Björn Gelotte: “We will not be a political band or religious or telling everybody what to do and think, because I think that would defeat the purpose of music. Music is – at least for me, how I want to be part of music scene – to be a pastime, be something that takes you away from everyday sorrows. Let us just have an hour and a half nothing from that. That is how I see music”
In Flames heeft net voor dit weekend het nieuwe album ‘Foregone’ uitgebracht. We waren er al lang mee bezig en willen jullie een uitgebreid gesprek met gitarist Björn Gelotte presenteren, dat plaatsvond vlak nadat de band een Amerikaanse tour en opeenvolgend ook een Europese tournee gedaan had, half januari dus. Dat alles om de hoge kwaliteit van ‘Foregone’ even te benadrukken. Zoals steeds werd het een bijzonder amicaal en gezellig gesprek met gitarist Björn Gelotte.
Vera Matthijssens Ι 16 februari 2023
After your first American trip since the pandemic, a European tour was done in the meantime by In Flames. Did it run smooth and what did you feel to be back on stage again?
It felt fantastic, it is one of the things I enjoy most being in this band: it is the live experience, it is being on stage with these guys! Bringing our music in front of people that are giving us so much back… For me it is the most important aspect of being in a band, it is being on stage performing. So I am extremely happy obviously. It has been a busy year. We didn’t expect it and I am happy that it was. We were supposed to have a very soft year, since we were coming out of covid-19 era and all that, slowly starting playing shows, but we ended up about doing 120 shows and wrote and recorded a new album during that time as well, during the year, so it was a lot of fun work. So yes, I am very happy.
Ah you started writing the album last year? Not earlier?
We started writing around Christmas 2021, so we did three weeks in the US when we finally could fly over, when they let Europeans in to the US again. We flew over and we spent three weeks in Los Angeles, talking to the producer Howard and his team. Meeting up with everybody we hadn’t seen for two years. So it was very fun and some of the embryos of the songs on the record were created there. Then we came back after the holidays for Christmas and New Year and continued writing, started recording together with the writing session and it turned into ‘Foregone’.
It is a little bit harsher than the previous ones I think…
Yes, I think writing wise and riffing and arranging wise I don’t think that we were thinking of any kind of different direction, but what we did talk about was the production side of things, how we wanted it to sound. We had all sorts of different productions throughout the years and that has always been awesome and perfect for the records, and we felt that ‘I, The Mask’ sounded sonically incredible, it is mixed by Chris Lord-Alge and he is phenomenal, so I couldn’t be happier with that record. It is leaning towards rock more, so you can hear all the guitars playing really well, lots of air in there and I think it sounds fantastic, but this time we wanted a more death metal feel. A bigger, yet maybe not as organic feel as on ‘I, The Mask’, I wouldn’t say industrial, but I would say harder and leaning towards death metal, but this is all production we are talking about right now. Those were the things we were thinking about, and then we just continued doing what we know that we were going to enjoy playing and have fun listening to. That was pretty much what we were thinking.
There must be a big difference when you are alone in your room or with the guys and on the other side the production, a big difference between the things you start with and the end product…
Yes of course and I have my way of writing music and finding melodies and that is the inspiration for harder things. You find a riff or maybe a drum pattern or maybe something that won’t leave your head, and you hit the right spot. So you want to keep that and continue working on it. That is the inspiration, the creative side of things. Then over the years you kind of learn how to arrange, at least to my own taste and also having keeping the live environment on focus, because that is where we are going to spend the most time playing it, that is a really important thing, but I think that is more of the craft side of things. I think I enjoyed it more back in the days when I did not think so much about the live side (chuckles). Now it is a bit more of work, but I do enjoy that part, feeling that it comes together between the inspirational side and the rest. So it is a very important aspect of the writing process, but doing all that and having done all these records, you kind of have an image already at the demo stage, of how you sort of want it and in what direction you want the production to go. This time around we said: bigger, harder, more death metal and Joe Rickard who mixed the record, he has been part of this band, he knows us really well, so he could translate these thoughts and ideas into what we hear today very efficiently and I just love the way it turned out, how it sounds and the actual vibe of the record. It is more than we could hope for.
That’s nice, that the former drummer also has production skills…
It is a man of many talents.
