in 1998 over here [United States], and toured five years before that in Europe…

So, you’ve been touring since 1993?

Yeah, ’93-’94… And it’s– you know, you learn a lot from touring. So, that goes into the song-writing as well, because you understand what’s possible to do live, and how you can get really good, and what you can do better. So, of course it will change a little bit. Also, the fact that the other guitar player [Jesper Str├Âmblad], the one I was bouncing my ideas off, and he was bouncing his ideas off of me, he quit.

So, yeah, Jesper quit. That obviously altered the songwriting that I mix a little bit. But I’ve been writing since I joined the band, in ’95, something like that. So, it’s not new for me. But I’ve been working really closely with the other guys, Anders [Friden] especially; our singer, so we could work around the vocals a lot more, and I think that made the whole album more solid, and not just riff based and you put the vocals on top. This way we could actually do the vocals where it actually made sense and get the energy in the right spots and everything.

I saw you guys in 2008 at the Fillmore here [Denver] and you guys had so much energy, the crowd was literally drained by the end of the show! So, that brings me to this question… When you’re writing an album, or recording, how do you really try to incorporate some of that energy that you get from doing a live show into the album?

I think the important thing is to find the right dynamics in the song because you can’t keep all that energy up. I mean, in the music; it’s not like we’re running around doing back flips and stuff like that. But it’s within the music and that comes through good arrangements, I think, or really well thought through arrangements and dynamics of the song, and of course to add some hooks in there, melodies that people remember, that helps too.

Like The Quiet Place…

Yeah, exactly! And trying to invite the audience up on stage, basically… I mean, in a mental sense, you know? I think that’s important, and it gives us the most pleasure if we manage to do that in a proper way because that gives so much back.

Yeah. As you said, you try to invite the audience on stage, how do you do that exactly, or how does that happen?

We love what we do, we really do. And that’s why there’s always huge smiles on our faces when we play. Music for us is dead serious. But you should be able to have the (inaudible) in the eye or whatever. You should be able laugh around it, have a good time. I think that shows up and that’s one way of inviting people. And also not trying to be behind, like I am right now, sunglasses or a huge image or something. We’ve never had that. And we kind of focus more on the music than looks, you know?

As you said earlier again, when you’re writing, you focus on the dynamics of the music. How do you write your music so that has the dynamics within it? Or what is it that really brings the music to life?

I think, in the end, it’s the arrangements and the way you try to work around– (pauses) I really like when it goes fairly straight to the point in a song. I don’t like to wait for eight minutes beforethe first chorus, you know? And that’s one way of inviting people fairly quickly [on stage]; to start out with a theme of the song, and then it comes really quickly into the first chorus. It doesn’t need to be a full chorus… But that’s one way of just glimpsing at the full potential of the song kind of early. I don’t know, I’ve never thought about it… I just write songs the way I would like to hear them myself and get to the good, fun stuff, you know, so you don’t have to wait.

With everything you just said, it shows your passion for the music, how would you describe what happened when that passion for you initially sparked?

For me, I grew up with it… My dad’s a metal head. I grew up toBlack Sabbath, of course, Deep PurpleRainbowDioMountains, all these bands and so when it came to me rebelling, like you do, nothing really happened. (laughs) I started listening to [IronMaiden and Metallica, but my dad liked that too, so it wasn’t no real rebelling there either. So, I’ve always been around music. I was in my mom’s belly when my dad took her to a Black Sabbath concert in Gothenburg [Sweden]. The first thing I probably ever heard was that. So, for me it was never a– I was probably, in that case born with it, with the spark or the taste for metal. It’s the only thing I know.

How would you describe the journey you’ve been on ever since you joined In Flames?

Well, basically, I joined — I was eighteen/nineteen, something like that when I joined the band, and from that day on, we decided directly from ourselves that we’re going to be in control of everything musically, especially. We might work with people and get help from people, but nobody can decide for us. It needs to be all of us in a decision. And having done that, everything is way easier. When record labels said, “No, you guys should try this; this band is really successful, you should sound like them.” We said, “Fuck you.” Because we decide, you know? It’s the same with management, same with basically everybody around, and that includes fans as well because you can’t cater to everybody, that’s not possible. What we can do is rely on what we like and try to do the best out of that we can. So, having decided that we wanted to do it that way, things were kind of easy, you know? We have at least those problems set aside, now you can focus on practical issues like touring and doing albums that we like because that takes some time! 
And the journey from then has been fantastic. It’s been a lot of touring, we’ve met so many awesome bands, people, fans, friends that we still have fifteen years later and that still come out to the shows all over the world. So, it’s great.

You guys have an incredibly strong connection with your fans, what do you think makes that so strong?

I don’t know, it’s– we really, genuinely love the people that come to our show because they are there for a reason, they love music the same way that we do. And you don’t need to like everything in the band, that’s not possible. Or it’s very hard to like everything with the band; I’m the exact same way. But if you go to a concert and really enjoy yourself, then it’s easy to go back, really easy to go back. And being interactive with people, we try really hard to do that with the internet, with Facebook, all of that stuff, but also trying to meet people. We do lots of meet and greets, signings because that’s– me, growing up, meeting my absolute favorites were some of the biggest moments in my life. So, if all it takes is for us to shake a couple of hands and appreciate the people who come to the show, that’s very easy.

Throughout the years, what has been one of the most enlightening things, whether it be an up or a down that you have been through?

