***Interview & All Live Pics By Lord of The Wasteland
As pioneers of what has become known as the “Gothenburg sound,” Sweden’s In Flames have risen from THE underground cult status of mid-nineties gems THE JESTER RACE and WHORACLE through to their latest CD, A SENSE OF PURPOSE. The transition has not been an easy one, though, as fans of the harder-edged death metal vocal style that Anders Friden sported initially began to share space with clean, melodic vocals on 1999’s COLONY and 2000’s CLAYMAN. But it was CLAYMAN’s follow-up, 2002’s REROUTE TO REMAIN, that rustled the most feathers. Cries of “sell-out” echoed from many dissenting fans but the band soldiered on, proclaiming they are playing the music they like. In an ironic twist, many of the fans who felt shell-shocked and isolated by In Flames’ more modern sound grew to appreciate the band’s vision and along the way, significantly more fans began buying their music and turning up to see the band live.
Subsequent releases still draw the ire of many who feel In Flames is seeking North American approval and mainstream success (in hindsight, SOUNDTRACK TO YOUR ESCAPE a bit watered-down) but with the one-two punch of COME CLARITY and A SENSE OF PURPOSE successfully bridging the gap of melodic ear candy, the band’s trademark riffs and moshpit-fuelled aggression, In Flames’ rise from the European death metal underground to global recognition looks to be on the rise once again.
Speaking with founding In Flames member Jesper Stromblad before the band’s Winnipeg date as part of the Megadeth-led Gigantour, the guitarist was upbeat, positive and unflinchingly honest, even though the after-effects of a late-night of drinking and poker was still clearly weighing him down. With their own studio back home and a new CD making waves across the metal landscape, Stromblad has plenty to be happy about, too, as he touches on why the band doesn’t play as much older material live anymore, the new record label, why "Ozzfest sucks" and rumors of tension within the band.
A SENSE OF PURPOSE (2008)
The new album is called A SENSE OF PURPOSE and once again, a great CD from In Flames.
Thank you very much!
There are a few surprises on there–some experimentation, some curve balls that you’re throwing at the fans.
I wouldn’t say [we did] much experimentation but we did the longest song we ever did on this one called “The Chosen Pessimist” and I’m super happy with the result, and the fact that we worked it out. We wrote, rehearsed, and recorded everything we did in our own studio this time – in our hometown.
I understand that your new studio, IF Studios, actually used to be Studio Fredman, which was Fredrik Nordstrom’s studio.
Yeah, that’s right.
How did you guys end up taking over that studio from him? Did he move to a bigger place?
He actually moved to a smaller place because he has a tendency for making a lot of babies (laughs). They live maybe an hour’s drive outside of Gothenburg, and he got really tired of having to go back and forth every day, and wanted to be close to his family. So he got a smaller place in his town. Then, [Studio Fredman] was open for sale, and we said “what the hell,” we’ll take it over and invest some of our money in it, build a state-of-the-art studio. And that’s what we did.
Did you make a lot of changes to the equipment that was already there, or did you keep it as it was?
No, we made some big changes, because he took more or less everything with him, so we had to get a new mixing board and all the effects and stuff. Anders [Friden, vocals] had plenty of stuff, because he was part owner, so some of that stuff was still kept in the studio. It’s a huge investment, but it’s moving along really well. We have a house guy now, and he’s doing mixing jobs on some productions while we’re gone, so we can get the money back. And then, of course, we did our own recording there.
Do you have any higher-profile production jobs that are going to be done in the studio coming up?
Nothing official – we’re dealing with a couple of bands, so it’s going to be more or less booked this year. That was our hope, and we’re really happy that it’s happening.
What advantages did you find with recording the new CD in your own studio?
Well, of course, we kept everything in the same place. It’s a huge studio, and we have a little writing studio where we went every day, sat and came up with the ideas, and did the initial demos. And then, of course, it’s home, so when the day’s over, we can go home and sleep in our own beds. Before that, when we recorded the SOUNDTRACK TO YOUR ESCAPE album, we were stuck in a big house in Denmark for two months getting cabin fever. And when it comes to the budget, it’s a small thing to do, because we rent it from ourselves, more or less.
