Heart of Steel: Interviews

In Flames Guitarist Bjorn Gelotte
Interview by Lord of The Wasteland

The stalwarts of Swedish melodic death, In Flames, are now past their tenth year of existence and their new CD, SOUNDTRACK TO YOUR ESCAPE, has granted them unparalleled success. Having conquered the Billboard Top 200 chart as well as charting highly around the world, the band has reached a new high and can only aim higher. On the way to their show in Austin, Texas, I spoke with In Flames guitarist Bjorn Gelotte — six days after witnessing myself the amazing live spectacle that the band still unleashes.


I live in Vancouver and I saw you guys play here last Tuesday.

Oh, you did! Yeah, that’s a really cool venue there, The Commodore.

It was a great show. Everybody seemed really into you guys.

Thanks. That’s really, really cool. We haven’t played in Vancouver very many times—maybe twice?

This was the third time, actually.

Third time, yeah, and it’s been great every time we’ve played there. It’s really cool to see a lot of people showing up. We even get a lot of Americans coming from Seattle to see the shows.



So how is the tour with Killswitch Engage going so far?

Brilliant! We’re having a lot of fun. We know those guys from before, so it’s more like a school trip with old friends, you know? And As I Lay Dying…I didn’t know them before, but I really like those guys. They put on a really cool, energetic live set and we all get along really well.



I was kind of the same with As I Lay Dying. I’d heard the name but never any of their music. They sure put some amazing energy into their show!

I’ve heard a couple songs, not the whole record, but they sound really, really good.



You have a really rigorous touring schedule. I see that you’re playing seven or eight days in a row, then a day off, then another seven or eight days in a row. Is that starting to take its toll on the band at all?

Tomorrow is actually thirteen shows in a row! It’s pretty rough and on days like this where you’re stuck in bumfuck nowhere, it isn’t really fun. We go to the mall and spend a lot of money!



You finished a European tour last month, too, where you played in ten countries in fourteen days?!

Yeah! It sounds bad, but it really isn’t because we played really nice venues and a lot of people came out to see us.



It was also just announced that In Flames will be touring Japan with Chimaira in September. Are you looking forward to going back there again?

(Laughs) Oh yeah, yeah, yeah! That’s going to rock, especially with our really good friends in Chimaira. We’re going to hopefully bring them to Australia at the same time.



When you came into Canada, did you have any problems at the border? I know last time you had some troubles getting into the country and there have been a couple of other bands this past week who have had trouble, too?

It was because of our driver last time. He has a record. None of us have records—we might look evil but we aren’t really (laughs). We don’t use drugs or anything so it’s never been an issue. We have another driver now, so it wasn’t a problem. It’s always the merchandise, too, where they want to add taxes. We’ve learned through the years to ship the merchandise there and pay in advance. We’ve learned a lot of lessons.



Speaking of merchandise, when you were in Vancouver, you had your merch guy come out and do some filming with a video camera for a DVD. What are you collecting?

We’ve been collecting stuff for almost 2½ years now but it finally looks like it’s going to happen. We did a really cool tour in the U.S. and a really cool tour in Europe. Then we’re going to Japan and Australia, so it’s going to be very special. I think we’ve finally managed to get something put together and some good extras for the DVD.



Is it going to be out this year or next?

Well with Japan and Australia not happening until September, it all depends on how fast they get stuff put together after that.



Will you be recording another live CD to go along with it, or will the DVD be released on its own?

There are no plans for that. Actually the first time I heard it mentioned was by you just now (laughs)! It’s going to be a DVD with live material on it but also the regular stuff that you expect from a DVD. We’re not going to do a HammerFall, if that’s what you wondered (laughs)!



When the show ended here, there were a lot of people that were disappointed that you guys didn’t come back out and do an encore.

We’ve never done encores as far as I can remember. We just find it a waste of time to save two songs and go back out on stage and play them. We play all the songs that we meant to play to keep the intensity up. Hopefully we can leave the people a little bit hungry instead for the next show we play there.