I think, one of the biggest things that ever happened to me was we played in Japan. And we’ve done so many awesome festivals there, it’s really, really hard to name just one of them, but we played this, I think it was called (inaudible) or something like that in Japan a couple years ago… And we were having a meeting in a bar at our hotel and somebody taps my shoulder and I turn around and it’s this guy I know in Canada, I met him in Canada and we had beers and a lot of fun and [sic] “Wow, what are you doing here?!” “Oh, I’m working with a guy you should meet…” So I said, “Yeah, sure.” So the guys [In Flames] said, “Just go, we’ll take care of the meeting.” I turn around and I see it was Ronnie James Dio!! So he [the guy at the bar] was his assistant. So I spent like two hours just sitting down talking about his view of music, his history, and I was blown away! And that day was fantastic.

Wow! When was that?

Let me think… Ah! When was that… Five years ago? Something like that, four-five years ago.

That has to be so special that you have that memory!

Yeah. It was [special]!

When you’re on stage, how does your connection–

That all really depends because on certain days can be really rough, so what you do then is just rely on what you know and you try to show people that you’re actually having fun, that you’re enjoying this, that you like the people standing up front singing. Certain days, you have ups and downs; it’s just how it works… Even they [fans] could have bad days too.

Yeah, a lot of artists have this feeling, when they’re on stage, that they’re on ‘fire’ as I’ve had it put to me before, or they feel something… What exactly is it that you feel?

I think… What we talked about earlier is the more the give and take, the more the people respond directly to what you do, and they like it… That is a feeling of being on fire because you know, when everything clicks, the sound is great in your ears, the audience is happy, the whole band plays great, then you know, that’s fantastic! But those days, they’re not rare, but the days that are rougher, they always, towards the end of the show, always feel that way, always feels awesome. We just might take a couple more songs before we really get into it, but most of the time; this is a really short set that we play [Mayhem Fest 2011], 35 minutes, and that is for us, having made ten albums, it’s kind of tough…

Yeah…The set list probably wasn’t easy.

Yeah, basically, we need to find the songs that we really like to play, that we really want to play, and we try to (laughs) measure time-wise because we only have 35 minutes, it’s 35 minutes… I mean, we change a little bit, we add one song once, then we might take another one away, and you know it cannot be more than 35 minutes. We’ll be back hopefully next year for a proper headline tour.

I’ll be there! I remember last time I saw you guys it was a sold out crowd… How does that feel for you whenever that happens?

It’s awesome, of course because everyone is there to see you and they’re there to hang out and have a great time, so of course that’s fantastic. We’ve done some festivals headlining, Wacken [Open Air], for instance in Germany, I don’t know if it had 70,000 people, or something like that; 50-60-70,000 people and they’re all there watching you and that feeling is hard to explain if you haven’t done it, but it’s– everything’s possible pretty much when you’re standing on stage in front of all the people. It’s something you need to take with you, not in a bad way, you can always remember that in one of those rough patches.

Like you were saying about rough patches… What is something that you’ve been through that’s made you stronger as a person and as an artist?

I think basically, all of the touring, all of the hardship that is on tour… I mean, it’s not tough work to be on stage, it just is fantastic. But the rest, for instance now, we do 35 minutes, that leaves, you know 23 hours and 25 minutes to do something else… And this is a nice relief, you know, doing some interviews, and we have, as I said, a meet and greet, and signings, and stuff. That’s only a couple of hours, so we spend a lot of time together, we guys in the band. We really get to know each other. And it hopefully can make you stronger. We lost one guy earlier, as I said, he couldn’t handle the touring, but that only made us stronger. We have a great time on tour. We know what mistakes not to make now…

Yeah, I was going to ask you this next… How would you say In Flames has grown stronger as a band over the years you’ve been together?

Yeah. It is through the touring, I mean, we don’t agree on everything. That’s not possible… We agree on music, you know? And that’s all it takes. And we know each other really well, as I said. So, we try to not have any blow outs, we’ve had those in the past, many times. But that’s just natural… Just like with a family, you turn into one. And this is a tour family.

Yeah, I’ve heard it described like that a few times.. What is so special to you about heavy metal?

I think the dedication that the people put into the music, it’s more than just background music or something. It’s a lifestyle. You choose– if you really like this, you choose to be a metal-head, and you are a metal-head, and you will stay a metal-head, you know? I don’t know many people that are [like], “Oh, I’ve quit metal.” I don’t think I’ve ever heard that. But then you were never into it, but that’s not by their own choice then… It doesn’t matter, it’s after all, a fairly free world. But so, I’ve never heard somebody go, “Oh, I’ve quit metal. I’m all into synth, pop music now.” That’s one of the things I really like with metal, the metal community, it’s very supportive of the band’s work, and you don’t need to be super famous. We still get respect and love from people and bands of all sizes can tour together. That’s not the same thing with pop music, or anything else?

How do you express your passion through the music and how does that represent who you are?

I think that it starts out with that [passion], but then after that, it turns into more of a practical thing, it needs to fire a spark in you somewhere when you come up with a melody, or that riff. That’s where it starts. From that on, it’s more into, I don’t know what you call it… It’s more of a labor, it’s more work after that. So that’s– it needs to start that way. And you try to keep it all away in the process of recording it and most of the time I’ve managed to get– sometimes a little bit of it gets lost but most of the time, it stays.

Those are all of my questions… As it seems we’re out of time! Would you like to add anything else?

Yeah, we’ll be back, make sure you guys are there! We’ll be back very soon.

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