The new CD was released in North America on Koch Records, which is kind of a strange choice, much like Ferret Records was for the last In Flames album, COME CLARITY. Why do you suppose these non-traditional metal labels are rolling out the red carpet for In Flames?
Well, I don’t really know. Maybe they see potential in the band, or that we can appeal to more than just metal fans. And choosing Koch is politics that I’m not really a part of. You know, it was a little bit of a bargain back and forth. We could go for Nuclear Blast America, but it’s kind of pointless. We were doing a lot of promotion over here, and we want people to find the album. That’s what’s most important. And I think Koch has the power to do that, and they already proved that they do that. So I think it was a smart choice.
I interviewed Björn [Gelötte, guitar] when SOUNDTRACK TO YOUR ESCAPE came out in 2004 and the band was still on Nuclear Blast Records, but when COME CLARITY came out two years ago, there was absolutely no promotion, in Canada anyway, for the album. There was no callout for interviews or anything like that. But Koch has really been on it – Eric has been after me constantly to try and interview you guys, so they’re definitely doing their job.
Yeah – we have great promotion guys over here now. And it’s important for us. So I don’t care if I’m label mates with Sinead O’Connor and Xzibit, stuff like that. I just want the record to be available to people. For example, we’ll do Gigantour tonight and play in front of 7,000 or 8,000 Megadeth fans. Hopefully, they’ll say, “hey, this is a cool band, tomorrow I’m gonna pick up their new CD.” And hopefully they’ll find it in the stores. That’s been a problem before. Nuclear Blast didn’t really care about the US, because they’re huge – almost a major label – in Europe, and we had the feeling that they’d kind of settled with that. They had two guys working over here for this huge market, and that kind of sucks.
COME CLARITY (2006) / SOUNDTRACK TO YOUR ESCAPE (2004)
In Flames had a huge rise in popularity with the last three albums – did you guys have any major label interest, with Sony and Roadrunner, for example, or other labels like that?
Yeah, we actually talked to most of those labels, but we decided to stay with Nuclear Blast in Europe, and go for Koch. I think it was a good choice. It would be cool to see what would happen if we signed with a major label, but if we would sign with a major label, we wouldn’t be top priority anymore, because we’re not a huge band. But for Nuclear Blast, we are a top priority, and they do everything to promote us. It’s a top release whenever we release an album, and that’s great for us.
Is A SENSE OF PURPOSE a concept album? The reason I ask is that looking at the CD booklet, the art and lyrics seem to all tie together.
Not really. It’s just Anders’ thoughts of things going on his life, and what he sees around him. There’s no concept. Maybe in some ways, but we just wanted to have great artwork that ran through the whole CD when you’re listening to the album and reading the lyrics, when you have the booklet in your hand.
Who’s the half-man/half-bird thing? Is there any meaning behind that?
Well, Anders came up with this idea to make something around the labyrinth game. Maybe it would symbolize life – you don’t know what’s going to be around your next corner. Then he had a small idea that he sent to this artist, and that’s what he came back with. So it’s the artist’s idea, I think.
And he managed to work the jester into the artwork, I see, near the end.
Oh yes – it’s always gonna be there somewhere.
He’s the mascot?
Yeah, it’s our little Eddie, in a way. And [the artist] did a great job, because he made him three-dimensional this time, with a little bit of a body. You can see his hand, and he’s holding this labyrinth.
Yeah, he’s very creepy looking in the picture. I noticed the band has a new fan club called The Jesterhead Colony (http://www.jesterhead.com). Did you have an idea that you wanted to have a KISS Army sort of thing?
Yeah, we tried to create the best fan site that there is, and we’re developing it all the time. We wanted to have a place where the hardcore fans could go and feel that there’s always going to be something exclusive. There are photos, and all the news is always posted there a couple days earlier. Also, they can interact with each other in another way, because when you go into the site, you create your own page. You can put a picture up there, and you can make factions. For example, Finnish fans could form the Finnish Faction, and have their own little site in [our] site, so they can get to know each other, and so they can meet at shows. It’s for the hardcore fans. They get an exclusive shirt, they get laminates, and we have meet-and-greets every day, so they come up to the shows and meet us – take pictures, sign autographs, and hang out for a while. And also, we are registered on the site, so people can send messages to me with questions they have, and I can answer them. So we interact with the members, and I think that’s a pretty cool idea.