I’d like to talk a little about the new In Flames CD, SOUNDTRACK TO YOUR ESCAPE. The band has had the most success chart-wise so far than any other In Flames CD. It’s top 10 in Sweden and you’ve hit the Billboard charts in the U.S.. What do you think when you hear how well it is doing?

We’ve been very lucky with chart positions and stuff. It’s pretty cool. We’ve been around for a long time and once in a while it works and once in a while it doesn’t. It’s important to keep your feet on the ground, though. It does not mean that much really.



What do you have planned for the next record in order to top SOUNDTRACK TO YOUR ESCAPE?

We haven’t started any writing yet, but I’m confident that we can take it another step and top what we did before. I don’t really see any point in competing between our own records. That’s just stupid. The next one will be better because it will be fresh and new. On this album, this is the sound we have today and how our songwriting is now. Next year is going to be slightly different because it will be what we’re playing at that time.



You’ve used a lot of sound effects on this record. There are lots of static patterns and things that sound like a radio being tuned in. Is that supposed to signify something?

Well we didn’t want the record to have any pauses really. On a soundtrack to a movie, it’s very rare that it’s quiet. There is always some sort of noise that keeps a continuation of each song going…little acoustic parts, clean guitar parts that you can’t really reach without listening to the whole thing. We wanted to do things differently with stuff like that.



I love the little clean guitar outro on “A Touch of Red.” Is that you playing that or is it Jesper [Stromblad, guitar]?

It’s actually a mixture of both.



“Evil in a Closet” could almost be called a ballad. I think this is the first ballad for In Flames (laughs)!

(Laughs) Actually it was not meant as a power ballad. It’s In Flames but with a turn towards a power ballad, like the Skid Row ballads and all that stuff. Ballads always have a vibe to them that can be really, really powerful, so we wanted to experiment with them and see what turned out. It turned out so good that we definitely wanted to have it on the CD.



Can you explain the title, “Dial 595-ESCAPE.” I guess it’s a phone number?

Actually it’s more of a TV channel and I will not say anymore (laughs).



Who came up with the title of the CD?

That was Anders [Friden, vocals]. All the lyrics, all the titles are Anders.

This record seemed to come out fairly quickly after REROUTE TO REMAIN, which has only been out for 2 years. Had you been doing a lot of writing on the road?

Some of these songs we had been working on for a year and half to two years almost. They were back to back with REROUTE TO REMAIN, so some of this stuff is really old for me!



I have the digipack version of the new record with the extra track on it—“Discover Me Like Emptiness.” Were there any other extra songs that were left over from the recording sessions?

Nope that’s it. We don’t write thirty songs and then pick twelve. We only write what is expected and what we want to have on the CD and then we work around those songs.



There is a single out now for “The Quiet Place” and on there is a track called “Varmlandsvisan.” What does that mean?

“Varmlands” is a part of Sweden and “visan” means song, so this that part of Sweden’s song. It’s a really old traditional song. A very beautiful piece. It’s cool to do something like that, because we haven’t done that in many years. We did “Pallar Anders Visa” and “Hargalaten,” that’s also traditional stuff, so it was good to do something like that again.



How come you don’t do traditional songs anymore? I think that was a great part of the sound on the first few records!

We aren’t an instrumental band. What we do on the records, we would also like to be able to perform live, as well, and stuff like that doesn’t really fit in our live set. “Varmlandsvisan” was good because we could put it on the single and still get it out there.



I saw the video this morning for “The Quiet Place” at www.inflames.com. That’s pretty slick! Did you spend a million dollars on that or what (laughs)?

Yeah, it came out pretty cool. It’s a great director that did it [Patrick Ullaeus]. He did Dimmu Borgir’s latest and two or three for Lacuna Coil. He also did one for Anders’ other group, Passenger. He’s a good friend of ours, so that makes it easier.



Have you decided what the next single will be from the record?