By the way, you are now with two Swedish musicians and three Americans, because Chris Broderick joined the band. So it must have been a kind of adaptation for you to play with another guitarist again…
Well, I had great guitar players to play with throughout the years. I have been very fortunate in that way. I have always played with extremely talented people. Everybody who has been in this band has been really good and that is just one of those cool things in this band. We just keep getting better and better. The people who are in the band now and have been in the past, have always been really good in what they do and they are really inspirational to the rest of us, to me. I have always been playing guitar with the guys on and off and no way near as much as I am doing today. Chris is extremely skilled. He is a great teacher, he knows everything about guitar. For me it is like having a guitar teacher with me. A mentor basically if you will, on tour. I couldn’t be happier than with the line up that we have now. It has always been like that. The ones that we shared the stage with, they are the best I think and right now it is the best that we ever sounded.
How would you describe the kind of guitar player Chris is and you are?
I would say that I am probably blues based, I have my way of finding melodies and harmonies. I am kind of confined into the technique I have due to my somewhat limited skills in that. At the same time I don’t have any rules, because I don’t know any theory. Chris is extremely confident and he can come up with anything. His technique or his ability is not limiting him. It is the opposite, he can do whatever you want. You can write something down on paper and then he will play it. I can’t do that, so he is obviously way more controlled. He is organized, I am not (laughs). I think we compliment each other pretty well. You can hear him shredding and then I can do the more filler stuff, obviously more leaning towards melody than shredding. So I think we compliment each other.
It is a kind of different colour or timbre that adds a zest to the whole thing, but I am also very glad that you returned to the semi-acoustic parts and folky things. Where does that come from?
There has always been a little bit of acoustic on every record. I love that stuff. Having a steel string acoustic guitar through the different compressors, a little bit or reverb, and in the end a good producer or a mixing guy, that sounds incredible. And it can just highlight even the hardest death metal riffs. You can have something in there that gives it an edge. So there is always a little bit of that stuff. Maybe not very obvious so that everybody can hear it, but then I also love the acoustic intros. It puts a certain vibe right away and it is this little melancholic edge in most of the stuff, at least when I play an acoustic guitar, it is not going to be country & western, especially not in these circumstances. It will be something perhaps a bit leaning towards folk music or something more traditional and more emotional, without me even thinking about it, because I think that is when I can get most out of that particular instrument. That’s where it fits best in our music. There are so many ways to explore that instrument, but I think for us it works the best putting a certain mood in a song and add that little extra edge.
Keep on doing that, because the intro is striking!
It is interesting. That intro is me trying out different microphones at home. I have the acoustic stuff in my home and I was trying out a new microphone. I just did some ideas now and then, the same thing I was doing when I was writing ‘Stay With Me’ on ‘I, The Mask’. Same thing, I was trying out a mic and I had the acoustic standing there. Some of these ideas, they just stuck in my head and they turned into songs. The same here with the intro. It was supposed to be a part of the ‘Forgone’ title track and then we decided arranging the record differently and it just fit in way better as an intro. It puts you in the right mindset to listen to the record I think.
Indeed, because ‘State Of Slow Decay’ is very harsh. I like those contrasts…
Even in one song I think you need certain dynamics in order to make it interesting, but this is all taste in the end, we have to remember that. For my taste I like a song to be interesting, I want to have the harsh stuff but also some time to breathe mentally in between, but that is just me. Some people need time to breathe, others dislike it, but for me I think it is important that have that. In the end we still make an album, we don’t make singles. So pretty early on, when we have the demos and ideas for four or five songs we’re putting together, the challenge is to give the album the right flow and dynamics in there as well. It is important: if we create an album, it needs to be a comfortable and interesting journey, for the listener too. And the first listener is us, so it needs to be good to us, because we put this thing together. That is important. The same thing applies to the live set, you want to make sure that for us, it is a nice flow, something interesting for us to play all the way. At least to make sense, with ups and downs in order to pursuit the perfect set list. The same thing with a song and the track list on a record. It is very important.
About the concept of time: is it really Anders who writes all the lyrics or do you do an addition here and there?
It would mostly just be Anders. If I have any opinions, it is usually not about the topics or the way he is putting it together, because he is a lyricist, I am not. I focus on the melodies and stuff like that, but I think that is where we compliment each other. I can have certain ideas, that I would like this to go in that direction and he would say the same thing about the direction of an arrangement or a melody or a riff. In order to make the vocals work here, maybe we should focus on that. So there is more of a give and take that way. I am not going to change the topics. He discusses it a little bit with me and I am sort of aware about where we are going with it, but then I just love to see the creative process and see where he ends up. Some stuff just happens like that, other stuff takes a lot of time to get it written, but the same with the music. It is two different aspects of the same thing.