So it’s definitely worth the money by the sounds of it. A lot of people would look at that and think, “Why I would I pay to be part of this when all the news is everywhere else for free?” But you guys are actually in there interacting with the fans?
Yeah, we’re working hard on that site. And I know that people think that we’re trying to rip them off, but hey, 29 bucks and you get a shirt – that’s more or less what a shirt costs – plus, you get all this other stuff. And it’s not free to develop a platform like this, so we’re kind of losing money to do it, but we want to do it. It’s a cool way to interact with the real fans. So yeah, it’s well worth the money.
REROUTE TO REMAIN (2002) / CLAYMAN (2000)
There’s a DVD that comes with the limited-edition version of the new CD. It’s mentioned on it that you wrote seventeen songs for the new album. There are twelve on the CD, three more on the single for “The Mirror’s Truth,” but that leaves two – are they going to show up somewhere, or are they just going to get put aside?
There are actually sixteen songs. We recorded a cover song – and I will not mention which, because it’s never going to be released. But yes, there is one song left over, and it’s going to be released somehow, someday. It’s a cool song, but, I don’t know, it didn’t fit when we decided what would end up on the album and what would end up on the EP.
I know there’s another version of the album that’s coming out, sort of an exclusive limited-edition, and it’s in a wooden labyrinth package. Did the band have any input into that, or was it a label decision? How did that come about?
I think that was the label’s idea. We usually do some kind of exclusive package, limited to 1,000 copies, for each album. But yeah, I think it was the label’s decision. I actually saw it for real just a couple of days ago myself – I don’t own it – but it’s amazing. It’s like a real game. And it comes with a huge booklet, and, of course, the DVD and the CD. It even has the little details – the little ball that you use when you play the game – the jester is inscribed in the little ball. It’s really detailed – really cool.
And people can get that off the website?
I guess from Nuclear Blast’s website.
Is it only available in Europe, or can people in North America get it?
I don’t really know actually, but I think the Nuclear Blast web shop has it, and maybe Koch. I don’t know if they even sell these things online.
I know you’ve done a video for “The Mirror’s Truth,” (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vF8ldaRTkB8) which is an extremely creepy video, I thought. Tell me about it.
(Laughing) Yeah – I was there!
What exactly are those big white things?
I guess we don’t really know. We got a couple of treatments from a couple of different directors, and these guys came up with the idea. There are slaves working in this factory, and you can see these creepy guards. We just thought the idea was cool, and we went for it. It’s actually real kids in those masks.
Yeah there were about thirty kids going around with those masks, so it was pretty bizarre when we stood and shot the video and had all these guys around us.
Have you decided what the next video is going to be?
We haven’t decided yet, actually. We’re talking about it right now, and we’re looking at some different treatments for videos. But we haven’t decided which song.
COLONY (1999) / WHORACLE (1997)
I’ve been reading some recent interviews that you guys have done since A SENSE OF PURPOSE has come out. I think Anders mentioned that after COME CLARITY, there was really low morale within the band, and a lot of arguing and fighting. Was that the reason that you took a leave from the band last year?
No – it had nothing to do with that – it’s personal. I can say that everything is fine – whatever problem I had – and I’m back for good.
That’s good to hear.
I wouldn’t say we were arguing that much, it was just a really hard year. There was a lot of touring – we were on the road more or less all the time, and everyone has families with kids at home. It was just hard on everyone to be away for so long. But that’s what you’ve got to do when the touring cycle comes up, and you have that much market to cover. But it feels much better this time, because we really enjoy this tour. We enjoy playing and we enjoy being on stage. Usually support tours, for me, suck. I think it’s just boring. And I get the feeling that I’m going to be away for five weeks, and getting up for no [reason], more or less. Sometimes that’s the feeling I have, and it really wears me out. But this year, we only have cool things. We have Gigantour, and we are headlining a lot of festivals, and we have a huge European tour coming up, and then back to the U.S. for a headline run. It’s just cool things coming up, so everyone is in a better mood this time.
That’s good to hear. You mentioned the Gigantour – you guys are on that right now, and you’re just starting the western Canadian leg. I see playing Winnipeg, and I noticed there’s some other cities that are a little off the beaten path. Is this the first time you guys will be playing some of these cities? Have you played Winnipeg before?