No, we haven’t really decided, but we have a couple of songs in mind. Maybe not even as a single, but definitely to do a video. I’d better not say, though, because that probably won’t be the one we end up doing anyway (laughs).



(Laughs) With the success that you’re having with the new CD and the big North American tours, do you think you’ve cracked the market over here?

We’ve been over here since ’98, I think, and we’ve been working pretty hard. The only way to really succeed is by having a lot of luck and working really hard, which I believe that we do. We’re really happy just to be over here and play in front of all these people, you know? Hopefully things grow a little bit and take a natural course.



In Flames, of course, was one of the big bands that helped shape the Gothenburg scene. With that “scene” basically dead, where is Swedish metal going next?

It’s so hard to say. All these bands, like Dark Tranquillity, At The Gates, who are now basically The Haunted…all these bands have moved on from what everybody originally started out doing. Even at that time, all these bands were different and so diverse that you can’t really say they were the same except for geographical purposes. I don’t really see it is a “scene.” I see it as a bunch of friends and musicians that tried to put their stuff out. There was never any scene because we don’t have that many venues. There weren’t shows going on every night. It’s pretty rare that you get metal concerts in Gothenburg.



There are bands in North America who are embracing that sound and look at it as the greatest music of all time.

I know and that’s very flattering. The bands that embrace the more melodic sounds that we do tend to mix it with a hardcore sound that is very American. That totally twists it around and opens up new ways of writing. Bands like God Forbid, Killswitch Engage, Shadows Fall…all these bands have a unique sound for the U.S. and it’s nothing that could have ever come out of Gothenburg.



How has your own personal taste in music changed over the years? Do you find that you aren’t listening to a lot of the stuff that you were even five years ago?

Actually I listen less to music now than I ever did. Since I play music, I’ve come to appreciate the quiet more and more. Music is pretty much with me every day anyway, but I just pick up a few bands here and there that I really enjoy. I still like Malevolent Creation, or even Weezer. I still listen to all this stuff, but it’s getting less and less.



You’ve covered bands like Genesis and Depeche Mode in the past. Is there any other band or song whose music you would like to record with an In Flames twist?

I think it’s about the song and not the band. It has to be a song that we feel is a challenge to do because if you do a cover, you should do it really, really different. You should do it so that people will think it’s an In Flames song. There are a couple of songs out there…nothing I can really think of right now. Maybe “Big in Japan” by Alphaville? That has a massive riff, but you never know. That’s just one song that I think would be really cool to have on an In Flames record.



In Flames has also covered Iron Maiden and Metallica on some past tribute records. Are they big influences on the band?

Oh, of course. I think they influenced everybody our age. I think they had a tremendous impact on all aspiring songwriters. Roots are roots and you can never get away from that stuff. That’s why I still love twin guitar melodies.



You played drums on THE JESTER RACE and WHORACLE. What made you decide to switch from playing drums to playing the guitar?

I’m a guitar player from the beginning, but In Flames needed a drummer at the time and I happened to know how to play a little bit of the drums so it worked out fine.



Do you offer advice to Daniel [Svensson, drums] when writing, or do you leave all the drum arrangements to him?

Maybe something like, “This is what I had in mind. What do you have in mind?” Whatever makes it better.



On all of the In Flames albums up to REROUTE TO REMAIN, there was the jester mask on the cover. Did you ever have a name for him?

Not really, but we called him “Jester Ed.”



Why did he get left off the last two records?

He’s not our “Eddie,” so to speak. When it fits, it fits, you know?



Anders has Passenger and Jesper has Dimension Zero that they work on as side projects. Are you involved with any other bands outside of In Flames?

Not really. I have some plans, but we’ll see what happens. There’s really not much time as it is right now with all the touring and everything, but we’ll see when I finally find some more time.



Alright, Bjorn. Thanks for your time. Good luck with the rest of the tour and of course with the new album, too.

Thank you very much. Take care!

In Flames — Official site

Thanks to Hannah at Nuclear Blast and
Tom Kubik for setting up the interview.