To my feeling there is a kind of cycle in the album. It is very dark…
Indeed, it is very dark. I think more so in the lyrics than in the music, with the pandemic and the whole situation in the world right now and after the pandemic. It absolutely seeped into the topics in a way he chose to talk about certain things. We will not be a political band or religious or telling everybody what to do and think, because I think that would defeat the purpose of music. Music is – at least for me, how I want to be part of music scene – to be a pastime, be something that takes you away from everyday sorrows. Let us just have an hour and a half nothing from that. That is how I see music, not about the concept, not about the latest development of the stock market, not about different conflicts in Europe, I just want to be me. Me, friends and the music basically, that’s how I see it. Yet at the same time it is unavoidable to have something like that, especially if you had a platform like Anders has with the lyrics not to be involved in some way. We are affected by it, let us put it like that. So it is dark, yes. His lyrics are always kind of dark. They are open for interpretation and usually he says when he is done with it, when he has said what he wants to say, it is like therapy for him. Then it is out there and it is gone. It is really interesting how it works. Music can do the same thing, but I think in different ways, just small things that remind you of something. Music can bring you in a certain mood. These things are really powerful and really cool. It should be used as pastime for making you think a little bit.
And when lyrics and music go together and it suits you, it is the best thing that you can reach as an artist I think…
Well, I think also as – consumer is the wrong word – as a music listener I think the greatest reward is when these two things align, it means everything. It is like your mind and your soul at once. I love those moments and they happen all the time. It can be something when you least expect it. It can be anything that just grabs you and that is the really cool thing with music. That is why I love being part of it.
You have the 2112 restaurant in Gothenburg for many years now, and it is absolutely amazing, but I found out that you opened another one in the downtime during covid-19?
Well, the pandemic was not really easy for anyone, it was hard for everyone and I think it was interesting for me and Peter (Iwers – Vera)… we are both musicians and that is what we do and all of a sudden we could not do that. No touring and then also restrictions and closed down borders, shutdowns and stuff like that… So we could do our other things: having restaurants and hanging out with friends. It was very frustrating at the beginning of the pandemic, but at the same time for us, the staff, we are the heart and soul of the restaurant, so we did our best to keep everybody in there though there was no business to be done. We didn’t want to loose any of the talents. So we had to work hard and it was frustrating at times, especially dealing with different governments and shit like that. They were all dealing with it in different ways and none of them was right obviously, so we tried to make sure that everybody came out of this okay. So that was hard work. We managed to open another one during that time (or at least plan and then finally open it). It is just something really cool to have when there is some downtime, really fun to have this social hub with friends and family who in one way or another all take part in this. It is just an extension of what we have done with music and the soul is still there.
In Summer we have the festivals, but what are the further plans for this year?
Well, we thought we were going to have a slow year last year and it turned into a very busy year. Hopefully this year will be as busy, I mean, it is what we love doing. It is playing live, so hopefully we will have a bunch of touring getting together all over the world. We have shows in the Pacific, we will have Australia, which will be extremely cool because I haven’t been there for so many years and that’s a lot of fun. With festival touring, there are a lot of bands that I really like, I get to see a couple of shows, I am very eager at that. We have our album release coming up in a month now, so I am excited for that and then we have festivals as you mentioned. A whole bunch of it and more touring. That’s what I see in the near future.
You had great inspiration for ‘Foregone’…
(laughs) Well, thank you. I think it was very important to do, even though we weren’t done with ‘I, The Mask’ yet and the touring for that. I think the right thing to do was to start with just getting a lot of creativeness out of you, just getting back on track and seeing all the guys again was just amazing. Working with Howard and Mike and Joe and all those guys, I hadn’t seen them for years. I barely talked to anybody, let alone seeing them. I think it was very important to do that and it just kicked off the year perfectly. So yes, it has been a good start for this album.
Do you plan any more video clips?
Who knows… we want to make sure that they all kind of make sense. We know it is a different world than how it used to be. When you did a video, you would spend x amount of money and time making it and then it was a certain outlet. Now it is more of solely a promotional tool which is used anywhere. We try to be very conscious with what we do, but we do like the format and we love working with Patrik Ulleus. He did all our videos. Him and Blake Armstrong who creates the artwork for us, between those two guys we can come up with some cool ideas and stuff. So we will see. The album is not even out yet, so there might be some more coming up.
It was amazing to talk to you again…
Likewise; as always.