I think we were here with Slayer a couple of years ago. We’ve been to Calgary, and we’ve been to London [Ontario]. I know we’ve played in Vancouver at least four or five times.
So how did the Gigantour gig come about? Did [Megadeth vocalist/guitarist] Dave Mustaine personally select you guys, or was it all done between the labels?
That’s what I hear – he handpicks the band he wants, but I don’t know. We just said, “Yeah, of course!” We’ve got a great slot – we play right before Megadeth, and we get fifty minutes, so it’s pretty cool. But yeah, I think Dave Mustaine chooses the bands.
You’ve said in the past that you were pretty unhappy when you did Ozzfest a few years ago. What makes the Gigantour experience different from what you did on Ozzfest?
Ozzfest sucks. You know that. The big difference, of course, is that this time we play in front of people that I like to play for. When we played Ozzfest, we had the worst slot on the whole tour, because we were the first band on the main stage, and when we started, there were no people in the venue, more or less, because they were finishing watching Rob Zombie. So when we played our last song – which was our fifth song, because we were only on stage for 25 minutes – then people showed up. It was pointless. This time has been over my expectations – I mean the turnout has been huge, especially in Canada. When we play, it’s sold out everywhere. It feels like we have a lot of people coming to see us, and we have a feeling like it’s a headline show. Every night, we don’t want to go off stage – we just want to go on, compared to Ozzfest, when I didn’t even want to go on stage, because there was no point. We played in front of empty seats for two months.
That would kind of takes the wind out of your sails, I guess.
Yeah – but I guess it was worth it. It’s cool just to have done it, to share a stage with Black Sabbath and Iron Maiden. We got to hang out with Bill Ward a lot – the drummer from Sabbath is a big In Flames fan. Just that fact is pretty cool. We made a lot of good friends – it’s a huge package with a lot of bands.
Peter [Iwers, bass] just posted a new update on your site which mentioned the band is changing up the set list from night to night on the shows.
Yeah, a little bit.
Do you plan to do this once you head out on the headlining tour, as well?
We like to alternate a little bit, so we can say, “Now we’re gonna do some old stuff.” Maybe we’ll do that old song, or that old song – but some songs, we kind of have to play, like the singles. So we try to alternate two or three songs every night.
Which different ones are you playing tonight?
Tonight? I have no idea actually. We haven’t come that far. Björn is still sleeping.
(Laughs) It’s like 4 o’clock there, isn’t it?
Yeah! But we had a border crossing this morning, so we had to get up really early to show our faces to the border people.
So you got the rubber glove test?
No, actually, they were really nice to us!
I remember when you played Vancouver a few years ago, you had some problems coming through the border.
Yeah – usually it’s messy. It takes a lot of time to go through customs and everything.
What is it that holds everything up? I mean I’ve heard it’s the merchandise and that sort of thing that’s the big issue.
I actually have no idea. But I guess it is.
It’s just a pain.
But it’s totally worth it – Canada is the best.
When was the first time you guys played Canada? Do you remember?
Yeah – I think it was in Edmonton back in ’99. We were shocked by the response we got, and it’s been great ever since.
Well it’s good to know that we stand out among the rest of the world. So you mentioned mixing up the set list, and I saw some of the songs you’ve been playing—“Graveland,” “Morphing Into Primal,” “Scorn”—some really different songs that you wouldn’t expect to see in the set list. Are you including those more obscure songs instead of the hits just to keep things fresh for yourselves, is it to make the older fans happy, or to introduce the new fans to the older stuff?
I guess a little bit of both. We want to include songs from all our albums, but it’s pretty much impossible because we have nine albums already. We have fifty minutes to play, and we want to promote the new album, of course. And also, we always talk about playing older stuff, but it doesn’t really fit as well live as the newer stuff. If we play a song from LUNAR STRAIN, for example, you hear two people yell, “YAY,” and the other 2,000 are like, “what the fuck is this?” But we always do some old songs, for the old school fans, and because it’s still fun to play them. But the new songs are so much more massive live.
Are you planning to do “The Chosen Pessimist” live?
We are talking about it, yes. We haven’t rehearsed it yet, because it’s like an experimental thing where we just played around in the studio with different guitar sounds – amps, guitars – but we’ve listened through it, and I think we should pull it off. We have plans to do it. I can’t promise it will happen, but we will make a good try.
Are you guys planning another live album or a DVD? I know you’ve said in the past that you weren’t that happy with the way THE TOKYO SHOWDOWN came out.
Nah – it’s not the best live album I’ve heard. No plans at the moment, but we’re talking about doing a new live DVD. But where and when, I’m not sure. We have some small, really cool plans, actually, of where we’re going shoot it, but that’s not going to happen until next year.
THE JESTER RACE (1995) / LUNAR STRAIN (1994)
I’ll admit that it took me a few listens to get into some of the more mid-tempo songs on the new CD. “The Chosen Pessimist,” for example, took me a few listens to get into and see where you guys were going with that – but it’s really been growing with me over time and repeated listens. Looking at the various message boards, Blabbermouth.net and so on, do you find it satisfying as an artist to see that your music generates such varied opinions and emotions in people? Do you find that that’s what you want to get as an artist?
I don’t really keep up that much with reading forums and stuff like that. I mean it’s always great to hear that people love what you do, and that the music means so much for people. Like when I meet people on the road, and they say, “You are the guy who got me to pick up the guitar.” To hear that is amazing – that can make the whole week for me. If I’m sitting around thinking, “What the hell am I doing this for, I just want to go home,” you know, maybe in the fourth week of a tour, and I see how much our music really means to people, and helping people. But then, of course, there are all these people who hate us, and think we “sold out,” and that we do this only for the money, and blah blah blah. But yeah – it’s always gonna be like that. People will never understand how much hard work is behind being here, in what we do, and what we have to sacrifice, and what we have to go through to enjoy the time on stage. They think [we say], “okay, let’s write an album that sounds like this, and then we are millionaires.” It’s not working like that. We’ve been on the road for ten years, and on so many shitty tours, playing for no money at all. That’s how it works – people don’t understand that. So we will always do the music that WE love, and not care about putting a part in a certain song because we want to sell more albums. We always shut that aspect off when we start writing the songs. It’s really important, because I want to leave my legacy – I want to be able to be proud of what I achieved – because it’s always going to be there.
Right and you’ve experimented with different sounds and different things on your albums, even from the beginning – you had the instrumental folk pieces back on LUNAR STRAIN and THE JESTER RACE. Do you think In Flames will ever expand beyond being a metal band, and get into non-metal types of music?
I don’t think so – I think that whatever you would call our music, we’re always gonna be a metal band. But it might happen that we’ll make some triumphant songs with no guitars, maybe some other instruments, just to sort of experiment with it. But I’m pretty sure we will never put out a non-metal album. Not under the name In Flames, at least.
You said that you guys have nine albums under your belt, and it’s been almost fifteen years since LUNAR STRAIN came out. Is there anything you’d still like to achieve within In Flames that you haven’t done yet?
Not really – I mean, I would like every person on earth to own an In Flames CD, of course, but I’m really satisfied with what we’ve become, because we’ve worked hard to get established. Now we own our own studio, and I can go in and work with music every day, and I don’t have to worry about the money. We do great tours, and we can bring out a cool production with lights and fireworks and everything. So I’m actually really satisfied with where we are right now, just to be established and be able to go out every year, and have people want to see us again. And they bring their friends, so it’s getting bigger and bigger.
So going into the rest of 2008, what can we expect from In Flames, just more and more touring?
Oh yes – we are far from done, but that’s nothing I want to think about right now. We go home, and we have a couple of days off, and then we start off the festival season – I think we’re doing eighteen festivals this summer, so it’s going to be the whole summer, more or less. And then we’re going to have some time off, and then we start the European tour in the end of September, back to back with the next U.S. headline run.
Have there been any dates or any bands announced for the U.S. run yet?
Not for the U.S., no. For the European tour, we have Gojira and Sonic Syndicate, and there’s one empty slot that will be announced soon. But we’re still working on the U.S. run. We have some cool ideas, so whatever it’s going to be, it’s going to be a great package, I’m sure.
***Thanks to Eric at Koch Records (http://www.kochcan.com) for setting up the interview.
In Flames—Official Site (http://www.inflames.com)